Image by Laura Siegal

History

What is this Holy Land?

The Holy Land is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that also includes the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River. Traditionally, it is synonymous with both the biblical Land of Israel and historical Palestine

Nowhere on earth is more sanctified than the segment of the Middle East known as the Holy Land. In this sacred space, the main monotheistic faiths believe, God entered into a relationship with the human race.

In this land lie the ruins of the world’s oldest civilisations. Its strategic location, at the junction of Africa, Asia and Europe, made it a corridor between East and West — and a much-trampled prize for conquering armies. Much blood has been spilt on its holy ground.

 

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, by David Roberts in 1842 (Library of Congress)

It is a place of perpetual tension between Jew and Arab, and a place of extreme contrast in terrain — from fertile farmland to arid desert.

Pilgrims have come since ancient times. With the Bible as their tour guide, they endured all kinds of hardship and perils in their quest to visit the holy places.

Holy Land stretches from Egypt to Syria

The term Holy Land encompasses the places in the Middle East that are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. It includes:

  • Israel and Palestine (which hold most of the sites sacred to Jews and Christians)

  • Western Jordan (where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land and Christ was baptised).

  • The Sinai Peninsula in Egypt (where Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years)

  • Southern Syria (where Elijah took refuge and St Paul was converted)

This is the land described by God in Exodus 3:8 as “flowing with milk and honey” (that would have been sheep or goat milk and date honey).

Central to the Holy Land is Israel. The world’s only Jewish state, it occupies just a tiny proportion of the globe. It is the size of New Jersey or Wales, and about a third the size of Sri Lanka or Tasmania.

Central to the Holy Land is the state of Israel (Wikimedia)

Around Israel on three sides are Muslim states, all much larger. And over all of the Holy Land countries are the footprints and landmarks of past conquerors — among them the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks and British.

 

Holy to four faiths

The concept of a holy land became of great significance to both early Judaism and early Christianity. However, the expression “holy land” occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible (Zechariah 2:12), twice in the deuterocanonical books (Wisdom 12:3 and 2 Maccabees 1:7), and not once in the New Testament.

What made the land holy? According to biblical scholar and archaeologist Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, this occurred for the Jews when the Ark of the Covenant was carried into the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem and “the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10). From Egypt to Syria, it was also the place where the patriarchs and prophets lived and were buried.

For Christians, the Holy Land is where Jesus lived, proclaimed his Gospel, performed miracles, was crucified and rose from the dead. From early times, the followers of Jesus venerated places associated with him, foremost among them the cave at Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre.

                          Ten reasons to support the Indigenous Christians of the Holy Land

1. The indigenous Arab Christians are descendants of the first faithful. They trace their roots back to who first heard and embraced the powerful, transforming message of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:11).

2. They continue to live out the faith in the very land where our Savior was born and lived, died, and rose from the dead. Their presence amongst a population increasingly non-Christian in orientation maintains the 2000-year-old Christian heritage of the Holy Land.

3. They help ensure that churches and holy sites remain places of Christian worship. Without the indigenous Arab Christian presence in the Holy Land, these places would turn into cold museums, devoid of the warmth of the living body of Christ.

4. They ensure that the younger generation is raised in Christ. The primary means by which youth learn the teachings of Christ and the Church is through a solid education in the Holy Land‘s Christian schools. As the first means of apostolate, the schools also offer Christians a place in which to interact with each other.

5. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Eventhough we have many different gifts and calls, we are united by the one Spirit that is given to all.

6. Our shared Christian faith will be grow deeper. As our eyes are opened to other cultures, perspectives, and new ways of worshiping the same Lord, our shared Christian faith is deepened. We learn to experience Christ in new ways, and spread the good word of Christ to others.

7. Christian Arabs are a bridge to peace for a troubled region. They share the Old Testament with Jews and share the same culture, language, history, and national aspirations as Muslims. They bridge the distance between those mired in the political conflict in the Holy Land and offer hope for peaceful resolution.

8. They are suffering. Living conditions in the Holy Land are dire as a result of border closures that restrict freedom of movement and curfews that confine civilians to their homes. Few can travel to work, find adequate medical care, or afford housing.

9. Emigration from the Holy Land is on the rise. Young adults have increasingly dim prospects for the future so many are leaving the Holy Land. This further reduces their minority status.

10. Our religion calls us to help those in need. Jesus ministered to the needs of the poor, the afflicted, and the oppressed. He calls us to do the same. It is our duty as Christians to help sustain our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Holy Land.

Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
www.hcef.org