What is Biblical Geography?
To answer that question, we first need to define geography. Not everyone thinks of it in the same way. For some, geography means maps. For others, geography is the lay of the land.
For me, geography is a much larger topic with three interrelated parts. First, there is physical geography. Physical geography studies the features on the surface of the earth and the forces that shape them. This includes lakes, rivers, mountains, valleys, plains, as well as earthquakes and thunderstorms. Second, there is human geography. Human geography explores the impact of people on place and place on people. For example, human beings act on place by assigning names, planting crops, and building cities. Conversely, place impacts the human experience. It determines what food crops can be grown, how homes are built, and where people traveled. Third, geography also includes natural history. This part of geography attends to the plants, trees, animals, and insects that live in a place.
Biblical geographers, like me, investigate these forms of geography that impacted the the people of Bible times and their stories. That includes the geography that lies behind the pages of our Bible as well as the geography that the biblical authors and poets include on those pages as they share the story of salvation.
Because the Bible is filled with events and because geography shapes those events, one dimension of biblical geography is historical. Historical geography explores the ways in which an event is shaped by where it occurred. A second dimension of geography, and the one for which I am better known, is literary geography. As the biblical authors and poets composed their stories, poems, and letters, they filled the Bible’s pages with geographical references. These inspired writers are interested in shaping how we think, act, and believe. One tool they use to accomplish that is geography. Literary geography explores the way in which the Bible uses geography to shape our reading experience and our response to what we have read.