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The Promised Land (Hebrew: ? ?, translit.: ha'aretz hamuvtakhat; Arabic: ?, translit.: ard al-mi'ad; also known as "The Land of Milk and Honey") is the land which, according to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), was promised and subsequently given by God to Abraham and his descendants, and in modern contexts an image and idea related both to the restored Homeland for the Jewish people and to salvation and liberation is more generally understood.
The promise was first made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), then confirmed to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and then to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13). The Promised Land was described in terms of the territory from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates river (Exodus 23:31). A smaller area of former Canaanite land and land east of the Jordan River was conquered and occupied by their descendants, the Israelites, after Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 34:1-12), and this occupation was interpreted as God's fulfilment of the promise (Deuteronomy 1:8). Moses anticipated that God might subsequently give the Israelites land reflecting the boundaries of God's original promise, if they were obedient to the covenant (Deuteronomy 19:8-9).
The concept of the Promised Land is the central tenet of Zionism, whose discourse suggests that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees through whom they inherit the right to re-establish their "national homeland". Palestinians also claim partial descent from the Israelites and Maccabees, as well as all the other peoples who have lived in the region.
The imagery of the "Promised Land" was invoked in African-American spirituals as heaven or paradise and as an escape from slavery, which can often only be reached by death. The imagery and term have also been used in popular culture (see Promised Land (disambiguation)), sermons and in speeches, such as the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" (1968) speech by Martin Luther King Jr.:
and in Genesis 12:7:
Commentators have noted several problems with this promise and related ones:
In Genesis 15:18-21 the boundary of the Promised Land is clarified in terms of the territory of various ancient peoples, as follows:
The verse is said to describe what are known as "borders of the Land" (Gevulot Ha-aretz). In Jewish tradition, these borders define the maximum extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob.
The promise was confirmed to Jacob at Genesis 28:13, though the borders are still vague and is in terms of "the land on which you are lying". Other geographical borders are given in Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea, the "Sea of the Philistines" i.e. the Mediterranean, and the "River," (the Euphrates).
The promise is fulfilled in the biblical book of Joshua when the Israelites cross the Jordan river into the promised land for the first time.
It took a long time before the Israelites could subdue the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The furthest extent of the Land of Israel was achieved during the time of the united Kingdom of Israel under David. The actual land controlled by the Israelites has fluctuated considerably over time, and at times the land has been under the control of various empires. However, under Jewish tradition, even when it is not in Jewish occupation, the land has not lost its status as the Promised Land.
Traditional Jewish interpretation, and that of most Christian commentators, define Abraham's descendants as Abraham's seed only through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, to the exclusion of Ishmael and Esau. This may however reflect an eisegesis or reconstruction of primary verses based on the later biblical emphasis of Jacob's descendants. The promises given to Abraham happened prior to the birth of Isaac and were given to all his offspring signified through the rite of circumcision. Johann Friedrich Karl Keil is less clear, as he states that the covenant is through Isaac, but notes that Ishmael's descendants have held much of that land through time.
Mainstream Jewish tradition regards the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having been given to all Jews, including proselytes and in turn their descendants, with the traditional view being that a convert becomes a child of Abraham, as in the term "ben Avraham".
In the New Testament, the descent and promise is reinterpreted along religious lines. In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul the Apostle draws attention to the formulation of the promise, avoiding the term "seeds" in plural (meaning many people), choosing instead "seed," meaning one person, who, he understands to be Jesus (and those united with him). For example, in Galatians 3:16 he notes:
In Galatians 3:28-29 Paul goes further, noting that the expansion of the promise from singular to the plural is not based on genetic/physical association, but a spiritual/religious one:
In Romans 4:13 it is written:
Under the name Palestine, we comprehend the small country formerly inhabited by the Israelites, and which is today part of Acre and Damascus pachalics. It stretched between 31 and 33° N. latitude and between 32 and 35° degrees E. longitude, an area of about 1300 French: lieues carrées. Some zealous writers, to give the land of the Hebrews some political importance, have exaggerated the extent of Palestine; but we have an authority for us that one can not reject. St. Jerome, who had long traveled in this country, said in his letter to Dardanus (ep. 129) that the northern boundary to that of the southern, was a distance of 160 Roman miles, which is about 55 French: lieues. He paid homage to the truth despite his fears, as he said himself, of availing the Promised Land to pagan mockery, "Pudet dicere latitudinem terrae repromissionis, ne ethnicis occasionem blasphemandi dedisse uideamur".
Thus if you were a child of Abraham by race you inevitably were heir to the great land promises in the Holy Land ... Paul challenges the exclusivity of racial descent from Abraham. Children of Abraham consist of people - Jews and Gentiles - who share Abraham's faith. And the promise of God, he notes, comes to Abraham and his seed (singular) and this seed is Christ (Gal. 3:16). Thus Christ is the true heir of Abraham and his promises. And if we belong to Christ, we too are attached to Abraham and the promises given to him. Again, for the non-Jewish Christian, it is hard to imagine the impact of this theological subversion. Paul has upended one of the chief arguments for exclusive Jewish privilege in the Holy Land ... If you want a glimpse of just how striking Paul's rethinking of this could be, just look at Romans 4:13. Here Paul refers directly to the inheritance of Abraham. This was the gift of Canaan, the Holy Land and Israel! And yet look at what Paul actually says: the promise to Abraham was that he would inherit the entire world. How can that be? This is not in Genesis. But it can be true in only one way: the family of Abraham now includes the Gentiles - Gentiles living throughout the world: Romans, Greeks, Cappadocians, Arabs - and they now, inasmuch as they belong to Christ, also belong to Abraham. God's new claim is not for the restoration of Judaea. It is not for a political rebuilding of the Holy Land. God's new claim is for the entire world; His people in Christ will be instruments of that claim.
Image of p. 170 at Google Books
In the Second Temple period, when Jewish authors were seeking to establish with greater precision the geographical definition of the Land, it became customary to construe "Mount Hor" of Num 34:7 as a reference to the Amanus range of the Taurus Mountains, which marked the northern limit of the Syrian plain (Bechard 2000, p. 205, note 98.)
Quod si objeceris terram repromissionis dici, quae in Numerorum volumine continetur (Cap. 34), a meridie maris Salinarum per Sina et Cades-Barne, usque ad torrentem Aegypti, qui juxta Rhinocoruram mari magno influit; et ab occidente ipsum mare, quod Palaestinae, Phoenici, Syriae Coeles, Ciliciaeque pertenditur; ab aquilone Taurum montem et Zephyrium usque Emath, quae appellatur Epiphania Syriae; ad orientem vero per Antiochiam et lacum Cenereth, quae nunc Tiberias appellatur, et Jordanem, qui mari influit Salinarum, quod nunc Mortuum dicitur; (Image of p. 41 at Google Books)
Sous le nom de Palestine, nous comprenons le petit pays habité autrefois par les Israélites, et qui aujourd'hui fait partie des pachalics d'Acre et de Damas. Il s'étendait entre le 31 et 33° degré latitude N. et entre le 32 et 35° degré longitude E., sur une superficie d'environ 1300 lieues carrées. Quelques écrivains jaloux de donner au pays des Hébreux une certaine importance politique, ont exagéré l'étendue de la Palestine; mais nous avons pour nous une autorité que l'on ne saurait récuser. Saint Jérôme, qui avait longtemps voyagé dans cette contrée, dit dans sa lettre à Dardanus (ep. 129) que de la limite du nord jusqu'à celle du midi il n'y avait qu'une distance de 160 milles romains, ce qui fait environ 55 lieues. Il rend cet hommage à la vérité bien qu'il craigne, comme il le dit lui-même de livrer par la terre promise aux sarcasmes païens. (Pudet dicere latitudinem terrae repromissionis, ne ethnicis occasionem blasphemandi dedisse uideamur)
Image of p. 1 at Google Books