Geography & the Bible 

A key part of understanding the text of the Bible is geography. Most Bible believers today give a cursory nod to the maps located in the backs of their Bibles, but the maps are essential for properly understanding the meaning of the original text. 

Geography is the science dedicated to the study of the physical and/or natural features of a particular country, land or continent. The father of geography was the Greek polymath, Eratosthenes (276-194 B.C.). 

Geography can be broken down into two main branches: Human geography and Physical geography. Human geography focuses on the peoples, cultures and societies and their interactions with the natural, physical and geographical environment [1]. Physical geography studies the natural environment of a particular country, continent, or region including the geosphere, biosphere (flora & fauna), hydrosphere, and atmosphere. 

In the past decade or so archaeologists working in the Near East have begun utilizing geography and spacial analysis for a more detailed and nuanced understanding the landscape usage of ancient cultures. One tool that has been very successful in helping archaeologists in this, is GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Essentially, “GIS and archaeology has been considered a perfect match, since archaeology often involves the study of the spatial dimension of human behavior over time, and all archaeology carries a spatial component. Since archaeology [also] looks at the unfolding of historical events through geography, time and culture, the results of archaeological studies are rich in spatial information. GIS is adept at processing these large volumes of data, especially that which is geographically referenced [2].”

For example, a study of the history and cultures of the American Mid-West and South in the 19th Century would be incomplete without an understanding and recognition of the location and influence of the Missisippi River on those cultures. Likewise, a study of the Biblical text (both Old and New Testaments) would be incomplete without an understanding of the physical geography and topography where events in the Biblical narrative took place. 

Two excellent online resources on the utilization of GIS for Biblical-historical geography are, the Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (DAAHL) compiled by archaeologists at U.C. San Diego, and the University of Chicago, Oriental Institute’s, Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL). 

The Biblical narrative covers a very large geographical area in the Greater Middle East. Lands described on the pages of the Bible stretch from Mesopotamia (which includes the modern day states of Iraq, Iran and parts of Syria and Turkey); to Egypt, Italy, Greece, and all of Turkey (Anatolia). 

The modern-day republic of Turkey extends over the Bosporus strait into the European continent, but the ancient land known as Anatolia is located on eastern shore in Asia, bordering ancient Persia, Armenia and Syria. Anatolia contains great topographic variation including a large coastline in the west, bordering the Aegean, the Mediterranean in the south, and in the north along the Black Sea. There is also a rather large mountainous region in the east, a central plateau (where the center of ancient Hittite culture is located at Hattusha), and a fertile plain. 

Because of its geographic position linking Europe and Asia, Anatolia was a major crossroad of civilizations in the ancient Near East. Few Westerners today are familiar with this truly amazing and historic land, and very few students of the Bible are aware of its place and importance in Biblical history! 

Edward Robinson: Father of Biblical-Historical Geography

One of the first scholars to recognize the importance of biblical-historical geography was Edward Robinson. Robinson studied theology at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts in the early part of the 19th Century. Afterwards, he went to Germany to continue his studies, where he learned geography from the well known German geographer, Karl Ritter. When he returned to America he came up with a plan to go and study first-hand, the lands of the Bible: “I had long meditated the preparation of a work on biblical geography, and wished to satisfy myself by personal observation as to points on which I could find no information in the books of travelers [3].”

In 1838 Robinson traveled throughout the Levant in the Middle East, along with Eli Smith, an American missionary based in Beirut. Their journey lasted just under four months as they made their way from Egypt to the northern tip of Judea, including the villages of Nazareth and Tiberias. Along the way Robinson discovered long-forgotten Biblical sites (towns, villages, etc…) based on philology and geography alone — i.e., the Arabic place-names of certain sites, and his understanding of the Biblical geography. 

Robinson and Smith certainly laid the foundation for biblical-historical geography and Biblical archaeology by positively identifying many ancient Biblical sites throughout Judea. In the preface to his book, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mt. Sinai, and Arabia Petraea (1838), Robinson stated the hope that his work will, “…be regarded merely as a beginning, a first attempt to lay open the treasures of Biblical Geography and History still remaining in the Holy Land; treasures which have lain for ages unexplored, and had become so covered with the dust and rubbish of many centuries, that their very existence was forgotten [4].”

One place that Robinson did not explore on his journey through Egypt and Palestine was Anatolia, also called Asia Minor. 

One of the earliest archaeological surveys of Anatolia was in the 1930’s by the British archaeologist, Sir Leonard Wooley and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago at a location called, Amuq just east of Antioch [see list below]. 

Just a few years later (1932-1938), American archaeologist, Robert Braidwood “conducted an archaeological survey of Amuq on behalf of the Oriental Institute, pioneering many survey techniques still in use today. Braidwood and his team discovered 178 ancient settlements. Eight of these sites, spanning many different periods, were excavated, including Chatal HoyukTell DhahabTell ‘Imar al-SharqiTell JudaidahTell Kurdu, and Tell Ta’yinat. The pottery and other artifacts excavated at these sites provide one of the longest and most reliable chronological sequences of stratified cultural material in the entire Near East. Archaeologists still use Braidwood’s Amuq sequence as a means of dating sites elsewhere in the Levant [5].”

Turkey – Anatolia as a “Holy Land”

Most Christians today are familiar with the word/phrase “Holy Land” which simply means “sacred-land” (Terra Sancta)[6]. When Christians think of the Holy Land they think primarily of Israel and the Trans-Jordan, but by all accounts, Turkey-Anatolia should also be considered a “Sacred-Land” as well!  

Mark Wilson writes that, 

Within two decades of Jesus’ death the gospel spread northward to Antioch, a city located in southeastern Turkey. Here the believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). For the rest of the century the land of Turkey became the center for the growing Christian movement. The three great apostles — Paul, Peter and John — are all linked with churches in Asia Minor. As we look at the Bible, there are a number of references to Anatolian regions and cities in the Old Testament and Apocrypha (Deuterocanonicals), and two-thirds of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament  were either written to or from Asia Minor. Because of this area’s strategic geographical role in early church history, it is not an exaggeration to call Turkey, “the Holy Land of Asia Minor [7].”

Sadly, and for reasons not fully understood, Anatolia (Turkey) is still not as well known as a land of the Bible as Israel, Egypt or Jordan. This is one of the main reasons for this article — to reaquaint students of the Bible with this truly ancient, historically rich, and remarkable land (ancient Anatolia) as a Biblical land, worthy to be studied, explored, visited and understood! 

The Geography of Anatolia 

There are any number of ways to study the historical-geography of a particular region. One way is, of course, to think of it historically and/or chronologically. In most scholarly archaeological encyclopedias and/or dictionaries this is certainly the case — an overview of a geographical area or nation in question which begins with the earliest discoveries and archaeological periods in the country and finishes to the most recent. By all accounts, history and even pre-history begins in Turkey [8]. The time-span of the archaeological periods in Turkey begins in Genesis (pre-history and the flood), and ends in the New Testament book of Revelation (literally from Genesis to Revelation – the beginning and ending of Biblical history!).

Another way one could study ancient Anatolia (Turkey) is topographically. I offer the following only as an “Introduction” to many of the amazing, and remarkable Biblical sites in Turkey (an introductory “gazetteer” of sorts). 

Agri Province in Eastern Turkey – the city of Dogubayazit at the foot of Mt. Ararat (or Agri Dagi)

The Archaeology of Turkey – Anatolia 

As in Israel-Palestine, archaeological sites in Turkey are innumerable! A synonym for archaeolgical tells or sites in Turkey is höyük – “tell,” “mound-hill,” (for example the famous neolithic site in Turkey called, Çatalhöyük, or  “Fork – tumulus”). The word can also refer to a burial mound or hill, found throughout Anatolia. Like other “Bible-lands,” there is still much archaeological work to be done in Turkey, and many ancient historical puzzles that are yet to be solved [9].

Göbekli Tepe (Image: Wikipedia)


(Listed by Region & Biblical References)

The following topographic list is organized around the seven major geographical regions in Turkey, via Mark Wilson’s excellent book, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (2014)[10]. It is by no means a comprehesive list of all the Biblical-historical sites in Turkey, only a representative one [11]. Each of the cities and/or regions listed have been positively identified, and many have been extensively excavated, and now serve as historic sites that you can visit in Turkey. For the sake of space I will list each site by region with a brief description of some sites and the Biblical references. 

Map from A Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (2014) by Mark Wilson


  • Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7; 1 Peter 1:1) 
  • Assos (Acts 20:13-14) 
  • Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul (1 Peter 1:1) 


  • Colossae (Colossians 1:2)[12]
  • Ephesus (Acts 18:19-21; 24:26; 19:1-20; 20:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:32; 16:8; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:18; 4:12; Rev. 1:11)
  • Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) 
  • Miletus (Ezekiel 27:18; Acts 20:15,17; 2 Timothy 4:20) 

Street of Ephesus from Roman times. Image: Britannica

The Roman Amphitheater in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19. In ca. 56 AD a riot broke out there because the preaching of Paul threatened the idol-making business of a silver-smith named Demetrius. The public outcry against Paul resounded with the words “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!”

Cities of the Churches of the Apocalypse (Revelation) [13]

  • Pergamum (Revelation 1:11; 2:12) 
  • Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11) 
  • Sardis (Obadiah 20; Revelation 1:11; 3:1,4)
  • Smyrna (Revelation 1:11; 2:8; Ephesians 21:1) 
  • Thyatira (Acts 16:14; Revelation 1:11; 2:18, 24) 
  • Laodicea (Col. 2:1, 4:13, 15-16; Revelation 1:11; 3:14) 


  • Pontus (Acts 2:9; 18:2; 1 Peter 1:1)
  • Nicea (1 Peter 1:1?)
  • Troas/Alexandria (Acts 16:8,11; 20:5-6; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:13)*


  • Cappadocia (Acts 2:9)
  • Galatia (Acts 16:6; 18:23; 1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 1:2; 3:1; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:1)
  • Lycanoia (Acts 14:6)
  • Meshech (Psalm 120:5; Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1) 
  • Phrygia (Acts 2:10; 16:6; 18:23) 
  • Tubal (Isaiah 66:19; Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1) 
  • Derbe (Acts 14:6, 20; 16:1; 20:4)*
  • Hattusha (Mentioned over 60 times in the Old Testament!) [14]

The famous “Lion’s Gate” at Hattusa – capitol of the Hittite Empire (Wikipedia)

Hittite Artifacts


  • Adana (Acts 15:23, 41)
  • Iskenderun [Alexandretta] (Acts 15:23, 41) 
  • Antioch [on the Orontes] (Acts 6:5; 11:19-30; 13:1-3; 14:26-15:3; 15:22-40; 18:22-22-23) [15]
  • Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14-51; 14:19, 21-23)
  • Tarsus (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3)


  • Kingdom/Region of Urartu [Hebrew “Ararat”] (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38; Jeremiah 51:27)
  • Togarmah (Genesis 10:3; 1 Chronicles 1:6; Ezekiel 27:14, 38:6)
  • Agri Dagi (Mount Ararat) (Genesis 8) [see our article, The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible]
  • Headwaters of the Tigris & Euphrates Rivers (Genesis)

Summit of Mt. Ararat (Agri Dagi) [16,854 ft: 5137 meters], shrouded in clouds. Ararat is one of the locations where it is believed that Noah’s ark came to rest after the great flood.


  • Carchemish (2 Chronicles 35:20; Isaiah 10:19; Jeremiah 46:2) 
  • Haran (Genesis 11:31, 32; 12:4, 5; 27:43; 28:10; 29:4; 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12; Ezekiel 27:23; Acts 7:2,4)*
  • Göbekli Tepe [“Hill with a Navel”] – a possible “Post-flood site” [16]
  • Nahor (Genesis 24:10) 


Historical Geography Affirms that the Biblical Writers were Accurate

Historians look to primary sources when it comes to reconstructing the past. As I have stated elsewhere, our three main primary sources for studying the past are: eyewitnesses, historical records (inscriptions, manuscripts, etc…), and archaeological remains. Historical certainty (within the limits of reason) is found when these sources can by harmonized through much research and corroboration. Often that is difficult to accomplish. We could also easily add geography as another point of historical affirmation. In addition to these, a sub-set of verifying eyewitness authenticity is specialized knowledge of the local cultures as well as a knowledge of geography by the Biblical writers.

In his excellent work, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1990), Roman historian Colin Hemer lists three types of knowledge as they relate specifically to the geography found in the book of Acts — understood to have been written by Luke, a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. 

Hemer summarizes that the writer of Acts [Luke] reveals:

  1. Common Knowledge – “Points of Judean topography or Semitic nomenclature are glossed or explained (Acts 1:12, 19, etc.), whereas basic Jewish institutions are not (1:12 again; 2:1; 4:1; etc.) [17]”
  1. Specialized Knowledge – “1:12,19; 3:2, 11; etc. show knowledge of the topography of Jerusalem. 12:4 gives detail on the organization of the military guard. …17:1 Amphipolis and Apollonia are known as stations (and presumably overnight stops) on the Egnatian Way from Philippi to Thessalonica [18].”
  1. Specific Local Knowledge – “13:4-5 A natural crossing between correctly named ports is indicated. Mt. Casius, which is south of Seleucia, is within sight of Cyprus.” And in, “16:1 Derbe then Lystra, is in fact the correct order of approach overland from the Cilician Gates. 16:2 Lystra and Iconium were relatively close, although belonging to different jurisdictions, whereas Derbe is now known to have been more distant than was supposed when it was wrongly placed at Zostra or Güdelsin. It is thus natural that Timothy, if a native of Lystra, was known to these two churches rather than in Derbe [19].”

Paul’s travel itinerary in the book of Acts is extensively recorded by Luke. It covers large portions of Asia Minor (Turkey), and his meticulous account recorded in the text reveals a great familiarity with the topographypolitics and culture of the regions that Paul [and presumably Luke] traveled – one that only an eyewitness could know.

Summarizing the historical and geographical knowledge found in the New Testament book of Acts, Christian apologist Norman Geisler states that:

The historicity of the book of Acts is confirmed with overwhelming evidence. Nothing like this amount of detailed confirmation exists from another book in antiquity. This is not only a direct confirmation of the earliest Christian belief in the death and resurrection of Christ, also, indirectly, of the Gospel record, since the author of Acts (Luke) also wrote a detailed Gospel. This Gospel directly parallels the other two Synoptic Gospels. The best evidence is that this material was composed by A.D. 60, only twenty-seven years after the death of Jesus. This places the writing during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events recorded (cf. Luke 1:1-4) [20].

The fact that nearly every single New Testament city has been positively identified by archaeologists, and some have even been excavated extensively, argues quite convincingly that the events recorded in the Biblical text are grounded and rooted in history (in space, time and place) –  the geography in which it describes. 

Turkey-Anatolia is another land described in the Bible, that is full of remarkable archaeological sites, history, and surely additional surprises! 


[1]. See, Thomas E. Levy, Editor, The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land (New York: Facts on File, 1995). 

[2] [emphasis mine]

[3] As quoted by John D. Currid in Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible: A Basic Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 24. 

[4] Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838 & 1852, 3 Vols. (London: John Murray, 1856). Reprint from the British Museum, London: British Library Historical Print Collections., xi. 

[5] (accessed, 6 November 2019).

[6] For an excellent history of how early Christians began to see Palestine as a “Holy Land” see, Robert Wilken, The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), pg. 91

[7] Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites (Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2014), 13. 

[8] For example, “V. Gordon Childe places the origins of his Neolithic Revolution in hypothesized ‘nuclear zones’ where climate, environment, and human experience came together to catalyze the transition of human society from a food-gathering organism to a food producing one. These nuclear zones were limited to an arc of land from Egypt to Mesopotamia, the so-called Fertile Crescent. Although later scholarship considered Anatolian sites such as Çatal Höyük and Çayönü to be peripheral developments of the Levantine Neolithic tradition, the growing evidence from sites such as Asikili Höyük points to an autochthonous development within Anatolia. As a result, Anatolia has begun to take its place as one of the primary areas of prehistoric investigation in the Near East.” see Ronald L. Gorney, “Anatolia” in Eric Meyers, Editor, The Oxford Enclyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Vol. 1, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Also, William W. Hallo and William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1971), pp.10-15. 

[9] Because the Anatolian archaeology is such a vast and sweeping subject it would difficult to point to one “defninive” source for a survey of the archaeology of the entire region. A good place to start is perhaps the entries on “Anatolia,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Edited by David Noel Freedman, and The Oxford Encylopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, Edited by Eric M. Meyers. Also see, Istanbul University’s Contributions to Archaeology in Turkey: 1932-2000, Edited by Oktay Belli. 

[10] Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey, 21.

[11] For a more extensive treatment of the Biblical sites located in modern-day Turkey see (in addition to WIlson above), Everett C. Blake and Anna G. Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey (Turkey: Redhouse, 1977); Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey (New York: Oxford, 2003); and Ekrem Akurgal, Ancient Civilzations and Ruins of Turkey (Ankara: Phoenix Yayinevi-Ünal Sevendik, 2015, Reprint).

[12] See, Otto F.A. Meinardus, “Colossus, Colossae, Colossi: Confusio Colossaea,” in, Edward E. Campbell Jr., and David Noel Freedman, Editors, The Biblical Archaeologist Reader (Sheffeld: The Almond Press, 1983), 341-344.

[13] See, Otto F. Meinardus, “The Christian Remains of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse,” in Edward E. Campbell Jr., and David Noel Freedman, Editors, The Biblical Archaeologist Reader (Sheffeld: The Almond Press, 1983), 345-358. 

[14] For more on the Hittites: An excellent interactive website on Hittite, Neo-Hittite and Luwian momuments and historical sites in Turkey, see,, Also our article on the Discovery of the Hittites, and Harry A. Hoffner Jr., “Hittites” in Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly, Edwin M. Yamauchi, Editors, Peoples of the Old Testament World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 127-155. 

[15] See,

[16] See, A. Habermehl, “A Creationist View of Gӧbekli Tepe: Timeline and other Considerations” In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, Ed. J.H. Whitmore, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship, pp. 7-13 [see, link here]

[17] Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraun’s, 1990), 107. 

[18] Ibid., 108.

[19] Ibid., pp 111-112.

[20] Norman L. Giesler, “Acts, Historicity of,” in his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 8.