Land of the Patriarchs
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“Land of the Patriarchs,” Ensign, Jan. 1990, 38

Learning to Love the Old Testament

Land of the Patriarchs

The Lord commanded Abram to leave his father’s house in Haran (in present-day southeast Turkey) and travel to another land the Lord would show him. (See Gen. 12:1.) He journeyed southward until he reached the land of Canaan, the ancient name for the Holy Land. There the Lord appeared to him and promised to give him that land. (See Gen. 12:6–7.) Canaan became Abraham’s home and that of his posterity for several hundred years, until Jacob’s children moved to Egypt. Moreover, it became a holy place to the patriarchs, for the Lord often spoke and covenanted with them there. The following photographs show places in Canaan associated with the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs.


1. Shechem: The ancient town of Shechem lies between Mt. Gerizim (left) and Mt. Ebal (right). The modern city of Nablus surrounds it. Shechem and the plain of Moreh before the mountains were Abram’s first stop in Canaan. There, “the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord.” (Gen. 12:6–7.) Jacob later bought a plot of land in Shechem and lived in the region for a time. Centuries later, the children of Israel carried Joseph’s bones from Egypt and buried them in the plot Jacob had purchased. (See Gen. 33:18–19; Gen. 34; Gen. 50:25–26; Josh. 24:32.)

Wadi Beidan

2. Wadi Beidan: Wadis are stream beds that form gullies or narrow valleys, which are usually dry except during the rainy season. Many form oases in the desert. This wadi, though quite steep, offers the fastest and most direct route from Shechem to the fertile Jordan Valley. Abram may have traveled this way when he left Shechem.


3. Beth-el: This hill and its environs were home to Abram and Jacob. Abram built an altar there, then went southward, traveling to Egypt because of famine. (See Gen. 12:7–10.) Leaving Egypt, he returned to “the place of the altar.” He and his nephew Lot later separated there because both their families and their herds had become so large. (See Gen. 13:3–11.) On the way to Haran, Jacob slept there and, in a dream, saw a ladder to heaven and the Lord, who renewed the Abrahamic promise. Jacob built a stone pillar in commemoration and named the land Beth-el (House of God). (See Gen. 28:10–19.) On his return from Haran, he lived in Beth-el for a while, and the Lord appeared to him once more. (See Gen. 35:1–15.)

Tell Dan

4. Tell Dan: The area (off-center) bordered by trees on three sides and the road on the fourth marks the site of the ancient city of Dan, the northernmost boundary of Israel. At the time of Abram, the city was called Laish and Leshem. When Chedorlaomer and three other kings plundered Sodom, they took Lot captive. Abram armed 318 of his servants and overtook the kings at Dan. He defeated them, then pursued them as far as Damascus before recovering his nephew. (See Gen. 14:8–16.)

The King’s Dale

5. The King’s Dale: The modern city of Jerusalem contains three wadis that converge (the junction of three roads in the center). The King’s Dale was probably a little to the left of the junction (where the road curves). The pool of Siloam nearby made the area quite fertile. After rescuing Lot, Abram met Melchizedek and the king of Sodom at the King’s Dale. There, Abram gave tithes of all he had to Melchizedek. He also returned Lot and the recovered plunder to the king of Sodom. (Gen. 14:17–24.)


6. Gerar(a): This wadi in the eastern Negev was the home of Abimelech, king of the Philistines in the area. The grassy mound to the right of the trees was where the ancient city stood. After Abram’s sojourn near Hebron, where the Lord changed his name to Abraham (Father of a Multitude), he journeyed to the Negev. At Gerar, Abraham covenanted with the king, who allowed Abraham to dwell among his people. (See Gen. 20.) Later, Isaac moved there because of a famine. Abimelech (the Father Is King) was a title as well as a name, so the Abimelech Isaac knew may have been a later king. (See Gen. 26.)

Ancient Beer-sheba

7. Ancient Beer-sheba: This excavation of an Israelite fortified city dates to the time of Solomon. Abraham may not have lived at this site, but if not, he would have lived nearby in the wadi. The well in the foreground is typical of Beer-sheba, which contains many ancient wells. Abraham dug a well, which Abimelech’s servants took. He then gave Abimelech seven lambs as a witness that he had dug the well, and Abimelech let Abraham live in the area untroubled. The patriarch called the place Beer-sheba (well of seven). (See Gen. 21:22–34.) After Abraham’s death, the Philistines filled the patriarch’s wells, which Isaac began to unstop. On the day that Isaac renewed his father’s covenant with Abimelech, Isaac’s servants announced that they had reached water, and he renamed the area Beer-sheba. (See Gen. 26:12–33.) Jacob left Beer-sheba on his way to Haran to find a wife among his kinsmen. (See Gen. 28:10.)

Western Negev Desert

8. Western Negev Desert: As this photograph of the Negev near Beer-sheba shows, the desert is hot, barren, and nearly treeless, except for oases in wadis like Gerar and Beer-sheba. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would take their flocks through land like this when traveling from oasis to oasis.

Wadi Faria

9. Wadi Faria: The Jordan Valley is to the far left, and the broad entrance of the Wadi Faria lies between the rocks in the foreground and the mountains of the Judean Wilderness in the background. The wadi begins its steep ascent to Shechem at the far right. Jacob passed through this area on the way back from Haran after reconciling with his brother Esau and reaching Shechem. (See Gen. 33; Gen. 35:5–6.)

Dothan Valley

10. Dothan Valley: The grassy ridges in the foreground identify Tell Dothan, the site of the ancient town. The valley lies to the right. The main caravan route from Egypt to Damascus ran through this valley. Jacob sent Joseph to Shechem to find his brothers, who had actually gone further north. The search took Joseph as far as Dothan. There, his brothers threw Joseph into a pit, then sold him to a caravan heading to Egypt. (See Gen. 37:12–36.) Even today, deep pits are found throughout the valley.

Map of Palestine

Photography by Richard Cleave; used by permission