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Home > Dictionaries > Holman Bible Dictionary > MEDITERRANEAN SEA, THE

Holman Bible Dictionary

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(meh ih tuhr ray' nih uhn) Designated in the OT and the NT simply as “the sea” (Joshua 16:8; Acts 10:6); also referred to as the “Western Sea” (Deuteronomy 11:24, RSV, NIV); and as the “Sea of the Philistines” (Exodus 23:31). The Mediterranean Sea is an inland ocean extending about 2,200 miles from Gibraltar to the Lebanon coast and varies in width from one hundred to six hundred miles. Most of the important nations of ancient times were either on the Mediterranean's shores or operated in its 2,200 miles of water: Israel, Syria, Greece, Rome, Egypt, Philistia, and Phoenicia. Strangely, nature has provided few natural habors for Israel (Dor, Joppa, and Acco). The shoreline is almost straight. In many places a high ridge rises up sharply from behind a narrow strip of beach.

The Hebrews were not a seafaring people. A more apt description might be that they were a sea-fearing people. The Hebrew's fear of the sea was partially due to their desert origin; therefore, their culture developed chiefly around agriculture. The story of Jonah demonstrates the Hebrew's fear of the sea.

God exercises leadership over all creation. As part of God's creation, the sea is subserviant to him. He rules over the raging sea (Psalms 89:9) and causes a storm on it (Jonah 1:4).

For the Hebrews, the Great Sea served as the western border for the land of Canaan (Numbers 34:6) and the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:12). Only with the aid of the Phoenicians was Solomon able to assemble and operate a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber on the Red Sea. Timber was brought on rafts from Lebanon to Joppa (2 Chronicles 2:16). Jehoshaphat's attempt at a navy ended in disaster (1 Kings 22:47-50). His ships were wrecked in the same harbor. Maritime commerce remained limited during most periods in Israel's history. Phoenicians were famous in the ancient world for their capacity as sailors and pilots.

Tyre eventually became the principal sea power in the Mediterranean. The extensive use of the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians was continued by the Romans, who called it “Our Sea.” Following the conquest of Palestine by Pompey in 63 B.C., traffic on the Mediterranean increased. This development helped to make possible the missionary activity of Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and others. Paul made three missionary journeys across the Mediterranean. Under Roman arrest, Paul made his final voyage across the Mediterranean Sea and shipwrecked (Acts 27:1). Paul's work involved such Mediterranean cities as Caesarea, Antioch, Troas, Corinth, Tyre, Sidon, Syracuse, Rome, and Ephesus. See Phoenicia; Tyre; Transportation and Travel.

Philip Lee

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'MEDITERRANEAN SEA, THE'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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