4. Geography Survey Results
My goal for this research is that the conclusions will help believers understand and personally experience the benefits of the historical geography of Israel in a way that will assist their study, application, and communication of the Bible. Rather than reproduce the actual survey in this chapter I have included it in Appendix A. Also I have arranged the results to each of the survey questions by category rather than the order in which the survey asked them. These categories are arranged in accordance with the goal stated above: (1) understanding and experiencing historical geography (those who have taken a class and those who have gone to Israel), (2) historical geography in relation to study of the Bible, (3) historical geography in relation to application of the Bible, and (4) historical geography in relation to teaching the Bible.
In the survey the respondent was asked to rate certain statements by placing an “X” on the line by the number most closely representing their view. For example, the following answer reflects someone who “agreed” with a survey’s statement:
The survey listed three levels of agreement (“disagree,” “agree,” and “strongly agree”) along a seven-number continuum to define the level of agreement to applicable statements. In reporting the results, each of the seven possible positions will be illustrated in a bar graph. But when discussing the results, I averaged the responses into clusters closest to the three basic levels of agreement (“disagree,” “agree,” and “strongly agree”).
In regard to basic demographics, 45% of respondents were male and 55% were female (as illustrated in Figure 1). The largest percentage of those answering the survey were between the ages of 15-25 (50%), followed by those between 26-40 (30%), those between 41-60 (17%), and finally, those over the age of 61 (3%) (see Figure 2). Particularly with respect to age, this survey does not reflect the average age of those who study in the classroom or those who go to Israel; the figures simply show the ages of those who responded to the survey.
This category of survey questions reflects those who have taken a class on historical geography and/or those who have taken a tour to Israel. Every respondent falls into one or both of these groups.
Of those who took a class on historical geography, 73% “strongly agreed” with the statement, “My classroom study of the historical geography of Israel improved my understanding of the biblical narrative.” This percentage represents (as throughout these reported results) the responses averaged into the clusters closest to the three basic levels of agreement (“disagree,” “agree,” and “strongly agree”) (see Figure 3). In addition to the 73% who answered they “strongly agree,” 24% “agree” and 3% “disagree” with the statement.
Of those who took a tour to Israel, 84% “strongly agree” with the statement, “If I bought fifty books on historical geography, they could not contribute what my trip to Israel has given me” (see Figure 4 on next page). It is noteworthy to mention that of those who “strongly agree,” over two-thirds gave the statement the highest mark possible. 14% simply “agree,” and 2% “disagree” with the statement.
For those respondents who went to Israel, as well as took a class on historical geography, 87% “disagree” with the statement, “I gained more of an understanding of historical geography in class than I did on-site in Israel” (Figure 5). 8% “agree” and 5% “strongly agree” with the statement.
In a statement also relevant to the category of Bible application, 68% “strongly agree” and 25% “agree” with the statement, “My on-site study of the historical geography of Israel contributed more to my spiritual life than my classroom study of the same.” Only 7% “disagree” (see Figure 6).
While those who took the survey can be classified in two general groups—those who have and have not been to Israel—the groups that has been to Israel can be further classified into four groups. The five groups are listed in Figure 7.
Of those who took the survey, 9% took a class on historical geography but have never gone to Israel; 6% have gone to Israel but have never taken a class on historical geography; 15% first took a class on historical geography and then went to Israel; 6% first went to Israel and then took a class on historical geography. But by far the majority of those surveyed (64%) first went to Israel as part of an educational study tour that also included a historical geography class. Again, these figures do not represent the average experiences of all who do or do not travel to Israel; the percentages merely represent those who took the survey.
Comparing the necessity of study prior to going to Israel, 45% of those surveyed “strongly agree” with the statement, “A knowledge of historical geography prior to going to Israel is essential in order to experience the most benefit in Israel,” while 35% “agree,” and 20% “disagree” (Figure 8).
Other group delineations were defined by teachers, tour guides, and time spent in Israel. Of those respondents who took a historical geography class, 20% were taught by Dr. Charlie Dyer, 7% by Jerusalem University College, 71% by IBEX, and 2% by various other instructors (Figure 9).
The distinctions by way of tour guides fell into the same groupings. Of those who traveled to Israel, 8% were led by Dr. Charlie Dyer, 7% by Jerusalem University College, 75% by IBEX, and 11% by various other tour guides (Figure 10).
As far as how much time was spent in Israel by those who went, 17% spent one to four weeks, 72% spent one to six months, and 11% spent six months or more (Figure 11).
The literature review has already demonstrated the importance of historical geography in Bible study, particularly as it relates to context. The survey also documents this fact based on real people who use the discipline in their study of God’s Word. For example, 70% “strongly agree” with the statement, “If I excluded historical geography from my Bible study, I would be eliminating an indispensable part of biblical interpretation” (Figure 12 on next page). 24% agree with the statement, and only 6% disagree.
Responding to the statement, “The geography and history of the Bible are so deeply intertwined neither can be completely understood without the other,” 65% “strongly agree,” 30% “agree,” and 5% “disagree” (Figure 13).
A full 60% of respondents “strongly agree” with the assertion, “The study of historical geography has provided me a greater confidence in the Bible as God’s Word” (Figure 14). 32% “agree” and 8% “disagree.”
Traveling to Israel changes the way students of historical geography read the Bible, for an overwhelming 95% of respondents “strongly agree” with the statement, “I feel after going to Israel it is impossible to read the Bible the same as before going” (Figure 15). In addition, only 4% “agree” and 1% “disagree.”
Historical geography also has a valuable contribution to the spiritual lives of believers. In regards to remembering the Bible’s applications to life, geography was found to assist in the process. Of those responding, 75% “strongly agree” that “Geography has increased my ability to remember biblical events and the life-lessons they teach” (Figure 16); 22% “agree,” and 3% “disagree” that historical geography contributes to their memory of biblical events and their applications. Notably, every person responded to this statement, and not one answered the lowest possible score (indicating the most disagreement).
Respondents answered a more direct statement regarding historical geography’s relation to biblical application. Of those responding, 44% “strongly agree” with the assertion, “My study of the historical geography of Israel has given me clearer direction for biblical application” (Figure 17 on next page); 43% “agree”; and a total of 13% “disagree.” Since fewer “strongly agree” with this statement over the previous one, it implies that the emphasis for many in Figure 16’s statement was on memory over application. Even still, 87% either “strongly agree” or “agree” that historical geography directs them better toward biblical application.
The survey also asked all respondents to rate how historical geography has directly impacted their love for God and His Word. In doing so, 80% “strongly agree” that “Historical geography has increased my love for the Word of God and the God of the Bible” (Figure 18 on next page). Moreover 16% “agree,” and just 4% “disagree” that the study increased their love for God and His Word.
For those who have gone to Israel, the figures of historical geography’s impact on their spiritual lives overshadow the general survey’s experience. For example, 99% either “strongly agree” (83%) or “agree” (16%) with the statement, “Experiencing the land of the Bible first-hand has strengthened my spiritual life” (Figure 19). Only 1% “disagree.”
In comparing the spiritual value of studying historical geography in the class versus studying on site in Israel (see Figure 6, discussed earlier), 93% either “strongly agree”(68%) or “agree” (25%) with the statement, “My on-site study of the historical geography of Israel contributed more to my spiritual life than my classroom study of the same.” Only 7% “disagree.”
The survey also provided a place for respondents to write in a personal response in relation to their spiritual life. Below are listed some of the more notable answers. All responses are included in Appendix C. (Only two respondents objected to the value of going to Israel; rather than comment here I have done so in the footnotes of Appendix C.) The question was stated, “Please answer in your own words: How has your study of historical geography affected your relationship with God?”
The study of historical geography adds a richer level of realism to biblical events. Relating the biblical narrative to the place in which it may have taken place adds to the visual experience of reading and understanding God’s Word. So much of God’s Word occurs in REAL places and to neglect a study of those places in the context of the passage under consideration is to miss a layer of observation that helps in making the Bible the living book it is.75
… as I read God’s Word, I actually visualize the scenes, see the people, feel the air, smell the aromas. I think you must know about the land a person is from in order to fully understand that person. When you know the land of God’s chosen people and see the places where ‘His only begotten Son’ actually walked, then you can more fully understand HIM.76
I have much clearer images in my mind when I read the Bible of what may have historically happened; I remember after my Israel trip feeling like my religious experience was much more tangibly grounded in earthly realities.77
It adds depth to my personal and preparational Bible study, and as a result has enriched my spiritual growth.78
Knowing the geography of Israel and how the Israelites had to really trust God in those areas has helped me trust God in ‘unbearable’ situations. Knowing that God sovereignly put the Israelites in Israel in those conditions (hot, desert, etc.) reminds me regularly that God knows best what his people need and that I simply need to trust Him completely.79
Historical Geography has shown me the reliability of the Bible—places are really there. It has made more real the fact that God is in the physical realm and not just the spiritual, and that Jesus came to earth. It has shown that His promise to the Jews is still good.80
… It has also shown me that as I gaze upon a rather mundane-looking, arid desert landscape in Israel and reflect upon the (by contrast) profound, history altering events that took place there, I realize that God can and does do profound and potentially history altering things TODAY in rather ‘mundane-looking’ and ‘arid’ and ‘desert-like’ landscapes.81
… When David talks about hiding in the cliffs, I know what these look like. When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, I know how barren it is. All of this knowledge is because I lived there and studied there. If I had not had this experience it would be a lot harder for me to comprehend these small things. I need to be able to see things in order to understand them, and by my going to Israel, while I can’t SEE God, I SEE where He was and what He lived with and encountered.82
It has made me realize even more that God is a personal God, involved in events and time on earth. He acted then, is acting now, and will act in the future. I love God more!83
… It has helped me understand so many parts of the Bible more deeply than I ever thought possible, therefore better helping me to understand the Great God who created the universe, but knows me personally and dwells inside me.84
… Having a visual picture of where things took place helps me to remember what I read better and helps me explain the setting better to others.85
… Before, I believed my faith to be true…but to see with my own eyes the setting of my faith was priceless to me… . I don’t know that I would have been impacted the same way if I had just taken a class.86
I think while I was in Israel I came to see God less as a subject to be studied, with various categories, and more as a person who has stepped into human history and interacted with his people… . God has revealed himself primarily through real stories in real places, and not only through treatises and categorical data. The same God who, sometimes visibly, manifested himself on the hills of Judah is the same God who I walk with.87
… The major highways today, for the most part, follow the same route as they did in biblical days. This recognition continues to give me a ‘connectedness’ to those people and God’s work among them. We are ‘regular people’ just as they were ‘regular people’ and God may choose to work in our midst as he did then. This encourages me in my relationship with Him.88
… Reading the Gospel of John while sitting on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee provides an ultimate PowerPoint presentation of Jesus’ life. No classroom can hope to replicate that.89
… It’s an amazing experience to understand and see things first hand and to be able to picture it in my mind forevermore. Seeing God’s Holy Land has had an enormous effect of strengthening in my faith and relationship with God.90
… Every passage of Scripture puts my memories on the tip of my tongue and makes me smile because I know the land so well. I would not trade my time in Israel for anything.91
My first-hand study of the historical geography of Israel forever took Scripture (especially the Old Testament) out of that category of hard-to-relate-to historical literature (the category of Josephus, Homer, and the Epic of Gilgamesh) and plunged it into the category of stories about people just like me.92
Understanding the historical geography of the land of Israel changed my life… . Prior to going to Israel I used to scan over so much of the Scriptures relating the geography because I simply did not understand it. Now I read those portions intently because I have been there and I understand better what the text is saying… . As a result the Lord brought me to a deeper dependence upon Him, learning to trust in Him for everything in my life, no matter how big or small.93
It helps me to see the places mentioned in the Bible as actual places where God interacted with people. I see that God is not merely a Creator who left the world to its own devices, but rather, becomes involved in the actual people and places that He created. I guess you could say, He has become more personal.94
Learning the text with my feet was a breaking point in my journey of faith. After coming to Israel, my passion for the text, a passion to dig deeply and with all my strength, was stirred so deeply that I really stepped into a faith of the heart instead of a Christianity of the head… . It is important however that study tours in the land raise questions of faith as well as issues of geography, maps, data and all the other interesting information that this land yields.95
The proper response to understanding more of God’s Word is to be drawn into a deeper relationship with Him. Context is especially important for understanding the Bible, and historical geography is a vital resource for establishing this context… . In summary, historical geography has significantly enhanced my own personal walk with the Lord and is undoubtedly worth the effort to study it.96
… Insights learned through historical geography aid me in teaching and preaching God’s Word. It helps me to paint a picture in the listener’s mind and to bring the Bible to life.97
Historical Geography has added a dimension in the depth of my understanding of the culture and historicity of the Bible, which has ultimately affected how I view the God of the Bible. I feel that I have a richer, fuller understanding of Him, and am better able to appreciate the realness of how He affects His people’s lives and reaches out to them within their cultures.98
Geography clearly meant something to God. Using mountains, rivers, lakes and deserts means there is much to learn in these contexts. People in the places and circumstances they found themselves had to relate to God. As I identify with the people in the Bible, I better understand what God requires of me.99
For those respondents who teach the Bible, 71% “strongly agree” with the general statement, “When I teach the Bible I relate biblical events to the places where they took place” (Figure 20). 23% “agree” and 6% “disagree,” indicating they do not relate a passage to its historical geography in their teaching.
A more pointed statement dealt with instances when a passage actually mentions a site. For those who responded, 50% “strongly agree” with the assertion, “When a passage mentions a biblical site, I explain its significance when teaching the passage” (Figure 21). 39% “agree” and 11% “disagree.” These indicate an interesting comparison to the previous statement. Generally speaking, 93% say they relate biblical events to the places where they took place, but only 89% will do so when a passage mentions a biblical site. Confirming this, the mention of a site in a passage increases the number of teachers who generally do not include historical geography from 6% to 11%.
If historical geography assists an individual’s personal understanding of Scripture, it would also follow that using historical geography in teaching helps the understanding of the listener. The results also verify this reality, for 47% “strongly agree” and 39% “agree” that “When I include historical geography in my communication of the Bible, my listeners tell me they understand much better what I am teaching” (Figure 22). 14% “disagree,” indicating they receive no feedback as to how historical geography has helped the listener.
The majority of respondents (85%) feel historical geography should be taught when the Bible is taught. 41% “strongly agree,” and 44% “agree” with the statement, “When I am listening to a sermon, if the preacher does not relate the passage to its historical geography, he has not given me the full picture” (Figure 23 on next page). Only 15% “disagree.”
One might argue that surveying only students of historical geography can be likened to asking those in a Mexican restaurant if they like Mexican food. With the study of historical geography being almost entirely elective today, it would seem most of these students would already have an affinity towards the subject. Yet there were some on the survey who honestly answered that they felt historical geography played no role in their on-going lives today. But these exceptions prove the rule, for while all had the freedom to object, the overwhelming majority—from various backgrounds—supported the study. In addition, students who had not studied the subject would have no basis for commenting on it.
In the areas of Bible study, application, and teaching, historical geography plays a significant role in the present lives and ministries of those surveyed. Historical geography has provided 92% of respondents a greater confidence in the Bible as God’s Word, and 97% reveal that their class on historical geography improved their understanding of the Bible . Regarding the contribution of historical geography to biblical interpretation, 94% agree that its role is indispensable, and 95% believe the Bible’s history and geography cannot be completely understood without the other.
The overwhelming majority (98%) of respondents who have traveled to Israel said that buying many books on historical geography could not equal what their trip to Israel has given them. For those who took a class and also went to Israel, only 13% felt they gained more of an understanding of historical geography in class than on-site in Israel. The 87% who disagreed considered that being in the land itself offered more by way of education. This illustrates that while there is a significant benefit to taking a class on historical geography, the benefit increases when one studies historical geography on location. Comparing this percentage (87%) with the 98% who felt books could not compare with going to Israel, we see that there is more than knowledge to be gained by a trip to Israel. In fact, 93% felt that their study in Israel contributed more to their spiritual lives than their classroom study.
By cross-tabulating the different groups of Figure 7 with the statement of Figure 8 we find that those who took a class prior to going to Israel see a prior education as of greater necessity (61% “strongly agree”) than those who took the class while in Israel (39%); each group’s answer seems to reflect their experience. But those who took a class after going to Israel saw about the same degree of importance for prior education (60%) as those who took a class before traveling. More surprising results came from those who had never been to Israel. Of those who feel the question is applicable, not one disagrees with the statement, and 83% “strongly agree” that education prior to going to Israel is essential.
A full 98% noted that historical geography helped their memory of biblical events and applications, while 87% agreed that the study better directs them toward biblical application. More specifically in relation to the spiritual life, 96% have increased in their love for God and the Bible through the study of historical geography. And 99% agree that experiencing the land of Israel has strengthened their spiritual life (Figure 19).
An interesting pattern is noticed when the statement, “Experiencing the land of the Bible first-hand has strengthened my spiritual life,” is cross-tabulated with the amount of time people have spent in Israel. For those who have spent up to four weeks in Israel, 71% “strongly agree” with the statement; of those who spent one to six months, 85% “strongly agree;” and those who have spent more than six months, 94% “strongly agree.” This pattern reveals that the longer one spends in Israel, the greater impact the land has on their walk with God.
The majority of respondents believe that historical geography should be implemented in teaching as well as personal study. In fact 93% say they use historical geography in their teaching, and 85% expect it to be included in sermons they hear. Those respondents who actually teach on historical geography when a passage mentions a site were 89%, and 86% of respondents who implement historical geography in their teaching receive positive feedback.
The research clearly revealed those who understand and experience historical geography enjoy a better memory of biblical events, clearer understanding of the text, clearer direction to its application, and more effective communication of the Bible. In the realm of the spiritual life, historical geography provides a greater confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and instills a greater love for God and the Bible. Those who study geography, coupled with a study-trip to Israel, experience even greater benefits than those who simply study in the classroom.
75 Survey #002
76 Survey #006
77 Survey #018
78 Survey #019
79 Survey #022
80 Survey #026
81 Survey #028
82 Survey #032
83 Survey #033
84 Survey #040
85 Survey #047
86 Survey #049
87 Survey #056
88 Survey #058
89 Survey #067
90 Survey #084
91 Survey #087
92 Survey #095
93 Survey #104
94 Survey #116
95 Survey #117
96 Survey #118
97 Survey #126
98 Survey #138
99 Survey #147
Related Topics: Archaeology