Holy Land

Term used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to describe the Land of Israel and Palestine

The Holy Land (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ Eretz HaKodesh, Latin: Terra Sancta; Arabic: الأرض المقدسة Al-Arḍ Al-Muqaddasah or الديار المقدسة Ad-Diyar Al-Muqaddasah) is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that also includes the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River. Traditionally, it is synonymous both with the biblical Land of Israel and with the region of Palestine. The term "Holy Land" usually refers to a territory roughly corresponding to the modern State of Israel, the Palestinian territories, western Jordan, and parts of southern Lebanon and of southwestern Syria. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all regard it as holy.

Part of the significance of the land stems from the religious significance of Jerusalem (the holiest city to Judaism), as the historical region of Jesus' ministry, and as the site of the Isra and Mi'raj event of c. 621 CE in Islam.

The holiness of the land as a destination of Christian pilgrimage contributed to launching the Crusades, as European Christians sought to win back the Holy Land from the Muslims, who had conquered it from the Christian Byzantine Empire in the 630s. In the 19th century, the Holy Land became the subject of diplomatic wrangling as the Holy Places played a role in the Eastern Question which led to the Crimean War in the 1850s.

Many sites in the Holy Land have long been pilgrimage destinations for adherents of the Abrahamic religions, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahá'ís. Pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, to confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation,[2] and to connect personally to the Holy Land.[3]

Jews do not commonly refer to the Land of Israel as "Holy Land" (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקוֹדֵשׁ Eretz HaKodesh). The Tanakh explicitly refers to it as "holy land" in only one passage.[8] The term "holy land" is further used twice in the deuterocanonical books.[9][10] The holiness of the Land of Israel is generally implied in the Tanakh by the Land being given to the Israelites by God, that is, it is the "promised land", an integral part of God's covenant. In the Torah, many mitzvot commanded to the Israelites can only be performed in the Land of Israel,[11] which serves to differentiate it from other lands. For example, in the Land of Israel, "no land shall be sold permanently" (). Shmita is only observed with respect to the Land of Israel, and the observance of many holy days is different, as an extra day is observed in the Jewish diaspora.

The uniqueness of the Land of Israel is...'geo-theological' and not merely climatic. This is the land which faces the entrance of the spiritual world, that sphere of existence that lies beyond the physical world known to us through our senses. This is the key to the land's unique status with regard to prophecy and prayer, and also with regard to the commandments.[12]

From the perspective of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, the holiness of Israel had been concentrated since the sixteenth century, especially for burial, in the "Four Holy Cities": Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias – as Judaism's holiest cities. Jerusalem, as the site of the Temple, is considered especially significant.[13] Sacred burials are still undertaken for diaspora Jews who wish to lie buried in the holy soil of Israel.[14]

According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem is Mount Moriah, the location of the binding of Isaac. The Hebrew Bible mentions the name "Jerusalem" 669 times, often because many mitzvot can only be performed within its environs. The name "Zion", which usually refers to Jerusalem, but sometimes the Land of Israel, appears in the Hebrew Bible 154 times.

The Talmud mentions the religious duty of colonising Israel.[15] So significant in Judaism is the act of purchasing land in Israel, the Talmud allows for the lifting of certain religious restrictions of Sabbath observance to further its acquisition and settlement.[16] Rabbi Johanan said that "Whoever walks four cubits in [the Land of Israel] is guaranteed entrance to the World to Come".[17][18] A story says that when R. Eleazar b. Shammua' and R. Johanan HaSandlar left Israel to study from R. Judah ben Bathyra, they only managed to reach Sidon when "the thought of the sanctity of Palestine overcame their resolution, and they shed tears, rent their garments, and turned back".[18] Due to the Jewish population being concentrated in Israel, emigration was generally prevented, which resulted in a limiting of the amount of space available for Jewish learning. However, after suffering persecutions in Israel for centuries after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbis who had found it very difficult to retain their position moved to Babylon, which offered them better protection. Many Jews wanted Israel to be the place where they died, in order to be buried there. The sage Rabbi Anan said "To be buried in Israel is like being buried under the altar."[4][5][6] The saying "His land will absolve His people" implies that burial in Israel will cause one to be absolved of all one's sins.[18][19]

For Christians, the Land of Israel is considered holy because of its association with the birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, whom Christians regard as the Savior or Messiah. It is also because Jesus was himself Jewish, and personally considered it the Holy Land within the original Jewish religious context.

Christian books, including many editions of the Bible, often have maps of the Holy Land (considered to be Galilee, Samaria, and Judea). For instance, the Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae (lit. Travel book through Holy Scripture) of Heinrich Bünting (1545–1606), a German Protestant pastor, featured such a map.[20] His book was very popular, and it provided "the most complete available summary of biblical geography and described the geography of the Holy Land by tracing the travels of major figures from the Old and New testaments."[20]

As a geographic term, the description "Holy Land" loosely encompasses modern-day Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, western Jordan and south-western Syria.

In the Qur'an, the term Al-Ard Al-Muqaddasah (Arabic: الأرض المقدسة‎, English: "Holy Land") is used in a passage about Musa (Moses) proclaiming to the Children of Israel: "O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin."[Quran ] The Quran also refers to the land as being 'Blessed'.[21][22][23]

Jerusalem (referred to as Al-Quds, Arabic: الـقُـدس‎, "The Holy") has particular significance in Islam. The Quran refers to Muhammad's experiencing the Isra and Mi'raj as "a Journey by night from Al-Masjidil-Haram to Al-Masjidil-Aqsa, whose precincts We did bless ...".[Quran ][21] Ahadith infer that the "Farthest Masjid" is in Al-Quds; for example, as narrated by Abu Hurairah: "On the night journey of the Apostle of Allah, two cups, one containing wine and the other containing milk, were presented to him at Al-Quds (Jerusalem). He looked at them and took the cup of milk. Angel Gabriel said, 'Praise be to Allah, who guided you to Al-Fitrah (the right path); if you had taken (the cup of) wine, your Ummah would have gone astray'." However, some modern scholars argue that the 'Farthest Mosque' was a building or prayer-site just outside Medina.[24][25] The present building of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem had not been built in Muhammad's day, and the Quran does not contain any other reference to Jerusalem, apart from the reference to the change of the Qiblah from Jerusalem to Mecca. Jerusalem was Islam's first Qiblah (direction of prayer) in Muhammad's lifetime, however, this was later changed to the Kaaba in the Hijazi city of Mecca, following a revelation to Muhammad by the Archangel Jibril,[26] by which it is understood by scholars[who?] that it was in answer to the rejection by the Jews of Muhammed's prophetship.

The exact region referred to as being 'blessed' in the Qur'an, in verses like , and ,[21][22][23] has been interpreted differently by various scholars. Abdullah Yusuf Ali likens it to a wide land-range including Syria and Lebanon, especially the cities of Tyre and Sidon; Az-Zujaj describes it as, "Damascus, Palestine, and a bit of Jordan"; Muadh ibn Jabal as, "the area between al-Arish and the Euphrates"; and Ibn Abbas as, "the land of Jericho".[27] This overall region is referred to as "Ash-Shām" (Arabic: الـشَّـام‎).[28][29]

Bahá'ís consider Acre and Haifa sacred as Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was exiled to the prison of Acre from 1868 and spent his life in its surroundings until his death in 1892. In his writings he set the slope of Mount Carmel to host the Shrine of the Báb which his appointed successor `Abdu'l-Bahá erected in 1909 as a beginning of the terraced gardens there. The Head of the religion after him, Shoghi Effendi, began building other structures and the Universal House of Justice continued the work until the Bahá'í World Centre was brought to its current state as the spiritual and administrative centre of the religion.[30][31] Its gardens are highly popular places to visit[32] and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 2012 film The Gardener featured them.[33] The holiest places currently for Bahá'í pilgrimage are the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Acre and the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[34]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). . The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.