Holy Land

The Holy Land[lower-alpha 1] is an area roughly located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River, traditionally 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 and the Palestinian territories. Jews, Christians, and Muslims regard it as holy.[2]

The Holy Land
Native names
Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ
Latin: Terra Sancta
Arabic: الأرض المقدسة
Map of the Holy Land ("Terra Sancta"), Pietro Vesconte, 1321. Described by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld as "the first non-Ptolemaic map of a definite country".[1]
TypeHoly Place
LocationRegion between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea
Original useJudaism: Judaic Promised Land

Christianity: Land of the Gospels

Islam: Blessed land of the Quran
Current useMajor pilgrimage destination for the Abrahamic religions

Part of the significance of the land stems from the religious significance of Jerusalem (the holiest city to Judaism, and the location of the First and Second Temples), as well as its historical significance as the setting for most of the Bible, the historical locale of Jesus' ministry, the location of the first Qibla and the site of the Isra and Mi'raj event 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 Muslims, who had conquered it from the Christian Eastern Roman Empire in 630 AD. 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 Baháʼís. 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,[3] and to connect personally to the Holy Land.[4]


Olive trees, like this one in Jerusalem, have intrinsic symbolism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[5]
Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. The holiness of Israel attracted Jews to be buried in its holy soil. The sage Rabbi Anan said "To be buried in Israel is like being buried under the altar."[6][7][8]

Researchers consider that the concept of a land made holy by being the "earthly dwelling of the God of Israel" was present in Judaism at the latest by the time of Zechariah (6th century BCE).[9]

Jews commonly refer to the Land of Israel as "The Holy Land" (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקוֹדֵשׁ Eretz HaKodesh). However, the Tanakh explicitly refers to it as "holy land" in only one passage, Zechariah 2:16. The term "holy land" is further used twice in the deuterocanonical books (Wisdom 12:3, 2 Maccabees 1:7). 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,[10] which serves to differentiate it from other lands. For example, in the Land of Israel, "no land shall be sold permanently" (Lev 25:23). 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.

According to Eliezer Schweid:

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.[11]

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.[12] Sacred burials are still undertaken for diaspora Jews who wish to lie buried in the holy soil of Israel.[13]

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 populating Israel.[14] 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.[15] Rabbi Johanan said that "Whoever walks four cubits in Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] is guaranteed entrance to the World to Come".[16][13] 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".[13] 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."[6][7][8] The saying "His land will absolve His people" implies that burial in Israel will cause one to be absolved of all one's sins.[13][17]


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christianity, as it is the purported site of Christ's resurrection.

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.

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.[18] 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."[18]

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

On 4 January 1964, Paul VI made the first visit of a reigning pontiff to the Holy Land. It was a one day visit to Jerusalem.[19] On 20 April 1984, John Paul II fully recognized the Jewish nation and on 21 March 2000 he made the first five-days pilgrimage of a pope in Israel.[20]

Catholic Church guidelines for Holy Land pilgrimages recommend that visitors should seek "a healthy balance between visiting the holy places and encountering the local Christian community".[21]


Dome of the Rock (left) and Masjid Al-Qibli (right). The mosque was Islam's first direction of prayer (Qibla), and Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from there

In the Quran, 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 5:21] The Quran also refers to the land as being 'Blessed'.[22][23][24]

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-Masjid al-Haram to Al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose precincts We did bless ...".[Quran 17:1][22] 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'." 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.[25] The current construction of the Al-Aqsa mosque, which lies on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is dated to the early Umayyad period of rule in Palestine. Architectural historian K. A. C. Creswell, referring to a testimony by Arculf, a Gallic monk, during his pilgrimage to Palestine in 679–82, notes the possibility that the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, Umar ibn al-Khattab, erected a primitive quadrangular building for a capacity of 3,000 worshipers somewhere on the Haram ash-Sharif. However, Arculf visited Palestine during the reign of Mu'awiyah I, and it is possible that Mu'awiyah ordered the construction, not Umar. This latter claim is explicitly supported by the early Muslim scholar al-Muthahhar bin Tahir.[26] According to the Quran and Islamic traditions, Al-Aqsa Mosque is the place from which Muhammad went on a night journey (al-isra) during which he rode on Buraq, who took him from Mecca to al-Aqsa.[27] Muhammad tethered Buraq to the Western Wall and prayed at al-Aqsa Mosque and after he finished his prayers, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) traveled with him to heaven, where he met several other prophets and led them in prayer.[28] The historical significance of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Islam is further emphasized by the fact that Muslims turned towards al-Aqsa when they prayed for a period of 16 or 17 months after migration to Medina in 624; it thus became the qibla ("direction") that Muslims faced for prayer.[29]

The exact region referred to as being 'blessed' in the Quran, in verses like 17:1, 21:71 and 34:18,[22][23][24] 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".[30] This overall region is referred to as "Ash-Shām" (Arabic: الـشَّـام).[31][32]

Baháʼí faith

Followers of the Baháʼí Faith consider Acre and Haifa sacred as Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí World Centre was brought to its current state as the spiritual and administrative centre of the religion.[33][34] Its gardens are highly popular places to visit[35] and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 2012 film The Gardener featured them.[36] The holiest places currently for Baháʼí pilgrimage are the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Acre and the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[37]

See also


  1. Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ Ereṣ haqQōdeš, Latin: Terra Sancta; Arabic: الأرض المقدسة Al-Arḍ Al-Muqaddasah or الديار المقدسة Ad-Diyar Al-Muqaddasah


  1. Nordenskiöld, Adolf Erik (1889). Facsimile-atlas to the Early History of Cartography: With Reproductions of the Most Important Maps Printed in the XV and XVI Centuries. Kraus. pp. 51, 64.
  2. "Palestine | History, People, & Religion | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  3. Harris, David (2005). "Functionalism". Key Concepts in Leisure Studies. SAGE Key Concepts series (reprint ed.). London: SAGE. p. 117. ISBN 9780761970576. Retrieved 9 March 2019. Tourism frequently deploys metaphors such [as] pilgrimage [...] Religious ceremonies reinforce social bonds between believers in the form of rituals, and in their ecstatic early forms, they produced a worship of the social, using social processes ('collective excitation').
  4. Metti, Michael Sebastian (1 June 2011). "Jerusalem - the most powerful brand in history" (PDF). Stockholm University School of Business. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 January 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
  5. Angus, Julie (5 May 2014). Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit That Seduced the World. Greystone Books. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-1-77100-006-2. Retrieved 8 October 2020. The Olive Tree flourishes throughout Judaism, Islam and Christianity as a symbol of peace and prosperity, its oils cherished and its growers respected.
  6. Ketubot (tractate) 111, quoted in Ein Yaakov
  7. Rodkinson, Michael L. (translator) (2010). The Babylonian Talmud: all 20 volumes (Mobi Classics). MobileReference. p. 2234. ISBN 978-1-60778-618-4. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  8. Gil, Moshe (1997). A history of Palestine, 634–1099. Cambridge University Press. p. 632. ISBN 978-0-521-59984-9.
  9. Magness, Jodi (2017). "Purity Observance among Diaspora Jews in the Roman World" (PDF). Archaeology and Text. Ariel University and Lehigh University. 1: 39–65. doi:10.21461/AT012017.39-66. ISSN 2521-8034. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  10. Ziegler, Aharon (2007). Halakhic positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Vol. 4. New York: KTAV Publishing House. p. 173. ISBN 9780881259377. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  11. Schweid, Eliezer (1985). The Land of Israel: National Home Or Land of Destiny. Translated by Deborah Greniman. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, ISBN 0-8386-3234-3, p. 56.
  12. Feintuch, Yossi (1987). U.S. Policy on Jerusalem, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 1. ISBN 0-313-25700-0. Quote: "For the Jews the city has been the pre-eminent focus of their spiritual, cultural, and national life throughout three millennia [i.e. since the 10th century BCE.]."
  13. Jacobs, Joseph; Eisenstein, Judah David (1906). "Palestine, holiness of". The Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 30 July 2021 via JewishEncyclopedia.com.
  14. Herzog, Isaac (1967). The Main Institutions of Jewish Law: The law of obligations. Soncino Press. p. 51.
  15. Zahavi, Yosef (1962). Eretz Israel in rabbinic lore (Midreshei Eretz Israel): an anthology. Tehilla Institute. p. 28. If one buys a house from a non-Jew in Israel, the title deed may be written for him even on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath!? Is that possible? But as Rava explained, he may order a non-Jew to write it, even though instructing a non-Jew to do a work prohibited to Jews on the Sabbath is forbidden by rabbinic ordination, the rabbis waived their decree on account of the settlement of Palestine.
  16. Rabbi Nathan Shapira (1655). Chapter Eleven, Part 1: Footsteps in the Land. Tuv Ha'aretz ["The Goodness of the Land", translation & commentary by David Slavin]. Venice. Retrieved 30 October 2018 via chabad.org.
  17. "Why Do Jews Fly Their Dead to Israel for Burial?". www.chabad.org. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  18. Bünting, Heinrich (1585). "Description of the Holy Land". World Digital Library (in German).
  19. Myre, Greg (24 May 2014). "Popes In The Holy Land: After 2,000 Years, A New Tradition". NPR. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  20. "Israel welcomes visit by Pope John Paul II - March 2000". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 21 February 2000. Archived from the original on 30 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  21. Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal endorses new guidelines for Holy Land pilgrimages, published 21 July 2022, accessed 20 September 2022
  22. Quran 17:1–16
  23. Quran 21:51–82
  24. Quran 34:10–18
  25. Quran 2:142–177
  26. Elad, Amikam. (1995). Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic worship : holy places, ceremonies, pilgrimage. Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 29–43. ISBN 90-04-10010-5. OCLC 30399668.
  27. Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim world. Martin, Richard C. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. 2004. p. 482. ISBN 0-02-865603-2. OCLC 52178942.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  28. Vuckovic, Brooke Olson. (2005). Heavenly journeys, earthly concerns : the legacy of the miʻraj in the formation of Islam. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-48747-8. OCLC 61428375.
  29. States, nations, and borders : the ethics of making boundaries. Buchanan, Allen E., 1948-, Moore, Margaret (Professor in Political Theory). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-511-06159-5. OCLC 252506070.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  30. Ali (1991), p. 934
  31. Bosworth, C.E. (1997). "Al-Shām". Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 9. p. 261.
  32. Salibi, Kamal S. (2003). A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. I.B.Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-86064-912-7. To the Arabs, this same territory, which the Romans considered Arabian, formed part of what they called Bilad al-Sham, which was their own name for Syria.
  33. Gatrella, Jay D.; Noga Collins-Kreinerb (September 2006). "Negotiated space: Tourists, pilgrims, and the Baháʼí terraced gardens in Haifa". Geoforum. 37 (5): 765–778. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.01.002. ISSN 0016-7185.
  34. Smith, Peter (2000). "Arc-buildings of; Baháʼí World Centre". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 45–46, 71–72. ISBN 978-1-85168-184-6.
  35. Leichman, Abigail Klein (7 September 2011). "Israel's top 10 public gardens". Israel21c.org. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  36. Dargis, Manohla (8 August 2013). "The Cultivation of Belief - 'The Gardener,' Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Inquiry into Religion". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  37. UNESCO World Heritage Centre (8 July 2008). "Three new sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List". Retrieved 8 July 2008.

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

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