One of the arguments put forward for the nondivine origin of the Bible is its seeming unfamiliarity with the astronomy of our universe. Examples abound where it could be argued that a primitive understanding of our solar system is demonstrated. For example, the Bible seems to suggest that the sky is a “firmament” or roof in the very first chapter of its first book (Genesis 1:6). There are other parts which seem to be supportive of a geocentric model of the universe, suggesting that the Earth is at its center, with other celestial entities revolving around it. Psalm 104, for example, talks of God setting the Earth “on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” And many find evidence of the Bible supporting the idea of the Earth itself being flat; one such example is the episode in the Gospels where Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness prior to his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). He is taken to the top of a hill and shown all of the kingdoms in the world—which of course is impossible in a spherical world. Another manifestation of the limited awareness of the Bible, and perhaps one which has not been given as much attention as it should, is its understanding, or lack thereof, of world geography.
A thought-provoking meme circulating on social media shows a map of the world and a tiny circle, comprising parts of Arabia, the Levant, and the most northwesterly parts of Africa, with a caption that states that “every single action of God in the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Torah took place in that little circle.” While provocative, the meme is factually true—every divine venture takes place in a small fraction of the Earth. It is true that parts of the world outside of the circle are mentioned in the pages of the Bible. However, God didn’t intervene directly and explicitly in human affairs at all in these places.
Even if we do take into consideration these parts of the world, the geographical scope of the Bible is minimal. For example, the most westerly part of the world mentioned in the Bible is Spain, and not because God had acted there, but instead because it is mentioned in passing by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans as a future place of proselytization (Romans 15:28). And it is only in the later New Testament books where other parts of modern-day Southern Europe are mentioned. Spain has been suggested as the identity of the mysterious ‘Tarshish’ (Hebrew: תַּרְשִׁישׁ), a place mentioned 25 times in the Old Testament (e.g., Psalms 48:7, Isaiah 23:1, Jeremiah 10:9, and 2 Chronicles 20:36). However, many Old Testament place names are open to a number of interpretations, as we shall see. Some believe that ‘Tarshish’ referenced the more nearby Carthage on the North African coast.
To the South, there are a number of references to Arabia and parts of Africa. But with regards to the latter, only those parts on the coasts of the Mediterranean and Red Seas are name-checked. The concept that there was a sprawling continent south of Ethiopia, potentially populated by millions of people, is lost on the writers of the Bible. Similarly, although biblical people were accustomed to visits from people from the East due to trade that would arrive through the Persian Gulf, knowledge of areas to the east of the Gulf is sketchy. People from these areas, who incidentally made up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population at the time, are sweepingly referred to as ‘People of the East’ (1 Kings 4:30, Job 1:3, and Ezekiel 25:4). The one explicit reference to an area beyond the Persian Gulf comes in a very late book in the Old Testament canon. The Book of Esther refers to ‘India’ as being the most easterly part of the Persian Empire (Esther 1:1 and Esther 8:9). Its writer is believed to be a Jew living in exile in the Persian Empire as the book makes no reference to Jerusalem, Israel, or Judah.
The limited world geography of the Bible causes many to conclude that it simply reflects the limited understanding of the people who wrote it down, as opposed to the influence of an omniscient deity. A stark example of the unconscious ignorance of people during biblical times can be found by exploring the ‘world map’ of the most celebrated cartographer of his time, Pomponius Mela, which was created about a decade after the Crucifixion. His map, which was universally lauded at the time, seems risibly simplistic by today’s standards. Like the books of the Bible, it shows no knowledge of the land masses we know today as the Americas, Oceania, South East Asia, and the polar regions. Even when it began to be correctly speculated in the following few centuries that there were places beyond those on Mela’s map, Christian writers, who believed that all people on Earth descended from a literal Adam, denied that faraway lands could be inhabited by humans. St. Augustine, the early Christian philosopher and theologian, wrote in his tome City of God, “it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man.”
One way that people have attempted to reconcile the awkwardly limited geographical scope of the Bible with its supposed divine influence is to claim, as in the case of Tarshish and Spain, that one of the more obscure names refers to a place distant from its principal setting in the Near East. Some make this case, for example, about a place called ‘Sinim,’ which is mentioned in a solitary verse in Isaiah (49:12) as one of the places from where a future ‘servant of the Lord’ will call people at the end of time. The hypothesis suggests that Sinim refers specifically to the Chinese Qin state set up in the 700s BCE in central China. The comparison is drawn as there is a phonetic similarity between the Hebrew pronunciation of ‘Sinim’ and part of the name of the founder of the Qin state, Qin Shi Huang, whose name the polity would eventually take. However, a more straightforward reading equates ‘Sinim’ with the Aswan region of the more nearby Egypt.
Others make similar claims about ‘Magog” and ‘Gog,’ two entities mentioned in the Bible that Jewish tradition and Christianity identify as countries that will be defeated by the Messiah during the End of Days. Many evangelical Christians, such as Pastor John Hagee, equate Gog and Magog with Russia and China, respectively. The link is again based on a somewhat tenuous phonetic link between ‘Magog’ and ‘Mongol’—the name given to the ethnic group that would later inhabit much of China—despite both words coming from languages in completely distinct linguistic families. The link with Russia is even more fanciful. Ezekiel refers to the ruler of Gog as the “prince of Meshech” (Ezekiel 38:2), suggesting that ‘Meshek’ is another territory of which he has control. The similarity between the Hebrew word for prince, ‘rush,’ has some people suggesting that a reference to Russia can be found in the pages of the Old Testament, with the word ‘Meshek’ being compared to ‘Moscow.’ This identification is particularly popular among a certain generation of preachers for whom the Cold War and Maoist China are in living memory. More recently, the interpretation has been used by those who see Russia’s Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping of China flexing their muscles on the international stage as precursors to the Apocalypse. Ultimately, it simply shows how creative one can be about the more indeterminate places mentioned in Scripture; throughout history, Gog and Magog were variously identified as a number of different groups that might play a part in end times, such as the Vikings and the Huns.
Despite claims that mention of Chinese empires and the lands of the former USSR can be found in the pages of the Old Testament, even the most zealous of evangelicals face difficulties when trying to find references to the Americas in the Bible. In his paper “Is America in Bible Prophecy?” even Thomas Ice, director of the evangelical Liberty University in Virginia, has to content himself with Old Testament verses such as Haggai 2:6-7, Isaiah 66:18-20, and Zechariah 12:2-3, that nebulously refer to “all nations.” Despite this lack of references, one poll showed that as many as 86% of American evangelicals believe that the lands of the United States are “uniquely blessed” by a God who doesn’t acknowledge their existence in his holy book—despite there being an estimated 7 million people living in the Americas at the time that the final biblical books were composed.
One of the hardest things for American prophecy students to accept is that the United States is not clearly mentioned in Bible prophecy, yet our nation is the only superpower in the world today. —Tim LaHaye (American Baptist minister)
One response to the uneasiness felt by Americans in the 1800s regarding the Bible’s silence about the Americas was to create addenda to the canon of Scripture so as to include references to them. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, claimed in the 1830s that he had found records of ancient civilizations that had been written on golden plates in a language that he called “reformed Egyptian.” According to Smith, the founders of these civilizations were Jews who had travelled from Israel to the Americas at various times in antiquity and had formed tribes and established significant communities there, building cities and synagogues, and observing the Law of Moses. After the Crucifixion, Jesus even arrived and gave advice to them. Following intertribal warfare, only one of the tribes survived—the Nephites—the descendants of whom, according to Mormon tradition, are the Native Americans.
Smith’s book has, however, been thoroughly debunked and reflects his poor understanding of life in the Americas prior to the start of their colonization by Europeans in the Middle Ages. He refers anachronistically to a whole range of things that were not available in pre-Columbian America, such as silk, camels, steel, horses, cattle, barley, and wheat. DNA testing has also shown us that native Americans have more in common with those living in Russia and Kazakhstan than any Semitic group. It is believed that they descended from humans who crossed a land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska tens of thousands of years ago, rather than from anyone who may have travelled by boat from Canaan in Old Testament times.
Another line of thinking that has led people to believe that the American people and its lands are sanctified is undergoing a resurgence, in spite of its demonstrable implausibility. It holds that, following the invasion of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the ten tribes living there left and set up home in the British Isles. The descendants of the tribes who made Britain their home were those that went on to found the United States and form the majority of the population living there today. The hypothesis, known as British Israelism, sees Great Britain and the United States as a ‘new Israel’ and their indigenous populations as a new ‘chosen people.’ However, this conjecture smacks of people reaching a conclusion and then cherry-picking data that can be contorted to suit it. One such piece of evidence given is the similarity between some words in English and Hebrew. For example, the Hebrew word for ‘eye’ is ‘ayin’ ( עַיִן) and its word for ‘wine’ is ‘yayin’ (יין). As Russell Spittler quite succinctly suggests, however, the purported links between the two languages have “no ample basis in linguistic scholarship and are based on coincidences only,” and the connection between English and Hebrew could hardly be any weaker.
Those who do not resort to Mormonism or British Israelism to find a link between the Bible and the Americas say that its pages are merely about God’s miraculous interventions with one group of people at a specific time in ancient history. For many people, this raises more questions than it answers. Why does God not interact with people today in the same way that he did in Old Testament times? Why, for example, does he not cause seas to part (Exodus 14:16), turn people into pillars of salt (Genesis 19:26), and cause donkeys to talk (Numbers 22:28) in today’s Florida like he did in ancient Israel? And why did an omniscient and omnibenevolent God choose the inhabitants of a miniscule area of the Earth’s surface with whom to engage? For many, the more preferable analysis is that the Bible was written about what was an ultimately localized tribal god, by humans who, at the time, did not typically travel outside a ten-mile radius of their place of birth.
 The map meme can be found at: https://twitpic.com/dwmnwh
 See Statista Research Department, “Historical Population of the Continents 10,000BCE-2000CE” (December 31, 2007). Statista. <https://www.statista.com/statistics/1006557/global-population-per-continent-10000bce-2000ce/>.
 Konrad Miller’s 1898 reconstruction of Pomponius Mela’s map can be accessed at this link from the Digital Maps of the Ancient World website.
 Thomas D. Ice, “Is America in Bible Prophecy?” Article Archives, 69 (May 2009). Scholars Crossing: The Institutional Repository of Liberty University. <https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/69>.
 Michelle Vu, “Most Americans Believe God Uniquely Blessed US.” Christian Post (October 23, 2008). <https://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-most-americans-believe-god-uniquely-blessed-u-s-34991/>.
 Ice, “Is America in Bible Prophecy?“
 Lizzie Wade, “How a Mormon Lawyer Transformed Archaeology in Mexico—and Ended Up Losing his Faith.” American Association for the Advancement of Science (January 18, 2018). <https://www.science.org/content/article/how-mormon-lawyer-transformed-archaeology-mexico-and-ended-losing-his-faith/>.
 Michael Price, “Closest-Known Ancestor of Today’s Native Americans Found in Siberia.” American Association for the Advancement of Science (June 5, 2019). <https://www.science.org/content/article/closest-known-ancestor-today-s-native-americans-found-siberia/>.