The land later known as Palestine, and spoken of by Christian peoples as the Holy Land, was in a large measure the same area that had been given to the Twelve Tribes of Israel as an inheritance, after their captivity in Egypt. Through the centuries, many changes had occurred in the control of the land, changes which had brought much outside influence and many people within its borders. The land was under the domination of the Roman Empire and was divided into four major areas or provinces.
In the northernmost area was the province governed by the vassal king Herod Philip, a son of Herod. The area is identified by five Greek names of the various regions within its boundaries: Iturea, Trachonitis, Batanea, Auranitis, and Gaulanitis. (See Luke 3:1.) Numerous Syrians, Greeks, and other foreigners lived there. Little of New Testament story takes place in this area.
Galilee is another northern province that was also governed by a son of Herod, Herod Antipas. It was a rich agricultural region, known for its grains and fine fruits. It is from these “people of the land,” considered uneducated and neglectful of the laws of the pious in Jerusalem, that Jesus called most of the leadership for his church and kingdom in that day.
Perea was also under the vassalship of Herod Antipas. It was a sparsely inhabited wilderness region of only minor consequence in its day.
The province of Judea had originally also been under the governorship of Archelaus, a son of Herod. He was not able to control the region satisfactorily; consequently, the Romans had established their own governors to rule the people. This resulted in Caesarea being the military capitol and Jerusalem the religious center of this province. The prominence of Jerusalem for the Jewish people is found in the scriptural designation “Judea and Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17). Also forming portions of this province were Samaria and Idumea.
Decapolis or the region of the “ten cities” was a federation of city states that had been established by the Greeks. The foreign dominance that continued in the days of Jesus largely precludes this area from the New Testament story.