Maps of Israel on this website are East-oriented for historical reasons. The Bible itself is East-oriented, since it was the practice of the people of Israel to face the rising sun when determining direction. The word East is translated from the Hebrew words mizrach, which means sunrising (Deut. 3:27; NASB, NIV, ESV; 1 Chron. 4:39; NASB, NIV, ESV), and kedem, which means “before” or “in front of” (Ezek. 48:2; NASB, NIV, ESV). Thus, East was in front, West was behind, North was on the left, and South was on the right.
Many early maps, including ones from the Medieval Period (5th to 9th century A.D.), are East-oriented. The Madaba Mosaic map, for example, is one of the most ancient (6th century A.D.). Click on the maps for enlargements.
Nearly all the geographical regions in the Holy Land are elongated along the North-South axis. With East-orientation, this axis is horizontal. Turning the map east fits nicely with the history of the Holy Land, where stories often contain a regional component. The exception to the rule is Galilee, where the valleys run east and west, not north and south, making the region an important focus of communication between nations to the north, like Assyria and Babylon, and Egypt to the south.
St. George’s Church – Madaba, Jordan
The Madaba Map mosaic was discovered in 1884 during the construction of this Greek Orthodox Church. Unprotected, large portions of the map were destroyed in the decades that followed. The restoration and conservation of the map took place in 1965 with a donation from the “German Society for the exploration of Palestine.”