What exactly is the “promised land” and how do Christians mean it–as opposed to Jews?

Your question is very interesting. For the Jews, I know, the idea started as early as the prophets that there would be a Day of Yahweh in which God would come and return the Judeans/Israelites to their homeland, restoring also a king from the Davidic line (the Aramaic word for king was messiah, which simply means annointed one). That’s why in Matthew–the author of Matthew being a Jewish Christian–it’s so important to establish Jesus’s connection through Joseph to the Davidic line, and that’s why that text begins with a genealogy of Jesus. So in times of strife, especially after Daniel, people expecting the world to end looked for signs that a Davidic contender would return and restore the Jews to Israel. That is the sense that Jews mean “promised,” at the same time accepting that that restoration is always deferred. 

In general, when Jewish people refer to the promised land, then, they mean a literal place. But some modern Jews do believe in an afterlife, and that tradition also began with Daniel, the latest book to make it into the Hebrew canon. 

As for what PART of Israel was promised, that depends on what you read. Some base the boundaries on Abraham’s itinerary (Babylon to Haran to Israel to Egypt and back), which Samuel says was also the boundary of Israel in David’s time. But of course, we have no real evidence of David’s existence any more than we have knowledge of Abraham’s. More on this here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promised_Land But generally, Jews equate the “promised land” with what Christians call the holy land, which is Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. 

On the other hand, Christianity is varied, so Christian interpretation of “promised land” is varied too.

  • In Romans, Paul wrote “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” That implies the whole world is “promised.”
  • For many, the promised land is the afterlife; for others, it is a world in which the faithful aree restored after something called the rapture.
  • White settlers of North America believed America was promised to them because of their Christianity and of course their whiteness; they called this manifest destiny. Some Christians who take the Hebrew bible more literally, such as Seventh Day Adventists, think the restoration of Israel means the end of history and the rapture for Chrstians too But then, many Christians believe they have replaced Jews as God’s chosen people.
  • Right now,the Al-Aqsa mosque sits on the site where Jesus was supposedly crucified and where the (second) temple was built. That keeps the world from ending, I suppose. In Muhammad’s time, Jerusalem was the direction of prayer, but Muhammad changed this to Mecca after having a revelation from Jibril (Gabriel). Muslims see this site as more a holy land or a “blessed” land than a promised land.

I’ve probably oversimplified many religions take on these things, so someone more intimately connected with one of them should share what they know. . 

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