The vast majority of Bible narratives occur in the hills, from the Galilee in the north, down through Samaria to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. “There is some rainfall (above 24 in.). The nights are cool in summer, cold in winter, when frost and snow are unusual but not unknown” (George Cansdale 1970, 27). The forests that once covered these hills are mentioned in stories of David. His son Absalom was killed in a forest, when his long hair caught on the branches of the trees. At one time, the region was alive with wild animals, which found plenty of grazing land, as well as fruits and nuts from the variety of trees.
The rock formations in the sandstone provide many holes and clefts that have served as homes to humans and beasts throughout the centuries. This was an excellent hiding place for David when he was fleeing Saul, and it was later used to shelter the Zealots and outlaws in Jesus’s day.
Galilee, the home of Jesus and his disciples, is north of the Plain of Esdraelon. The upland ranges of the hills here “stretch away northward, gradually rising as they come nearer to the high mountains of Lebanon. They rise in a series of steps, with scarp edges, facing generally south or south-east. The lower steps in the ‘staircase’ were and are fertile basin lands, separated from each other by barren limestone edges. In the time of Jesus, these basins were known for their grain, fruit and olives. They formed a prosperous, well-populated area. But the higher steps rise to a bleak and windswept upland. This is isolated and infertile, and lacks the forests of the higher mountain slopes farther north” (Pat Alexander, Eerdman ’ s Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 6–7). This was sometimes divided into the Lower and Upper Galilee, with the northern section often under foreign control.
Galilee was a busy region, crossed by the great trade routes, bringing many strangers with news of the outside world; a mixed community with fishermen casting their nets on the Sea of Galilee and farmers tilling the soil of their fertile farmlands. It was full of people who were more racially mixed than in the Jerusalem region, and considered hayseeds by these city-dwellers.