Canaan was not a big desert. (Someone tell the media!)

Looking at biblically-themed art or watching biblically-themed movies, one has to assume most of ancient Israel’s territory was desert. This is simply not true of a land of “milk and honey” – two products that require vegetation.

One example of geographical misinformation is in depictions of David and Goliath. The text of 1 Samuel gives a precise description of the location.

“The Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.” (1 Samuel 17:1-3, ESV)

Here are some popular depictions of the Valley of Elah location.

The 2013 miniseries "The Bible" is one of many to have portrayed David and Goliath as fighting in a desert. (Image by

The 2013 miniseries “The Bible” puts the David and Goliath battle in a desert. (Image by

This nice image for iPad also puts David and Goliath in the desert. (Image by TabTale LTD)

This image from an iPad storybook adventure also puts David and Goliath in the desert. Notice the brown, barren hills and the total absence of plant life. (Image by TabTale LTD)

Even VeggieTales puts the Giant Philistine Pickle in the desert sand and brown, barren hills. (Image from

Even VeggieTales puts the Giant Philistine Pickle in desert sand. (Image from

Here is the actual location described in 1 Samuel 17:

The location of David v. Goliath as it really appears. This photo was even taken during the dry season. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The location of David v. Goliath as it really appears. This photo was even taken at the height of the dry season. The valley is often greener than this. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Why is David v. Goliath portrayed in a desert instead of a green, fertile valley? Perhaps a) the producers/artists have never visited the Land or performed due diligence, or quite possibly b) the barrenness of the desert is believed to carry some artistic value. Maybe c) it’s just cheaper to animate/film in a desert. In any case, many modern media types just ignore the rich and detailed geographical setting.

Legends, tall tales and myths tend to sensationalize or ignore geographical details. When one looks at the Bible’s geography, the text consistently fits the reality. The Bible’s geographical details are impressive and undeniably real throughout its pages.

A visit to the Bible Lands permits us to visualize the events we read about. We literally “walk where they walked” and see the same hills, valleys, lakes, shores, (and in some areas… yes, deserts) featured throughout the Bible.  Here is a nice 10-minute video showing the impressive geographical diversity within ancient Israel’s borders.


About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads informative, meaningful tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in Bible comments, Bible Geography, Israel, Philistines, Short videos, Tel Azekah and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Canaan was not a big desert. (Someone tell the media!)

  1. pithom says:

    At least most of the Pentateuch is set in the desert. Also, the Valley of Elah does sometimes look brown (though never quite like a desert):

    • lukechandler says:

      There certainly are deserts in Bible stories, but they are often outside of Canaan proper (i.e. the Pentateuchal “wilderness”). Many probably appreciate the imagery of seeking and trusting God in barren places. I see a point in that, but there is also a point in seeking and trusting God in any place – not only when it’s barren. 🙂 Cheers!

  2. stevexpnt says:

    As a parent whose grown children still know all the words to the Veggie Tales songs by heart, let me make this tongue in cheek observation: Exposing the geographical and historical inaccuracies of Veggie Tales will be a huge blow to those who have relied solely on cartoon productions to teach their children the Bible narrative.

  3. topgunnmom says:

    This is great, Luke. I had no idea there was so much geographical diversity in that area. Thanks.

  4. mccrackenrandy says:

    Hi Luke,
    I remember when my wife and I first went to Israel, we were so surprised at the diversity. I’m glad you posted this article. I really appreciate the youtube videos as well. These will be great from my classes. I wasn’t aware of them. BTW, the article on Qeiyafa is now up on my site. Thanks Luke.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s