The Mediterranean in the Old and New Testaments
The Hebrews and the Mediterranean Sea
The Hebrews simply referred to the Mediterranean Sea as "the sea" (Heb: ha-yam), e.g. Gen 49:13; Nu 13:29; 34:5; Jdg 5:17; or, again, it is "the great sea" (Heb: ha-yam ha-gadhol, e.g. Nu 34:6,7; Josh 9:1; 15:12,47; Ezek 47:10,15,19,20; 48:28).
Because it lay to the West of Palestine, as "the great sea toward the going down or the sun" (Josh 1:4; 23:4), and, since the west was regarded as the "back," in contrast to the east as the "front," as "hinder (or "western" the Revised Version (British and American), "uttermost" or "utmost" the King James Version) sea" (Heb: ha-yam ha-'acharon), Dt 11:24; 34:2; Zec 14:8; Joel 2:20, in the last two passages contrasted with "the former (King James Version, "eastern" the Revised Version (British and American)) sea" Heb: ha-yam ha-qadhmoni), i.e. the Dead Sea.
That portion of the Mediterranean directly West of Palestine is once (Ex 23:31) referred to as "the sea of the Philis" Heb: yam pelishtim). the King James Version has "sea of Joppa" (Ezr 3:7) where the Revised Version (British and American) correctly renders "to the sea, unto Joppa" (compare 2 Ch 2:16). Similarly, the King James Version "the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia" (Acts 27:5) is better rendered "the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia" (Revised Version).
The Mediterranean Sea in the New Testament
In the New Testament, references to the Mediterranean are common, especially in the accounts of Paul's voyages. Jesus once (Mk 7:24 ff) came to or near the sea.
The Mediterranean Sea in History
The Mediterranean basin was the scene of most ancient civilizations which have greatly influenced that of the western world, except those whose home was in the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates; and even these continually thrust themselves into it, so far as they could. As its name implies, it is an inland area, united to the Atlantic only by the narrow Straits of Gibraltar. In comparatively recent geological time it was also joined to the Red Sea, the alluvial deposits of the Nile, which have extended the line of the Delta, having with the aid of drifting desert sands subsequently closed the passage and joined the continents of Asia and Africa.
The total length of the Mediterranean is about 2,300 miles, its greatest breadth about 1,080 miles, and its area about 1,000,000 square miles. It falls naturally into the western and eastern (Levant) halves, dividing at the line running from Tunis to Sicily, where it is comparatively shallow; the western end is generally the deeper, reaching depths of nearly 6,000 ft.
On the North it is intersected by the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, forming the Gulf of Lyons, the Adriatic and the Aegean. In ancient times these and other divisions of the Mediterranean bore specific names given by the Greeks and Romans, but from the nature of the case their limits were ill defined. The temperature of the Mediterranean is in summer warmer, in winter about the same as that of the Atlantic. Its water has a slightly greater specific gravity, probably because of a larger proportionate evaporation.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.