Mountainous areas and the emergence of spiritual beliefs


Renowned French historian Fernand Braudel claimed that urban civilization that developed in the plains and later moved to mountainous areas did so imperfectly. The movement from the Mediterranean plains to the mountains was performed at a slow pace, with the people fearing progress. “The people of the mountain oppose the historical course with its blessing and burden, or they accept it with reservations” (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II). Was Braudel correct in his viewpoint?

The beginning of civilization started along the great rivers such as the Euphrates and Tigris, Nile, and Hindus. Along the river, people could find solutions for almost all their needs – Plenty of water, fertile soil, a warm climate that allows for agriculture. The main thing missing in these areas was building materials, for in these types of wide plains there are almost no trees and little stones and rocks. Another disadvantage of sedentary life along the rivers was safety. The fertile plains attracted various populations who wanted to enjoy the good conditions in the area. This led to disagreements over the resource distribution, land, the need for protection and barter of products in the market. The need for additional services, led to organized settlements in large and powerful political units. This is how the first empires were created: Sumer, Akkad and Egypt.

Limited resources drove the migration of groups to other geographical areas far from the river basin, especially mountainous areas, whether by choice or out of constraint. This meant that the migrating populations had to deal with water scarcity and lack of fertile agricultural land, and in many cases also with an unwelcoming climate. The limited agricultural potential, harsh mountainous topography and climate did not encourage people to live in these areas. Nevertheless, whoever decided to live in the mountains gained a defensive advantage during rivalry, but was forced to develop many other skills. George Adam Smith in his book Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 1894 described the inhabitants of the mountain in the Land of Israel and explained that in the mountains the residents had an easy means of defense against large armies. It is a place where large armies lack the space needed for their war and the defender on the other hand can stay invisible. A place where the warrior’s vital qualities are agility and confident footing.

This advantage prevented the inhabitants of the plain from passing through the mountainous areas. For example, the Egyptian war voyages that passed through the Land of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, avoided entering the mountain area, which is reflected in an Egyptian source from the 13th century BC, which describes the journey in Eiron River:

“The ravine is narrow defile is infested with Shosu concealed beneath the bushes; some of them are of four cubits from head to foot, fierce of face, their heart is not mild, and they hearken not to coaxing.

Thou art alone, there is no helper with thee, no army behind thee. Thou findest no to make for thee a way of crossing. Thou decidest  (the matter) by marching onward, though thou knowest not the road. Shuddering  seizes thee, (the hair of) thy head stands up(?), thy soul is in thy hand. Thy path is filled with boulders and pebbles, without a passable track, overgrown with reeds and brambles, briers and wolf’s-pad. The ravine is on one side of thee, the mountain rises(?) on the other. “( Papyrus Anastasi I)).

When studying the culture of the mountain people compared to the people of the plain, in the land of Israel and around the world in various archeological periods, we find conservative beliefs and a simple way of life of the mountain people, in relation to the inhabitants of the vibrant and developing plain. : This led to two distinct groups: The urbanized prospering civilizations of the plains and the rural population on the mountain. The mountainous population, in addition to the desert population, was also the source of modern monotheistic beliefs and of Greek philosophy.


According to the Bible, Moses received the bible (Torah) directly from the mouth of God at Mount Sinai, where he sat for forty days and forty nights. Moses was also buried on Mount Nebo and his burial place is unknown. According to Jewish traditions, the Torah was given in the mountain and in the vast desert south and east of the desert land. Elijah the prophet came from Gilead, Samuel from the plateau north of Jerusalem. The kings of Judah and Israel came from the central mountain of the Land of Israel. The great prophets of scripture like Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah lived in the mountainous region around Jerusalem. Isaiah operated in Jerusalem, Jeremiah came from Anathoth, north of Jerusalem, and Amos came from Tekoa, southeast of Jerusalem. The exception in the group of prophets was Ezekiel who prophesied in the plains of Babylon, but his origin was from Jerusalem from which he was exiled by the Babylonians. [1] The center of monotheistic Judaism in the days of the Second Temple was in mountainous Jerusalem while the center of pagan Rome in historic Israel, was in the maritime town of Caesarea, near the Mediterranean. The Mishnah work originated from the Galilee area. The Ari works and the Shulchan Aruch are works of the Golden Age in mountainous Galilee Safed. Modern Judaism is thus the creation of the mountain.

Greek philosophy:

Greek philosophy is not a religion, but it has a great influence on modern spiritualism. It, too, was formed in a complex mountainous region. The city of Athens, where the Aristotelian philosophers operated, is surrounded by high mountains that reach an altitude of over 1100 m above sea level. Greek philosophy is part of modern Western culture, and the sages of monotheistic religions had a constant dialogue with the philosophical teachings that originated in Greece.


Christianity also developed in the mountains. The founder of Christianity was born in Bethlehem south of Jerusalem (like King David), grew up in Nazareth in the Lower Galilee, died and was buried in Jerusalem (like all the kings of the House of David). The mountain near Jericho is called the Carnal (Temptation Mountain), which is a distortion of the word forty in Latin. According to Christian tradition, Jesus stayed there forty days and forty nights, dealing with the devil who tried to seduce him.

The tenets of Christianity were recited in a ‘sermon on the mountain’, in one of the mountains in the Lower Galilee (there is disagreement among the Christian sects on which mountain this sermon was recited). Another mountain associated with the beginnings of Christianity is the ‘Jump Mountain’ near Nazareth, where the founder of the religion was forced to jump off the mountain as he fled from his persecutors. Another mountain of significance to Christians is Mount Tabor, where according to Christianity there was a change in the body of Jesus (metamorphosis), and also the Mount of Olives from which Jesus ascended to heaven. The foundations of Christianity are, therefore, in the mountains of the Land of Israel, between the Galilee and Bethlehem. But the transition of Christianity from a Jewish cult to a universal religion, actually begins on the coastal plain. In Jaffa, Peter dreamed that he should include non-Jews in his religion. From there he went to Caesarea and met a Roman army officer, an idolater, and made him a Christian. This is where the disconnect between Judaism and Christianity began, and Christianity became a universal religion.


According to Muslim tradition, when Muhammad was 40, he secluded himself in the cave of Haraa located in Jabal a-Nur (Mount of Light) towering over Mecca, the holiest city for Islam. That night the angel Gabriel was revealed to him. The night that the angel Gabriel was revealed to Muhammad is referred to in Islam as “the night of fate”, in Arabic: “the night of al-Qadr”. Jabal a-Nur, the mountain where Islam descended into the world, is one of the stops for pilgrims on the way to Mecca.

The common base of the three monotheistic religions is their origin in the mountainous or desert regions of the Middle East. But why in these areas? Why not in the large cultural centers and markets on the plains or in the bustling ports along the sea, but rather in remote and isolated places? It seems that in order to formulate a meaningful revolutionary belief system, whatever it may be, one has to be alone without ‘background noises’, and this is possible in mountainous or desert regions of the country, where there is little movement, and much to fear. A person living in the mountains knows that his vision is limited and compromised and that he cannot rely only on sight of eyes. It is possible that as a result, insight develops, whereby there are things in the universe for which vision is limited, physical understanding limited and so emerges a belief beyond the intellectual perception.

The high mountains naturally arouse a certain awe towards the forces of nature, which is why many temples, in different cultures, were built in high places that are difficult to access. “On a high hill and under every fresh tree” (Kings 2:17). One of the most famous places was the seat of the oracle from Delphi in Greece, which was sacred to all the inhabitants of Greece, and was built on a steep slope on Mount Francis.

The meaning of the name of Mount Hermon, the highest of the mountains in the Land of Israel, is probably from the word Herem, or originating from the same root: a sacred thing. The mountain is considered a sacred place, and indeed in the Bible it is also called ‘Baal Hermon’ (Judges 3: 3). Baal was the main Canaanite god and the name Baal was given to many sacred mountain locations. In China, there are 4 mountains sacred to followers of Buddha, one of them is Mount Watai on which there are to this day several dozen temples and monasteries.

But while the idolaters consecrated the mountains themselves, the Jewish Torah of Israel descended from the mountain. The Torah of Israel was careful not to sanctify the mountains themselves, so we do not know for sure where Mount Sinai is, and where Mount Nebo is located, where Moses is buried.

Religious spirituality evolved on the mountain, technological inventions belong to the plain:

In the plains and valleys of the rivers most of humanity reside to this day. The need for economic development and improvement of the standard of living, has led to practical thinking on how to improve the quality of life, and to a series of technological developments and various products. Markets consuming these products have also developed in these areas. Without markets, there is no point in technological developments. On the plains, near major arteries and markets, people from different cultures met and passed on information and knowledge.

Thus, for example, due to the need to deal with the lack of building materials along the plains in Mesopotamia, men began to produce building materials, bricks, made of river mud and straw. The development of empires along the rivers required the creation of an administrative mechanism for the delivery of instructions. Messages, from the governmental center to the periphery, and thus the initial writing was created. Peg writing was invented along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and hieroglyphic writing along the Nile. In Mainz, it is Magnesia, on the banks of the Rhine, which also serves as a major transportation route, the printing press was invented. The steam engine was invented in Birmingham, England with the aim of streamlining industry and commerce, like the petroleum used in the cotton industry, which has become a key raw material in the textile industry. Birmingham is the second most important city in England, the capital of the low-level Industrial Revolution. One of the applications of the steam engine was the train moving in the plains of Europe and America. In North Carolina on the Atlantic coast the first plane took to the air, both the light bulb as well as the telephone were invented on the east coast of the United States. Silicon Valley, the global innovation center, is located off the west coast of the United States. In the plains and especially in areas near the sea or large rivers is where a significant part of humanity is concentrated, where information flows, where the market is located, and where inventions are made out of necessity.

Therefore, on the plain people dealt with ‘how to improve living conditions’ and in the mountains they dealt with ‘the purpose of life’. Indeed, Braudel was right that mountain people are more conservative and do not tend to accept innovation, but it is difficult to overstate their impact on human history. Despite the means of communication and transportation developed today, the geographical dimension still has an impact on the human spirit today. A good example was recently shown in the United States. Looking at the election results map, a fairly clear picture emerges. In areas close to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts the color is distinctly blue –liberal leaning Democrats, while in the center of the continent, where the “Bible Belt” is also located, the color is bright red conservative leaning Republicans.