Israel - the place - refers to the Jewish homeland.
The boundaries of Israel have changed many times during the past 4000 years, and the land has been called by different names, including Judah, Judea and Palestine. The land of Israel is named after a person who lived about 4000 years ago. He originally was known as Jacob, and he was the father of 12 sons whose descendants are known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
For more information about Jacob/Israel, the person, please click here.
The Bible's book of Joshua explains that the Israelites established sovereignty over the land of Israel about 3400 years ago. The land was divided up allocated among the 12 tribes of Israel and they were united and sovereign for roughly 500 years. This era includes the lifetimes of King David and his son King Solomon.
After the kingship of Solomon, about 2900 years ago, the country of Israel broke up into two separate kingdoms. The northern kingdom continued to be called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. Judah included the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
They remained as separate and sovereign kingdoms until the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom about 2700 years ago and the Babylonians conquered Judah about 2600 years ago.
The Jews did not have sovereignty again until the Hasmonean Kingdom, which lasted from roughly 140 BC to 37 BC, after the Maccabee family led a rebellion against Greek rule. This kingdom held control over much of Judah. Some people do not consider the Hasmonean era to be a true example of sovereignty because it embraced a culture that they contend was more Greek than Jewish.
In May of 1948, Israel again became a united and sovereign nation, for the first time in about 2900 years.
About-Jesus.org has a Google Map of Israel and some of the cities and towns that were prominent during the first century of this era, during the time of Jesus' ministry.
Go to: List of places in the Bible