Carl G. Rasmussen. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. 303 pages, $39.95.
Like the New Moody Atlas of the Bible, the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible is a new version of an extremely useful atlas. The text of the atlas remains nearly the name, but all of the maps have been replaced and the entire volume is richly illustrated with photographs and helpful time-lines. Oddly, there is only a few side-bars explaining key terms or giving king lists. The book came with a poster-size topography map of Jerusalem, although it is useful it is little more than an advertisement for the Atlas.
According to the introduction to the Atlas, the maps were prepared by International Mapping rather than Carta (as in the earlier edition). Since International Mapping provides maps for several other Zondervan publications, there is a familiar “look and feel” to these maps. For example, Gary Burge’s recent The Bible and the Land has similar maps. The coloring scheme used is excellent and the maps are easy to read. In addition to the standard orientation (north at the top), there are a number of maps which give an almost 3D perspective. For example, the map of Galilee is rotated about 45 degrees so that the elevation of the hill country and the Huleh Valley is clearly visible (p.36). On these perspective maps, “stick pins” are used to indicate towns alá Google Maps.
The first major section is the standard Atlas. In these 81 pages, Rasmussen deals with the physical geography of Palestine, but also (briefly) Egypt, Syria-Lebanon, and Mesopotamia. Rassmussen includes a photo of Jerusalem during a Hamsin and three days after, vividly portraying the difference in air quality and oppressive heat well, especially to anyone who has endured these conditions in May! These maps include a geological chart, climate maps and charts by region, and several cross-sectional maps which help the reader understand the topographical extremes of the region.
The second section is a Historical Atlas covering the history of Israel, the intertestamental period and the New Testament. Nearly every page is illustrated with a map, chart, or photograph. The text is suitable for a College-level Old Testament class but is readable for the layman as well. Rasmussen holds an early date for the Exodus, although he does not have a map indicating possible routes for the Exodus. About 24 pages are devoted to the intertestamental period and twelve pages to the life of Christ. The section entitled “expansion of the church in Palestine” is odd, since the bulk of these 8 pages are about the Jewish Revolt and fall of Jerusalem. The journeys of Paul are covered in a disappointing ten pages. A few pages cover the seven churches of Revelation. The final thirteen pages of the historical section are devoted to the city of Jerusalem, including four topographical maps. The maps showing Jerusalem in the Old and New Testaments are full page and only lightly detailed. While I wish these were on facing pages so they could be easily compared, they are good reference maps for city walls and other areas of interest in the period.
The photographs are what set this Atlas apart. The photographs are up-to-date and in many cases quite stunning. There are several photographs which depict recent archaeology: the bronze age gate at Tel Dan (p. 96), a small photo of the southern Wall excavations (p.216), the Pool of Siloam (p. 249). Often the photographs represent locations which are not on the normal Holy Lands tour and are clearly not stock photography. Page 52 and an excellent photograph of the Nari Crust and limestone in the Shephelah, which is at Bet Guverin (although Bet Guverin is not mentioned in the caption). Page 41 has a view of Galilee from the Arbel Cliffs, then the next page has a shot of the Cliffs from the valley floor. The photo of the Valley of Elah from Kh. Qeiyafa on page 53 is particularly helpful since most photographs of Elah are taken from the valley floor. Page 136 has a shot of En-Gedi which depicts the high cliffs and palms, but avoids the standard tourist snapshot of the waterfall at the back of the canyon.
If there is anything frustrating about the maps is that there is not enough information given about a few of them. For example, page 117 has an partially reconstructed four-room house, but there is no indication where this house is located. There are three excellent photographs of the temple at Ain Dara in Syria, the first of which is labeled as having “strong design parallels with the Solomonic temple in Jerusalem,” but nothing in the text of the atlas describes these parallels nor are the obvious from the photographs. Another photo from Bet Guvrin is used to illustrate the Hellenistic era, although the location is not given (p.185). The photo on page 107 illustrates “Sinai / Negev Wilderness in which Israel spent 40 years,” although there is no indication of where the photograph was taken.
That last section of the book is a brief essay on the “Disciplines of Historical Geography.” This essay orients the reader to the problems of philology, toponymy, and archeology as the relate to writing a historical geography. I think that this section ought to be read by anyone who uses an atlas; placing in the back gives the impression of an “afterthought” or appendix.
The book includes a scripture index, persons index, and a very helpful geographical dictionary and index. This last index includes every biblical place and gives a brief description of the location, scripture where it is found, and the modern place name. In many cases, a six digit grid reference is provided for locating sites on a standard map.
Overall the Revised Zondervan Atlas of the Bible is an excellent atlas, use for both pastor and student interested in the history and geography of the Bible. The layman will enjoy the user-friendly layout and photography. In general the detailed historical section make this a more useful tool than the IVP Atlas, but less complete that the ESV Bible Atlas or New Moody Atlas.