I have always had a fascination for a Atlases, especially Bible Atlases. As a kid I spent hours with my Dad’s Hammond Bible Atlas, printed in 1959. This atlas is tiny by today’s standards, but I spent many hours looking at maps and photos of Israel. I especially liked the “timeline” on the back cover which graphically showed the rise of Rome. Remarkably this classic is still in print and useful for most laymen.
For years the best (and only) atlas I used was the Oxford Bible Atlas (Second Edition), edited by Herbert May. (It amazes me that there are copies for sale for less than $1!) The first 47 pages are an excellent overview of biblical history illustrated with black & white photographs, followed by 50 pages of maps. The final 20 pages of text is an excellent introduction to “Archaeology and the Bible.” The maps were well-drawn and accompanied by a short overview of the data found on the accompanying map. As expected, this old friend is looking a bit gray these days. The photography is laughably out of date, since the first edition was 1962. For example, page 40 has an aerial shot of the theater at Caesarea. Anyone who has visited this site would be amazed since there is no evidence of the Palace or the hippodrome in the photo, and the beautifully excavated homes are still under a farmer’s field! Page 46 has a wonderful photo of the synagogue in Capernaum before it was reconstructed for tourists.
These examples point out the problem with atlases. They are in constant need of updating. The Fourth Edition of the Oxford Bible Atlas has updated photography and updated and expanded the historical and archaeological sections. Page 154 has an aerial photo of the same synagogue at Capernaum, but it is still out of date since the houses along the side of the synagogue have been removed to make room for shaded benches for tour guides to lecture.
This summer two excellent new Atlases have been released. In fact, in the last several years several publishers have released excellent atlases that build on the foundation of the venerable foundation of the Oxford Bible Atlas, but go far beyond the scope of that handy guide. Of interest to me especially are the following four books, all of which are excellent contributions to the study of the geography of the Bible.
IVP Atlas of Bible History – Paul Lawrence
The New Moody Bible Atlas – Barry J. Beitzel
ESV Bible Atlas – John D. Currid and David P. Barrett
Zondervan Atlas of the Bible – Carl Rasmussen
Over the next few blog posts I will offer reviews of these new Atlases and point out some strengths and weaknesses. After the four reviews have been posted I will make some final “compare and contrast” observations.