John D. Currid and David P. Barrett. Crossway ESV Bible Atlas. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 352 pages, $55.00.
The ESV Bible Atlas is a companion to the popular ESV Study Bible. David Barrett oversaw the maps and John Currid was the Old Testament Archaeology editor for the ESVSB. In many cases identical maps appear in both volumes. Because of the quality of paper used in the Atlas, the same maps are easier to read and in some cases larger. For example, “The Setting of the Judges” map (ESVSB 434 / ESVA 4-15) is slightly larger, while the map “The Judges of Israel” on the next page is the same size. It appears that the contours of the maps show mountains have been toned down for the Atlas. But this atlas is far more than maps drawn from the Study Bible. Dozens of specialty maps are inserted into the Historical Geography and the Regional Maps are completely new for this volume.
The volume is divided into four sections. First, a 44 page introduction covers basic geographical regions, climate, and economy, and archaeology of the Bible. The section concludes with two pages of modern Israel maps with archaeology sites marked.
The largest section of this 352 page atlas is part two, Historical Geography (150 pages). Like the New Moody Atlas, this historical approach is a richly illustration overview of biblical history. There are twelve sub-sections: Before Abraham, Patriarchs, Sojourn in Egypt, Wilderness and Conquest, United Monarchy, Divided Monarchy, the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, Maccabean and Roman eras. Each is illustrated with larger maps covering the whole period and a number of smaller maps, illustrations, and photographs. Unlike the New Moody Atlas, this section is not well documented. The text is far more detailed than the IVP Atlas but will not overwhelm the laymen with details. One unusual feature of this section is a series of computer generated maps which attempt to show the geography from “ground” level. I am not sure these are particularly effective, but the do provide a different view.
The illustrations in the Historical Geography are excellent, although many are the same as ESVSB. For example, the various illustrations of Jerusalem are identical: the time of David, (ESVSB 550 = ESVA 127), Solomon (ESVSB 595 = ESVA 131), etc. The illustrations in the Atlas, however, are on a single page and therefore easier to read since there is no center margin running through the picture. The illustration of the temple is identical to the Study Bible, but twice the size (ESVA 134-35). Likewise the illustration of Zerubabbel’s Temple is much larger than the ESVSB. I found the artistic renderings of Jerusalem fascinating and appreciate the larger size in the atlas, but I wish they appeared in a single section so I could compare the development of the city over time.
As expected, the ESV Bible Atlas has a wide variety of photographs illustrating the Historical Section. Many of these photograph come from Todd Bolen (www.bibleplaces.com) and are for the most part recent pictures. Page 143 shows Jeroboam’s altar at Tel Dan as a wooden frame and a bit less development than my visits to the site, but there are no photographs that are obviously too old to be useful. Often photographs cover a half page and are well chosen to illustrate the text on the page. I was particular impressed with the photos of Gamla, a site often ignored in atlases (or tours, for that matter). A lively photo of the oldest synagogue found in Israel appears on page 253 along with an excellent artistic reconstruction on the next page (also in ESVSB, 1956).
Part three is Regional Geography (37 pages) and is more like a traditional atlas. These elevation maps are beautifully done using Lambert Conformal Conic projections. Mountains and valleys are clearly visible and a color scale for elevation. Palestine appears as a two-page map followed buy two-page maps of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Gilead, Moab and single page maps of Edom and Philistia. Three maps of Jerusalem are included (David, Nehemiah, and New Testament period). Each has been overlaid with Charles Wilson’s Ordinance Map via Todd Bolen.
Part four is a collection of time-lines and a wide variety of useful indexes. One in particular merits attention. The authors have included an 11 page index of biblical place names followed by their present day place names, location on the Palestine 1923 grid, longitude and latitude data, and the location on the regional maps in the atlas itself. Location data can be typed into Google maps so you can examine the satellite map of modern Israel for the location. For example, type “E 34.8490, N 31.5650″ into Google Maps and you will see the region around tel Lachish. Using Google Earth, one can see tags for the Lachish letters with links to photographs of the site. Try E “35.1850, N 32.5850″ for Megiddo, there are dozens of tags and links! One drawback is only biblical places appear in this index, so Qumran, for example, does not have a listing. But this extra information makes for an incredible learning experience.
Two things set this Atlas apart from the competitors. The book contains a CDROM with 127 maps from Atlas and ESVSB. The largest is 1575×2298 pixel map of the near east in the late Bronze Age (map 3.1). The map of the Roman Empire is a whopping 2240×1463 pixels. These maps are indexed by chapter and a web page is provided with descriptions and links to the maps. These maps can be easily added to Powerpoint for use in the classroom. A second added feature is a poster of the Land measuring 22×16 inches. The inclusion of an index of cities on the map itself make this a handy tool for quickly locating key places.
If you already own the ESV Study Bible, is there enough new material in the ESV Bible Atlas to justify the extra expense? Absolutely. The Historical section is a worthy introduction to biblical History and the Regional Atlas goes far beyond the maps included in the Study Bible. For the laymen or pastor, these two resources are an excellent foundation for serious Bible study.