New Testament Atlases

Bill Heroman kindly included a link to the recent atlas reviews in his June Semi-Carnival.  In my review conclusion, I complained (gently) that the New Testament gets the short end of things in these atlases, with the Pauline sites dismissed in a few pages.  Bill pointed me to the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, edited by Richard J. A. Talbert.  This is obviously an excellent resource for maps of interest to students of the book of Acts and the classical world in general.  I did not include it for several reasons, but primarily because the four review atlases were recent releases (three from 2010) and these four are most likely to used by pastors and laymen.  At $248 ($375 with CD-ROM), the Barrington is a serious tool to be found in serious libraries.  This points out the problem for a New Testament atlas: how would it differ from a classical world atlas?  Presumably an emphasis on Palestine and Jerusalem, but for Acts the major cities are well documented by standard historical atlases.  I have owned the microscopic Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (originally printed in 1907) for years but still find some of these maps to be useful.

I also appreciate Bill’s comment that this recent spate of Bible Atlases blur the line between an atlas and a Bible dictionary, or at the very least a Bible Handbook.  Usually this falls into the category of a “Historical Atlas” which covers the history of the Old Testament and intertestamental period sequentially.  I suspect this is to make the book a better choice for a Bible Survey course, which increases sales.

One or two items came to mind as I thought about New Testament geographies. Since I am unlikely to  find a purely NT atlas, books like these will have to fill this gap.

I have used Peter Walker’s In the Steps of Paul: An Illustrated Guide to the Apostle’s Life and Journeys (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008, 213 pages, $19.99) for an undergrad Acts class.  This book is a follow-up to his 1997 In the Steps of Jesus: An Illustrated Guide to the Places of the Holy Land and attempts to deal with locations outside Palestine and Jerusalem since they were covered in the first volume.  These two books are richly illustrated with maps from Total Media Services and photography provided from the author, Todd Bolen, and a number of stock services.  In the Steps of Paul focuses a chapter on the major cities visited by Paul in the order of their appearance in the book of Acts.  Walker provides a sketch of the history of the city usually accompanied by a time-line and city map.  It is helpful that his time-lines extend to the modern period and include the excavations of ancient cities.  The bulk of the chapter is a sketch of Paul’s interaction with the particular city, using both Acts and the epistles.  The chapters conclude with a section on the “city today.”  This is a very handy guide of what to see if you visit the cities of Paul, including both earlier Roman and later Christian points of interest. Walker’s In the Steps of Paul in a good guide to the text of Acts and the general history of the cities Paul visited.  It is neither an atlas nor a guidebook, although it has elements of both. Still, these two volumes are both refreshing to read and can be used by both pastors and laymen to orient their thinking geographically when reading Acts.

On the other end of the spectrum is the massive two-volume work by Ekhard Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004, 1928 pages, 2 Volumes, $90.00).  While this is not an atlas, I have made a great deal of use of the second volume which covers Paul and the Early Church. For each of the sites mentioned in Acts, Schnabel provides a historical sketch worthy of any dictionary or encyclopedia.  These brief sections are fully conversant with the literature of classical historical scholarship, but they are intended to support his running commentary on the book of Acts.  This volume includes 39 maps and charts illustrating the text.  Some of these are the “usual suspects” (Palestine, the Roman World), but others are unique.  For example, to illustrate how the ancient world understood itself, Schnabel includes the world map of Eratosthenes as well as a world map according to Jubilees. Basic city maps of many of the major cities Paul visited are also included (Antioch, Caesarea, Damascus, etc.)  These are far from the quality one would expect in an atlas.  The map of Rome is so small it is nearly useless.  But as illustrations of the excellent text they serve well.

This massive work is neither a biblical commentary nor a Bible Dictionary, although it combines elements of commentary and dictionary to describe the world the Gospels and Acts.  In my view, it is indispensable for the study of Acts. It is no atlas, but the information is in the book to be discovered.

4 thoughts on “New Testament Atlases

    • Granted….but there is no action there. Philippi is the first major stop. Sorry for the lack of precision!


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