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Wright, Paul H. Understanding the Ecology of the Bible: An Introductory Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta Jerusalem, 2018. 48 pp.; Pb; $18.00. Link

Paul Wright is the President of Jerusalem University College (the Institute of Holy Land Studies). He has contributed to several other “introductory” Carta atlases including Understanding Biblical Archaeology and Understanding the New Testament, and Understanding Great People of the Bible.

This atlas has a narrow focus, the ecology of the Bible. As Wright suggests, a study of the ecology of the Bible is important because flora and fauna are the natural context of the Bible (7). The daily life of ancient Israel was embedded in an ecosystem, and many of these natural elements form metaphorical language of the Bible.

For each of the six chapters of the book, Wright cites a theme verse. This does not always make the topic of the chapter clear. In “In His Hand is the Life of Every Living Thing” (Job 12:10), Wright introduces the book by arguing for the importance of the land, plants and animals of the Bible in order to better understand the Bible. The second chapter, “How is the Land? Is it Fat or Lean?” (Numbers 13:20), briefly describes the land as “flowing with milk and honey.” As Wright observes, modern visitors to Israel are often surprised by the cry climate of the land. The third chapter deals with geology and climate (“A Land of Hills and Valleys That Drinks Water from the Rain of Heaven,” Deuteronomy 11:11). This is the most map-rich chapter in the atlas, with specialized maps charting the geology, soil types, and precipitation in both Israel and the Middle East. The chapter also includes brief descriptions of the various ecosystems present in the land, illustrated with photographs and at least one verse per section.

In the fourth chapter Wright describes plant life in Israel (“From the Cedar that is in Lebanon Even to the Hyssop that Grows on the Wall,” 1 Kings 4:33). These are illustrated with photographs of modern plants, but Wright shows these plants are known from archaeological evidence. He has examples of ostraca mentioning wine, barley grain, etc. as well as a few illustrations drawn from ancient papyri describing the agriculture of ancient Israel. Since this book is intended as an introduction, Wright’s list of plants and animals is far from comprehensive.

Chapter five, “For He Loved the Soil” (2 Chronicles 26:10), deals with agriculture in ancient Israel, but also examines the damage to the environment in modern times. He relates this damage to the abuse of the poor in the prophets.  The biblical authors, Wright says, recognized the benefits of both the shepherd and village farmer, and eventually urban centers (40), but always speaks in favor of humane treatment of animals and wise use of the land. The reason is the land and all the animals belong to the Lord (Psalm 50:10-11). This is far from a chapter on responsible Christian environmentalism, but Wright offers some pointers in that direction. In the final paragraph of the book, he bemoans the lack of emphasis on environmentalism among biblically oriented Christians (47).

The final chapter demonstrates Israel’s conception of time was tied to the land (“A Land for Which the LORD Your God Cares,” Deuteronomy 11:12). Beginning with one of the earliest extant Hebrew texts, the Gezer Calendar, Wright how the years, days and weeks are integral to Israel’s relationship with their environment. The final page of the chapter traces the importance of Eden in the Old Testament and serves as a conclusion to the book.

The book is richly illustrated with full color photographs illustrating geographical features, plants and animals. Since Wright is credited with most of the photographs, these are not the same images used in other publications. However, for an atlas, there are not very many maps, only fourteen in all.

One minor criticism of the book is a misleading title. Although the book claims to be an ecology of the Bible, it is really an ecology of ancient Israel. Certainly olive oil and pomegranates are the same in the New Testament, but there is little here specifically on the New Testament. Much of the plot of the New Testament in the book of Acts takes place in Asia Minor, which goes beyond the scope of this book.

Conclusion. Like the other volumes in this Introductory Atlas series, the book is 9 x 12 inches and only forty eight pages. This makes for an inexpensive book, although it is not a durable handbook one might toss in their backpack on a trip to Israel. This is not a Carta Field Guide (on Masada, En-Gedi, and Qumran). Nevertheless, Wright has contributed a good introduction to the physical environment in which the Bible takes place.

 

NB: Thanks to Hendrickson and Carta Jerusalem for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Bible Atlas for the iPad

I reviewed several new Bible Atlases last summer (see my conclusions here).  Several of these are available for Kindle (Holman, Oxford), but the IVP and ESV Bible Atlases are not.  Books in the Kindle format read like any other Kindle book.  On the iPad you can zoom in on maps and pictures, but the resolution is not particularly high.  I purchased the Oxford Bible Atlas (fourth edition) for Kindle and was very disappointed. The maps are not really readable, and it is useless to zoom in.  Even if I simply fill the screen with the map it is too pixelated to be of use.  In fact, I am a disappointed with all the Bible Atlases on the iPad.  There is no single app which satisfies my need for quality maps on the iPad.  here is what I am looking for:

  • High Resolution Maps. I want to be able to zoom in close and not have a pixelated mess.
  • Detailed Information, clickable links.  I want to link to a dictionary style entry which gives me a brief overview of the history and geography of the location with the possibility of linking to a serious encyclopedia entry.
  • Current Information.  I do not really want a link to an old Bible Dictionary, I want the latest scholarship on the location.
  • Zoom on Rotation. Many maps are better viewed in landscape rather than portrait orientation.  It should not be difficult for an app to sense rotation and fill the screen.

There is really no iPad Bible Atlas App which comes close to this, here are a few comments on the “best” Atlases for the iPad.

Logos Bible Software.  (Free, App Store).  The free Logos App does not come with any Bible Atlas, but I own the Holman Bible Atlas ($29.95, but included in several of the Logos collections).  There are remarkably few Bible Atlases in the Logos collection, which I find surprising.  The The Holman Atlas has a nice collection of sidebars and charts along with 132 maps and a nicely written history of the Bible. The maps in the Holman Bible Atlas are reasonably clear, but I cannot zoom in to see the details on the map.  There is text on the map giving details for locations which is unreadable on the iPad.  This is a problem with the Logos App not the Atlas itself.   The Logos Deluxe Map Set edited by Thaine Norris ($29.95, included in all Logos collections) are not particularly useful in the iPad either since they cannot zoom nor do the expand when the iPad is rotated.

Carta Compact Atlas HD ($4.99, App Store) and Biblical Jerusalem – A Carta Atlas ($7.99, App Store).  These apps are essentially collections  of scans from Carta Atlases.  This is not bad, but there is not a lot of detail beyond the maps.  The Compact Bible Atlas has no search capability, and the maps are more or less the type you find in a good Study Bible.   Biblical Jerusalem is a bit better with respect to maps, but the app itself is little more than an index to the maps.

Big Bible Maps (Version 1.8, $2.99, App Store).  BibleStudyPro has a host of iPad apps, including several map collections.  For the most part, everything on this site is public domain, which limits the usefulness of the apps.  This is especially true for maps, since a free Atlas from 1850 is not particularly useful. BibleStudyPro apps are inexpensive, all are priced at $2.99.  A few Android versions of their apps have appeared, I expect all to be ported eventually.  The best of the apps from BibleStudyPro is Big Bible Maps.  The app tags satellite maps from Google Earth with biblical places.  Since the images are from Google, you can zoom in extremely close for amazing detail.  The obvious problem is that Google Maps are modern maps!  Once on the map, you must touch a pushpin to identify the location. The location flag will appear, and if there is an arrow you can open a description of the location.  The text is drawn from the original International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, although this is not identified in the software as far as I could see.

The opening screen offers three options.  First, locations are arranged by chapter and book.  If I select Joshua 4, I am taken to a Google Earth map with push-pins at locations for that chapter (Jericho, Gilgal, the Jordan River, and oddly enough, Israel).  I could not find all the locations in a book, a chapter must always be specified.  Only chapters with locations appear on the menu, so Matt 6 does not appear, but Matt 4 does.  Second, you can select locations from a list (Jerusalem and Jericho appear at the top, otherwise it is alphabetical). Third, you can search by typing the name of the location.

This app is mystery to me since Google Earth is already a free app and the ISBE is freely available on Google books.  What is more, Google Earth links locations to Wikipedia and Flickr, providing (in some cases) better information than ISBE.  There is some value to having this information in a single place, so this app may satisfy a need.

The bottom line is that a good Bible Atlas has yet to arrive for the iPad.

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.

Over the last two weeks I have posted reviews of four major Bible Atlases released in the last few months.  All four of the atlases reviewed are excellent and each would be an important addition to any library.  Each has strengths and weaknesses, but each is worth owning and using in personal Bible study.

Best Maps: ESV Bible Atlas.  The maps in this volume are detailed and clear, and the Regional Maps section goes well beyond the other volumes reviewed. The maps are detailed and complete, including Italy, Macedonia and Achia, Western and Southern Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Sinai and Egypt.  These maps span two large pages and are printed to the interior edge of the page so nothing is missing.

Best Photography: Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. I think I was drawn to the photography in this Atlas because more than once I saw a picture which I took on one of my trips to Israel.  The atlas treats us to some unusual angles of traditional sites as well as photos one does not often see in an atlas.  I found myself browsing through this Atlas for the pictures more than the others.

Best Illustrations: ESV Bible Atlas. The drawings of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in various periods provide a concrete view of scholarly speculation.  The IVP Atlas has excellent illustrations as well, but the ESV illustrations are more rich in details.

Best Articles: ESV Bible Atlas and The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Both of these volumes are worth considering for a college level Old Testament survey course.  The Zondervan Atlas is nearly as good, but the depth of the ESV and Moody atlases is hard to beat.  I might give the edge to the Moody Atlas since it includes a great deal of documentation and footnotes.

Best Layman Atlas: The IVP Atlas. The maps are clear and the art well-presented.  The articles are brief and contained to a pair of pages.  I can imagine someone using this Atlas while reading through Joshua or Judges and tracking events on the maps.  The IVP Atlas is not “dumbed-down” by any means, but will likely be a favorite for the casual reader.

Best Scholarly Atlas: ESV Bible Atlas. While the New Moody Atlas is close, there is simply more details provided in the ESV Atlas.

What is missing from these Atlases?  As I said a few times in the reviews, I like to compare the map of David’s to Solomon’s Jerusalem, to Nehemiah’s Jerusalem, and then to the New Testament period.   This is harder to do with these maps on separate pages.  I would have liked two facing pages with all four periods on it.  What ever happened to the plastic overlays that used to appear in Atlases and encyclopedias? I suppose they have been dropped to keep price down, but they could be useful for demonstrating the growth of the city of Jerusalem.

Another general problem with Bible Atlases is that they seem to be limited in the New Testament period.  A few pages for the world of Jesus and then a few more for the Pauline mission.  I know that the “biblical world” tends to refer to the Canaan, but there is far more that could be done on the Roman world in which Paul ministered.  Some of this is in Ephesus, Corinth and Rome could be given more details and maps.  All the atlases include a section on the seven churches of Revelation, but these  cities were already a part of the Pauline mission.  Dismissing the geography and history of Asia Minor in two or three pages covering the seven cities seems to me too limited.  I would like to see an atlas that was focuses solely on the New Testament geographically and historically.

These four volumes are all excellent contributions to the study of the geography of the Bible. I think that the ESV Bible Atlas and the New Moody Bible Atlas would make excellent textbooks for an Old Testament survey course, although all four would serve well.

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.

Beitzel, Barry J.  The New Moody Atlas of the Bible.  Chicago: Moody, 2009.  304 pages, $49.99.  Link to Moody

This recent atlas from Moody replaces Beitzel’s 1985 Moody Atlas of the Bible.  Few scholars are as qualified as Beitzel in the field of biblical geography.  Along with the 1985 Moody Atlas, he edited Biblica and served as the Geography Editor on the ESV Study Bible. The original Moody Atlas was highly regarded as a scholarly work yet was still readable for the layman.  It was recommended by Victor H. Matthews and James C. Moyer in their 1990 round-up of recent Bible Atlases.  (“Bible Atlases: Which Ones are Best?” Biblical Archaeologist 53 (1990)).  Likewise, F. Duane Lindsey considered Beitzel’s “historical geography” approach to be  excellent and highly recommended the volume in his 1987 review (BibSac 144 (1987): 112).

The New Moody Atlas builds on the strengths of the 1985 atlas.  The new volume is about 70 pages longer despite dropping the short third chapter in the older atlas on biblical mapmaking.  The table of contents has been greatly improved in this new edition with each topic in the Historical Geography chapter included.

There are 118 maps in the book, many are full page (11.2×9.6 inches).  All the maps have been redrawn from the 1985 edition.  These maps are conveniently numbers and are all well-textured to show elevation, although most of the versions of the map of Canaan are the same light brown color (no difference between hill country and coastal plain, for example).  Given the specialized nature of most of these maps, this an understandable decision.  However, when necessary, color is added (Map 40, for example, shows tribal divisions with colors).  Few maps span two pages, although Map 22 spans four pages with a long map of Palestine with important cities included in the index marked.  This is a beautiful map in terms of texture and color but really ought to have been printed on fold-out pages so that the student could seen the whole of the Land.

There are a remarkable number of specialty maps in this atlas.  Just a few examples: Map 44 summarizes Egyptian incursions into Canaan from Thutmosis III in 1457 B.C. to Shishak in 935 B.C., along with 2 full pages of text describing the exploits of these pharaohs.  Map 55 is a remarkable full page map of the Judgeship of Jephthah showing the territory of Ammon and the movements of the armies.  Map 70 provides details on the battle of Qarqar along with more than a page of detailed text on the battle.  Map 79 is a detailed half page map showing the movements of the Egyptian and Babylonian forces at Carchemish accompanied by nearly a page and a half of text on the importance of this battle.

Unlike the IVP Atlas, the Moody Atlas has a lengthy section on the physical geography of the Land.  In addition to the normal sorts of maps for topography and climate, there are sections on the geology and hydrology of the Land.  Maps of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea showing underwater elevations are unusually interesting.  Beitzel has shown which cities on Galilee had Roman Harbors in the first century is quite useful.

What sets this New Moody Atlas ahead of other atlases is its excellent collection of essays on biblical history.  In fact, almost 200 pages are devoted to the history of Israel through the New Testament. About 35 pages are devoted to the intertestamental period, including several pages on Alexander the Great and two full pages on the Battle of Issus.  An eleven page essay on the history of Jerusalem includes maps of each major period of the city’s history, including the modern city.  The essay discusses the name and topography of the city as well as a brief history of excavations.  There are less than 40 pages devoted to the New Testament period, predictably the majority to Paul’s travels (12 pages).  The final 8 pages of the Historical Atlas cover the fall of Jerusalem and the spread of Christianity.  The Historical Atlas is well researched although the text uses to avoid cluttering the atlas pages.  A Map Citation, Scripture and General Index are provided.

Illustrations are almost all photographs rather than artistic renderings.  These are used sparingly compared to the IVP Atlas and appear to be mostly stock photography.  A few photos are clearly old (Caesarea, p. 42, Chorazin, p.242).  I find this limited use of photographs odd since Barry Beitzel is listed in the ESV Atlas as one of several who helped supply photography for that volume.  While there is no need to repeat the bloated excess of Biblica (a coffee-table style atlas), additional photographs would have made this atlas even better.

The New Moody Atlas of the Bible is an excellent text for any Bible Survey course, although the volume is most valuable for a study of the Hebrew Bible. The text will appeal to Bible teachers and Pastors but it is not too technical for the laymen.  The New Moody Atlas is a valuable addition to any library.

Paul Lawrence.   The IVP Atlas of Bible History.  Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006.  187 pages, $45.00.

The IVP Atlas of Bible History was the first of the “new” atlases to hit the market back in 2006.  I got a copy from IVP right away and adopted it as a textbook for both by Old and New Testament survey classes.  I used the book for two years and carried it with me to Israel as a resource for leading student tours in 2007 and 2009.  Of all of the atlases reviewed in this series, this is the one I have used the most and recommend to the laymen who wants some basic maps and background material.

The atlas has an excellent layout and is well illustrated.  Like most atlases, the IVP Atlas uses “paired  pages” linking a map with text describing the content.  The oversized format (11.9×9.2 inches) allows for larger maps, but also a variety of other content.  There are numerous photographs which illustrate content as well as side-bars which focus on a more specialized sub-topic.  The inside margin of the paired pages has a small box which collects all of the scripture references for the pages.  The editors use a light blue background for some pages which are more “geography” related (Geography of Canaan, Climate of Canaan, Agriculture of Canaan) or background essays (Language of the Bible, Rome).

One highlight of the IVP Atlas are the illustrations.  For example, the artist’s reconstruction of the Tabernacle (p. 40-1), Solomon’s Temple (p. 74-5), Babylon (p. 108-9), Herod’s Temple (p. 132-3) are well drawn and generally helpful.  I would have like to see these illustrations juxtaposed to photographs of the archaeology which inspired the art, but these pages will the reader a mental image of these key locations.

Ultimately, an atlas is judged by its maps.  There are about 90 maps in the book, although only a few are full page maps.  As is typical in a narrow topic atlas, a generic map of Canaan is used and re-marked with different data.  Frequently a smaller area is placed near a description of a story.  For example, an excellent map of the Moabite Campaign appears on page 82 to illustrate 2 Kings 3.  The largest map of Canaan (p.10-1) spans two pages and is almost too busy with data to be useful. Sites are identified as appearing in either Old or New Testament.  Unfortunately the interior margin mars the center of the map, the most interesting region (Jerusalem and environs)!

A bonus is sixteen pages of Second Temple Period.  This section intends to “bridge the gap” between the Old and New Testaments and does a fine job covering this broad period for laymen.  There are a number of maps (Alexander’s Empire, the Maccabean revolt, Jews in Egypt).  The pages on Herod’s building projects are particularly good.  Along with the pages on Rome and the Fall of Jerusalem (p. 166-9), the IVP Atlas provides a Jewish history beyond the Bible.

The book includes a few page sets which strike me as odd for an atlas.  For example, pages 14-5 are on Creation writing.  The text contrasts the biblical narrative with Ancient Near Eastern mythology and considers briefly the age of the earth.  The inclusion of this material makes the book useful for a Bible survey course, but is not exactly geographic material.  There are sections of writing(p. 68-9) and libraries in the ancient World (p. 70-1).  While these are well written and fascinating, once again I wonder about their inclusion given other omissions.  The essay “Amulets and Scrolls” (p, 134-5) is really about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Remarkably, the IVP Atlas is weakest in the New Testament.  There are six page-sets for Jesus’ life, and with the exception of a small picture of the synagogue in Capernaum, there are no photographs of Galilee. There is only an artists reconstruction of Capernaum (p. 140-1), The first 12 chapters of Acts are covered in one page set and two small maps.  Paul’s travel in Acts 13-28 is covered in five page sets, with the expected “missionary journey” maps.  The city of Ephesus is an artist’s reconstruction with no actual photographs other than a first century Artemis.  The recipients of the letters of the New Testament are located on a map (p. 164-5) with fairly conservative traditional dates.  (Galatians is the first Pauline letter, dated to A.D. 48-9).  Two page sets are dedicated to the seven churches of Revelation.

Overall, The IVP Atlas of Bible History is an excellent resource for pastors and laymen, although the scholar might find the content less than adequate for their needs.

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.

Between summer, my dissertation, and the World Cup, I have been neglecting posting.  If you read this blog much, you know I have been using the ESV Study Bible for my Bible Survey classes and have been quite pleased with the translation and the notes. There are a few sections I disagreed with in the notes, for the most part they are well done.

The Gospel Coalition has a nice description of the forthcoming  ESV Bible Atlas. At 352 pages and 65,000 words, this is the largest Bible Atlas in recent memory.  The “look and feel” is similar to the ESVSB, the maps were prepared by David Barrett, who also did the maps for the Study Bible.  When my copy arrives, I will post a review of the ESVBA, with a comparison to the IVP Atlas and the new Moody Bible Atlas.

Crossway has 40 pages online for you to browse.  Check it out.

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Christian Theology

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