Book Review: Todd Bolen, Acts: Photo Companion to the Bible

Bolen, Todd. Acts: Photo Companion to the Bible. BiblePlaces.com, 2019.

Todd Bolen has been producing high quality resources for Bible teachers for many years on his website Bible Places.com. I first became aware of Bolens’s Pictorial Library of Biblical Lands at an ETS in 2003. I have used these photographs in virtually every class I teach in order to add some colorful graphics to an otherwise dull PowerPoint presentation. Even though I have some critiques of the collection below, if you are teaching the Book of Acts, then the Photo Companion to the Bible is an essential collection of images to use to illustrate your lectures and sermons. If you are a student of the Bible, you can read the text of the Bible and page through the slides in order to place the text into a physical context.

I reviewed his Gospels Photo Companion to the Bible soon after it was released in 2017. At that time Todd told me the Acts Companion was “coming soon.” But as he told me in a recent email, it took a while longer than expected. This is not surprising since the collection contains more than 4,000 photos in twenty-eight PowerPoint sets. The slide set for Acts 13 has 250 slides, Acts 20 has 180 slides. This includes every place Paul and the apostles traveled and every photograph is identified and explained. In some cases, additional material appears in the slide, such as citations to journal articles.

Along with photographs detailing the Paul’s missionary journeys, many inscriptions are included (the Gallio Inscription, the Temple balustrade, the Politarchs inscriptions, Roman calendars, etc.). In addition there are high quality photographs of coins, artifacts, models, scrolls from museums. There are maps tracing Paul’s travels created by A. D. Riddle of RiddleMaps.com.

Since these are PowerPoint slides, the editors provide annotations explaining the image and the location of the photograph. There is also a code in the notes indicating the source of the image. Many are from Bolen, but there are other contributors (and I noticed a few wiki commons images as well). This is very helpful for identifying the location of museum photographs or some of the historical photographs.

I looked over most of the data sets, but for this review I will focus on Acts 13, 250 slides in all. Each slide has a phrase from the Bible across the top, the reference is in the bottom right corner. A brief description appears in the bottom right corner, and a few lines of explanation appear in the slide notes along with the image credit. Since Acts 13 begins in Syrian Antioch, there are a few slides from the modern city of Antakya in south-east Turkey, including a photograph of the ancient hippodrome taken between 1934 and 1939. There are plenty of photographs of Roman remains on Cyprus including the gymnasium at Salamis and Villa of Theseus at Paphos.

To illustrate Paul’s encounter with Bar-Jesus, there are two Aramaic curse bowls,   one from Babylon and the other from the eleventh century A.D. There are two Latin inscription was found near Pisidian Antioch with the name Sergius Paulus, one is a public domain image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Perge is well illustrated, including the rock-cut pass between Magydus and Perga on the Via Sebaste and later Via Sebaste after Döşeme pass. After Paul leaves Pisidian Antioch, he travels to Iconium, as illustrated by a photo of a Roman bridge on the Via Sebaste east of Yunuslar between Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. Many of these photographs of Roman roads are from Mark Wilson, one of the best sources for Paul’s travels in Asia Minor. He also contributed a photograph of an inscription mentioning Galatia and Pamphylia, from Perga. The slide cites Wilson’s recent article, “The Denouement of Claudian Pamphylia-Lycia and its Implications for the Audience of Galatians,” Novum Testamentum 60 (2018): 337–60. This is the kind of detail I appreciate in these slides, there are others with citations of journal articles, such as the God-fearer mosaic from the synagogue of Sardis (dated to c. AD 365), citing John H. Kroll, “The Greek Inscriptions of the Sardis Synagogue,” Harvard Theological Review 94/1 (2001): 9.

For Acts 13:50, “But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence” there is a photo of a statue of Plancia Magna from Perga (2nd century A.D.) followed by an inscription at Perge with her name. Plancia Magna was a wealthy and powerful women in Perge, although certainly not a believer. This statue shows there indeed were prominent women who had significant power in a city like Perge.

There are some slides which do not seem particularly on topic. “Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch” (Acts 13:1) is illustrated with a wonderful Tiberias. Why? Herod moved his capital from Sepphoris to Tiberias. Barnabas and Saul speak in the synagogues in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), this is illustrated by the synagogue at Magdala. To be fair, there are not many first century synagogues and Magdala is an excellent example, but is not a synagogue from Acts 13.

Others strike me as unnecessary. For example, there is a picture of mist surrounding Nimrod’s fortress in Israel to illustrate “Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him” and a photo of a blind man in Jerusalem for “He went around seeking people to lead him by the hand.” When John Mark returns to Jerusalem, there are several slide of Jerusalem including the Syrian Orthodox site for the upper room. For Acts 13:17, “The God of this people Israel chose our forefathers” there is a photograph of Abraham’s well in Beersheba and several beautiful photographs from Egypt since 13:17 mentions Egypt. In fact, most of the slides illustrating Paul’s sermon are not necessary, but since the goal is to have something for every verse, they are included here. I would have rather had 75 more slides of Roman roads between Perge and Pisidian Antioch.

Evaluation. For many people, using Google Image Search to find pictures for their lectures is second nature. It is easy to do and there are often good photographs available without any usage restrictions. So why purchase this set of photographs from Todd Bolan?

First, these photographs often do not appear on the web. For most of the collection, Bolen has taken the photographs himself and he owns the copyright. These are not snapshots from someone’s Holy Land Tour taken with their iPhone.

Second, there are several types of photographs which are difficult to obtain yourself, such as aerial photography. Bolen has also included many historic photographs from the American Colony and Eric Matson collections released by Bible Places in 2009.

Third, if you are just grabbing a few photographs from the web for your teaching, perhaps you are violating copyright law. The copyright notice is as follows:

The purchaser is granted permission to use this work in face-to-face teaching, video-recorded sermons, class notes, church newsletters, and like contexts. Separate permission must be obtained from BiblePlaces.com to use this material in books, magazines, commercial products, websites, and online courses. Slide notes should be treated as any other copyrighted written material, with credit given when quoting from these notes. For copyright inquiries, please email Todd Bolen at tbolen94@bibleplaces.com.

Yes, I know we all do it and it is doubtful you will get in trouble for snagging someone’s vacation pictures from Flickr. But some universities and churches are trying to limit resources to “fair use” copyright images. The Photo Companion to the Bible allows for legal images which can be freely edited for your own needs.

If you purchase the Photo Companion, you can download it immediately with the promise of free lifetime updates as well as get a DVD copy. One important thing to consider is the copyright permissions which come with the Photo Companion to the Bible. All the images are free for use for any purpose (teaching, sermons, etc.), although if they are used in a publication, you will need to obtain permission. I have seen Bolen’s photographs in many books from major publishers, which speaks to the quality of this resource.

If you visit the website, there are samples of Matthew 4 and John 2 so you can get an idea what the collection looks like. Finally, here is a five minute video promoting the Photo Companion.

NB: Thanks to Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com for kindly providing me with a review copy of this resource. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

Book Review: Barry J. Beitzel ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels

Beitzel, Barry J. and Kristopher A. Lyle, eds. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 583 pp.; Hb.  $49.99  Link to Lexham Press

As Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited the The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). His new edited volume contains forty-eight essays written by fifteen New Testament scholars who have contributed to the field of New Testament geography.

The chapters are roughly chronological, beginning with the infancy narratives, baptism and temptation before moving on to the ministry of Jesus. The book could function as a “Harmony of the Gospels” since each of the forty-eight chapters include Gospel parallel passages when available. A chapter on John 4 appears early in Jesus’s ministry, chapters on John 7:37-39 and John 9 are placed in a series of chapters on the teaching of Jesus.

Some of the essays in this book concern geographical problems. For example, Benjamin Foreman’s essay on the location of the baptism of Jesus. Todd Bolen assess the evidence for the location of the “drowned pigs” in Matthew 8:28-42 (Gadara? Gerasa? Gergesa? Kursi?). Benjamin Foreman examines evidence for the burial of Jesus, comparing the Holy Sepulcher to the Garden Tomb and concludes the Holy Sepulcher is more likely even if there is value is far more spiritually uplifting to for Protestants. But most of the essays describe locations which are less controversial, such as Perry Phillips on the Well at Sychar or Todd Bolen’s contribution on the Temple, “Magnificent Stones and Wonderful Buildings of the Temple Complex.”

Other essays in this collection deal with elements of cultural in the background of various stories in the Gospels. Elaine Phillips’s article on domestic architecture in Capernaum, Carl Laney on “Fishing the Sea of Galilee” and Chris McKinney’s “Pig Husbandry in Israel during the New Testament.” Aubrey Taylor’s chapter on the “Historical Basis of the Parable of the Pounds” deals with Roman taxation. (As a side note, this chapter does not have a single illustration in the print version of the book.)

A few of the chapters make a connection between a geographical location and a theological issue. Gordon Franz contributes a fascinating essay on the Valley of Hinnom as a metaphor for Hell. In this revised paper first read at the national Evangelical Theological Society meeting in 1987, Franz points out the earliest reference to Hinnom as a garbage dump comes from A. D. 1200. He therefore argues the word is not based on a Second Temple reality (a garbage dump), but it refers to a place of eschatological judgment (325).

Each article in this Geographical Commentary is well researched and written. Each has detailed bibliography pointing interested readers to detailed studies on the topic considered. The book can be used as reference or as a running commentary as one is reading through one of the Gospels. Since the articles are rich in details, the book would be an excellent companion for someone traveling to Israel for a study tour.

iPad Screen Shot

Logos Bible Software Version

Like most Lexham publications, this book was published in both print and Logos Library formats. The electronic version of the book makes full use of the Logos system, including indexed searching and linking key words to other resources. For example, all biblical text is linked to your preferred Bible, or users can hover over the reference to read the text.

The electronic version of this book has many more images and graphic than the book and cab include videos. For example, in the five-page section entitled “Millstones in Capernaum” (Matthew 17:24-18:14), the print edition has two photographs. The Logos format book has a map of Galilee, an info-graphic of the synagogue at Capernaum, and links to two videos, a walk-through of Capernaum which plays in the Logos software itself and a link to a seven-minute video, “Capernaum: Jesus’ Base of Operations in Galilee” on FaithlifeTV.com. This video is from The Cultural Context of the Bible series with David A. deSilva (although the narration sounds like it was produced with speech-to-text software). Maps, photographs and other graphics can be copied and pasted into your own documents (Word and PowerPoint, be sure to cite your source!). Many of the inforgraphics and other resources appear in many other Faithlife resources.

The electronic version includes all the same footnotes and bibliography as the print version, and includes a “see also” section which lists all the links appearing in the section. One advantage to the electronic version is the ability to cut/paste these references into a document, or to copy them to BibTex for use in bibliography management software. Usually Logos resources are tagged to open a resource if you owe the book, but I noticed Anchor Bible Dictionary articles are not tagged to open the article within Logos.

One feature missing in the electronic version is page numbers. Since the Logos version was published first and was initially intended as a fully interactive multimedia resource, there was no need for page numbers. Now that a “real book” has been published, Logos could enhance the value of this resource by adding page number tags to the text in the electronic version. Since Logos Bible Software does an excellent job assisting users to properly cite their sources, it would be an improvement to sync the print pages to the text in the electronic book. One other minor quibble, there are a few repeated graphics; this is forgivable in the electronic version but a waste of limited space in the print version (the millstone on page 112 and 311).

Conclusion

The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible, but especially for those visiting Israel. Lexham has a second volume on Acts through Revelation in production; hopefully additional volumes on the Old Testament will follow.

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

Book Review: Todd Bolen, The Gospels: Photo Companion to the Bible

Todd Bolen has been producing high quality resources for Bible teachers for many years on his website Bible Places.com. I first became aware of Bolens’s Pictorial Library of Biblical Lands at an ETS in 2003. At the time this was eight CDs or one DVD of high quality photographs of Israel and Asia Minor. I have used these photographs in virtually every class I teach to add some graphics to an otherwise dull PowerPoint presentation. I added the American Colony and Eric Matson collections in 2009, and there are several other historical sets available on Bolen’s site.

This new resource from BiblePlaces.com is something of a mash-up of all of Bolen’s previous collections plus a great deal more. Each volume of the Photo Companion to the Bible covers a Gospel chapter by chapter as a PowerPoint collection. Photographs are arranged by verse, with several slides per verse in many cases. For example, for Mark there are 16 PowerPoint files, each set has more than 100 images.

Some readers might wonder if it is worth purchasing these DVDs since they are used to using Google Image Search to find pictures for their lectures. First, these photographs often do not appear on the web. For most of the collection, BiblePlaces.com has taken these photographs themselves and they own the copyright. These are not snapshots from someone’s Holy Land Tour taken with their iPhone. I have noticed the photographs were often taken when there are few tourists in the way.

Second, if you are just grabbing a few photographs from the web for your teaching, perhaps you are violating copyright law. Yes, I know we all do it and it is doubtful you will get in trouble for snagging someone’s vacation pictures from Flickr. But some churches (and certain colleges) do try to limit resources to “fair use” copyright images.  The copyright notice is as follows:

The purchaser is granted permission to use this work in face-to-face teaching, video-recorded sermons, class notes, church newsletters, and like contexts. Separate permission must be obtained from BiblePlaces.com to use this material in books, magazines, commercial products, websites, and online courses. Slide notes should be treated as any other copyrighted written material, with credit given when quoting from these notes. For copyright inquiries, please email Todd Bolen at tbolen94@bibleplaces.com.

The Photo Companion to the Bible allows for legal images which can be edited for your own needs. (Here is a list of contributors for proper attribution.) I have seen Bolen’s photographs in many books from major publishers, which speaks to the quality of this resource.

There are several types of photographs are in each collection. For most passages, slides contain geographical photographs from Bolen’s earlier collections and new aerial photographs. Sometimes the aerial photographs are labeled pointing out key locations in the photographs. If the Old Testament is quoted, Bolen has a photograph of the relevant text in the Dead Sea Scrolls, or often a Yemenite Torah scroll photographed at The Master’s Seminary. The quoted texted is highlighted by a rectangle.

Since these are PowerPoint slides, the editors provide annotations explaining the image and the location of the photograph. This is very helpful for identifying the location of museum photographs or some of the historical photographs. Since there are often many slides on the same topic, these descriptions are critical to the usefulness of the Photo Companion to the Bible. For example, in the Mark 16 set, there are many photographs of the Garden Tome and the Holy Sepulcher, as would be expected. But the slides include many other examples of ancient Jewish tombs. Since these are less well known, the annotations will help a teacher select the right image for their own presentation.

For this review, I browsed several chapters for each Gospel, but I will comment in more detail on the file for Mark 10 (chosen more or less at random). There are 134 slides in this file, including many views of Galilee taken at different times and angles. I particular enjoy seeing the historical photographs alongside modern photos. Sometimes the location looks the same after 100 years, but in some cases you can see the impact of modern Israeli culture and (unfortunately) the tourist industry.

In addition, the collection includes the following:

  • Michelangelo’s Moses from the Church of St. Peter in Chains in Rome is included for 10:3, “He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’”
  • A divorce document, in Old Assyrian, from Karum Kanesh, from the in the Ankara Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
  • For Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me,” there are slides of modern Israeli children in the Jewish quarter of the Old City and an American Colony photograph of a group of children in Kiriath Anavim in the Judean hills west of Jerusalem dated August 6, 1939.
  • For the rich young man approaches Jesus in Mark 10:17, there is a photograph from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum of a Roman man from Magnesia on the Maeander dated to the first century AD.
  • For the commandments in Mark 10:19, there is a photograph of the Ten Commandments from the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zionl Exodus 20 from a Yemenite Torah scroll; a Sumerian tablet with the verdict concerning murder, from Girsu, 2112–2004 BC from the from Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient; an Egyptian warning to robbers on tomb scene of courtier Biu, 6th dynasty, ca. 2400–2250 BC; a cuneiform record of trial before king of Hazor, 18th–17th centuries BC from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
  • Since the man was rich, there is a photograph of a mansion in Second Temple period Jerusalem from the Wohl Museum and several examples of wealth from other museums including the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
  • For the famous saying about a camel going through the eye of a needle, there are three pictures of camels and three pictures of ancient needles, and two pictures of the closed Jaffa Gate (even though this is a historic photograph from before 1920, it is not the gate Jesus would have had in mind, and there was no “needle gate” anyway).

This ought to be enough to illustrate the types of things provided for each chapter of the Gospels. Occasionally I wondered at the usefulness of a particular photo, but what seems odd to me might be an excellent image for someone else.

If you purchase the Photo Companion, you can download it immediately with the promise of free lifetime updates as well as get a DVD copy.

There is a nice overview of the four volumes of the Photo Companion to the Bible currently available on BiblePlaces.com. There are two sample chapters (Matthew 4
and John 2), both are the full 100+ set of slides in the full product. Finally, here is a five minute video promoting the Photo Companion. The Photo Companion to the Bible is an essential resource for anyone teaching or preaching the Gospels. This database of images will enhance your presentations and help make the world of the Gospels come alive for your students. Short of visiting Israel several times on your own, this Photo Companion will also help anyone reading through the Gospels visualize the places Jesus lived.

NB: Thanks to Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com for kindly providing me with a review copy of this resource. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

Atlases for Touring Israel (Part 2)

There are a number of Carta Guides that I wish I owned (Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, all by Hanan Eshel), but the handiest for my tours has been the Carta Guide to National Parks and Nature Reserves.  This is a handy sized 447 page text with slick pages and plenty of color illustrations.  Each site listed has a road map and directions, a summary of services (WC, snack bar, picnic area, hiking trails, etc.)  A set of icons on the title page for each site indicates whether the location is a Jewish, Christian or Muslim site, a recreational site or an antiquities. The title section includes a phone number and best times to visit, along with a notice of fee (if any).  Each heading includes a brief line drawn from the Hebrew Bible associated with the site.

The Guide is divided into regions which are color-coded in the outside margins.  Beginning in the north with Mount Hermon the Guide works its way south to the final entry, Eliat.  Several regional maps appear at the beginning of the Guide and are marked with page numbers in the guide.  Each sub-region is arranged geographically so that it is sometimes difficult to find a location within a region.  The sub-sections do not strike me as logically arranged.  Hermon and Gamla are in the first (northernmost) section, but Tel Dan is in the second, despite the fact that Dan is well north of Gamla.  Fortunately there is a detailed table of contents, but no alphabetical index.

Each location is illustrated with a few photographs (250 in all), although these seem dated to me. The Roman Theater at Beit She’an certainly is more than ten years old (p. 211) and the Masada photographs do not reflect reconstructions from the last ten years.  A few photographs were taken on hazy days (Nahal Gamla, p. 53 and Arbel Cliff, p. 167), but for the most part these are helpful illustrations.  The Guide includes a site plan where applicable with points of interest clearly marked (50 total in the Guide).

Since the Guide has entries for 60 national parks, it includes information on the flora and fauna of Israel.  While this is not “biblical,” it is often necessary information when visiting a site to point out items of interest.  (For some reason people always ask me what is planted in some farmer’s field or what the name of some shrubbery is.)  Nature reserves are accompanied by hiking maps, although it is always best to obtain a more recent map when arriving at the park. Several Nature Reserves conclude with a short “Outside the Park” pointing out local places to eat or other memorials or parks.  For example, For Ein Feshkha, the Guide points out the trail to Rosh Tzukim as well as five nearby monasteries.

Because the Guide is for National Parks and Nature Reserves, there are quite a few interesting locations that are not in the Guide. For example, The road down Ma’ale ‘Akrabim (Scorpion’s Pass) has several sites of interest (Roman toll buildings, Ein Hazvot / Tamar) as well as several hiking trails.  Mount Hor is in the area as well.  Since none of these are on the official list of national parks, they are omitted from this guide.

For my Israel tours I purchase an Israel National Parks pass which allows unlimited entry to national parks listed on the card for two weeks.  This allows us to visit some sites that are not usually included in tours, such as Korazin and Kursi in Galilee; Bet Guverin and Tel Arad in the south.  With the Carta Guide, I can check on a location to see if there is any interest for a biblical tour and get a quick summary of what I ought to be looking for when we explore the site.   This Guide could be used along with the National Parks pass for a self-guided trip around Israel.

Atlases for Touring Israel (Part 1)

I have been blessed to travel to Israel three times leading student groups, with a new trip planned for May of 2010.  Each trip I took several books to help me as the group leader, but these books can be used by anyone traveling in Israel.  There are many of these on the market, but these are the books that I will carry with me to Israel.  Today I will review the most valuable of these guides, with a shorter “round up” of other books I have found helpful for guide trips to Israel.

The best guide to Israel for a Christian tour is The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (Fifth Edition; Oxford, 2008, 544 pages, $37.95, Kindle Version $13.50). I cannot imagine visiting Israel on a tour without this book in my travel bag.  The book is divided into two parts.  The first 173 pages covers Jerusalem, rest of the book covers archaeological sites in the rest of the Land.  As should be obvious from the title of the book, this is a guide to archaeological sites, not a guide for pilgrims.  While most of the Holy Sites are included, they are described in terms of their history and archaeology rather than their religious significance.

Two general features are found throughout the text.  Murphy-O’Connor has “rated” sites with either two stars, one star or no stars in order to indicate locations that must be seen on a visit to Israel.  This is a highly subjective system and should not to imply that a non-starred site can be  skipped.  His point is that starred locations are should not be missed.  For example, Qumran and Masada receive two stars, Megiddo and Capernaum receive one star, and En Gedi no star.  To me, there is no way I could lead a tour group without visiting all of these sites.  While En Gedi is always a favorite with my groups, most people are disappointed with Qumran (although the buffet is great!)

A second feature is the use of side-bars with text from ancient authorities (Inscriptions, Josephus, Maimonides, the Bible, etc.)  These ancient descriptions are helpful when reading the archeological descriptions.  In some cases, side-bars explain key terms (Who were the Mamluks?)

The section on Jerusalem is divided by area of the Old City, beginning with the walls and gates and progressing through the quarters of the Old City to Haram esh-Sarif (Temple Mount), excavations at the Western Wall plaza, Mount Sion, The City of David, the Kidron, the Tombs in the Valley, and the Mount of Olives.  Murphy-O’Connor covers a few locations outside the Old City as well.  There are dozens of line-drawn maps and charts of archaeological sites along with black and white photographs and other illustrations.  These small maps can be used to orient oneself when visiting a location.  For example, the map of the Western and Southern wall excavations has 23 points of interest marked on the map, all of which receive a brief description ion the text.  Virtually everything of interest is marked on these small yet clear maps.

An extra value of the guide is the inclusion of hours of operation for locations as well as telephone numbers.  Murphy-O’Connor provides advice on whether arrangements need to be made for a group or if there is  I am amazed at the minor locations which are briefly included in the Guide, including places like the Convent of the Olive Tree and the Monastery of the Flagellation.

The second section is a “Guide to the Land” and is arranged alphabetically.  Like the section on the Old City, this section combines useful information on make the most of one’s visit to Israel with excellent illustrations and maps.  The map of Masada is particularly good considering it is on a single page.  Most archaeology sites describe has a site map indicating points of interest.  This section also has entries for regions (Golan, Negev), Peoples (Druze, Samaritans, Nabateans) and historical events (Crusades).

If there is any criticism to be of this book is that it is out of date already.  Work in the City of David has been constant for the last few years, rendering this handbook a bit out of date.  The material on the Southern Wall excavations is still good since that area has not has any recent excavations.  My copy of the Oxford Archaeological Guide is well worn and marked with notes made on my tours.  I have photocopied maps from the Guide and taped them into my Moleskin journal for note-taking from other sources.

I eagerly await the Sixth Edition of this essential Guide to the archaeology of Israel!

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.

Bible Atlas Review: Conclusion

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.