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.

Bible Atlas Review: The ESV Bible Atlas

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.

Bible Atlas Review (Introduction)

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.

ESV Bible Atlas

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.