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.