Zondervan Atlas of the Bible
Carl G. Rasmussen has recently released a Revised Edition of Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Below I offer a description of its contents with some evaluative remarks.
What’s in the Atlas
After the Preface and Introduction the atlas consists of a Geographical Section and a Historical Section, followed by Appendices.
The Geographical Section is first, because:
This atlas has been written in the belief that once one has a basic understanding of the geography of the Middle East, one has a much better chance of coming to grips with the flow of historical events that occurred there.
After “Introduction to the Middle East as a Whole” there are these sub-sections:
- The Geography of Israel and Jordan (the longest section, covering “the Five Zones,” weather, routes, and individual regions)
- The Geography of Egypt
- The Geography of Syria and Lebanon
- The Geography of Mesopotamia
The Historical Section covers the Bible’s history in canonical order, from the pre-patriarchal period to the churches in Revelation. It concludes with a special section on Jerusalem (“Of all the cities in the Bible, this is the most prominent one: it is mentioned 667 times in the Old Testament and 139 times in the New”) and an essay: “The Disciplines of Historical Geography.” I appreciated being able to compare the layout of Jerusalem in the Old Testament, during the time of Nehemiah, and in the New Testament.
Rasmussen covers even the so-called intertestamental period, with sections on the Greeks (4th century B.C. onward), the Maccabees, and the Hasmonean dynasty.
The Appendices are also impressive. What really makes this atlas user-friendly is the 31-page Geographical Dictionary and Index. Any place name in the atlas (whether it has appeared on a map or in the descriptive text) is in the dictionary/index. There are also identifications with modern places, so one finds out, for example, that the biblical Bethany is the current-day El-Azariya. More specifically, here is the entry for Bethany at the back of the atlas:
Bethany (near Jerusalem)—Village on road to Jericho (Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29) less than 2 mi. from Jerusalem (John 11:18). Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived there (John 11) and it seems that Jesus spent the evenings of the week before his crucifixion there. Mentioned 11 times in NT.–El-Azariya (174131), 1.5 mi. E of Jerusalem, on E side of Mount of Olives. 212, 214, 217, 251, 252
There’s quite a lot of text in the atlas, too. (It’s far more than just maps and photos.) In the section covering Jesus’ life, for example, Rasmussen offers an almost narrative overview of the locations of Jesus’ ministry, interspersed with graphics.
As with other Zondervan books along similar lines, there are striking full-color images and well-drawn maps throughout the book. Photographs like this will have to suffice until I can visit the lands described in this book:
The atlas contains both two-dimensional and three-dimensional maps:
Between the maps, photographs, and timelines throughout the book, you can easily get your bearings in any era or biblical passage of study.
I’ve not been able to take full advantage of all that the atlas has to offer–there is a lot here–but it is my current go-to atlas. I look forward to making further use of it. Perhaps the proof is in the pudding: even though I was given a gratis copy for review by Zondervan, I purchased an electronic version of it in Accordance Bible software so I could have access to it there, too (I rarely purchase a book in two formats). Accordance’s production of the module, from what I’ve seen so far, enhances what is already an excellent book, with the added advantages of hyperlinks and advanced searching capabilities.
My two points of critique are fairly minor ones. First, the timelines throughout the book are easy enough to follow, but they are stylized in such a way that they feel a bit cluttered. You can see examples using the Search Inside feature on Amazon here (affiliate link). Second, the font is narrow and looks crammed on a page, especially pages that have a good amount of text. The flip-side to this is that in a book that is still fairly portable (just under 300 pages), you’re getting a lot of great information, but it’s not always easy to read for long stretches of time.
Any serious reader, no matter their level of prior knowledge of biblical geography and history, could make profitable use of the atlas. It’s not highly technical or scholarly, though students and professors should still consider it, especially in a classroom or Sunday school setting.