Far and away, The Sacred Bridge is the best Bible atlas–and one of the most impressive books–I’ve ever used. Now Carta is beginning to publish bite-sized adaptations from that massive and beautiful work. In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land is Volume 1 of The Carta New Testament Atlas, to be released in four total volumes. In the Master’s Steps is “partially excerpted” from The Sacred Bridge (TSB). (EDIT/UPDATE: Volume 2 will not be an excerpt from TSB–it’s a new work.)
The hope of the book, author R. Steven Notley writes, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Or, as St. Jerome puts it (quoted in this book):
Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.
Those of us who have not yet had occasion to travel to Israel will have to settle for books such as Notley’s. However, as one makes her or his way through Notley’s careful writing, the vivid images, and the flawlessly rendered maps–one realizes there is no settling with this book. It’s the next best thing until such a day as one can make it to the Holy Land.
This book does not differ very much from its corresponding TSB sections, though this one is intended for a wider, more popular audience. Owners of TSB do not need to buy this volume, which does, however, carry with it the advantage of being portable, affordable, and concisely addressing the life of Jesus. If you don’t have TSB and are interested in geography and the New Testament, definitely pick up this work.
A few highlights in review:
Like all Carta books I’ve put my hands on, this one is of high quality. It’s paperback, but the thick, semi-glossy paper helps the full-color images really pop, and is perfect for making marginal notes in pencil.
As with The Sacred Bridge there is an index of place names, but not an index of Scripture references. Notley includes plenty of references, especially at the multiple points where he seeks to explain what could be, in fact, a harmony of apparently divergent gospel accounts when it comes to certain geographical details. Or if no harmonization is possible, Notley at least offers side-by-side comparisons.
The content of In the Master’s Steps is culled from chapter 22 of The Sacred Bridge, which, as it turns out, is the chapter I chose to profile most in-depth in my TSB review. Rather than repeat myself here, I simply refer you to my section 4 (“Case Study: The Sacred Bridge on The Holy Gospels”) here. Most, if not all, of what I say about the content there would apply to this book under review.
Here are the chapters of In the Master’s Steps:
- The Birth of Jesus and the Flight into Egypt
- The Ministry of John and the Baptism of Jesus
- The Travels of Jesus
- The Sea of Galilee: Development of an Early Christian Toponym
- The First-century Environs of the Sea of Galilee
- The Last Days of Jesus
- Jesus and the Myth of an Essene Quarter in Jerusalem
- The Arrest and Death of Jesus
- From the Empty Tomb to the Road to Emmaus
Okay, I will quote this one helpful paragraph that leads off chapter 5 of In The Master’s Steps:
Events recorded in the ministry of Jesus outside of Jerusalem are primarily located in the region around the Sea of Galilee, specifically in the north and northwest area of the lake. The Gospels are an important historical witness for Jewish settlement in this region. Scholarship seldom notes that for many of these settlements, their first mention in the literary witnesses is in the New Testament. After a confrontation in the synagogue in Nazareth, his boyhood home, Jesus relocated to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4:13; Mk 1:21; Lk 4:31). This village would become the center of his ministry in the region. We now turn our attention to settlements around the Sea of Galilee that find mention in the New Testament.
Here is a sample of the graphics and maps to be enjoyed (click on each image to enlarge):
To book’s hope, to revisit it again, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Reading through In the Master’s Steps will certainly offer such an understanding for the teacher, student, reader, or person of faith who picks up the book. The connections between geography and theological applications are not often made explicit here, but the reader will have more than enough historical background and imagery to begin to make those associations for herself or himself.
Many thanks to the good folks at Carta for sending the book. They didn’t ask for a review, so I write this of my own volition! I think they are one of the finest publishers in the business today. Check out their site here, and go here to see their works via Hendrickson, their U.S. distributor.