Evaluating Bible Atlases



·         There are broadly two ways of approaching atlas resources that distinguish among atlases.

o   Reference book: This kind of resource assumes you simply want to look up something specific and get more information about a site or such, usually while reading a Bible text. Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias may be more helpful with this approach. Focus is mainly on information of which maps may be one part.

o   General introduction and overview: These are more comprehensive and for which a variety of maps are usually central. Such a resource usually provides:

§  Geographical (including land, climate, flora, fauna, terrain, etc.) information and perhaps also brief descriptions of archaeology, philology, toponymy, etc.

§  Historical information that is connected to the progression of events in the biblical record along with accompanying illustrations, photographs, timelines, etc.


General Matters:

·         Is it intended as a scholarly resource or more of a coffee table type of book?

·         Date of publication

·         Qualifications of author(s)

·         Quality of production

·         Size >> Is this a book one would want to take along while travelling?

·         Availability of accompanying digital resources >> Is there a digital version that can easily be used on a mobile device while travelling?

·         Number and quality of maps (color? Black/white? Types of maps?)

·         Number and quality of illustrations, photos, timelines, etc.

·         Extent of accompanying text and annotations

·         Is there a Scripture index? Location index and/or dictionary? Bibliography?

·         Is it based on a particular English version of the Bible? (Particularly in terms of place names and transliterations)

·         Reasonable cost for students (The closer to $30 or so, the better)



·         What else is included beyond maps? Charts? Tables? Timelines? Photos? Graphics?

·         Is it strictly a “Holy Land” atlas, or does it include Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia Minor (Turkey), Greece, and Italy?

·         What is the balance of attention between Old and New Testament sites? (It should, of course, be recognized that there is much more history and time to be covered in the OT but there are perhaps more sites recoverable from NT times. As a rough reflection of my interests the ratio of pages of NT and early church to OT and intertestamental should be no less than .35, i.e., at least 1/3.)

·         Another rough figure to asses the focus of these atlases is the ratio of the historical geography (i.e., the biblical stuff) to the physical geography. I don't have an ideal ratio, but the atlases I liked best were in the 2-3 range. (I.e., the HarperCollins Atlas was a 5.3, Holman an 8, Carta a 16.1, and the IVP 24 which means these all had more biblical focus than general, physical geography concerns. On the other hand, the Oxford was 1.4 which reflects its greater interest in the physical geography.)

·         What time periods are covered? Does its coverage conclude with the end of the first century CE? (Revelation) 132-135 CE and Bar Kohkba war? Byzantine period? Islamic? Crusader? Ottoman? Modern?



·         This turns out to be a critical factor. The extremes are represented by a) those who start with the Bible texts and use it to interpret all other archaeological and historical data and b) those who start with the data and largely disregard the Bible as mythical or theologically motivated history. I, with many others, am somewhere in the middle. I do not need archaeology to prove anything in the Bible. I do not understand the Bible to be focused on relating history and science, but I think it is a historical resource that should be considered and included with all the other information available when it comes to creating an 'objective' history.

o   Is the intent of the atlas to validate biblical history?

o   Does it strive to be objective or comprehensive and present competing theories?

o   Does it advocate a maximalist or minimalist position?

o   How confident is it of its identifications of dates and sites?

·         Some typical examples to determine perspective and quality:

o   Dating of Exodus: There is considerable controversy over early / late date. In general (and not without other problems):

§  Starting from the biblical text points to the early date ~1450/1440 BCE under Thutmose III ( 1 Kings 6.1 is key)

§  Starting from archaeology points to late date ~1270 BCE under Rameses II

§  (For a good survey of the issues, cf. http://www.cresourcei.org/exodusdate.html )

o   Location (and dating) of sites like Jericho and Ai

o   Location of Bethsaida (et-Tell or et-Araj? If it is located west of the Jordan River, then it very much out of date.)

o   Location of Bethany Beyond the Jordan (The traditional site, the Bethabara confusion, and the region east of the Sea of Galilee)

o   Is Alexandria Troas (mentioned in Acts 16 and 20; 2 Cor; 2 Tim) confused with ancient Troy? (You'd be surprised how often this happens.)

o   Issues of Pauline chronology and journeys