Monday, July 26, 2010

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible by Carl G. Rasmussen

book cover

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible,
Revised Edition
by Carl G. Rasmussen

Hardback: 304 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
This major revision of the Gold Medallion Award-winning Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible is a visual feast that will help you experience the geography and history of Scripture with unprecedented clarity. It represents the most comprehensive Bible atlas ever designed for students, Bible study groups, adult learners, travelers/pilgrims to the lands of the Bible, pastors, teachers, and all lovers of the Bible.

The first section of the Atlas introduces the geographical setting of biblical history—using three–dimensional maps and photographic images to help the lands of the Bible come alive. The next section, arranged historically, begins with Eden and traces the historical progression of the Old and New Testaments. It provides an engaging, accurate, and faithful companion to God’s Word—illuminating the text with over one hundred full-color, multidimensional maps created with the help of Digital Elevation Modeling data. It concludes with chapters on the history of Jerusalem, the disciplines of historical geography, and the most complete and accurate listing and discussion of place-names found in any atlas.

Throughout the Atlas, innovative graphics, chronological charts, and over one hundred specially selected images help illuminate the geographical and historical context of biblical events.

The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible is destined to become a favorite guide to biblical geography for students of the Bible. This accessible and complete resource will assist you as you enter into the world of the Bible as never before.

Zondervan Atlas of the Bible is an excellent Bible atlas that also contains Bible background information. It was full of color photographs of the various regions so the reader could see what they look like (in modern times). There were also some pictures of ruins from various cities in the Bible. There were charts, timelines, and, of course, lots and lots of maps. Most of the maps had a 3D look to show the relative elevation and also showed the locations of cities, rivers, and known ancient international and intra-national roads. The maps in the Historical section also showed the movement of troops or people during the events mentioned in the Bible.

The first part covered elevation, cities, roads, and agricultural information (like what the terrain was like, rainfall, and what crops were grown in the region) for the various regions in Canaan as well as relevant areas of Egypt, Sinai, and Mesopotamia. It also covered how the Biblical feasts aligned with the planting/harvesting cycle for various crops, the months, and the rainy/dry seasons. It explained how the geography influenced Biblical events, which was very enlightening. It made the Bible "come alive." The text was concise and easy to understand. I plan on reading this part again because it had so much useful information.

The second part went through the historical narrative of the Bible, starting with Eden and ending with Revelation. Each historical section had a timeline at the start which showed Biblical events aligned with rulers in Syria/Mesopotamia and Egypt as well as what archaeological period it fell under. The author acknowledged that not everyone will agree with how he lined things up.

The text summarized the various Biblical events related to the maps and tied in archaeological findings (like if city remains were found for that time period or if archaeologists have uncovered non-Biblical records referring to those Biblical cities or kings). He also gave an international view of events by tying in information from Egypt and Mesopotamia records about various battles that affected Canaan/Israel as well.

For those who care, the author has Abraham entering Canaan in 2091 BC, which he says was in the middle of the Middle Bronze I period. He has Jacob and his family entering Egypt in 1876 BC, in Middle Bronze IIA, and during the Egyptian 12th Dynasty. He has the Exodus from Egypt in 1446 BC, during the Late Bronze I period, and during Thutmose III's reign in Egypt. He has Joshua beginning his conquest of Canaan in 1406 BC and near the end of the Late Bronze IIA period. He has Judges occurring during the Iron I period. And then he doesn't refer to the periods anymore.

I side with those who think the evidence strongly supports the scheme of: Joshua's conquest of Canaan brought about the start of Middle Bronze I and the Assyrian conquest of Israel and Babylonian conquest of Judah--and exile of much of their populations during each--explains the lack of population seen in Israel in the Late Bronze periods. So the archaeological tie-ins the author used weren't as useful for me since I had to put them into the context I use. Also, I agree with the group inspired by Immanuel Velikovsky and Donovan Courville that believe the alignment this author used for connecting Mesopotamia and Egyptian kings to the Biblical timeline is also off. So the timelines were useless for me.

Also, the author tried to identify where the Garden of Eden was located on current geography, but he overlooks that a world-wide Flood would have wiped Eden off the map and re-arranged the geography. Trying to locate Eden based on a couple rivers named post-Flood after the Eden ones is futile.

But the maps and the geographical information related to the Biblical events were excellent and very useful to me. Overall, it's an excellent Altas with useful maps, and I learned a lot from it. I'd recommend it to those who want a large set of maps for Biblical events and who would like to learn more about how geography influenced Biblical events.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 18, 20
Although there were many ways to travel from one city to another, travelers tended to follow well-established routes in order to avoid areas that would impede their progress. These areas included swamps, rivers, flooded or muddy terrain, regions that were too sandy or too rocky, places inhabited by hostile tribes or governments, forested regions, and routes that included long, difficult climbs up and down mountains and hills. In addition, long-distance travel over great desert expanses was normally avoided because of the lack of water and the hostility of dangerous tribes.

One of the major international routes ran approximately 1,770 miles from Ur in southern Mesopotamia to Thebes in southern Egypt. Along the way it passed through great urban centers such as Babylon, Mari, Tadmor, Aleppo, Ebla, Damascus, Hazor, and Gaza. It does not appear that this route as a whole had a name, but it was made up of shorter segments that ran from city to city, and in all probability these shorter stretches had special names. For example, the portion of this road that ran eastward from Egypt across northern Sinai into southern Canaan/Philistia was known as the "way of the land of the Philistines" (Exod 13:17 RSV). This name is a typical example of the ancient custom of labeling roads as "the way to/of X" (where X = a geographical place name). Other portions of this major international route certainly also had names, but they are rarely preserved in the historical sources.

Although an "international route" may bring to mind images of concrete and asphalt highways crisscrossing a continent or country, it should be remembered that "roads" in the ancient world were, until late in the Roman period (ca. AD 200) usually unpaved dirt paths. These dirt roads were cleared of stones and kept relatively free of weeds and fallen trees, and in some cases they were graded. In the earliest times the most common mode of transportation was walking, with donkeys used as pack animals. Under these conditions, a caravan normally moved at the rate of 2 or 3 miles per hour. Sometime during the second millennium BC, camels began to be used on the desert paths. These animals, which on average could carry 400 pounds of cargo, eventually began to be used on other routes as well. During early times ox-drawn carts were also used for transporting bulky items, but due to the poor condition of the roads the use of carts and carriages for transporting goods and people over long distances did not come into general use until the roads were upgraded during the Roman period.

An international route brought mixed blessings to the inhabitants of the population centers that lay along it. On the one hand, those centers had immediate access to the goods that the traveling merchants were carrying, and the powerful elite could gain added revenue by imposing tolls and by providing services (food, shelter, protection, etc.) to the caravans. On the other hand, the people traveling in these caravans exposed those centers to new external influences--religious, political, economic, etc.--that were not always welcome. In addition, some of the mighty armies of the great powers of antiquity--the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans--passed along the same international routes, bringing with them death, destruction, and deportation.

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