Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: Crossway ESV Bible Atlas

book cover

Crossway ESV Bible Atlas
by John D. Currid, David P. Barrett

ISBN-13: 9781433501920
Hardback: 352 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books
Released: June 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Publisher's Website:
Capitalizing on recent advances in satellite imaging and geographic information systems, the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas offers Bible readers a comprehensive, up-to-date resource that blends technical sophistication with readability, visual appeal, and historical and biblical accuracy.

All the key methods of presenting Bible geography and history are here, including more than 175 full-color maps, 70 photographs, 3-D re-creations of biblical objects and sites, indexes, timelines, and 65,000 words of narrative description. The atlas uniquely features regional maps detailing biblically significant areas such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Italy, and Greece. It also includes a CD with searchable indexes and digital maps, and a removable, 16.5 x 22-inch map of Palestine.

This carefully crafted reference tool not only sets a new standard in Bible atlases but will help ESV readers more clearly understand the world of the Bible and the meaning of Scripture.

Crossway ESV Bible Atlas is a Bible atlas. The lovely, full-color photographs of the regions, city ruins, and archaeological artifacts were one of the strongest points of this atlas. I also loved the full-color artist reconstructions of various buildings and places based on archaeological findings or the descriptions in the Bible. These illustrations included: ziggurats; Ur at the time of Abram; the Tabernacle; Jericho; Jerusalem at the time of David; Jerusalem at the time of Solomon; Solomon's Temple; the city of Nineveh; Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah; the city of Babylon; Zerubbabel's Temple; Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah; at time of Jesus: Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the Temple, a fishing boat, Golgotha and temple mount, and a tomb; at the time of Paul: Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and the synagogue at Gamin.

There were also 3D "viewpoint" maps, like what Abraham would have seen of the Jordan Valley when Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other two cities were destroyed. Since the elevation was indicated with similar shades of green, some of these 3D Old Testament maps required some studying to understand. However, the New Testament 3D maps used more colors and so were easier to "see."

The maps were mainly flat maps (no elevation given) that showed the cities, rivers, and known ancient international and intra-national roads with the biblical movements indicated over them. Overall, the maps effectively conveyed the information when combined with the text in the captions. However, the underlying features (roads and rivers) were indicated with a gray dotted or solid line. While most movement was indicated with an easy-to-spot red line, for wars the opposition's movement was indicated with a blueish-gray line (solid or dotted) that was at hard to quickly distinguish from the numerous similarly-colored roads and rivers.

As for the text, it was well-written and informative. The first section of the atlas gave an overview of the biblical world. It covered the physical features of the main regions in Israel, temperature and rainfall, what various regions produced, vegetation, roads, and archaeological dig sites. It also gave the Hebrew calender with when the rainy periods, harvest times, grazing & shearing times, and feasts occurred.

The second section gave a survey of biblical history. It had maps showing various movements, events, and wars. The text gave a summary of the biblical events using archaeological findings and extra-biblical sources to supplement the descriptions and to tell what was happening during the same period in the other lands mentioned in the Bible. The atlas had a sizable section describing the inter-testament period and also contained information on the period after Paul--the Jewish War and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It ended at 135 AD. I found this additional information very interesting.

This second section started with trying to identify the location of the Garden of Eden. It didn't mention the Flood or other early biblical history but began with describing the various "archaeological periods" that the authors believed occurred during Genesis 1-11. They started with "The Paleolithic Period (Pre-10,000 B.C)," so they apparently believe the earth is older than 10,000 years old.

For those who care, the authors have Abraham placed at about 2000-1550 BC, which they place in the Middle Bronze II period and align with the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period in Egypt and the Third Dynasty in Ur. They placed the Exodus from Egypt during the Late Bronze period and during the New Kingdom's 18th and 19th Dynasties in Egypt. They placed Joshua beginning his conquest of Canaan at probably 1200 B.C. and as causing the break between the Late Bronze period and Iron Age. David was dated at 1010-970 B.C.

For much of the early Old Testament, I don't agree with how the authors aligned these archaeological periods and outside rulers to the Bible accounts, but I still found much of the information useful once converted to the alignment I use.

The third section of the atlas was a series of elevation maps (with cities, rivers, and roads indicated) for all the areas talked about in the Bible. These were most useful when combined with the index in section four.

The fourth section contained the authors' timeline of Biblical history with rulers from Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia aligned on it. There was a list of the Kings of Israel and Judah with the dates they ruled; a chart of the Herodian Dynasty; a place-names index to find cities on the maps in the second section; a place-names index to find cities on the maps in the third section; an index of known biblical sites; a general index; and a scripture references index.

On the inside of the back cover, there's a CD-ROM in a cardboard holder and, in a cover-sized pouch behind that, a nice 16.5 x 22-inch map of Palestine. When I put the CD-ROM in my computer, the content didn't automatically install or open. (I use Windows Vista.) So I used Explore to view the disk contents. You can click on ESVAtlas-Historical-Maps_1.html to get a clickable index of the digital maps to then view the maps using a web browser. Or you can explore the map folder and open the pictures in an your favorite image-viewing program. I also installed the ESV Atlas Search Center. Once installed, I couldn't get the program to work. No matter what I tried--map/caption name, verse reference, city name, etc.--I got back an error page. The digital maps were web resolution but fairly large and--so I've heard--are easy to use in a PowerPoint presentations.

Overall, there were a lot of very nice features in this atlas. In my opinion, its unique and strongest points were the photographs, artist reconstructions, and information given on the inter-testament, new testament, and after events. I liked the maps a little better in Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, Revised Edition, but both altas' had their own strong points. I liked and would recommend both of them.

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 Chapter One
View excerpt of chapter one.


Kate said...

Wow, this looks like it would be a great reference book to have around! I'm a huge fan of the ESV Study Bible, which I bought earlier this year, and I'm waiting for the ESV Thinline to come out in the same cover design as my study Bible, so I can use it for travel.

Debbie, ChristFocus said...

Hi, Kate. Yes, this is a great reference book to have around--especially if you use the ESV Bible so you know what spelling of the city names to look up. ;) Thanks for taking the time to comment and to share your thoughts on the ESV Study Bible. I've never had a chance to look at one.

(And the spelling of city names isn't really a problem when using this Atlas, by the way.)