Mapping Out the Bible
THE HARPER CONCISE ATLAS OF THE BIBLE. Edited by James B. pritchard, HarperCollins, 151 pp., $30THERE are a number of fine Bible atlases on the market to aid the searcher in getting a better perspective on places, names, and events in Biblical history, and it might seem at first that a new one would be a mere updating of the earlier ones. This is certainly not the case with "The Harper Concise Atlas of the Bible," a fresh approach to how an atlas can make it easy for Bible students to find the information they need. Edited by renowned Biblical historian and archaeologist James B. Pritchard, the work follows the content of "The Harper Atlas of the Bible" (1987) but also draws on the work of an international team of 50 scholars from various interrelated disciplines - historians, linguists, archaeologists, and theologians - who contributed to "The Times Atlas of the Bible" (1987). Great care has been taken to make this work "user-friendly." The brightly color-coded page-edge indexing - purple for the Old Testament period, bronze for the Inter-Testamental period, blue for the New Testament period, and gray for the several topical indexes at the back - provides instant access for a general search. And to make it possible to find specific information at the flick of a page, these colored bands include section titles on the left-hand page and subtitles with Biblical references along t he color band on the right-hand page. For example, "Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Exile" on the left is matched by "Judah Under Babylon, II Kings 24-25, Jer. 27, 29, 39, 52" on the right. Even the table of contents is expanded in such a way as to facilitate the location of information by chronology and subject-matter. For example, under the overall chapter heading "The Age of Solomon," there are six subheadings: "The economy of Solomon's kingdom,Temples in Palestine,Solomon's building projects," "Israel's relationship with Phoenicia,The biblical view of the world," and "Writing and its uses." The chronology at the beginning of the book is excellent, starting at 90,000 BC and ending at AD 200. The detailed time charts are helpful for quick reference. Lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs and drawings, the book brings a remarkable visual clarity to the Biblical story. The maps, the hallmark of any atlas, have been redesigned to add greatly to the reader's easy comprehension of the historical events. Maps of famous battle sites, for instance, are enhanced by superb topographical details that make the action almost seem to come alive on the page. And where many maps of Paul's journeys are traced so tightly as to make it difficult to keep them separate, the global perspective used enables the reader to differentiate each journey from the others, even where his travel rou tes overlap. Trade and travel routes throughout the book are especially helpful. For example, there is a wonderful map showing the far-flung travels and the extensive foreign colonization of the Phoenicians, whose shipbuilding prowess was legendary even in their own time. Such a map does more than show the wide-ranging adventures of a remarkable seafaring people. It also gives a good idea of the tremendous impact these people must have had on the economy of the whole Mediterranean region. The greatest deficiency in some Bible atlases is the paucity and brevity of the text. Although this volume was purposely designed to be concise, it is so well written that it gives an enormous amount of useful and necessary information in its tightly packed script. And it incorporates information gleaned from the most current scholarly research and the most recent archaeological discoveries. Since the Dead Sea scrolls have been so much in the news lately, readers who have wanted to know more about them w ill find the write-up on "The Dead Sea scrolls and their writers" of great interest, and yet the written material takes up only three paragraphs. It is fair to say that, if Bible students become intimately acquainted with the information in this volume, they will gain a basic, working comprehension of what is often called simply the Bible story. They will grasp the significance of the events recorded in the Bible and have a clearer idea of where and how people lived and interacted in the different places and stages in which the story unfolded. They will better appreciate the multicultured background of the peoples whose lives were touched by it, a nd the personal commitment and contribution made by those great historical characters who played out this dramatic record of a people's continuing search to know God. For those just beginning to acquire their own library of Biblical reference books, this new Harper atlas is a most desirable addition. For those whose book collection already includes one or more Bible atlases, it is still a worthwhile acquisition. Certainly Sunday School teachers and lay preachers will find this a valuable source.