May 30

Using Maps to Help in Bible Study

2010 | by Ron Giese | Category: Books,Miscellaneous,Sermon Follow-Up

Last Sunday we looked at the “playing board” of Israel. More specifically, we looked at how a map can help in understanding more of what God wants us to see, learn, and apply in the narrative portions of the Bible.

We learned that it helps to visualize what certain areas of Israel look like. Just like if someone says, in our world, “I’m headed to Taos for the weekend,” we immediately call up certain associations with Taos. It’s a small town, great mountains just outside the city with a well-known ski area, some history with a well-known Pueblo just outside the city and Kit Carson’s roots in the city, has a few classy art galleries, etc.

Yet if we read of Jesus visiting Capernaum, most Christians cannot visualize anything about that place at all. Big city or small? On the coast or inland? In the desert or a fortress on top of a hill?

Second, we looked at routes in Israel. Again, to use a parallel, we know how long it takes to drive to Santa Fe. And we know the feel of the switchbacks going up the east side of the mountains to get to the gift shop at the Sandia Crest.

But do we know how far away Bethany is from Jerusalem, and on what side of Jerusalem Bethany lies? Do we know the three possible ways that the Israelites could have entered Canaan when coming from Egypt?

Many Christians think they already have good tools to do map work, since they have maps at the back of their Bibles. I usually don’t find these maps to be very helpful. The reason is that often one map has to serve a fairly large portion of the Old Testament, hence, a map titled “Israel in the divided monarchy.” The result of this it that these maps tend to be very “busy”: they have a lot of cities, names of regional areas, rivers, etc.

It can actually be discouraging trying to use such maps.

You’ll recall that Sunday I tried to simplify things by showing just a few cities and a few arrows to mark where someone traveled.

Books called Bible Atlases are really the kinds of tools you need to do map work in the Bible. In part because they simplify things and isolate just one journey of one person in the Bible. For instance, instead of “Israel in the divided monarchy” you might see “Jacob’s journey when he returned to Canaan” (which only covers a few chapters in Genesis and would have arrows similar to what I showed on the screen on Sunday).

If you’re interested in atlases, I have three to recommend to you. Perhaps check out all three on Amazon, and pick one to get. There are about two dozen atlases on the market right now. But some are too expensive, and some are too scholarly, and with some I don’t think the maps are very well done.

So again here are my top three picks, with a brief description of each:

Holman QuickSource Bible Atlas: With Charts and Biblical Reconstructions, by Paul W. Wright. (retail $14.99, Amazon $10.19).

This would be my top pick, since it’s a good value for almost 400 pages. Over 100 pages are full-color maps. And the subtitle is accurate, there are charts and reconstructions in addition to the maps. Every page has at least one map or photo/illustration. As an example of a reconstruction, there is a drawing of what Jericho would have looked like in the days of Jesus. Another example is a cut-away drawing of an average first-century Jewish house.

Bible Atlas & Companion, by David Barrett, Christopher D. Hudon, and Todd Bolen (Amazon $9.99).

This is my second pick, with 75 full-color maps and 50 additional photographs or illustrations (175 pages total).

The Kregel Bible Atlas, by Tim Dowley (Amazon $21.99).

This is my third pick, 96 pages total with at least one map or illustration per page. This is a hardback (the other two are paperback), which probably accounts for the higher price.