Friday, February 08, 2008

Biblica – The Bible Atlas

Absolutely stunning is the only way to describe Biblica, a new Bible Atlas compiled by Dr. Barry Beitzel, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Language at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Beitzel was the chief consultant for this project that included over 25 different contributors. It is not a traditional atlas in that maps are not the primary focus. Rather, as the subtitle says, it presents a “social and historical journey through the lands of the Bible.” It does this with maps, of course, but also with breathtaking, full-color paintings, photographs, and drawings, along with engaging narrative. Its shear size (13.3 x 10.3 x 2.2 inches and over 9.5 pounds!) contributes to its impressive presentation of the material.

The atlas is divided into 10 major sections: an (1) Introduction that deals with the history, spread, and archeology of the Bible, followed in the next section with an overview of the (2) Geography and History of the Bible Lands. Next comes chapters covering the historical context for each major division of the Bible, (3) Genesis and the Patriarchal Period, (4) the Judges, (5) the Kings, (6) the Prophets and the Righteous, (7) the Conquest of the Kingdoms, (8) the Life of Jesus of Nazareth, and (9) Spreading the Word. Lastly, there is a (10) Bible Reference section that contains several helpful charts, Biblical family trees, Scripture reference index, a gazetteer (index of places and names), and a more general index.

The narratives are not always conservative. There is a boxed text that advocates a late date for some of Daniel’s prophecies based on historical-critical scholarship. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is of a young woman, not a virgin. The section on the crossing of the Red Sea gives room for non-miraculous explanations (“Some people prefer to speak of this event – the parting of the sea—as the consequences of perfectly natural causes.”) I have not read all 575 pages but I suspect that you would find similar types of problems scattered throughout the book. It is not reliable as far as consistently presenting conservative positions on the subject matter, but the narrative is engaging and helpful as far as it goes, and it does give insights into the socio-political context of the Biblical narrative.

More than anything else, though, it is just a pure pleasure to browse through this work and soak in the stunning artwork so prominently displayed throughout its pages. Other reviews claim that is contains over 650 color pictures. Some are ancient paintings or reproductions from old Bibles; some are more modern photographs. Even though not as prominent, the maps are equally as engaging and very well-presented. One caution however – there are a few not so modest painting or sculptures and there are some that depict the Biblical history in rather graphic detail (e.g., Isaiah getting sawn in two – not exactly how I pictured that event, BTW) --nothing that you probably wouldn’t find in a standard encyclopedia, though.

So, if are looking for a grand coffee table book, or something just to flip through when you have some extra time on your hands, or to show your kids when they are learning about various Bible stories, this might be just the thing.


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