Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands: Preface

The word trivia draws its origins from the realm of geography; it originally defined day-to-day discourse that took place at the intersection of three roads, usually by merchants who sold or bartered goods there, or by travelers who sought directions there. The word evolved in time to denote any conversation at that location, however commonplace or unimportant it might have been. Eventually, trivia came to designate anything at all viewed as trite or insignificant. It is singularly ironic, therefore, that geography itself is often perceived in the latter sense today.

But for one who believes that episodes described in Holy Scripture actually took place in the space of this world, such a perception is fundamentally ill founded. Quite to the contrary, geography must be seen as integral to the interpretative process. Jerome, who lived in Palestine for many years, wrote concerning geography's role in the enterprise of biblical interpretation: "Just as those who have seen Athens understand Greek history better, and just as those who have seen Troy understand the words of the poet Virgil, thus one will comprehend the Holy Scriptures with a clearer understanding who has seen the land of Judah with his own eyes and has come to know the references to the ancient towns and places and their names " (Commentary on Chronicles).

With this in mind, the Moody Atlas presents the geographical setting of the lands of the Bible, attempting along the way to establish the relevance of the study of geography in the elucidation of Scripture. The Atlas seeks to set forth and develop a central thesis: namely, that God prepared the Promised Land for His chosen people with the same degree of care that He prepared His chosen people for the Promised Land. The Promised Land might have been created as an environment without blemish; it might have exhibited ecological or climatological perfection. It might have been prepared as a tropical rain forest through which coursed an effusion of crystal-clear water; it might have been crated as a thickly-carpeted grassy meadow or as an elegant garden suffused with the aroma of flowers and blossoms. It might have been-but it was not. As I will attempt to demonstrate, God prepared for His chosen people a land that embodied the direst of geographic hardship. Possessing meager physical and economic resources and caught inescapably in a maelstrom of political upheaval, the Promised Land has yielded up to its residents a simple, tenuous, mystifying, and precarious existence, even under the best of circumstances. It is an important and helpful insight to realize that God prepared a certain kind of land, positioned at a particular spot, designed to elicit a specific and appropriate response. God has been at work in both geography and history.

Geography is understood in the Atlas to define three separate, if somewhat overlapping concepts: physical geography (a description of those topographic and environmental features that impact upon the land), regional geography (a description of those political and regional subdivisions that comprise the land), and historical geography (a diachronic unfolding of those events that have transpired in the land, which are conducive to a geographic explanation). Chapter 1 of the book is an attempt to survey the entities of physical and regional geography. Chapter 2 presents an overview of historical geography. It is not my purpose in chapter 2 to supply a full and running commentary of the whole of the Bible narratives discussed, which would require a separate volume in itself, but only to provide a geographic sketch sufficient to elucidate a map. Some maps have no accompanying text beyond the explanatory boxes or Scripture citations found in them. To a certain degree, chapter 2 adheres to the axiom of Thomas Fuller: "The eye will learn more in an hour from a map, than the ear can learn in a day of discourse" (A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine). Chapter 3 briefly surveys the history of biblical mapmaking. Much detailed cartographic material covering long periods of time is available for the Holy Land, perhaps owing to its unique place among three monothesistic religions; it possesses on of the longest unbroken mapmaking records known.

Among the back matter, the reader will encounter three indexes (Map Citation Index, Index of Scripture, Index of Extra-Biblical Literature) and a Time Line. The Map Citation Index has been arranged according to map number; for a comprehensive list of maps arranged according to page number, refer to the Table of Maps and Figures found among the front matter. It should be stressed that the Map Citation Index is not a gazetteer (a comprehensive index of all geographic features of Bible lands, sometimes including information concerning the pronunciation of each entry, together with a description of its present location and name); inasmuch as gazetteers already exist in a variety of readily accessible versions, there seemed to be no need to reinvent the wheel.

Anyone today who wishes to write on Bible lands faces the vexing question of nomenclature, but this problem is perhaps most acute of the Bible geographer. Given the climate of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, it becomes almost impossible for a geographer to employ words like Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Armenia, or Syria without creating the impression that a certain political statement is being made or a particular ideology is being endorsed. Accordingly, I wish to state clearly at the outset to my readers-be they Christian, Jewish, or Moslem-that my intention is purely historical and that even when such terms are used in a post-biblical or modern context, they should not be construed as espousing any political opinion.

Someone may inquire: "Why write another atlas? Do not a wide array of atlases already exist?" My answer is twofold. First, the plethora of other atlases that presently exist is a bit of a misperception. Many atlases published in bygone days are presently out of print. Of those that remain in print, only a few have been written from an avowed evangelical Christian standpoint; and of those few, some employ outmoded mapmaking techniques, some embody very little accompanying text, some contain few or no historical maps, and none adequately addresses the subject of physical geography. I must emphasize, however, that there are some excellent sources for the modern-day Bible geographer, and I have listed a few of those in my bibliography. Second, as with the topics of dieting or counseling techniques, concerning which a number of books are available and yet new volumes continue to appear, new perspectives can be brought to the subject of geography, and no individual book is capable of incorporating the whole truth. In this latter regard, one must not naively imagine that the present Atlas represents forever the final word on this multifaceted subject of Bible geography.

It remains to discuss those technical and editorial procedures employed in the Atlas. The maps were produced by the Donnelley Cartographic Services in a five-step sequence, using a combination of manual and photographic techniques, carried out at reproduction scale on stable plastic film. Before any historical-geographical information could be mapped, a series of accurate base maps (showing shorelines, drainage, and elevation contours) at several scales were compiled and drafted, using information from a variety of source materials, primarily government maps.

Using these bases, artist-cartographer Lloyd K. Townsend created several pieces of art to portray the earth's surface. Some of these are in one color to show only the shape of the surface; other multi-toned ones are designed to show terrain and drainage, and one in full color is intending to show the actual vegetation cover of Israel (see Map 15). All historical and geographical data (cities, features, roadways, boundaries, countries, and the like) were then compiled by the author and added to these newly created base maps, again at reproduction scale, on film overlays pin-registered to the bases.

Following general design specifications, the cartographers then drafted the maps from these compilations, creating color-separated film overlays (map "elements") to represent lines, colors (tints or tones), type, and symbols. Negative scribing was used to create the map linework-the framework to which all other information was fitted. This process involved the engraving (scribing) of light-transmitting lines on emulsion-coated opaque plastic materials. Computer-set type on a adhesive backing was cut out and hand-applied to overlays (word by word, sometimes letter by letter), while half-tone screens were photocomposed with certain other elements to create color and tones. Preliminary proofs, photocomposed in color, allowed editing and checking processes to take place.

Finally, the set of approved film elements created for each map (10 to 20 map elements per page) was photocomposed in sequence to create for the printer five pieces of film, one piece for each of the process colors (magenta, cyan, yellow, black, and a brown ink specially prepared for the Atlas). This film was retouched and a final proof was made. The final film was then exposed to light-sensitive metal printing plates, and the original maps were ready to be reproduced.

Beyond those common abbreviations found in the Table of Abbreviations, individual maps show abbreviations, symbols, and explanatory boxes in the legend and sometimes on the body of the map itself. The use of the question mark, traditionally shown on Bible maps to denote uncertain city locations, has been avoided in this Atlas because of irritation or possible confusion to the reader. By this, however, I do not wish to imply certainty where only probability or possibility exists. Instead of a question mark, I have uniformly used the symbol [o] for a city whose location is uncertain; it was thought that this symbol is both less conspicuous on a map and less susceptible to misinterpretation.

I have endeavored to treat spotting numbers on maps in a consistent manner. Numbers that pertain to an appropriate passage in an accompanying text are printed in red; in those cases, corresponding red numbers will be found in the attendant text also. Numbers that pertain to matter found in the map legend or in a box superimposed over the map itself are printed in black, with one exception where diverse colors were demanded (Map78).

A problem raced by any author of an atlas is the conflict between the area covered by a map and the scale at which it can be covered. If the area to be covered is large, then the scale must be small, or else the map will not fit on the size of a page. But this can make for an extremely vague and imprecise map. If a map is composed at a large scale, alternatively, then the area covered must be small, or again the map will be larger than page size. Now the map can be extraordinarily detailed but may lack the larger perspective or be without fixed geographic points. My effort in this Atlas has been to keep the scale as large as possible and yet to avoid cropping off an important section of a map and placing an arrow that pointed off the map towards a designated spot. On a few occasions, however, to have an arrow pointing to the margin of a page was unavoidable, even though that can be an irritating practice. Of similar practices, Plutarch once complained: "Geographers…crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect that beyond this lies nothing but sandy deserts full of wild beasts, and unapproachable bogs" (Lives, Aemilius Paulus). I trust that my readers will be more understanding. But my approach to this problem or area covered versus scale has necessitated that some map legends be positioned adjacent to, but not on, the map itself.

Complexities of phonetics between several writing systems used in the biblical world are profound, and a certain amount of inconsistency in the spelling of proper names was unavoidable. Nevertheless, a measure of systemization has been attempted. Names that have a well-known English form have been retained in the Atlas (e.g., Babylon, Carchemish, Jerusalem); names that are generally transliterated into English in a certain form (e.g., Akkad, Aleppo, Ebla) retain that customary form here, even though the transliteration may be slightly inaccurate; names not occurring in English are rendered phonetically in English script (e.g., Negeb, Wadi Fari'a, Kafr Bir'im), but without vowel length marks and diacritical signs (note that both length marks and diacritical signs are used when transcribing words that are not proper names). Arabic names normally have been spelled without the article el- (e.g., J. Magharah, not J. el-Magharah) except where the name involved was pertinent to an argument presented. Frequently cited reference points have been assigned a static spelling throughout the volume (e.g., Mediterranean Sea, not also Upper Sea, Great Sea, Western Sea, or tâmtu el§tu; Sea of Galilee, not also Sea of Gennesaret, Sea of Chinnereth, Sea of Tiberias, Sea of Taricheae, or Sea of Galilea), even though such a spelling will be anachronistic on some maps.

Since color vision dysfunction is a particularly male deficiency, and since our product design studies indicated that three out of four users of a Bible atlas are males, selection of map coloration (tints and tones) has taken into account the special needs of color-weak or color-blind users, where this was feasible. But having said that, I must urge caution on two fronts. There are several types of color blindness, and one cannot eliminate all problems with color except by going exclusively to monochrome schemes, which would have made for an extraordinarily dull atlas. Second, in some cases an infinite number of color hues was required in order to fulfill the function of a map; in these cases, our sensitivity to user color deficiency had to be outweighed by the requirements of a map's function.

Finally, the Moody Atlas never could have become a reality without the diligent labors of a host of individuals, and my thanks to them is more than a mere accommodation to tradition. I wish to express my profound gratitude to the personnel of Donnelley Cartographic Services, and especially to Barbara B. Petchenik (Sales Representative for Primary Project Responsibilities), Jeannine Schonta and David Stong (Project Coordinators). Barbara's supervision of a technical and aesthetic nature, and her personal commitment to the quality of our product, has provided impetus and encouragement to the author throughout the project. Jeannine and Dave were unstinting with their time, indefatigable in their labor, timely and courteous with their suggestions, and altogether professional in their sphere of expertise. Thanks and appreciation go to Sandra A. Smith (The Quarasan Group, Northfield, Ill.), who lent her proficiency to the design of the Atlas, and to Loretta Nelson (Joe Ragont Studios, Schaumburg, Ill.), who was tireless in her efforts of layout.

Lloyd Townsend (Washington. D.C.) was commissioned to draft the cross-sectional schematic of the Holy Land (Fig. 2) and Hugh Claycombe (Lombard, Ill.) labored diligently on the artistic aspects of the Jerusalem cross-sectional schematic (Fig, 25) and the Time Line. Photographs in the volume came from the University Museum (Philadelphia), the British Museum, the Newberry Library (Chicago), Harvard University Press, Richard Cleave (Pictorial Archive, Jerusalem), David Singer Photography (Chicago), NASA, and the author (consult the copyright page for a specific figure).

I wish to express indebtedness to my two teaching assistants, Stephen Hall and Freddy Fritz, who invested long hours and concentrated energies in checking my work and in preparing the indexes. And to professors Douglas Moo, Perry Phillips, Walter Kaiser, and Davis Young, who read parts of the manuscript and offered helpful insight and counsel, I express my sincere appreciation. Naturally, any remaining errors are my responsibility alone. Acknowledgment and thanks are due Jerry Jenkins (Vice President of Publishing, Moody Bible Institute), Dallas Richards (Production Manager), and Garry Knussman (Senior Editor/Academic Books) of Moody Press. Jerry initially offered the Atlas project to me and, through its course, has generously underwritten the cost of my ideas. Dallas and Garry were a constant encouragement in the project, and their care for the innumerable details created by such a volume must be thankfully recognized. To all of these I am profoundly grateful.

And finally, I will never be able to estimate fairly, much less repay, the debt of gratitude that I owe my wife, Carol, and our children, Bradley, Bryan, and Kelly. Without their joyful sacrifices of time and money, and their patience and encouragement since its inception, this project never would have emerged from the study and light table.

for myself, the study of geography culminates in doxology: "The fullness of the whole earth is His glory" (Isa. 6:3b).

For the Lord is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In His hand are the depths of the earth;

and the mountain peaks belong to Him.

This sea is His, for He made it;

and His hands formed the dry land.

O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For He is our God,

and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand. (Ps. 95:3-7a)

Preface from The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands by Barry Beitzel, Moody Press, copyright ©1985. Used with permission. (

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