The Basic Bible Atlas, John A. Beck. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.
Summary: An introductory Bible atlas that combines an overview of the biblical narrative and colorful and detailed maps, with an emphasis on the significance of the geography to the unfolding plan of God.
Has this happened to you? You are reading a biblical narrative and come across a place name. You think you’ve heard of it before and that that might be significant. Or you wonder about the different places where Jesus and the disciples ministered, or where were the places where Paul traveled.
This book is a great companion to reading the Bible. After a satellite view of the Bible lands observing the major features of the Fertile Crescent, the land bridge of international travel from Babylon and Assyria running through the Promised Land and south to Egypt, and the land of Israel with the Jordan River valley between Galilee and the Dead Sea, the spiny ridgeline running through the center of the country, and the fertile shorelands, often occupied by Israel’s enemies.
Beck then offers a narrative of the biblical story with an emphasis on the places where events occur and the movements of people. We discover that Shechem is the place where God shows Abram that Canaan is the land of promise, where Israel renewed its covenant with God, and that served as gathering place for the ten breakaway tribes of the northern kingdom. Under the name Sychar, it was the place where Jesus disclosed to an outcast Samaritan woman that, in him, the promises of God, and the longings of a thirsty heart, were filled.
Full color maps are interspersed with text, showing locations, routes traveled, and topography. From Jacob’s flight to Egypt, wilderness wandering, conquest of Canaan, the losses and battle of Judges, the expansion and division of the kingdom under David, Solomon and successors, and the exilic journeys. As the narrative progresses, we have maps of the development of Jerusalem, from David’s fortress capital, to the temple city of Solomon, to the religious, political and occupation center of the time of Jesus. Beck helps us trace the early forays of Philip and Peter out of Jerusalem, Paul’s Damascus journey, and each of Paul’s mission journeys and final journey to Rome. We conclude with the Seven Churches of John’s Revelation, and the hope of the new Eden, the garden city with the tree of life.
The book also offers name and scripture indexes that help in finding pertinent maps. If I could make two suggestions, some maps identified locations of events, but no indication of chronology–numbers might help here. Also maps were overleaf, or occasionally separated by several pages from the narrative references to places.
Aside from these minor considerations, this is a great companion for one’s Bible study with far more and larger maps than most study Bibles. The color renderings accompanied by the text that illuminates the significance of places transforms the reading of biblical texts from bewildering references to obscure place names to enhanced understanding of how places were important in the outworking of God’s plans.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.