Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review of "Rose Then & Now Bible Map Atlas"

If you are looking for a good introductory book to historical geography, allow me to make a recommendation: Rose Then and Now Bible Map Atlas with Biblical Background and Culture. A while back the team over at Logos Bible Software asked if I would be interested in reviewing the Rose Then and Now Bible Map Atlas, and after I agreed they gave me a free copy. It has been a pleasure to spend some time in this helpful resource.

First, a note about the author: Paul H. Wright has taught at Jerusalem University College in Jerusalem, Israel for many years. In fact, I sat under Dr. Wright in the fall semester of 2001 when I was a student at JUC. (I even recognized some of my fellow classmates in one of the pictures in the book!) He has led countless tours across the Holy Land and his depth of knowledge and his vast experience is evident in this work.

Although the title of the book contains the word "atlas," don't be fooled. The heart of the book is the historical and cultural insights that Dr. Wright provides. The book is an atlas in that it contains many helpful maps showing the movement of various biblical characters across the geography of the ancient Near East. However, the real value of the book is in the text that Dr. Wright has written. After an introductory chapter where he provides an overview of the geography of the region, he then proceeds, chapter by chapter, to walk through the biblical narrative. Starting with Abraham and the other patriarchs, he works through the various periods of biblical history ... Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, Elijah, Ezra ... all the way down to the apostle John writing at the end of the 1st century AD. Throughout the work, the maps, photographs, and drawings serve to illustrate and enhance the information provided. If I could take the liberty of renaming the book, I would call it Rose Biblical Background and Culture with Then and Now Bible Maps, placing the biblical backgrounds aspects at the top of the list.

The book gets its name, "Then and Now," from some overlay maps which show you the borders of the modern nations on top of the ancient names of the various regions and cities. In the physical version of the book, the modern borders are printed in red on clear plastic pages that can be lifted off the page with the map page sitting underneath (see the image above to get the idea). This unique feature of the atlas is actually one of the weaknesses of the electronic copy of the book. In the Logos version, there are two separate images for every map that contains the overlay: one map is plain and just shows the ancient names, and the other map shows the ancient names plus the modern borders and modern names in red. Within the e-book the plain map precedes the map with the borders, so you get the idea but it looses some of the impact of the physical version.

However, the publishers of the Logos version provided a workaround to this weakness. Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know, but this method helps restore the visual impact of the original version. By using the "Send to PowerPoint" feature within Logos Software, you can easily send both images to the same PowerPoint file and then toggle back and forth from one slide to the other to see the map either with or without the modern borders. To do this you simply right click on the map you want and click on "Send to PowerPoint":

Then repeat that step for the corresponding map with the modern borders. The Logos Software launches your PowerPoint software for you and inserts those images. Then you can just go back and forth between those two slides:

As a side note, this is a huge benefit of purchasing the electronic version versus buying the physical copy. If you are a teacher or a preacher, the ability to send a map to a PowerPoint deck with the click of a mouse is a big time saver.

So overall, I think this is a great resource, however it has some downsides as well. First of all, the chronological tables provided in the Introduction have an "early date" for the Exodus and Conquest (15th century BC) while Dr. Wright's comments in chapters 3 and 4 suggest a "late date" (13th century BC). Personally, I hold to an "early date" for the Exodus based on the clear testimony of 1 Kings 6:1 and the inherent difficulties of fitting the entire period of the Judges into such a short time span if you locate Joshua in the 13th century and Saul in the 11th century. Dr. Wright's position makes the book less convenient for me to use if I was to assign it as a textbook for my students. However, most of the insights that he provides in this work are not directly related to a particular date of the Exodus.

Another criticism of the book is that the story line moves too quickly from one thing to the next. Dr. Wright has some great insights into how the geography of the region affected the history of the region, but it seems he did not have enough space to flesh out those insights fully. Often these geographical insights are mentioned almost in passing. Because of this, the Rose Then & Now Atlas would be a great tool as a supplemental text in a course that covers the historical geography of bible lands. Alternatively, it would serve as a great way to review what you have learned after spending time in Israel on a study tour. But I wonder how much of the information in the book will be absorbed by someone who has never been to the land of the Bible. I'm sure the book will be helpful to anyone who has a basic grasp of biblical geography, but I think it will be especially helpful for people who have been to the biblical lands or who at least have a strong grasp of biblical geography.

However, again I want to emphasize that this is a helpful resource. Dr. Wright should be commended for the work that he put into this, and I am grateful that he took the time to write down many of the insights he has gleaned from living in and teaching students about the land of the Bible for so many years. Here is a list of many of the great features you will find in the Rose Then & Now Bible Map Atlas:

  • An informative book that tells the biblical story while providing the cultural and geographical background of the text.
  • Lots of images throughout the book that provide you with a taste of the biblical culture.
  • Image captions that add information, and don't just repeat what is found in the text.
  • Informative, simple maps that correspond to the story line discussed in the text.
  • An easy-to-read, conversational style of writing. This book is written for laypeople, not an elite scholarly community.
  • A wealth of information from someone who has lived and taught in Israel for years and years, and who believes the Bible and is a committed Christian.

The Rose Then & Now Bible Map Atlas is available here from Logos Bible Software. The price currently is about 25% less than the list price of the physical book, so you are saving quite a bit for buying the electronic version. If you don't currently use Logos Bible Software, you can download one of their free apps here for your smart phone, your tablet, your PC, or your Mac.