Annotated Bibliography of Selected Books for Israel Studies

Atlases

Carta Bible Atlas

By Yohanan Aharoni

Formerly published as The Macmillan Bible Atlas, this is the atlas to buy for *reference* - it offers maps of nearly every historical event, including intertestamental and New Testament periods. The text is scholarly, generally accurate, but critical.

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The New Moody Atlas of the Bible

By Barry J. Beitzel

The strength of this atlas is its scholarly text and its generally conservative stance. Some of the sections, such as that on climate, are the best among the atlases. The maps, though, are less detailed than what one would hope for, often presenting the whole country instead of close-up regional views. The second edition includes a code so that you can download the maps electronically.

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Zondervan Atlas of the Bible

By Carl G. Rasmussen

This is a great atlas to read to get an introduction to the geography of the land. Though the maps are not as extensive or detailed as some atlases, the text is well-organized, well-written, and trustworthy. The first seventy pages are a geographical overview of the land, region by region. The remaining 130 pages is a historical overview of the lands of the Bible through the biblical periods.

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Satellite Bible Atlas

By William Schlegel

The successor to the venerable Student Map Manual, this new work is now the best field guide to biblical events in Israel. Every person traveling in Israel who wants to learn the biblical history needs to have this atlas in their bag.

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Geography

The Land of the Bible

By A. F. Rainey

Until the recent publication of The Sacred Bridge, this was the standard textbook for historical geography. Though outdated, Aharoni's work provides the basic data for biblical geography. He follows in the historical-critical tradition of Alt and thus he denies biblical accuracy at many points, e.g., the tribal boundaries of Joshua date to the time of Solomon.

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Regions on the Run

By James M. Monson

A more recent work by a long-time Israel field studies instructor, this manual was designed to prepare short-term students for on-site study. The maps are north-oriented and graphically engaging. The text is very helpful as an introduction or review, but it is also very dense (must be read slowly and carefully). It is part of a package that includes Regional Study Maps (inexpensive), Guide (free), and CD (forthcoming).

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The Historical Geography of the Holy Land

By George A. Smith

Though originally written more than 100 years ago, Smith’s book is yet unsurpassed for its verbal description and insight into the character of the land. This work gives the reader a better feel for the land of Israel than anything short of being there in person. Even the frequent traveler will find himself seeing the land in new and bigger ways with this book as his guide. Many used copies are usually available through addall.com.

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Travel Guides

The New Christian Traveler's Guide to the Holy Land

By Charles Dyer and Gregory Hatteberg

This helpful guide primarily gives the most important biblical information about the most visited sites in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. The book also includes tips for travelers, a packing list, and a four-week schedule of Bible reading for preparing for a trip. This is especially recommended for first-time visitors to the biblical countries.

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A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey

By Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish

This is easily the best guide to the sites that Paul visited and those that are mentioned in Revelation. Accurate and easy-to-read, this book is a great companion for touring the sites on your own or with a licensed guide (who likely won't know a fraction of what this book describes).

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The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide

By Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

This is rightly known as the classic touring book for the archaeologically minded. The author is a Catholic scholar who lives in Israel and has over the years developed an alphabetically arranged guide to the sites and the most significant archaeological remains at those sites. Not all sites are included, but the Jerusalem section is particularly good.

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Old Testament Archaeology

The Archaeology of Ancient Israel

By Amnon Ben-Tor, ed.

With each chapter written by the scholar of that archaeological period, this is the single best survey work. However it is quite lengthy and as such, more difficult to read cover to cover. But for studying of a single period (for instance, the Iron II Age), there is nothing better.

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Digging for Answers: Has Archaeology Disproved the Bible?

By Garry K. Brantley

As the title indicates, this work approaches the subject from an apologetic viewpoint. Brantley is not an archaeologist, but he has researched the subject and incorporated conservative material in a helpful way, particular with regard to the Conquest. Students looking for help against the critical approach will find this valuable, particularly given the lack of sources from this perspective.

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Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible

By John D. Currid

A short introduction to field work by an evangelical, this is a helpful primer for someone looking to learn the basics without a survey of the archaeological periods. A book like this should be required for all before joining an archaeological excavation.

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Archaeology and the Old Testament

By Alfred Hoerth

This book is a great book for Old Testament history, but less good for detailed archaeology. Hoerth includes archaeological insights and parallels where possible, but most of the text reads as a historical recounting of the Bible. This book is highly recommended for one less versed in OT history and eager to gain some archaeological insights along the way.

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Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000 - 586 B.C.E.

By Amihai Mazar

The required text for my OT archaeology class, Mazar’s work is a good survey of the archaeological periods but is too technical for most American students not in Israel. Though currently the standard introductory text for the subject, this book is not very readable or well-illustrated. Mazar is a leading Israeli archaeologist and takes a mainstream approach to most issues.

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Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East

By Eric M. Meyers

The second archaeological encyclopedia to purchase, after Stern (below). It has a different approach which means that there is a lot of information not included in Stern (such as important figures and topics as well as places outside of Israel), but its treatment of those issues tends to be more cursory.

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Biblical Archaeology

By John H. Sailhamer

This promising title from a conservative author is more “quick” than “reference.” It’s not a bad introduction to the subject for an interested layman with no exposure to the subject and limited time. But with very short treatments of limited subjects and no documentation, a better buy for the beginner is Hoerth (above).

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The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 vols

By Ephraim Stern

The most thorough summarization of archaeological excavations at sites throughout Israel, these volumes are indispensable for any kind of research concerning individual locations in Israel. Especially good is the lengthy article on Jerusalem. Volume 5 updates the set significantly.

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Archaeology Periodicals

Biblical Archaeology Review

the most popular magazine on the subject, BAR is mainstream in its approach and its article and photograph selection is excellent. $15 for six issues a year, this is a bargain for staying up to date on the latest in archaeological research in Israel.

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Near Eastern Archaeology

once known as Biblical Archaeologist, this magazine has a much smaller readership and appeals more to the academic reader. Teachers and archaeology students will find this semi-popular magazine valuable, but less so than BAR.

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Bible and Spade

a more limited archaeological publication by the Associates for Biblical Research, this periodical focuses on presenting the latest discoveries from a conservative perspective. This organization has done work on Jericho and has excavated a potential site for biblical Ai, and this magazine is the best place to stay current on archaeological issues from evangelical scholars.

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Jerusalem Archaeology

Discovering Jerusalem

By Nahman Avigad

Avigad’s popular description of his excavations in the Jewish Quarter is still an interesting and profitable read for learning about important finds from the Broad Wall to the Herodian Quarter. It is difficult to find.

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The Carta Jerusalem Atlas

By Dan Bahat

This expensive book has the best maps available for the different periods of Jerusalem’s history. Unfortunately the text is marred by numerous mistakes.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed

By Hillel Geva

A collection of scholarly articles, most translated from Hebrew, that includes much information on various aspects of Jerusalem that is not published elsewhere. Important for anyone studying Jerusalem in depth.

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The Jerusalem Archaeological Park

By Ronny Reich, Gideon Avni, and Tamar Winter

The most up-to-date work on an area of recent excavations in the city, this book is organized as “tours” around the City of David and southern Temple Mount excavations. It is both scholarly and popular, but its limited focus means it is not the first book to buy on Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography

By Hershel Shanks

For a popular, readable and well-illustrated history of Jerusalem, this is the book to get. Shanks wrote his first book on Jerusalem twenty years earlier and his love and knowledge for the city, combined with his superb editorial skills and access to the best photographs make this both essential and enjoyable. Unfortunately it is out of print and hard to find.

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Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It

By John Wilkinson

This work contains more material relevant to the New Testament city than any other work and consequently is must reading for anyone intending to understand Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. Wilkinson includes much information that none of the above sources include.

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New Testament Background

Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth

By Peter Connolly

I frequently recommend this as a "gift book" because of the colorful (and accurate) reconstruction drawings. It also has appeal because of its New Testament emphasis. Buy the book for the pictures, but the text is also informative though not evangelical. Available in the US with the title The Holy Land.

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The Jewish War

By Josephus

Apart from Josephus’ writings, we would know almost nothing of the first Jewish revolt. The Jewish War is the most valuable of Josephus’ writings for detailing the political and religious scene in Judea from 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. His work should be required reading for all seminary students and the most readable translation is this Penguin edition by Williamson.

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Archaeology and the New Testament

By John McRay

My textbook choice for a class on the subject, McRay’s treatment appeals to the student of Scripture in its focus and scope. A conservative professor at Wheaton, McRay covers Galilee, Jerusalem and the locations of Paul’s travels in a way careful enough to satisfy most beginning students. A study of this subject and a reading of this text should be required for all seminary students focusing on the NT.

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The NIV Harmony of the Gospels

By Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry

A revision of Robertson’s work, this harmony puts the gospels in parallel columns with valuable explanatory footnotes. These revisers usually follow Robertson’s order, but where they differ they explain their rationale. The dozen appendices dealing with various issues of the gospels, the critical method and alleged contradictions are worth the value of the book alone. This work was originally issued in the NASB.

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History of Ancient Israel

Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel

By Eugene H. Merrill

There is not a better textbook on the history of ancient Israel. Merrill has spent a lifetime carefully studying the biblical text and the ancient NearEastern discoveries and parallels. He gives due place to extrabiblical sources and his work is scholarly and respected, yet Merrill never shortchanges the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. The second edition adds interaction with recent skeptical approaches.

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A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles

By James D. Newsome Jr

There are various harmonies available, but this is the best in placing the historical books in parallel columns so that the reader can easily discern the differences between the Samuel-Kings work and the Chronicler’s. This is a must-have text for any studying the records of the kings of Israel and Judah. Out of print for years, it is now available from Wipf & Stock.

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A Biblical History of Israel

By Iain W. Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III

The first hundred pages of this book is a very careful and intelligent evaluation of the methods used in analyzing the Old Testament as a historical source. They demonstrate some major weaknesses in the approach that denies the historical accuracy of Scripture. This is must-reading for any student of the subject, conservative or liberal.

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Ancient Israel

By Hershel Shanks

The second book to read on the subject (after Merrill). Graduate students in the course should be required to read this survey of Israel’s history from mainstream scholarship. Each chapter was written by a scholar and later revised by a different one. It is interesting to see the results of liberal scholarship in re-writing Israel’s history. The incorporation of archaeological discoveries into the text is a model for future histories.

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The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings

By E. R. Thiele

Now over 50 years after its first edition, Thiele’s study of the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah remains unchallenged and unparalleled. This book is for the sturdy of heart who is eager to understand the intricate methods of the ancient chronologists. All students of the Old Testament benefit from Thiele’s conclusions whether they read this or not.

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Modern Israel

O Jerusalem

By Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre

A fascinating account of the traumatic days of Jerusalem in the 1948 War of Independence. This compelling story is based on extensive research and interviews with hundreds of survivors.

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Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century

By Martin Gilbert

Because Jerusalem is a microcosm for the whole Arab-Israeli conflict, this may be a good starter book. It will be of greater interest to the one who knows Jerusalem and its sites and streets well, but Gilbert’s collection of stories and quotes together with his own insightful analysis makes this an enjoyable and instructive read. It offers this over the classic O Jerusalem: it covers a broader range of history and thus may be more helpful to one new to the subject.

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The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

By Martin Gilbert

An excellent resource for understanding current events. Gilbert provides 220 maps that tell the story of the nation of Israel in the 20th and 21st centuries. Essential for anyone wanting to know how things got the way they are.

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Our Man in Damascus: Elie Cohn

By Eil Ben-Hanan

The fascinating account of an Israeli spy who infiltrates the highest ranks of the Syrian government in the 1960s and made significant contributions to the Jewish state in her defense against the Syrians.

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Historical Fiction

Exodus

By Leon Uris

This work of historical fiction reflects a great amount of historical research and detail and can certainly be commended as a good way to understand the birth of the modern state of Israel. Uris is one of my favorite authors as he combines historical accuracy with riveting storytelling. Exodus is the book to begin with; Mila 18 (story of the Warsaw Ghetto) and QBVII (the trial of an accused Nazi) are also worthwhile.

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The Source

By James Michener

Michener’s style is to take a place and tell its story through the ages. In this work, a fictional archaeological tell is the setting and the finds the excavators make in the dig become the basis for the author’s imaginative travel through time. Some shortcomings of this book are outweighed by the value of extended thinking about what life was like in the various archaeological periods. Michener’s work strongly advocates the ideas of the evolution of religion, but it is valuable to see how this is developed by an intelligent and creative writer.

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Judaica

To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life

By H. H. L. Donin

Written by a rabbi for a Jewish audience, this is good for either reading or reference for understanding the basics of Jewish practice, including Sabbath, synagogue, dietary laws, holidays and the life cycle. Study of the subject is essential for anyone with contact with Jewish people, and this book is one of the best introductions.

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This is My God

By Herman Wouk

An excellent introduction to Judaism by a popular Jewish novelist.

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First Picks

Books that I would most recommend to read after a first visit to Israel:

  • Leon Uris, Exodus.
  • James Michener, The Source.
  • Shanks, Jerusalem.
  • Rasmussen, NIV Atlas.
  • BAR and Bible and Spade.

Books you want to buy for handy reference about the land:

  • Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas.
  • Merrill, Kingdom of Priests.
  • Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land.
  • Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land.
  • Ben-Tor, Archaeology of Ancient Israel.
  • McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament.
  • Donin, To Be a Jew.

 

Todd Bolen is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s College.  For more than ten years, he has taught in Israel in the fields of biblical archaeology, geography and history.

 

Last updated: July 26, 2016