BiblePlaces Newsletter

Special Issue: Electronic Maps for Bible Teaching (Part 1)

Vol. 3, #4 - August 9, 2004

I received the question again last week: where can I get electronic maps for use in teaching?  The Pictorial Library supplies photographs of most biblical sites, but includes no maps.  As a teacher, I deal with the same issue in the classroom, probably more than most since my classes are largely "land-based", centered around the geography of Israel and the Middle East.  This special issue is a (long) response to that question.

What I originally planned for a single newsletter has proven to be too large of a subject to cover in this space, so I've broken it into two parts.  Today's issue looks at maps available in commercial products, and the next issue will review various sources of maps online. 

What follows is a review of available software products that supply maps of the biblical world.  My apologies to Mac users for not considering Mac-specific programs.  The short summary is that there is no product that I found that is perfect, but with a combination of several, you can get maps that will satisfy the needs of those using maps to provide the setting for Bible stories.   Those attempting a more in-depth study of biblical geography will not find anything sufficient.  Yet.  I know of a couple of experts who are working on projects that will fill this void.  But they're not available yet and there are no release dates (nothing new available as of Nov. 1, 2005).  In the meantime, take a look at the resources below.  If I've missed something or made an error, don't hesitate to let me know.

I might note here that some might find my comments too negative.  In this regard, it should be considered that for the last 8 years, I have taught biblical geography in Israel.  My needs may be more demanding than those of some.  You will find that most of these resources have information online, and you should be able to determine if those maps are sufficient for your own needs before buying.  What follows is my own evaluation of the available resources.

Todd Bolen
Editor, BiblePlaces.com
Assoc. Professor, The Master's College
Israel Bible Extension (IBEX), Judean Hills, Israel

 

 

Commercial Resources

   

Carta's Comprehensive Bible Atlas

Published in 1999, this program shows its age.  It claims to be "the best Bible Atlas ever," and it includes maps familiar from the NIV Atlas of the Bible and from some Carta publications.  Carta is a leading map-making company in Israel, and the maps are detailed and accurate.  But this program clearly was not designed for a teacher to use the maps in a classroom, and in fact I would suggest that it was designed to thwart such an intention, as each map is actually cut into four graphic files.  For some of the maps, I went to the trouble of stitching them together (and a friend actually did them all!), but in the three years since I've had the program, I don't think I've used a single one in my teaching.  When stitched together, the map sizes vary, but average about 700 x 600 pixels (not high enough resolution).  With 115 maps, there is a significant variety - everything from "Jerusalem at the Time of Hezekiah" (but the map is based on an old theory, now discredited) to a city plan of ancient Corinth.  The cost at Eisenbrauns and Dove Booksellers is $60.

 

Bible Maps from Manna

You might expect that www.biblemaps.com would have something useful, and indeed they do.  Manna Bible Maps Plus includes 150 full-color, printable maps.  All of the maps and charts included as gif files, and in PowerPoint and Acrobat (pdf) files.  The software also includes 20 city plans, 25 charts, a dozen timelines, and 300 photographs.

Pros:

1. This collection covers numerous and varied subjects, for example: maps of each tribal territory, detail of Solomon's Temple, Crusader Jerusalem, descendants of Abraham, map of mountains in Israel with elevations. 

2. The perspective follows a conservative view of Scripture and uses dates that come from a literal reading of Scripture.

3. All of the maps and charts are included in PowerPoint format - for the way I work, this is ideal.  I can copy and paste right into my presentation.

4. The collection shows evidence of up-to-date research when the program was produced.  For example, maps reflect findings of Ritmeyer on the Temple Mount and Reich/Shukrun in the City of David, made in late 1990s.

5. The images look clear and sharp at full-screen size and are suitable for projecting.

6. There is a money-back guarantee.

Cons:

1. Installation difficulty: if you run Windows XP, the program won't install and you have to go to this page to learn that you have to run the program in Windows 98 mode (but it only worked for me in Windows 95 mode).  This isn't a real issue to me personally, as I prefer to use the PowerPoint files and skip installation.  But if you do that, you do miss some features that are included (e.g., search utility, distance finder).

2. There is no way to modify the PowerPoint slides.  The slides are all pre-made graphics, so you can't change the dates of Amos from 810-785 B.C. (everyone dates him around 760-750) or the crucifixion of Christ to 33 A.D.  The Acts timeline gives a list of 20 events - hardly useful for teaching as students are staring at a list with small print.  Even text charts made in a wordprocessor are included only as an un-editable screenshot.  If you could edit it, you could delete what's not important for that study, and give a larger size and color to the points of interest.  But you cannot do any of this.  The documentation says you can edit the EPS files, but you have to have software that I don't have, and most teachers don't have to do so (e.g., CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator).

3. Some graphics do not look professional.  For instance, to make the timeline of the prophets more than a list of text, 18 faces were added - all look the same except the color of their hat (similar sample of kings here).  Some maps are very simple - often have one color for land, one color for water and a third color for the event (sample here (graphic has now  removed)).

4. On the website, it is claimed that the information on the CD "was researched and verified by more than 200 scholarly works. The accuracy of the program is unsurpassed."  This statement is not true.  Certainly many sources were used in the creation of this product, but these maps and charts were not made by someone who knows the Bible or ancient history well and can use discernment with their sources.  Here are a few examples:

  • Locations of some sites on the maps are wrong (usually in general area, but better regarded as "schematic")
  • Dates of Amos and Obadiah different are different charts (without any note of the difficulties involved)
  • One slide shows the Akra built in 400 B.C. (actually c. 200 B.C.). 
  • Another slide puts the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in 10 B.C. (that's a new twist on the Jewish-Palestinian debate!  I hope I don't see this slide pop up in Arafat's next speech).
  • Some slides are chronologically out of order.
  • There are numerous misspelled words, including Ezekiel, Valley, genealogy, Nazareth, Tabgha, Tiberias, Maccabean (I don't want that in my classroom presentation, and remember that you can't change it!)

5. The copyright warnings are ubiquitous and in some cases, obnoxious.

6. Cost: $90 for a single CD.  If this was selling for $30, my expectations would be different.  Update 10/2007: Cost is now $45.

7. No updates since 2001 (version 5.6).

Additional Comments:

1. The program also boasts "300 full-color photographs," but at a resolution of approximately 400x300 pixels (this is the size of those on the BiblePlaces.com website for free).  As such, they are very small and not useful in a classroom (samples here). 

2. Alternately, "for a limited time," you can purchase sets of maps on a specific subject (e.g., 9 "Empire Maps" for $9.25).

Conclusion:

Would I recommend this?  I think it could be useful for Sunday School teachers who can print overheads or use a computer in the classroom.  The simplicity may be a benefit for them and the errors less significant.  This market though is probably less able to afford the high price tag.  For congregational use, I would find myself comfortable only with some of the slides.  For professors, I would not recommend it.  Others disagree, as you can see in the review and comments (since removed) posted on their website. 

Bottom line: the samples (here and here and here - all samples removed since this review was posted) posted on their website can help you to figure out beforehand if it suits your needs, and even after you buy, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

 

Logos Deluxe Map Set

The Logos Deluxe Map Set is a Libronix (Logos) "book" which includes 200 maps of the biblical period from Genesis to Revelation.  I've owned it for years but have never really investigated it.  Keep reading, but my conclusion is that it generally isn't useful for the in-depth geographical teaching we do in Israel, but I think it could work well for setting the background in teaching biblical subjects.  There's also the Logos Basic Map Set for $13 if you want a cheaper, more limited collection (22 maps).

Pros:

1. This program is part of the Libronix system, with its searching advantages.  To test this, I searched for "Joshua" and got 9 hits, 5 of which were non-duplicative.  The table of contents is handy too, as you can scan for maps related to biblical books, biblical world, Palestine, Jerusalem, temples, and key cities.

2. The maps are very colorful and eye-catching.  The copyright statement credits most of the maps to Review and Herald Publishing (so they're probably published in a book(s) somewhere).  Most of the maps I would judge attractive; a few are not.

3. With 200 maps, this is an extensive collection, covering the main biblical events, as well as a few obscure ones (e.g., "Worldwide Distribution of Flood Stories," but it's in the Palestine section and not the Genesis section).

4. Accuracy: Generally these maps are accurate.  I get the idea the maps were made by people who knew the subject.  Here are a few quibbles:

  • The Ark of the Covenant was never at Gibeon (and thus did not go from there to Kiriath Jearim and on to Jerusalem).  Capture of the Ark was at Aphek, not in the vicinity of Mizpah.
  • "Beit Jibrin" appears on the map of Abraham's journey to Moriah (this is the Arabic name for a site that wasn't inhabited until after Abraham's day).
  • The map labeled "Jacob's Journey to Join Esau" shows the patriarch going from Shechem to Hebron - fine.  But that's after he meets Esau and they part ways.  (Jacob, the deceiver, tells his brother he'll follow after him, but it's clear from the route he takes that he has no such intention.)

5. Given Con #3 below, I like the base maps with nothing marked.  Let me draw my own arrows on the maps (and with PowerPoint, I can bring them in one at a time while teaching so the story is clear).  It is good that they included base maps, with two notes: some are too colorful, making it difficult to add your own material that stands out; and there are none that are detailed regionally (e.g., no non-marked maps of the Sea of Galilee).  Many of these non-marked maps are part of the "Basic Set" mentioned above.

6. Reasonable price: $30, also available in various Libronix collections.  Mine came included in something I bought once upon a time.

Cons:

1. There is no consistency to the orientation of the maps.  I found maps that were oriented to the northwest, northeast, east, southwest, southeast, north, west, south - yes, that's all of the directions!  And there is no compass pointing towards north on the maps - you're on your own to figure it out!  Some of the views are just plain bizarre (if you have this program, take a look at "Great Empires During Sojourn in Egypt" or any in the "Paul's Letters" series). 

2. Getting the images into PowerPoint is not easy.  Well, on the face of it, it is.  Just right-click the image, select "copy," go to PowerPoint and "paste."  Only problem is that your PowerPoint file size will be 5 times larger than it should be.  That is, if you paste the graphic into a graphics editor (Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro), save, and then in PowerPoint, "insert picture/from file", your file size will be 120kb instead of 620kb from the copy/paste method (quality is the same in either method).  Maybe this is not a big deal if you're only doing a handful of slides, but bigger PowerPoint files take more hard disk space and can run slower.  (For a brief explanation, see tip #6 here.)

3. Some of the maps have too many arrows to make them visually effective (e.g., "Absalom's Flight" has 15 arrows).  And good luck figuring out the south-oriented map with a mess of arrows in "Israel's Last Campign (sic) West of the Jordan."

4. Resolution: most of the maps are 640x480 in size, which is on the low side.  A few go up to 1280x960.  The smaller maps then will look a tad grainy if you make them full-screen size.

5. The maps cannot be edited.

6. The only sample online is under the Basic Map Set, but this map is included in the Deluxe as well.  They chose a good map to offer as a sample.

Conclusion:

I think Bible teachers would find many of the maps useful and suitable for their purposes.  The price is fair, and if you have a Libronix collection, you may already have this on your computer.

 

Nelson's 3-D Bible Mapbook

This is an electronic edition of the printed work written by Simon Jenkins and originally published by Lion in 1985 (republished by Thomas Nelson in 1995).  Published in Logos (Libronix) format, this work is available in various book collections (search Google here) or individually from Logos for $12.99.  I count 9 sections with about 90 maps (you can see a list of all the maps here).

Pros:

1. Generally the maps and accompanying text take a conservative approach to Scripture and are accurate.

2. The maps cover the movement of people throughout the Old and New Testament.  There are no surprises, but there are maps for the main biblical stories.

3. The size of the maps is on the low side for use in a classroom (average 550x700 pixels - most are portrait, not landscape), but because of the solid and bold colors, the maps are not too grainy when their size is increased.

4. These maps are simple with basic, solid colors.  These are not the maps to use to teach geographical features (the maps that attempt to show topography with wire-frame are ineffective, in my opinion).  Look at some of the examples mentioned below to see their appearance.

5. Unlike some of the others, these maps have accompanying "narration" that explain the movement on the map.  This is helpful for those who don't know the story so well, or for maps that are complicated.  (Here's an example of that.)

6. This comes included in many Libronix collections (you may already have it), and is only $13 separately, a fair price.

Cons:

1. As expected in a "book," these maps are not editable.  But I also found it difficult even to copy/paste the map into another program.  The only way I had success was by doing a screen capture (press PrtScr on your keyboard, and then paste into another program and edit it).  Hardly ideal.

2. These are not maps to teach geography - they are illustrations to help communicate geographical realities in a Bible story.  Great for Sunday School use and even a Bible Survey course in college, but if you want detail, you must look elsewhere.

Additional Comments:

1. Some of these maps might be better classified as charts instead of maps, as they communicate ideas, even if they are geographical ideas. (Here's an example of that.) 

2. One surprise was a map I don't remember ever seeing: the Cities of Refuge circled with a 20-mile (one-day's journey) radius.  It contradicts what I remember learning in class once!  It is very simple, but it makes the point.

Conclusion:

For the $13 price, there are enough maps that would be useful for the average Bible teacher to recommend the purchase.  Note though that this complete book is included in the Logos Bible Atlas program reviewed below.

 

Logos Bible Atlas

(Reviewed by William L. Krewson)  Although this program is ten years old, Logos Bible Atlas is still well worth using.  There are two major components to this atlas.  First, there are two maps that are fully customizable.  An Israel map can be oriented either vertically or horizontally (sample here).  The "map details" box shows the many choices available, including changes to the colors.  In addition, when one clicks on a site, a window pops up with an informative article from The New Bible Dictionary.

The other available map is of the Mediterranean area (sample here).  In addition to the features mentioned above, one can also zoom in on any map.  The user can even change the font size and color for any site (see "Athens" in above sample). 

The second component of this atlas is an entire selection of topical maps and text taken from Nelsonís 3-D Bible Mapbook (see review above and a sample here).  All of these maps are able to be copied, either to a graphics program for further work (and then saved as a graphics file) or directly into a presentation program.  The cost of the program ($45 here) is quite modest when one considers the many possible uses.

 

Other Sources

There are other places to find electronic maps.  In my collection of Libronix e-books, the Anchor Bible Dictionary includes about 150 maps and diagrams of small to medium-resolution which can be copied from the articles into a PowerPoint or other file (see list of images here).  Other electronic Bible references include maps as well, including the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  The Zondervan Bible Study Library also includes 14 maps that look like scanned images from the back of the publisher's Bibles.   Zondervan's electronic books/programs continue to be incompatible with other formats, turning off many potential users.  Tyndale's iLumina Gold has received high reviews for its multimedia approach to the Bible, but I have not seen it yet.  Nelson's Complete Book of Maps and Charts is available in Libronix format and some is useful, but all is in black and white, which makes it better for an overhead projector than for computer use ($20 here, but no samples).

Update (Nov 12, 2005): Bible Mapper is a new program that is designed to allow the user to create fully customizable maps of the Bible lands.  Options allow you to choose which geographical features, roads, cities existed during the various time periods.  High-resolution satellite data is included for the country of Israel.  Update: October 2007: I'm finding this program to be very useful in creating my own maps.  I recommend it.

Update (Feb 9, 2006): The Holy Land Satellite Fly-Over CD (Rohr Productions) is a useful tool as well, though finding one for sale is not easy. (Currently it is available here for $70 with vol. 1 of the Holy Land Satellite Atlas.)  Mac users should be aware of the Accordance Bible Atlas 2.0.

Update (Feb 20, 2009): The satellite images from the NET Bible have been available for many years, but it has been noted that I failed to mention them.  The philosophy of Bible.org is to make available for free online what is included in the printed Bible.  There are 24 images in the current edition, half of which are satellite images from Rohr Productions.  The images are posted at a size of 1024x768 pixels with notice that much larger images (3800x2800) are available at the website.  If I remember right, I heard once that those larger images had to be removed because of restrictions from the supplier.

 

Conclusion

A number of products exist that will help Bible teachers.  They vary in detail, accuracy, and ease of use.  If I missed a product that you have found useful, let me know and I will add it to this review.  There are several electronic map projects underway that I am excited about, but I would estimate that they are more than a year away from release.  One other solution: scan maps in from books and atlases.  The Fair Use provision of the Copyright Law (see here for details) is helpful for educators in this regard.  The downside: it is more work, and potentially more restrictions.   For those teaching biblical geography in detail, there is no other solution currently.  For a Bible teacher with a limited budget, I'd recommend skipping the expensive programs (Carta ($60) and Manna Bible Maps Plus ($90, now $45), and choosing instead from the others (Logos Deluxe Map Set ($30), Logos Bible Atlas ($45) and Nelson's 3-D Bible Mapbook ($13)).

There actually are many more map resources available that we have not yet looked at - online resources that are free.  That will be the subject of a future BiblePlaces Newsletter.

 

 

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