Recommended: Zondervan Atlas of the Bible

For the last twenty years I have used and recommended Carl G. Rasmussen’s Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible (1989). This week the revised edition (now entitled, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible) was released and my appreciation for it has only grown. In short, I highly recommend this atlas for everyone from church-goers to Israel tour participants to college and seminary students. Here are a few reasons why I am so enthusiastic:

First-person knowledge of the land: The author has not only led dozens of study trips to Israel, Turkey, and Greece, he has lived in Israel for many years. His intimate knowledge and love of therasmussen_atlas land and Scripture is reflected throughout the book.

Appreciation for geographical regions: Unfortunately it is unusual for an atlas to survey the distinct geographical units, but this atlas provides helpful summaries of the primary characteristics of the twenty major regions, such as the Jezreel Valley, Hill Country of Benjamin, Dead Sea, and Edom. If this is essential for you in an atlas, this is the one to get.

Historical survey from Genesis 3 to Revelation 3: The author begins in the Garden of Eden and ends with the churches of Revelation. That means that whatever event you want to know more about, you’ll find it here. More important than the broad scope is the accurate, knowledgeable treatment of the stories and issues.

Accurate, colorful maps: This atlas has more than a hundred full-color maps. There is a map on nearly every other page. I could wish for a few more detailed maps (e.g., Isaiah 10:28-32), but I’m certainly not disappointed with the quality or appearance.

Conservative convictions: This means a lot to me, and I was encouraged again and again to see that the author holds to time-tested views consistent with the biblical witness. That includes an early date for the patriarchs, an early date for the conquest, a willingness to allow that some of the Habiru may have been Israelites, and a high regard for the biblical descriptions of the reigns of David and Solomon.

Sound judgment: This, of course, is shorthand for “agrees with my conclusions,” but I was pleased to see, for example, that he suggests that Joshua’s Ai is “probably” Khirbet el-Maqatir, ignores the recent proposal that locates Sodom at Tell el-Hammam, and does not equate Kh. Qeiyafa with Shaaraim.

The end of the book: There are some terrific resources here, including the section on the disciplines of historical geography, Jerusalem, and the fantastic geographical dictionary and index.

Cost: $26 (Amazon). 

What could be better? Some might not like the small font, which I assume is necessary because of the profusion of maps, timelines, and photos. I regret that the endnotes were removed in this edition, and students who want to pursue issues he brings up will not find any help here. I wish he had written more about (and come to different conclusions on) some New Testament issues, such as the locations of Emmaus, the baptism of Jesus, Bethsaida, and the Gadara/Gerasa issue. Some resources should have been updated, such as Context of Scripture instead of the 1969 edition of ANET.  In my opinion, publishers should avoid using a photo of a non-biblical site (Petra) on the cover of a Bible atlas.

Overall, I highly recommend this new edition and I would certainly commend it for use in preparatory work before traveling to the Holy Lands as well as for college and graduate courses on Bible geography.


4 thoughts on “Recommended: Zondervan Atlas of the Bible

  1. In your critique of the Zondervan ATLAS, you mentioned, and I quote, "I wish he had written more about (and come to different conclusions on) some New Testament issues, such as … the baptism of Jesus." My questions is this. What "issues" are you referring to, specifically around the "baptism of Jesus"?

  2. Dani,

    The issue is the location. The church father Origen (185-254) believed that John's Gospel was incorrect in locating John’s baptizing work at Bethany (John 1:28), and argued that it should be read as "Bethabara." This made its way into some NT manuscripts, but it is clearly late and not original. This site formed the foundation for the "tradition" upon which churches were built and pilgrims came. But there is no evidence that a site known as Bethany or Bethabara existed in Jesus' day opposite Jericho.

    Origen claimed that there was no other Bethany besides the one on the Mount of Olives, but this is false as there is a region by this name nearer to the Sea of Galilee. The northern Bethany in the territory of Herod Philip fits a number of points of the NT record: (1) John may have been baptizing in the tributaries of the Yarmuk River; (2) This is outside the territory of Herod Antipas, a ruler with whom John had difficulties and might want to avoid; (3) It accounts for the presence of many Galileans when John was here (John 1:40-45); (4) It best explains how Jesus and his disciples could have traveled from this location to Cana in three days (John 1:43; 2:1). The journey from a site near Jericho to Cana would have taken longer than three days.

    In any case, John's presence at Bethany beyond the Jordan was more than 40 days after Jesus' baptism and given John's itinerant ministry, there is no compelling evidence that Jesus was baptized at this same place.

  3. Shalom Todd,

    Thanks for your reply. I see what you mean.

    Truth is, there is no "evidence" either way, right? Yes, there are circumstances and, yes, "tradition" has colored a lot of what all of us think we know about many Biblical events.

    As for "Origen" … I am skeptical about his capacity or reasons to "believe that John's Gospel is incorrect". What else is "wrong" with John's gospel? Origen and many of our earliest Christian writers and historians were from the Greek school of thought and world view. It is a fact that Origen was educated by his father, Leonides, who gave him a standard Hellenistic education. This greco-alexandrian-lens [my term] skewed many of the early gentile Christian historians. They had issues with their own zeitgeists, as do we in our time.

    But, back to the issue.

    I am very interested in the specific location of the baptism of Jesus, and John the Baptist's role in it, particularly because I believe that THAT baptism and its "location" matter to the God of the Bible.

    As it relates to Jesus' words to John, when John attempts to deter baptizing him, as recorded in Matthew 3 … "to fulfill all righteousness," I believe that all of these elements;
    [1] the precise location along the river,
    [2] the river [Jordan] it was done in,
    [3] with John the Baptist doing it is as important as the act of baptism itself.

    The "fulfilling of righteousness" Jesus spoke of is pulled off by this unique and needful combination. This was all GOD's idea. Not John's. Not even Jesus's. Certainly not Origen's … who could not "see" without looking at it through Alexandrian goggles. No. GOD used His Son here as elsewhere to "fulfill" something by His act of obedience to the Spirit. What think ye?

  4. Dani,

    I think there is evidence for the location of Bethany, but it may not convince everyone. There's no doubt that tradition plays a huge part.

    Origen created a number of problems for historical geographers because he thought he was smarter than the text of Scripture.

    As for your view on what it means to "fulfill all righteousness," I think you have to support your contention that the precise location along the river matters. What is it in the biblical text that leads to this conclusion? If the precise location was so important, why wasn't it given? As for the general location, why does it matter that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River? In my view, Jesus' baptism "to fulfill all righteousness" signifies that he did what was right in being baptized by John. I think that the essential issue is that by being baptized by John, he was identifying with John's message. They were "on the same team," and not competitors. John was the forerunner, and Jesus "came behind him" and demonstrated this by being baptized by him. I think the Jordan River was a good place to baptize because it had lots of water.

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