Book Review: Holman Bible Atlas

Holman Bible Atlas:  A Complete Guide To The Expansive Geography Of Biblical History, by Thomas Brisco

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal.  Being generally fond of historical geography, especially related to scripture [1], I have had this book on my queue of future reads from my library for some time, and I finally got around to reading it.  As is often the case with a historical atlas, this book does not only desire to present gorgeous and useful maps, which this book succeeds well at, but it also wishes to provide a historical context for those maps and to demonstrate the author’s knowledge and credibility as a writer of history.  This can be an especially hazardous task when one is dealing with scripture, and to be certain the author shows a far more cynical and worldly perspective on matters of biblical history than the biblical accounts themselves show.  To his credit, though, the author does have a high view of the historical value of the Bible and also a great interest in historical sources outside of the Bible that are complementary with it, and that makes this book a very worthwhile one to read if you have an interest in the field of biblical historical geography.

In terms of its content, this book has nearly 300 pages of maps and drawings and accompanying text.  In general, the book follows the Bible but it also covers areas outside of the biblical timeframe to make for a more continuous narrative.  The first part of the book consists of three chapters that provide the biblical setting (I) through looking at the face of the ancient Near East (1), the natural regions of the promised land (2), and life in ancient Cannan (3).  After that comes a large part of the book on the Old Testament period (II), with chapters on the time before Abraham (4), the world of the patriarchs (5), the experience of Israel in Egypt (6), the Exodus (7), conquest and settlement (8), the kingdom of David and Solomon (9), the divided kingdom period (10), Judah alone in a world of international powers (11), the exile (12), the Persian period (13), and the Hellenistic period (14), which includes the time of the Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty.  The third and final part of the book looks at the New Testament period (III), with chapters on Rome’s rise to power (15), the rise and reign of Herod the Great (16), the world of Jesus (17), the life and ministry of Jesus (18), the early expansion of the church (19), the first Jewish revolt (20), and the Christian Church from 70 to 300 AD, to just before it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  After this comes a glossary, bibliography, and indices.

To be sure, there is much that one could quibble about in this book.  The author appears to have a viewpoint that strongly privileges Hellenistic Christianity–especially noticeable at the end–and the author does not appear to understand the desirability of fidelity to the laws and ways of God.  None of this, it should be noted, is particularly surprising, though.  What is surprising, and praiseworthy, is that the book takes the Bible as a text so seriously and portrays it visually on maps that provide a great deal of context and understanding for readers.  It is also striking and worthwhile that the author wishes to convey a picture of the biblical discussion of place, from the changes over time of Jerusalem to the travels of various obscure people from travelers during the Hellenistic age to that of Hoshea’s doomed messenger seeking help for rebellion against the Assyrian Empire.  It is little touches and details like this that make the book such a pleasure to read even if my perspective is different from that of the author concerning biblical history.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Middle East and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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