Aerial Atlas Of The Holy Land, by John Bowker, Photography by Sonia Halliday and Bryan Knox
It seems baffling that three recorded authors were required to make this book. It is not hard to see why a book like this exists given the perennial interest that people have in anything that has to do with the Holy Land. Indeed, that is why I picked up this book to read from my local library at all, and I suspect there are a great many people who are like me in that regard who will be curious to see what exactly an aerial atlas involves. I must say that I was disappointed by it. This is by no means a bad book, but It is certainly a good deal less interesting than I had thought it was going to be. If you are okay with a text that jumps from time period to time period and includes a great deal of history outside of the scope of the Bible and a lot of photographs of ruins, there will be a lot to like here. As for me, the maps were definitely not very impressive at all and the photos were a bit drab (which is not too unexpected given the location).
This book is about 250 pages long and it is divided into three regional sections. The book begins with an introduction that provides a glance at the wide span of Israel’s history and a plan of the book and major sites as well as a modern map of Israel. After that there is a discussion of various places around the Jordan River that take up a substantial portion of the book, including such sites as Mount Hermon and Banias, Hazor, the Sea of Galilee, Beth Shan, Jericho, various monasteries, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, Qumran, and Masada (1). After that the next part of the book focuses on sites in the hill country like Mount Tabor, Nazereth, Sepphoris, and Cana, Samaria, Nablus, and Mount Gerizim, Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, various synagogues, Herodion, Lachish, Tel Minque, Gezer, and Tel Arad, Hebron, and Beer Sheva and the south. After that the book discusses some cites on the coastal plain like Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod, Joppa and Aphek, the crusades, Caesarea Maritima, Megiddo, and Mount Carmel and Haifa. The book then closes with a bibliography and suggestions for further reading as well as an index and acknowledgments.
Still, so long as one has the right expectations going into a book like this there is plenty that can be found enjoyable. The author looks at a variety of locations here and provides photographs and images of places that may not be familiar to those whose knowledge of the Bible is slight and superficial. That said, a great many of the places explored here are done so because they are places on the current map of Israel and not necessarily because they are biblically significant. Places like Pella and Yavneh, for example, were most notable in the period after most of the New Testament was written, and other places are most notable for their ruins without having been written about explicitly in scripture (like Herodium or Masada). Again, if you are looking for a historical geography of the land of the Bible without paying much attention for the flow of the historical narrative, this book is better, but some readers will be put off by the scattered and easily distracted nature of the author’s narrative as well. As is often the case with reading, tempering one’s expectations will make it more enjoyable to read and less frustrating as an atlas.