A good Bible atlas will help you do several things. Its prime function is to be a book of maps which will help you to navigate the world of the Bible. Let us take the life of Abraham as an example. You have read in Genesis 11 that Abram / Abraham was from Ur but you do not know where it is so an atlas will help you locate the city and perhaps even show Abram’s route to the Promised Land. That is what maps do and if you are using a Study Bible you may find a basic map there that will give you this information. However an atlas can do more than merely show where a place is to be found. There might be a feature on the archaeology of Ur or some background on the city and its civilisation or, in more general terms, information of the climate or the customs of the people who lived there.
All the atlases listed below will give you the basic information, the “need to know”, and all of them will give you some of the extra material, the “nice to know”. The fact that there are so many good Bible atlases available tells us that there is more information to be found than can reasonably be contained in one book – even a big book – which is why some of us have built up a collection of atlases over the years, as each does something that the others do not. Of course much of this supplementary material can be found elsewhere, in a good Bible dictionary or handbook, for example (see Section 9) or you could search on-line. There are, as the adage says, different ways to skin a cat. If your assignment is to find out some of the background concerning Ur and how it relates to the life of Abraham there are many and various ways of finding out and an atlas will get you on your way. Use the resources available to you and if these are not sufficient be prepared to invest in something more.
Where is it?
The main thing to look for is a gazetteer. If you do not know what a gazetteer is you need a dictionary (see Section 6) but, to save you time, a gazetteer is the index that lists all locations included in the atlas along with map references so you can find them. Some basic Bible atlases will not show every single site named in the Bible. These will be good enough for most purposes (such as showing a Sunday School class the route that Paul took when travelling to Rome) but when you are engaged in a detailed textual study you will need to find some obscure locations. Try to follow David’s escapes from King Saul as he and his band of outlaws went from village to cave throughout the Judahite wilderness: you need a comprehensive atlas to do this.
Different atlases will use different systems for locating places. The simplest have letters running west to east and numbers north to south so A1 will be in the north west (or top left) corner. Find the site you are looking for in the gazetteer which is arranged alphabetically and against it will be a page or map number followed by the map reference. Grid references are more precise but can be more confusing. A useful guide is available at https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2015/11/map-reading-skills-how-to-read-a-grid-reference on the Ordnance Survey website. 1 While we would like to offer a comprehensive guide to all Bible atlases available life is too short so read the instructions in your preferred atlas and if you are still stuck ask for help.
Where to go?
www.biblemap.org was fully searchable with both ESV or KJV texts but is not currently working. We list the address in the hope that it may come back.
When we searched for “bible map” more than fourteen million suggestions were given so we leave it to you to search for yourself.
Google Earth can be a useful tool once you get the hang of it and is available both on your desktop or as a mobile app. You will find it here: http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/earth
If you are on a restricted budget:
Jenkins, Simon, Bible Mapbook (Tring: Lion, 1985)
Published in USA as Nelson’s 3-D Bible Mapbook.
is a treasure trove of clear and simple visual aids.
If you want to invest in a full Bible atlas any of the following will serve you well. We list a selection so you can search for a bargain if buying or offer alternatives if visiting a library.
Aharoni, Yohanan, and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Carta Biblical Atlas (New York: Macmillan, 2002).
This reached its 5th edition in 2012. Earlier editions were published as The Macmillan Bible Atlas.
Beitzel, Barry, Biblica: The Bible Atlas – A Social and Historical Journey
Through the Lands of the Bible (Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 2007).
Beitzel has edited Bible atlases for Moody (2009) and S.P.C.K. (2013), neither of which we have used.
Bimson, John et al [and others], The New Bible Atlas
(Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
This atlas is also available as part of an excellent CD-ROM, IVP’s Essential Reference Library.
Curtis, Adrian, Oxford Bible Atlas (Oxford: University Press, 2009).
This is now in its fourth edition (earlier editions being edited by Herbert May).
Pritchard, James B., The Harper Atlas of the Bible (San Francisco CA: Harper, 1997).
Pritchard has edited a Concise Atlas of the Bible and also an Atlas of Bible History. Both may be useful – we would not know as we have not used either – but they are not full Bible atlases.
Rogerson, John, Atlas of the Bible (1985, published in various editions and by various publishers including Equinox, Facts on File, Macdonald & Co., and Phaidon).
Also published as New Atlas of the Bible which should not be confused with Bimson above.
Any of these will serve you well. You do not need more than one unless you enjoy collecting Bible atlases although beyond the basic maps each offers something different in terms of what might be nice to have (Beitzel’s is beautifully illustrated from the Old Masters if you like that sort of thing, for example) or background (Rogerson offers extra information on a selection of key sites). As ever, you pay your money you take your choice. …