[K:NWTS 22/2 (Sep 2007) 54-58]

Book Review

Paul Lawrence, The IVP Atlas of Bible History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 188 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 0-8308-2452-9 $40.00.

Fifty years ago, a Bible "atlas" consisted of a smattering of twenty-five or more maps indicating boundaries of ancient Near Eastern nations, locations of cities, towns and bodies of water, and routes of itinerary for famous Biblical sojourns (Exodus, Babylonian Exile, Missionary Journeys of Paul, etc.). The book under review is a superb example of the maturity of taking Biblical history in conjunction with Biblical geography, all represented sumptuously cartographically. Over the past half-century, Bible atlases have become essential tools in understanding the `lay of the land' (Biblically speaking). No pastor or serious student of Scripture should be without one—and the book under review would be an excellent addition to the shelf (whether in the study or the academic library) for those with either an empty or available `Bible Atlas' slot.

This is a very attractive Atlas. It is a Lion Hudson production (Oxford, England) distributed in the U.S. by IVP. As with other Lion products, the volume is beautifully illustrated with striking color photos, colored semi-topographical maps and side-bar contextual illustrations. So pleasing to the eye, it has more of the `coffee table' look than an academic or study tool. But to relegate this volume to the coffee table would be a mistake.

Using a canonical narrative approach, the Atlas follows the unfolding story of the Bible from Genesis to the dawn of post-Apostolic Christianity. Maps for each discreet narrative (i.e., patriarchal settlement, Exodus sojourn, Davidic monarchy, demise of Israel [722/21 B.C.] and Judah [586 B.C.], return from Exile, Intertestamental era, Ministry of Christ and Paul, etc.) provide the means for visualization of place and time. Thus, our volume is an historical atlas as well as a geographical atlas. Where the history of the ANE (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) impinges on the history of Israel-Judah, the map (and the narrative) expands to briefly cover the story of those kingdoms.

The fact that Paul Lawrence is research assistant to K. A. Kitchen, world-class Egyptologist (and evangelical Christian), adds weight to the historical accuracy of the volume. In addition, A. R. Millard, world-class Assyriologist (also an evangelical Christian), is Senior Consulting Editor for our Atlas. The point-of-view from which Lawrence and the editors approach the Biblical narrative is refreshingly conservative. "It is our contention that history should primarily be based on written sources, and, although the writer is aware of a large body of critical scholarship connected with the Bible, theoretical reconstructions of the past based on minimal or no evidence have no place here. Ancient writers lived much closer to the events they described than we do, so it is our basic policy to show them healthy respect. This applies to the writers of the Bible just as much as to other ancient historians . . ." (7). And this is a fair-minded conservatism, best illustrated on pages 36-37, where both early and late dates for the Exodus from Egypt are listed with brief summaries of evangelical arguments for each. If Lawrence leans towards the early 1447 B.C. date, he does so well aware that his esteemed mentor (emeritus) at Liverpool disagrees with him.

This Atlas is quite up-to-date. The Ketef Hinnom amulets are mentioned (134) with devastating impact on Deuteronomistic and Priestly theories of the composition of Numbers 6:22-24 and Deuteronomy 7:9. The now famous (and controversial) James ossuary is portrayed and discussed (149). Both of these discoveries are integral to the historicity of the Scriptures—the defense of which is integral to this Atlas.

The Atlas concludes with a subject index (178-82), a brief gazetteer (183-85) and a Scripture index (186-87).

I am still convinced that the Carta Bible Atlas (edited by Yohanan Aharoni, Michael Avi-Yonah, A. F. Rainey and Ze'ev Safrai—4th edition, 2002) is the most useful Bible Atlas for students of the Scriptures. It contains more than twice as many maps than our review volume (271 vs. 108); there are more pages of text in Carta (195 vs. 175); there are more side-bar illustrations from ANE archaeology. However, the drab, greenish maps of the latter are extremely boring and dull—though very informative and (in general) accurate. Carta offers much more detail about Biblical history and thus remains the scholarly choice. But this poses the challenge to a future publisher of a new Bible Atlas: let us have the Leibnizian acme, i.e., the best of both worlds re Bible Atlases. Surely, in this day of advanced digital photography and computer-generated graphics, an Atlas that combines the striking beauty of the Lion/IVP product and the plethora of coverage of the Carta product would be the summa bona chartarum.

As we reflect on the geography of the Promised Land, we need to pause to consider the redemptive-historical or biblical-theological implications of God's revelation in space. We are accustomed (rightly) to delving into God's revelation in time—that is, in history; but let us ponder the fact that God gave his revelation to a geographical region that was the thoroughfare of the ancient nations and world empires from 2000 B.C. to 70 A.D. If, in fact, Palestine was the geographical location where, in the main, God's saving grace in revelation was received and recorded—then this geographical data is not a potpourri of mere facts. These geographical names and places are intimately connected with the redemptive revelation which flowed from the mind of God to his servants—Moses and the prophets; Jesus and the apostles.

In these spaces—these geographical places—God disclosed himself in word and deed, in speech and act. In this land, in these places, God acted to reveal himself and his amazing grace—his tender invitation to come to a better land, a heavenly geography, an eschatological Canaan. And please note, as the nations crisscross the land where God reveals himself, they are being folded into his universal plan of redemption in which, in the fullness of time, the spaces of the whole earth will hear the glorious tidings of salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ. Men and women and children out of every nation, tribe, tongue and geography will stream from their lands to sit at the feet of Jesus in a land with no more curse, nor crying, nor sorrow any more. The elect of the nations shall come to the glory-land of which the earthly Promised Land was never anything else but a shadow—a pale, dim, corruptible, destined-to-fade-away shadow.

"These died in faith . . . having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:13-16).

"The Jerusalem above—she is our mother" (Gal. 4:26).

"For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come" (Heb. 13:14).

"But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven . . . " (Heb. 12:22-23).

And thus a modern Atlas of the Bible will interweave the history of the great nations of the ANE as they sandwich tiny Israel-Judah at the keystone between Asia and Africa—the Land Bridge between Mesopotamia and the Nile Delta. At the crossroads of the ANE lies the narrative story of a people who received the "oracles of God." This story was at the keystone of the nations and upon that central location God the Father bestowed an incarnation. An incarnation of a person—his very own beloved Son—who was the central focus of his revelation in and to that keystone nation—who has become in these last days the central focus for the salvation of the nations—nations which once flanked the geographical center of revelation—but nations to whom that saving revelation has radiated through the geographically unbounded gospel of salvation. From that former world and era to this later world and era; from the old world to the new world; from this (temporal) world to that (eschatological) world eternal. The historical geography of the Bible keeps us centered upon the focal story—the focal person—of the Bible. The revelation of the Triune God is central to the Bible as Israel-Judah was the keystone of the ancient world. But the divine person has displaced the geography, as the center of the story is no longer terrestrial—it is celestial at the right hand of the Father in a land of never-ending glory—in a land to which the nations are invited, welcomed, suffused with semi-eschatological gospel-salvation intruding from above—from the transcendent land eternal in the heavens! To that land, all history and geography is oriented; and that land will displace and supersede all history and geography.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.