I am very grateful that Carta Jerusalem sent me several of their atlases to review: In The Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land, Jerusalem: City of the Great King, and Understanding the Jewish World from Roman to Byzantine Times. I suspect that anyone who is interested in the Bible owns an atlas if not several, and everyone else has at least flipped through an atlas with interest and appreciation. Yet many atlases sit on the shelf largely unused, as they do more than offer a collection of maps and perhaps other pictures.
The atlases I am discussing here are very different. For instance, in addition to maps and photos of locations and buildings, In The Master’s Steps offers extensive discussion of relevant texts and their interpretation, covering not only Biblical material but also other ancient Jewish and Christian authors. Issues such as the term Nazoraios and its relationship or otherwise to the location Nazareth, and the location of “Bethany beyond Jordan,” are explained and discussed. Photos of coins and inscriptions are also included, making the book much more like a geographically-focused commentary, one that could also be useful for someone preparing to travel to the Holy Land.
The same points apply to Jerusalem. In addition to maps and photos both historic and modern, the volume offers images of artifacts in the Israel Museum, and detailed discussion not only of the parts of the city and its key features but also of things like water supply and tiling.
Personally, although I will probably find the volume focused on Jesus and the Gospels the most frequently useful, I found the thinnest of these three volumes, Understanding the Jewish World, to be the most fascinating. Those of us who deal primarily with the New Testament and early Christianity are often aware (through reading and visits to the Middle East) of some aspects of Jewish history after the Bar Kochba revolt, typically only in a vague and cursory fashion. This volume depicts how the region was governed, trade, synagogues, and other aspects of the geographical region of Palestine and those places to which it was connected politically and economically.
As I prepare to lead students on a short-term study abroad experience in Israel and the West Bank, I have found these volumes very useful for my preparation, and I could well see a professor requiring them as reading for students going on such a trip. But the best part, as I said earlier, is that these are volumes which contain much useful content beyond the maps and pictures, which leads me to expect that I will consult them more frequently than any other atlases on my shelves.
I am grateful to Hendrickson, who distributes Carta atlases in the United States, for having sent me gratis review copies.