By John A. Beck
Grand Rapids, IL
Discovery House Publishers, 2015
347 Pp. | $39.99
As a serious student of biblical geography, I am always excited about the publication of a new Bible atlas. In my own experience there is nothing that enhances my reading and appreciation of the stories of the Bible like an understanding of the physical setting of those events. As was pointed out years ago, “The Bible is unique among the world’s scriptures; it is the only one for who comprehension of the study of historical geography is basic” (The Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible, 5). Of course the best way to learn the geographical and historical setting of the Bible is by participating in a study tour of the Holy Land. Second only to an actual Holy Land tour is the virtual experience provided by John Beck in his newly published Discovery House Bible Atlas.
John Beck is a scholar, educator, and outdoorsman with extensive experience in biblical geography. He has also built and flies his own airplane! John, a Ph.D. in theology and Old Testament from Trinity International University, serves as an adjunct professor at the Jerusalem University College (JUC). I met John (“Jack”) some years ago when we were both teaching at the JUC. As we became acquainted I was impressed with Beck’s knowledge of the Bible and biblical backgrounds. I also identified with his passion for sharing his knowledge of the land of the Bible with his students.
The Discovery House Bible Atlas is packed with geographical observations and insights which will enhance a Christian’s appreciation and understanding of the Bible. The atlas begins with an introduction to historical and “literary” geography. By “literary geography,” John refers to how the authors of Scripture used geographical details to influence and shape the thoughts and believers of readers (11). John shows how the landscape of the Bible is interwoven into the very fabric of its message. He believes that the biblical writers were led by the Holy Spirit to include geographic details that contribute to the scriptural message. While it is tempting to pass over these unfamiliar references, John shows how the biblical authors often employ geography as the organizing principle of a text (Judges 1) or even a book (Acts).
After the introduction, Beck presents a survey of the “General Geography of the Promised Land.” Dividing the land into four north-south corridors, Beck describes the Coastal Plain, Hill Country, Jordan Valley and Transjordan Plateau. His descriptions are enhanced by magnificent color photographs! Following the introduction, John presents the story of the Bible in ten chapters (including a chapter “Between the Testaments”), beginning with Abraham and concluding with the expansion of the church in Acts. In these ten chapters Beck tells the story of the Bible in a readable and engaging manner, pausing at many points along the way to illustrate the significance of the geographical references and how the biblical authors used such references to emphasize key points in the story.
For example, Beck points out that “the city of Damascus does not lie at the periphery but at the heart of Saul’s conversion” (297). He notes that Luke mentions the city seven times in Acts 9 alone. Beck explains that the central location of Damascus on the route between Mesopotamia and Israel made it a prime location from which to spread the Christian faith. Saul wanted to stop the spread of the gospel and it had to be stopped at Damascus! Of course Saul’s plan ran counter to God’s who wanted Damascus to function as a fountain head for the dissemination of the gospel. Hence, God intervened in Saul’s life on the road to Damascus.
The Discovery House Bible Atlas is well researched with extensive endnotes which provide documentation and references for further study. There is also a helpful Scripture index and a list of important dates. The maps are simple and uncluttered, serving nicely to illustrate the biblical narrative. The lovely color pictures are really worth the price of the book!
It is rare that I find a book which provides me with so many new insights which I plan to incorporate into my own Bible teaching. I highly recommend John Beck’s atlas as an introduction to the Land of the Bible and as a great way to review the story of the Bible.