I love Bible maps. It goes all the way back to the maps in the back of the Bible I received when I got saved all those years ago. No one would need as many as I have, unless , of course, you have a weakness for them as I do. Every Bible student should have one good one, and Sunday School teachers and pastors would do well to have two or three.
What is the value in Bible atlases, you ask? The terrain of Bible lands is unusual to what is around us. You might have to go all the way across the United States to simulate the change experienced in 20 miles there. Plus you don’t know the towns there so if a Bible character took a journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem it would be only 8 miles (like the Wise Men leaving Herod to see Jesus) while Nazareth to Bethlehem would be 80 or so miles depending the route taken (like Mary and Joseph traveled). Some routes were arduous journeys because of terrain while others would be easy walking. To go from farmland to desert, or from cool weather to hot, could in may places be done in a day on foot. A quick glance at a Bible Atlas might be the very thing that put the Bible story you read in the proper perspective.
A good Bible Atlas will have quality pictures of various Bible places (a picture is definitely worth a thousand words in that case), topographical information, plenty of maps as there are so many stories in the Bible, and good graphics. My eye for graphics might be different than yours, so previewing the maps before you purchase is a good idea. Christian Bookstores usually have only a couple choices so going to Christianbook.com and searching the Bible atlases and viewing the excerpts available would be helpful. You will want to make sure that they follow conservative scholarship in the map information provided. Comparing a few atlases will reveal that some Bible sites are less certain than others and you might have to read the evidence and make your own judgment.
The best Bible atlas for the pastor would be what is now called The Carta Bible Atlas, which for years was called The MacMillan Bible Atlas. I had the older edition for years, but the newer one contains some new helpful maps and I am glad to get it too. This atlas is far superior in the OT than the NT, but even the NT maps are helpful. It is written by Aharoni and Avi-Yonah, Jewish scholars who lived in the Bible lands. I doubt they were believers, but the OT was the heritage of their people and they put together the best. The graphics are not spectacular, but the number of maps for even lesser-known events make them always my first choice. (Link below for review).
Since I first released this article, Emanuel Hausman of Carta wrote me (comments below) and said, “Please note that the 5th revised and expanded edition of The Carta Bible Atlas (2011; OT – Anson F. Rainey & NT – R. Steven Notley, a devout Christian). Incidentally Notley’s Chapters, Historical Geography of the Gospels &The Early Days of the Church in The Sacred Bridge have been rated “superb”. Also the 1st edition of Rasmussen’s NIV Atlas of The Bible, A Gold Medal Title, was created by Carta as was the earlier edition of the Standard Bible Atlas.” I appreciate his helpful information.
I should also tell you about the most detailed atlas I have–The Sacred Bridge by Rainey and Notley. I’ll admit it’s a luxury, but it is the ultimate one available. The maps are small, but the text is detailed to almost every Bible event imaginable. It can be liberal in places, but if you want to find the archaeological site to match the Bible site in modern Israel, it is indispensable. Its comprehensiveness is unparalleled. It may be aimed more at scholars than pastors. There is a second edition out now that I have not seen. Just recently the publishers have offered In The Steps of The Master to offer that material to a wider audience.
Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible, published by Carta, is a less techical The Sacred Bridge and is outstanding. Pastors will love it too.
Another great volume is the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible that was released as a new, improved edition in 2009. Formally, it was called the Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. It is gorgeous and exceptional and I was glad to get it as a Christmas gift. For an economical, solid help it may well be one of the very best. There is a newly-released Zondervan’s Essential Atlas of the Bible that is a condensing of the larger work that I do not own, nor need since I have the fuller volume.
I was glad to secure The Crossway ESV Bible Atlas by John Currid and published in 2010. This volume has many detailed, accurate maps and a great deal of texts and charts. It has the added bonus of being one of the most conservative in its conclusions and I believe I agree more with its choices for uncertain Bible sites than any other. This is a heavy hitter that appears to be vying to be pastors number one choice.
You will like the vastly improved New Moody Atlas of the Bible by Barry Beitzel. It is so improved that I consider it a new volume unrelated to previous editions. Solid across the board, its greatest feature is the geographic section and the outstanding maps given there.
Another contender is the Holman Bible Atlas (Link below). It is one of the top atlases for Bible students as well. Its maps are excellent and the text is engaging and the pictures of Bible sites as helpful as the maps. It has been a very popular atlas.
I also recently reviewed the Rose Here and Now Bible Map Atlas (Link below). Rose Publishing has joined the big boys in the Bible Atlas world now. With its Carta maps and biographical approach, Bible students will find this a winner.
The most recent major Bible atlas is The Discovery House Atlas by John Beck. Its author has spent an incredible amount of time in the Holy Land and it shows.
I have enjoyed Biblica: The Bible Atlas. The maps are fine, but the key feature of this volume is the art work from all through the centuries. Weighing 10 lbs., this volume reminds one of Spurgeon describing a volume as big enough to be the author’s gravestone!
Two good inexpensive choices are Bible Atlas & Companion by Barrett, Hudson, and Bolen and Holman Quick Source Bible Atlas With Charts and Biblical Reconstructions. The maps and graphics are really good in both. The former has really nice pictures as Todd Bolen is a well-known photographer. It covers many Bible events with excellent information and graphics. The latter has the added benefit of the first half of the book being on the unique geography of Israel. The maps are as good as some more expensive volumes. I highly recommend these two for pastors, Sunday school teachers, or any serious Bible student.
You can also supplement your collection with older used volumes that are nicer than you might imagine. I have The Readers Digest Atlas of the Bible (maps good, text worthless), Atlas of the Bible by John Rogerson (average), “The Standard Bible Atlas” (a small student atlas using the Hammond maps that were the standard for many years), and The Moody Guide To Bible Lands by Tim Downey (old edition–there is a much improved edition just released and discussed below). I also have The New Illustrated Bible Atlas by Joseph Rhymer (decent), The Illustrated Atlas of the Bible Lands published by Warwick Press (below average), An Atlas of the Life of Christ by John Stirling (old, small, and very accurate), and New Bible Atlas by Wiseman, Bimson, et al (helpful). The older Atlas of The Biblical World by Baly and Tushingham (Graphics and pictures poor, information good) is worth having as is Bible Mapbook by Simon Jenkins (very good). A newer choice is The Kregel Bible Atlas by Tim Dowley (Concise, but good). Some of these can be found on used book sites for as little as $1. The last volume sells new for $15, but the others are out of print and I wouldn’t pay over $5 for any of them.
A huge volume that could well supplement any collection is The Harper Collins Atlas of the Bible (one edition was called the Time Atlas of the Bible). It has cool maps that are sometimes reoriented with, for example, west at the top! If you are geographically challenged, this may be too much. I love some of their maps of Bible battles (hills with trees showing). Another is the Collegeville Atlas of the Bible. The graphics are really good as are the pictures, but the text lacks value.
The Deluxe Then And Now Bible Maps published by Rose is a great concept and especially helpful were you to be planning a trip to the Holy Land, but I wish several of the maps of Israel were on a smaller scale. As mentioned above, incorporating these maps into the Rose Then And Now Bible Maps Atlas was a great idea.
There are some specialty volumes out there like Battles Of The Bible: 1400 BC-AD 73 by Dougherty, Haskew, Jestice, and Rice. It is visually stunning and exciting to look at as battles played a big part of many Bible stories.
Here are a few more, but only if you are a map junkie like me. The Holy Land Satellite Atlas Volumes 1 and 2 published by Rohr Productions.” These volumes are unique and give information that you can’t get anywhere else. When I studied for my solo trip to Israel and Jordan I used these volumes to help me transpose Bible Atlas information on modern road atlases. The pictures are extraordinary and include sites the other atlases never show, at least in up-to-date fashion because many of them are deep in the West Bank. I should mention, too, the Student Map Manual: Historical Geography of the Bible Lands.
You will enjoy the Aerial Atlas of the Holy Land by John Bowker. It is in no way exhaustive, nor would I choose what he did to highlight in the same number of pages, but it is great for what it chooses to cover. I really enjoy its pictures and the maps are sufficient. It is a fun addition to the atlas section of your library.
Before I close I should mention that there are a few very nice volumes that I do not yet have. Since I am a little compulsive/obsessive in this area, I’ll try to get them at some point. I have not yet seen the Tubingen Bible Atlas. It is a bilingual work that I have heard good things about. I would love to secure a few more specialty atlases on Bible history as well as some on the city of Jerusalem. I will update this post with each new acquisition.
I’m likely one of the few people who thinks that an hour of bible atlas viewing is an hour well spent. Still, we can all profit from a Bible atlas in our Bible studies.
Last updated on 12/16/2016
Other Atlas Reviews:
Holman Bible Atlas
Rose Then-And-Now Bible Maps Atlas
Carta Bible Atlas
Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas
Discovery House Bible Atlas
Bible Commentaries–Newer exegetical series
Commentary Sets–older, or devotional sets