Atlas of the Bible

Atlas of the Bible

Atlas of the Bible

Atlas of the Bible

Excerpt

The bible is an eternal book, the common heritage of men through the ages. Moreover, because of its constant use by the Church, the Bible has been instrumental, together with the legacy of Greece and Rome, in building Western civilisation. It has nurtured our thinkers and saints, it has inspired our poets and artists. For the believer, the Bible is the Sacred Book, which embodies God's message to mankind, the progressive revelation of His nature and His works and the authoritative statement of the condition and destiny of man. It unfolds the great design of saving grace which was manifested from the Creation down to the Coming of Christ, and which continues from the foundation of the Church until its consummation in the heavenly Jerusalem. The Bible contains the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; it bears the Word of God, which endures for ever.

But this ever-topical book was in fact written in certain definite periods and places; this revelation addressed to all mankind has its setting in the history of a chosen people, living at a given time, subject to specific cultural influences, and established in a particular geographical environment. These human factors have coloured the divine message and made it more accessible, while in no way weakening its force. When we know the material circumstances in which it was proclaimed and to which it alludes, we are better able to understand its rich resources; we apprehend it more vividly and more nearly. A knowledge of this 'Biblical History' and this 'Biblical Land' is therefore of supreme importance for an understanding of the Scriptures.

No-one who has travelled in the East or made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land will ever forget his excitement on stepping ashore at Haifa, at the foot of Mount Carmel, with all its memories of Elijah, his joy on beholding the changeless horizons of Galilee and the Lake of Tiberias, the principal scene of the ministry of Jesus, or his deep emotion on reaching Jerusalem, the City of David, the city of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Every step in the Holy Land stirs a Biblical memory: Hebron recalls the Covenant with Abraham; the shores of the Dead Sea, the cursing of Sodom; Jericho, the epic of the conquest; Samaria, the invective of the prophets; Nazareth, the Annunciation; Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus. Nothing can quite take the place of this personal experience; but every serious reader of the Bible, whether or not he has had the good fortune to visit the East, feels the need to elucidate his text by reference to history, to situate a place or an event on a map, to examine or re-examine the picture of a site, a monument, or an object, which evokes the scene, the circumstances, or merely the atmosphere of the Biblical story.

It is to meet this need that the Reverend Father L. H. Grollenberg, O.P., has compiled his ATLAS OF THE BIBLE, whose French edition I had the honour and pleasure to introduce. The immediate success of the original edition, which was published in Holland in 1954, testifies to the soundness of the plan and the merit of its execution. The author is not only a Biblical scholar by profession; he has profited by several long visits to Jerusalem, he has travelled all over Palestine, and he has visited the neighbouring countries: we can have every confidence in him.

His ATLAS makes use of three media in close conjunction: maps, illustrations, and text. Not only do the maps indicate relief, political frontiers, and the sites of towns mentioned in the Bible; by a system of colours, symbols, and over-printed legends, they succeed in expressing the events which took place in this geographical setting; they spring to life and each becomes a page of history.

The illustrations consist mainly of uniformly excellent photographs, many of them the work of Father Grollenberg himself. They have been chosen for their documentary interest, and still more for their evocative power. A photograph may be faithful and yet inanimate; these are eloquent and living. To study them is to be transported to an actual geographical and human setting and to breathe its very atmosphere. This is true not only of landscapes, but of monuments, details of sculpture, and single objects. All the formidable might of Assyria is evoked in a few bas-reliefs; two or three pictures suffice to illustrate the perfection of Egyptian culture, or the ascendancy of Rome in the East.

The text serves to link the maps and the illustrations. It organises all this material and, by means of references to the books of the Bible, weaves it into a broad history extending from the nomad origins of the chosen people to 'the fullness of time', marked by the Coming of Christ and the expansion of His Church.

This is a book which the reader will delight to dip into. It is also a book which he will study, making conjoint use of all the facilities which it provides. Bible-readers, now happily numerous, will not only derive great pleasure from it; they will be helped to a better understanding of the Book of books, and this, I believe, is the sole reward which the author sought.

R. de Vaux, O.P.

Director of the French School of Biblical and Archaeological Studies at Jerusalem . . .

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