Discovery House Bible Atlas.
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 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 the study of historical geography is basic.” (The
Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible, p. 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 and 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 Discover 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 (p. 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
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 (p. 297).” He notes that Luke mentions the city seven times in
Acts 9 alone. Beck explains that the central location of the 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.