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pageId="iii"Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

Verbal Maps?

Verbal Maps?

The Dead Sea, with the Jordan flowing in from the north: a satellite image. A clearly visible feature is the Lisan (the word means ‘tongue’), the promontory which juts out from the eastern shore towards the southern end of the sea. In biblical times the channel between the western shore and the Lisan was wider.

view larger image

Science Photo Library/Earth Satellite Corporation

Within the biblical narrative, there are passages which might be said to provide verbal maps. The ‘Table of the Nations’ in Genesis 10 purports to be a list of the descendants of the sons of Noah after the Flood. But it soon becomes clear that many of the persons named are in fact nations or peoples, sometimes with an indication of where they lived (see for example the description of the extent of the territory of the Canaanites in verse 19 ). The whole chapter is an elaborate attempt to ‘map’ the ancient world into which the stories of Abraham and his descendants are about to be set. (A surprising feature of the ‘Table of the Nations’ is the fact that the sons of Cush, one of the sons of Ham and often thought to represent Ethiopia, are apparently located in Arabia rather than Africa.) Much of the latter part of the Book of Joshua comprises city lists and boundary lists, purporting to be the allocations of land to the various tribes by Joshua after the land had been taken. That these lists reflect some ancient attempt to define boundaries and possessions seems inherently likely, even if it is impossible to be certain of their origins. That they also reveal an awareness, either by the biblical narrators or those responsible for their sources, of how parts of the land may have related to others geographically is also probable. But above all, in their context, they serve a theological function. They demonstrate how God's promise to the ancestors (that they would have a land in which their descendants could dwell—for example, Genesis 17: 8 ) was fulfilled. Here were the details of the land where‐by the promise was fulfilled.

Very different in nature is the verbal map presented at the end of the Book of Ezekiel. Chapter 48 envisages a future land of Israel, restored after the successive destructions of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians, and the subsequent exile. The land is arranged in a highly stylized fashion. The tribes are assigned successive latitudinal (‘from the east side to the west’) strips of territory, from Dan in the north to Gad in the south. Between the territories allocated to Judah and Benjamin there is to be a ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ portion, set apart from the rest of the land. At the heart of this would lie the Temple. The previous chapter has made a remarkable claim about the future Temple (Ezek. 47: 1–12 ). From its very threshold would flow a river whose waters would get deeper and deeper as they flowed eastwards until they reached the Dead Sea, giving life to its waters, enabling fish to live there and vegetation to grow around its shores. An awareness of the actual geography enables the reader to appreciate the significance of the theological claim being made here. God's Temple in Jerusalem will be at the heart of God's land and be a source of life in the most remarkable way.

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