Maps have been closely associated with the Bible from earliest times as aids to understanding the text (exegetical mapping) and as demonstrations of the geographical and historical context of the events documented in the scriptures (the Bible on maps). The distinction between the categories accounts for two quite separate types of image, one in which clarity of exposition was the primary objective and the other in which geographical verisimilitude provided the background for the historical narrative of the map. Drawing for explanation is typically diagrammatic in style, with minimal content and straight lines ensuring an undistracted focus on the point being made. From the late fifteenth century, however, various factors, including changes in readership as well as the influence of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography, in which the maps are based on astronomically defined coordinates (latitude and longitude) and mathematical projections, introduced the idea that mathematically scaled cartography was relevant to both kinds of maps to underline the reality of scriptural geography.

Maps in Biblical Literature.

Around 302/3 B.C.E., Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, accompanied his gazetteer of places in the Holy Land (Onomasticon) by at least two maps. It is clear from the preface that one showed ancient Judea “with its division amongst the Twelve Tribes” and the other was an annotated “figura” of the city of Jerusalem. As Eusebius’s gazetteer was part of a historical study, the implication is that the map of Canaan depicted the historical allocation of Canaan by Joshua, not the prophet Ezekiel’s utopian redivision of the land. Neither map has survived, but given the enduring character of drawing for explanation, it is reasonable to assume that Eusebius’s map would not have looked very different from the earliest known extant map for the same event (early ninth century).

Despite the problem of survival, sufficient material remains to suggest that early teachers and preachers as well as exegetes made use of maps to an extent not reflected in a simple count of available examples, the record of which is sporadic. The plan of the desert tabernacle, for example, with its structure and internal furnishings depicted as described in Exodus 40, is found twice in the sixth century (Cosmas Indicopleustes’s Christian Topography; Codex Aminiatinus), in a thirteenth-century extract from Bede’s treatise De tabernaculo (On the Tabernacle) from Kirkham Abbey, Lincolnshire, and in almost every manuscript and early printed edition of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis super totam Bibliam, a commentary on the whole Bible (1323–1332). By the fourteenth century, a corpus of exegetical drawing had emerged from the earliest centuries of ecclesiastical material and book art, Jewish and Christian, aimed at portraying the literal meaning of the subject and focused exclusively on the Old Testament and the historical topics central to the Jewish and Christian religions. Among this were plans for the desert tabernacle (Exod 40; Num 3), the historical Temple in Jerusalem (3 Kgs 6–7; Vulgate [1 Kgs]) and the visionary temple and city (Ezek 40–48), and maps of Canaan (Josh 15; Ezek 45, 47, 48). The only New Testament map associated with a scholarly treatise, the world map in Beatus of Liébana’s eighth-century In Apocalypsin (Commentary on the Apocalypse), was not part of the traditional corpus.


The reductionist style characteristic of drawing for explanation (minimal content and straight lines) ensures immediate communication to the informed recipient. Figura terre repromissionis was drawn in the early ninth century for chapter 15 of the book of Joshua to show the Land of Canaan divided among the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The vertical line represents the River Jordan flowing into the Dead Sea. North at the top. 8 × 10 in. (20 × 26.4 cm). Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 11561, f. 43v.

Reproduced with permission. © Bibliothèque nationale de France

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In a period dominated by allegorical exposition, comparatively few medieval writers systematically deployed maps and plans as integral to their argument, but three works stand out, all concerned with a literal interpretation: Richard of St. Victor’s treatise on a single book (In visionem Ezechielis, ca. 1270) and two works on the whole Bible, Rashi’s commentary on the Hebrew Bible (eleventh century) and Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis super totam Bibliam, mentioned above. All three lived in Paris or northeastern France. Whereas Richard’s treatise had limited impact after the thirteenth century (22 manuscripts are known), Rashi and Nicholas became the leading, and enduring, authority in Jewish and Christian exegesis, respectively. Richard included 15 illustrations in his short work on Ezekiel’s visions of the temple and the Land of Canaan restored to and redivided among the tribes, Temple, and city. Ten are in plan, one is a geometrical diagram for the calculation of angles for building on a steep gradient, and the others are elevations. Most are keyed into the text with phrases such as “We represent the shape of these things that we have already described in this manner.” Their characteristically diagrammatic style did not preclude the appropriate type of accuracy; spatial relationships are topologically correct, and, where necessary, as Richard pointed out, “lines [are] drawn in proportion to the measurements.”

Rashi (Rabbi Solomon son of Isaac, b. 1030 or 1040, d. 1105) was the most influential medieval interpreter of the Babylonian Talmud and Hebrew Bible. The manuscripts of his commentaries are packed with drawings, many of which were lost in the copying process despite being clearly keyed into the text and having failed to reach the printed editions, but up to a dozen maps and plans in the commentary on the Talmud and at least eight in that on the Bible have been identified (Gruber, 1992). The latter includes two maps of Canaan for the book of Ezekiel, one of which was used by Richard of St. Victor, and maps relating to the boundaries of Canaan (within which Talmudic law applied) and its historical apportionment among the Twelve Tribes (Num 34). Rashi’s plan of Ezekiel’s temple has been discovered in a letter sent to the rabbis of Auxerre.

Nicholas of Lyra named Rashi among his sources and referred repeatedly to “the rabbis” and “the Hebrews,” whose interpretations of the tabernacle furnishings and architectural details of Solomon’s Temple he depicted next to those of the “church fathers” and more recent Christian exegetes to show differences of opinion. Unlike Rashi, Nicholas was not concerned with the external boundaries of Canaan and its historical tribal divisions. Like Rashi, however, Nicholas was outstanding among medieval exegetes for his prolific and systematic use of illustration in his literal exposition of the whole Bible. His Postilla litteralis incorporated almost the whole corpus of medieval exegetical mapping and represents its apogee. Among the 39 subjects illustrated are 15 plans and the map of Canaan for Ezekiel (listed in Delano-Smith, 2014). It is clear that Nicholas wrote with his drawing in front of him and that he deployed the drawings explicitly to help his readers follow his arguments.

Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis was immediately popular and widely disseminated in slightly differing stemmata that still await close study (more than 800 manuscripts survive). It was a key text for reformers throughout the sixteenth century and remained influential into the early seventeenth century. Although Anton Koberger adhered closely to his manuscript exemplar for the woodcuts in the first illustrated edition (Nuremburg, 1481), the influence of contemporary commercial pressures on book production—above all, the need to expand the market—as well as changes in the cultural context, is already discernible. The usual simple square outline of the city of Ezekiel’s final vision (Ezek 48), for example, was replaced by a high oblique perspective in which the intramural area is packed with buildings.

John Calvin’s vernacular Geneva edition of the Bible (1560), designed for personal reading and pastoral self-improvement and packed with reader aids within the covers of a single quarto volume, encapsulated the new relationship between exegetical commentary and scriptural text. Protestant reformers wanted the Bible to be read by every person for him or herself but, at the same time, to guide the reader’s understanding. The selection and presentation of the maps and plans were adjusted to suit Protestant interests. Three of the standard complement of five maps are for the Old Testament (the location of Eden (Gen 2), the Exodus (Num 33), and the division of Canaan (Josh 15), and two are for the New Testament (the Holy Land at the time of Christ for the Gospels and the eastern Mediterranean for the Acts of the Apostles). Biblical history is portrayed by tiny vignettes in situ on the maps, whose overall image may appear to have been “modernized,” but only to the extent that, while coordinates of latitude and longitude are given and geographical outlines are vaguely realistic, there was no pretense to real mathematical accuracy.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the emphasis in mapmaking in general was on scientific (i.e., mathematically accurate) cartography. Geography and history in exegetical maps were no longer indissoluble. To leave an uncluttered geographical image in the center, depictions of the biblical events were moved from the map itself to cartouches around the edges of the page, as in the large-folio Dutch editions with their increasingly ornate maps and plans. The situation was rather different, however, in politically disturbed seventeenth-century England, where the establishment of the Anglican church by Henry VIII had placed the vernacular Bible at the foundation of monarchical authority and where the Bible, now closely read by everybody, had become the central institution of all aspects of public and private life and the key referent for political and revolutionary behavior and thinking. The 1568 Bishops’ Bible was too costly to be popular, and the smaller Geneva editions, printed in large numbers until 1644, were preferred by the ordinary Bible reader. Thereafter, huge family Bibles began to offer the Bible reader “the complete history of the Old and New Testaments” (1735). These aimed to provide all the apparatus needed to understand the “whole system of the Christian religion” (1752) and were packed with extracts from the writings of a wide range of learned commentators (mostly European), charts, notes, and illustrations. Still recognizable among the “proper maps,” despite the novelty of the guise, are the traditional exegetical subjects. Today’s Bibles are usually more selective as far as maps and plans, but many of these can be linked to their antecedents in the medieval commentaries.

The Bible on Maps.

Bible history has been depicted on maps of the world (mappae mundi) and on regional maps (Mesopotamia, the Holy Land, Anatolia, the Eastern Mediterranean; maps of holy places). As with the exegetical maps, however, it is almost certainly an evidential lacuna rather than contemporary inactivity that explains why no map of the Holy Land is known from before the sixth century, when a map of Palestine and Lower Egypt was created in mosaic on the floor of the church at Madaba, Jordan. The Carolingian relaxing of inhibitions about updating ancient texts has left ample traces of lively contemporary interest in the location of the holy places, such as the marginal sketch of the Red Sea Crossing penned by a reader in the geographical section of a ninth-century manuscript of Orosius’s Historiarum adversus paganos libri VII (Seven Books of History against the Pagans, written in the fifth century) and the biblical place names added to some maps of the climatic zones based on Macrobius’s commentary on Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis (The Dream of Scipio, also fifth century).


This map of the Exodus route (Num 33), one of the set of five maps in vernacular Geneva Bibles, gives the impression of a Ptolemaic-style map (coordinates of latitude and longitudes and a geographically “realistic” coastline) but is nonetheless a map drawn to explain the text and guide the reader’s understanding of it. 6 × 9 in. (16 × 24 cm). From The Bible and Holy Scriptures (Geneva: Rouland Hall, 1560).

Used by permission of the Bible Society Collection, Cambridge University Library

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Maps of the World.

Maps of the world in the Middle Ages served two constituencies—the ecclesiastical (as an expression of religious belief and divine history) and the courtly (as an expression of royal authority), although there may be little in the cartographical image to distinguish the two except for their location in church or palace. All mappae mundi combined geographical knowledge with the biblical worldview. Far from being devotional, pastoral, or theological documents, however, medieval maps were representations of the world according to a conception, scientific in its own terms, that took into account the scriptural text and the teachings of the Christian faith. For medieval Christian scholars the Bible provided not only religious guidance but also the key to all forms of knowledge. Specific geographical learning could be taken from other texts; it had to be adapted to fit a biblical worldview.

A process of Christianization of classical geography had been taking place since the early centuries of the Christian era. Traditional geographical ideas about the dimensions of the globe, its division into parts, and the listing of the peoples and provinces of the inhabited world were refined to accommodate Christian themes and biblical information. Christian scribes, for instance, added the garden of Eden and Jerusalem to the diagrammatic T-O maps of the world in the classical geographies they were copying, as in the case of the scribe responsible for the late tenth- or early eleventh-century manuscript of Sallust’s De bello Iugurthino (first century B.C.E.), now in the Vatican Library. Maps made for display could be huge, like the now-lost Ebstorf map (Lower Saxony, 1235–1240 or ca. 1300) that measured 140 × 141 inches (3.56 × 3.58 m), whereas a map in a book for private devotion might be no more than 3 inches (9 cm) in diameter, like the Psalter map (London, ca. 1265). Irrespective of the size or shape (circular, oval) of the map, or the amount of nonbiblical material also included, events from the scriptures were projected onto their geographical framework within the all-embracing biblical history of salvation turned into a visual geography of salvation.

Scripture, which recorded specific points on earth where God’s intervention had taken place, contributed several themes to medieval mapping practice, such as the geography of the Holy Land, the apostles’ mission throughout the three parts of the earth (Asia, Europe, Africa), and the conversion of the nations and Christ’s sovereignty over the entire world. The most prominent feature was the garden of Eden, with the four great rivers of the earth mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Phison, and the Gihon (the latter two identified with the Ganges and the Nile, respectively). The reading of the Old Testament also favored the idea that the inhabited world was divided into three parts—Asia, Europe, and Africa—which were inherited after the Flood by the three sons of Noah—Sem, Japhet, and Ham—and peopled by their descendants (Gen 9:18–19). Another biblical feature contributed to the map as a geographical notion was the reference, in the book of Revelation, to the apocalyptic tribes of Gog and Magog, who, it was predicted, would storm the earth at the time of the Antichrist (Rev 20:7–8). The Bible recounts a number of episodes of salvation history that took place in the Middle East and the Holy Land, all of which were represented on the maps, including the granaries of Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land and the Red Sea Crossing, Moses receiving the tables of the Law on Mt. Sinai, the division of the land of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the preaching of Christ. The notion that the apostles preached the good news throughout the three parts of the known world also encouraged the depiction of their respective burial places.

Regional Maps.

Maps of Palestine and adjacent lands drawn on relatively large separate sheets even when intended for a book have had a poor survival rate. Some 23 maps made between the late twelfth and the mid-fourteenth century represent eight originals and various copies and derivatives. Like the mappae mundi of the period, which provided the source material for some, most of these regional maps have east at the top and a straight Mediterranean coastline along the bottom. They are pictorial in style, depicting biblical places and associated events from the Old and New Testaments in profile (as if seen from the ground) or oblique perspective. Rivers, lakes, and inland seas (with a red-colored Red Sea divided by the Israelites’ Crossing) and the Persian and Arabian Gulfs provide the geographical frame. Crusaders’ castles help date individual maps, and some details may point to contemporary opinions on, for instance, the site of Noah’s ark that, on two of the late twelfth-century palimpsests made at Tournai, France (formerly known as the “Jerome” maps but now identified as comprising three maps of Palestine and one of Asia), show the ark resting on mons Armenia. They took their content from each other, from contemporary written accounts of the Holy Land as well as from now-lost world maps and from firsthand knowledge passed on by travelers.

Pilgrimage was a major factor promoting maps of the Holy Land and plans of its sacred sites. In the 1250s, Matthew Paris noted distances (in days) for the journey from Tripoli to Byblos on the map now in Oxford, and the ingenious strip map in the chronicle he maintained at St. Albans Abbey represents in day units the route from London to southern Italy and, ultimately, to Acre and Jerusalem. Paris’s strip map was for use in surrogate pilgrimage, a concern shared by Burchard of Sion, who wrote in his highly detailed travel account (ca. 1300) of his concern for “the Christian unable to make the journey to the Holy Land” who needed to see in his or her mind the “places where Bible events took place and Christ lived and died.” Burchard also gave distances (in leagues) and dimensions for sites such as the cave of the Holy Sepulchre (8 × 8 feet, with the place of the Crucifixion 120 feet away). Burchard’s systematic approach to his textual account (described in six sectors fanning out from Acre) imparted orderliness to his map. A different, and highly visible, framework was used in Marino Sanudo’s map of Palestine (drawn ca. 1321 by Pietro Vesconte for Sanudo’s Liber secretorum or Book of Secrets), which is overlain by a grid of squares as an aid to locating the places mentioned in his polemic urging an economic blockade to break the Mamluk domination of the Holy Land.

The medieval manuscript maps of biblical Palestine passed into print in different ways. The first edition of Burchard’s text (1475) contains an unusual view of the country from the west, in which a mass of rounded hills bear the names of the settlement that crowns it or some other feature (the Jordan’s twin sources, the pillar of salt that was Lot’s wife). By 1624, 15 printed editions of his text had appeared, together with new works such as the plans of Palestine, Jerusalem, and the Temple that consisted entirely of typeset names included in the anonymous Prologus Arminensis (ca. 1478). In the first half of the sixteenth century, woodcut maps of the Holy Land by artists such as Lucas Cranach (ca. 1523) and Hans Holbein (1534) were made for Protestant Bibles. The ever-widening readership and consumer market of the sixteenth century encouraged new formats. Jacob Zeigler was the first to publish a biblical atlas (1532); Johannes Honter’s cosmography and school atlas (1548), with its map of biblical geography from Mesopotamia to Palestine, ran to more than a hundred editions. For his atlas of Palestine (Theatrum Terrae Sanctae, 1584), which he had never visited, Christiaan van Adrichem relied on the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus as well as the Bible for the 270 biblical sites he portrayed.

The continuing need for surrogate maps at home for the devout encouraged the painting of frescoes of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives in the heart of monastic churches (Lugano, Italy, 1538–1540), the mapping on the ground of sacred sites in the form of Sacri monti (nine in north Italy), and the replication of the Holy Land through the renaming of local topography; the 6 miles (10 km) of the “Russian Palestine” at New Jerusalem, Moscow (1656), has a river Jordan, Mt. Tabor, the Mount of Olives, villages called Bethlehem, Bethany, Nazareth, Capernaum, and so on, as well as a Resurrection monastery closely modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The most accessible format for the devout as well as the studious, and for display on the wall at home, was the new format of a separate sheet printed map. From Gerard Mercator’s engraved wall map (1537) on, the Holy Land was the single most popular map subject. An important stimulus to their production and dissemination was the Reformation. The significance to leading reformers such as John Calvin of the Old Testament account of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, with its undertone of personal salvation, is reflected in at least a half-dozen printed wall maps prominently displaying the tortuous route of the Exodus from Egypt through the Sinai Desert to Canaan. Each stopping place is numbered and events portrayed in lively vignettes. Double-folio maps initially produced as part of the exegetical apparatus of the large-folio editions of the Dutch Reform (Calvinist) Bible by Peter Plancius (1590) and others were also sold separately for those who could not aspire to having maps of the Bible lands painted on the walls of their homes or, as in the Benedictine monastery in Parma, libraries.


Jerusalem featured on European maps in a variety of ways, which referred to its architecture and its biblical past, either in schematic design or in greater detail. To indicate the holy city in which Christian salvation was enacted, medieval mapmakers marked historical sites such as the Holy Sepulchre or the Temple of Solomon. On the Tournai maps of Palestine mentioned above, the unusually prominent sign for Jerusalem is a gated circle on which is marked the Tower of David, Mt. Sion, the Valley of Josaphat, and the Mount of Olives.

Mapmakers also evoked the eschatological significance of the Holy City, described by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 48) and envisioned in the book of Revelation (Rev 21:2, 10). Christian exegetes held that the descent to earth of the Heavenly Jerusalem had already taken place in the historical and earthly Jerusalem through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross before being fully established at the end of time. The city of Judea, where the church’s wait for Christ’s final advent began, was thus assimilated with the Jerusalem of Heaven. On the Ebstorf map the earthly city features as a square with gilded walls and 12 gates, in accordance with the apocalyptic description of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation. The biblical statement that God brought salvation “in the midst of the earth” (in medio terrae; Ps 73:12), and that he placed Jerusalem “in the midst of all nations” (in medio gentium; Ezek 5:5), suggested to Christian exegetes that the holy city was not only the scene of the pivotal event at the center of history but was also the geographical center of the earth or, as Jerome put it in his commentary on Ezekiel, the navel of the world (1964, II.5.5, p. 56). A similar notion underlies Adamnan’s late seventh-century treatise on the holy places and center of pilgrimages in Palestine (1965, De locis sanctis, I.11.4, p. 195), a work illustrated with four plans of the main sites that Bede adapted for his abridgement of Adamnan’s work (ca. 702–703).

Early medieval maps usually marked Jerusalem close to the Mediterranean coast, that is, to the east (or more frequently, southeast) of the center of the known earth, sometimes within an oversized Judea or visually emphasized by large architectural features. Interest in Jerusalem and the Middle East increased at the time of the Crusades (1095–1291), but Jerusalem was rarely placed centrally on twelfth-century maps. On the world map made in Thorney, England, ca. 1100, a band right across the center with a cross in the middle is labeled Hierusalem. The loss of the city in 1244 added poignancy to the European longing for the distant site of Christian salvation history, and Jerusalem was increasingly represented as the central point of the world, marked by a cross or a stylized circle (associated with perfection) or the square of the Heavenly Jerusalem of the book of Revelation, as on the Hereford, Psalter, and Ebstorf mappae mundi, respectively. On fourteenth-century world maps, Jerusalem was also given pictorial emphasis, as in the two maps included in the mid-fourteenth-century manuscript produced at Ramsey Abbey, England, of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon (a universal history written between the 1320s and 1363) and the map commissioned for Evesham Abbey, England (made between 1390 and 1415), where Jerusalem is indicated by a large, walled, multi-towered citadel.

Renaissance Maps of the World.

A new conceptual framework developed in the field of mapmaking at the end of the Middle Ages. On zonal maps (diagrammatic maps showing the sequence of climatic belts encircling the earth, as defined in classical times), which had been circulating in the Middle Ages, biblical place-names had already been featured, as noted above. These maps depict the terrestrial globe in an entirely ahistorical manner. A map on the last folio of a twelfth-century Bible from Arnstein, Germany, contains in the northern inhabited zone the garden of Eden of Genesis (labeled paradisus), Babylon, and Jerusalem as well as the Roman province of Judea, including Samaria and Galilee. The zonal map bound in a fifteenth-century manuscript to illustrate an excerpt from Gerard of Antwerp’s universal chronicle (Tabulata Biblia, or “Mapping the Bible,” ca. 1272) also shows Paradise and localities in the Holy Land. The occasional inclusion of biblical toponyms on the zonal maps, which depicted the terrestrial globe in an entirely ahistorical manner, was a cartographical merging of astronomical geography and biblical lore that paralleled the efforts of late medieval theologians anxious to harmonize Christian faith and biblical knowledge with the new scientific learning derived from Aristotle and his Arab commentators that had been introduced to the West between the mid-twelfth and the late thirteenth centuries. It also heralded the persistent impact of the Bible on maps of astronomical measurement.

The appearance of the nautical chart around the beginning of the thirteenth century introduced yet another mode of cartographical thinking in the Latin West. These charts, made for navigation within the waters of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, were sometimes used in the fourteenth century in the compilation of world maps, making mapping a matter of increasingly accurate measurement of angles, directions, and distance unlike the medieval practice of plotting places according to contiguity (topology) within a historically structured framework. Although the traditional intimate connection between the historical dimension and geographical description was gradually being lost, biblical places continued to be displayed cartographically, as on the earliest known world maps to show the influence of nautical cartography, Pietro Vesconte’s maps of ca. 1320. In the manuscript, now in London, Jerusalem is in the center, Gog and Magog are in eastern Asia, and the biblical Gihon flows in India.

Biblical features were still shown on world maps after the fourteenth century, when European mapmakers were portraying non-European lands as regions of the present, not of the past, and thus no longer purely as the stage for a display of Christian universal history. The references to the garden of Eden, Noah’s sons, his ark, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Sinai, the Red Sea crossing, the Queen of Sheba, the ruins of Nineveh, Babylon, Judea, the home of the Magi in Persia, places associated with Christ in and around Jerusalem, Gog and Magog are now in a very different cartographical context. These places are contiguous with contemporary places on the inhabited earth. On such maps, current political affairs are plotted side by side with contemporary trade.

The recovery in western Europe of Ptolemy’s Geography and its maps in the early fifteenth century made the Ptolemaic model the basis of modern cartography. The new mapping cleared history from geography and favored the inclusion on maps of contemporary features only. This did not mean the end of the desire to see the lands and events of the Bible in their geographical setting on a modern map in as much detail as possible, but that maps of biblical history were now compiled in the context of sacred geography (illustrating the Bible and biblical commentary) and historical geography (as maps in historical atlases). Different biblical themes were represented independently, map by map, quite unlike the all-embracing medieval mappa mundi on which past and present were layered onto a single geographical landscape. In the historical atlases, topics such as the Fall in the garden of Eden, the peregrinations of the Patriarchs, and the voyages of St. Paul were presented as a series of selected stills instead of being interwoven and intermixed with scenes and places of contemporary importance.

Modern and Post-Enlightenment.

For nearly two millennia the Bible had been trusted implicitly as the word of God and as a document inspired in its entirety by the Holy Spirit, hence its authority to account for the world’s creation and the history of the human race. In the course of the eighteenth century it began to be accepted that the text of scripture was, like any other text, open to philological and historical enquiry and that its production could be related to external circumstances. In the new historical-critical methodology, the Bible began to be analyzed as separate units of text and as representing different traditions. Biblical scholars began to realize that—although inspired by God—the scriptural text they were reading might represent the work of different authors and that the geographical references found in the Bible might reflect the individual knowledge of the ancient writer who, while expressing ideas common in his day, had been inspired by God to convey principally moral teachings, not a geographical or even a historical record. The new approach was confirmed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when most Christian exegetes acknowledged the importance of achieving a more sophisticated and more critical understanding of scripture. For them, the Bible was about faith and morals, not a source of scientific truth or geographical fact. Once the Bible was seen as a religious text, or a historical document, and no longer the infallible depository of scientific knowledge, it was inevitable that it had to be excluded from a cartography preoccupied with the exact mapping of the earth’s surface. Since then the Bible features only on exclusively religious and historical maps or as pictorial aids to Bible reading.

Modern world maps take no notice of the Bible. This is the result not just of secularization but also of the lack of need for a modern Christian to embrace the geographical lore found in a text compiled for an ancient Middle Eastern readership. The advancement of cartography in the service of biblical exegesis has become unnecessary. By the nineteenth century, for example, mainstream Christian theology had given up the search for the location of Eden, and the task of mapping the biblical Paradise eventually passed to secular scholars, notably Assyriologists, or to imaginative mavericks and fringe exegetes bent on a highly literal interpretation of the Bible.

Biblical events and places have disappeared from world maps, and theologians belonging to major Christian churches may no longer invest their intellectual energies in trying to create cartographical evidence to corroborate the scriptures, but the mapping of biblical imagery has given rise to a genre of its own, that of moral maps. Such maps plot the personal journey of life, which may lead to hell or to eternal bliss. They arose from the allegorical cartography that originated in early modern Europe to portray abstract concepts such as love and marriage within the stability of an imaginary geography. The cartographic metaphor employed by a devout mapmaker emphasized the ultimate responsibility of the individual, an important theme particularly in Christian teaching after the Reformation. The allegorical map transformed the scriptural warning to avoid perdition and opt for a life of virtue into a graphic landscape rich in biblical allusion. One map published in New York in 1842 depicts lands and events mentioned in the Bible to show the path from the city of childhood to the final glory of peace, joy and repose in the Lord. The way is fraught with perils, but every turning point is signposted with a suitable biblical quotation. In another detailed allegorical route map (Florida, 1984) that takes the form of a city atlas, the path from the world toward heaven (at the top of the map) passes between such districts as Truth, Prayer, Obedience, and Bible Study. Scriptural quotations remind the reader that to reach the river of life in heaven, Christ’s invitation to walk along the streets and avenues of the city of life has to be accepted.

However, while the Bible has been turned to an allegorical landscape and cartography is no longer needed to validate the authority of the scriptures in support of the Christian faith, maps are still needed to explain the location of the events narrated in the Bible and to direct archaeological research. After the Enlightenment, maps continued to be drawn not for learned exegesis of Bible’s editions and commentaries but, as the English theologian Thomas Stackhouse stated on the title page of his much reprinted eighteenth-century A New History of the Holy Bible, from the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity, the aim was to answer controversial questions, comment upon the most remarkable passages, clarify the text, and give its historical context. In Stackhouse’s volume the engraved maps showed biblical sites and events: the garden of Eden, the dispersion and settling of the nations after the Flood, the division of the land of Canaan, the travels of St. Paul. Interestingly, the distribution of Noah’s progeny is not displayed on a world scale, as in medieval mapping practice, but is contained within a regional map. The time for a historico-geographical comprehensiveness to display Christian universal history projected on the whole earth was over. Maps produced in the last three centuries by biblical geographers are accurate topographical maps of Palestine to serve as the basis for archaeological exploration in the region.





    • Thayer, Lawrence A., Mac McElwain, and Paul Sale. Map to Heaven and the City of Life. Daytona Beach, Fla.: Champion Gospel, 1984.

    Primary Sources

    • Adamnan. De locis sanctis libri tres, edited by Ludovicus Bieler. In Itineraria et alia geographica, pp. 175–234. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 175. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1965.
    • Bede. De locis sanctis, edited by Johannes Fraipont. In Itineraria et alia geographica, pp. 244–280. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 175. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1965.
    • Cosmas Indicopleustes. Topographie Chrétienne. 3 vols. Edited by Wanda Wolska-Conus. Paris: Cerf, 1968–1970.
    • Eusebius of Caesarea. Onomasticon, edited by Erich Klostermann. In Eusebius Werke, Vol. 3/1. Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte 11/1. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1904.
    • Jerome. Commentarium in Hiezechielem. Edited by François Glorie. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 75. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1964.
    • Jerome. Liber locorum. In Onomastica sacra, edited by Paul de Lagarde. Göttingen, Germany: Horstmann, 1887; repr. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms, 1966.
    • Stackhouse, Thomas. A New History of the Holy Bible, from the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity. London: John Hinton, 1752.

    Secondary Literature

    • Delano-Smith, Catherine. “Some Contemporary Manuscripts of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis (1323–1332): Maps, Plans and Other Illustrations.” In Orbs disciplinae: Liber amicorum Patrick Gautier Dalché, edited by Nathalie Bouloux, Aca Dan, and George Tolias. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, forthcoming.
    • Gruber, Mayer I. “What Happened to Rashi’s Pictures.” Bodleian Library Record 14, no. 2 (1992): 111–124.
    • Gruber, Mayer I. Maps and Other Line-Drawings in Rashi’s Bible Commentaries. Piscataway, N.J.: in press.

    Further Reading

    • Baumgärtner, Ingrid. “Die Wahrnehmung Jerusalems auf mittelalterlichen Weltkarten.” In Jerusalem im Hoch- und Spätmittelalter: Konflikte und Konfliktbewältigung-Vorstellungen und Vergegenwärtigungen, edited by Dieter Bauer, Klaus Herber, and Nikolas Jaspers, pp. 271–334. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2001.
    • Delano-Smith, Catherine. “Maps and Art and Science: Maps in Sixteenth-Century Bibles.” Imago Mundi 42 (1990): 65–83.
    • Delano-Smith, Catherine. “Maps and Plans in Medieval Exegesis: Richard of St. Victor’s In visionem Ezechielis.” In From Knowledge to Beatitude: St. Victor, Twelfth-Century Scholars, and Beyond, edited by Ann Matter and Lesley Smith, pp. 1–45. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013.
    • Delano-Smith, Catherine, and Elizabeth M. Ingram. Maps in Bibles, 15001600: An Illustrated Catalogue. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1991.
    • Edson, Evelyn. Mapping Time and Space: How Medieval Mapmakers Viewed Their World. London: British Library, 1997.
    • Harley, J. B., and David Woodward, eds. The History of Cartography. Vol. 1: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
    • Harvey, P. D. A. Medieval Maps of the Holy Land. London: British Library, 2012.
    • Inglebert, Hervé. Interpretatio Christiana: Les mutations des savoirs (cosmographie, géographie, ethnographie, histoire) dans l’Antiquité chrétienne: 30–630 après J.-C. Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 2001.
    • Ingram, Elizabeth M. “Maps as Readers’ Aids: Maps and Plans in Geneva Bibles.” Imago Mundi 45 (1993): 29–44.
    • O’Loughlin, T. “Map and Text: A Mid Ninth-Century Map for the Book of Joshua.” Imago Mundi 57, no. 1 (2005): 7–22 and plate 1.
    • Metzger, Bruce M, and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
    • Scafi, Alessandro. Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth. London: British Library; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
    • von den Brincken, Anna-Dorothee. “Jerusalem on Medieval Mappaemundi: A Site Both Historical and Eschatological.” In The Hereford World Map: Medieval World Maps and their Contexts, edited by P. D. A. Harvey, pp. 355–379. London: British Library, 2006.
    • Woodward, David, ed. The History of Cartography. Vol. 3: Cartography in the Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Catherine Delano-Smith and Alessandro Scafi