After investing in a few good translations, the next tool I recommend to improve your Bible Study is a good Bible Atlas. While most study Bibles have some maps in the back, serious study requires access to more detailed geographical information about Palestine and the ancient near east.
For example, consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), from a Bible Atlas you can learn that the road between Jericho and Jerusalem is a 17-mile trek through the desert. Only the poor walked it. Everyone else rode — particularly the upper-class and priests were members of the upper class. Jesus’ audience would assume the priest is riding a donkey or a mule.
In the same way, if I tell you I’m going to Richmond from Charlottesville, you assume I’m driving. If I tell you I’m going to California, you assume I’m flying. It’s the normal mode of transportation for people of my economic class. In the same way, Jesus’s audience would assume the priest was riding an animal. For that distance, riding was the normal mode of transportation for priests at the time.
The assumption that the priest is riding is critical, because it means the audience assumes the priest is ABLE to help the victim. If he was walking, what could he do but offer minor first aid and wait for help? In that case, we might excuse the priest and say, of course the Samaritan helped the man; the Samaritan was the only person who had the means to really offer help. But that’s not the case. Knowing the geography tells you we should assume that the priest is riding and is therefore just as able to help as the Samaritan.
While almost all atlases contain color maps, they may also contain photographs of the landscapes, population movements, military campaigns, archeological items, topographical information, landmarks, etc. Look before you buy to make sure the atlas is not too general or too detailed for your use. I like having a good hard copy for general reference and then searching online for more detail or specific maps.
- The Oxford Bible Atlas, ed. Herbert G May with RW Hamilton and GNS Hunt. (Oxford UP)
- The New Moody Atlas of the Bible, ed. Barry J. Beitzel (Moody)
- Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, ed. Carl G. Rasmussen