Reviewed by Anna C. Rask
John A. Beck received his Doctorate of Philosophy from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. For over twenty years, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament courses at a variety of higher education institutions. Beck currently holds an adjunct faculty position at Jerusalem University College in Israel. Other works of Beck include: Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, A Visual Guide to Bible Events, A Visual Guide to Gospel Events, The Baker Illustrated Guide to Everyday Life in Bible Times, and Discovery House Bible Atlas.
This book is intended to be a reference resource rather than a textbook; it does not have lengthy paragraphs or chapters. Within its hard covers, the pages of the book are spiral bound, making for easy turning of pages and folding back of the covers. This is a new compilation of material not found in previous editions. This resource would be ideal for beginners of biblical studies as it provides needed chronology, contextual information, visual aids, maps, the nature and organization of the Bible, and how to read its various genres. Especially advantageous for new students of Scriptures is an overview of each book of the Bible with a discussion of its outline and key content for quick referencing.
However, this book would also function well for advanced students or scholars who need quick, easy to find refreshers of basic content.
The volume is organized into three parts: General Bible, Old Testament, and New Testament. A brief Index to the Maps concludes the book. Each of the three parts contains a time line, maps, and charts. The Old and New Testament parts include information on the archeology of their respective time periods in addition to illustrations and reconstructions.
This book has several unique and helpful contributions. For example, Part One, General Bible, begins with a two-page timeline beginning in 2600 BC and ending in 300 AD. It contains three sections, the Time Frame of Biblical Books, Key People and Events of the Bible, and Key People and Events in the Ancient World. Each section is uniquely color coded to distinguish itself. In the third section—the strongest of the timeline—readers can see when events such as the pyramid building at Giza occurred, or when the Akkadian Empire began under Sargon, or even when the Xia Dynasty began in China; all these events are included alongside the biblical events so that readers can see what happened in other parts of the ancient world at the same time. Also helpful is the inclusion of the dates of events such as the Exodus; both an early and late date are listed to assist the reader in seeing where differing scholars would place this event.
Other unique aspects of Part One include charts regarding the Bible’s human and divine sides, Bible translations, and reading the Bible in fifty-two weeks. Also included is a chart entitled “I Need God to Speak to Me” which categorizes Bible references under topics such as forgiveness, hope, peace, money, stress, illness, and death. Intriguing contextual information such as geographical zones, seasons, winds, water, plants, trees, and animals is also included in Part One. Additionally, there are charts detailing weights and measurements to which the reader can quickly refer.
One of the greatest strengths of Part Two, Old Testament, is its inclusion of information regarding the Ancient Near East (ANE). There is a chart that details deities of the ANE and their occurrences in the Bible. Another chart discusses the plagues of the book of Exodus and their relationship to Egyptian deities and the Egyptian economy. There are also comparisons of a biblical worldview with that of the ANE, and similarities and differences of Israelite and non-Israelite kings. Israel’s neighbors are also overviewed including their kings and any overlap they had with Israelite and Judean kings.
There are several other strengths of Part Two including charts detailing Old Testament expectations that were fulfilled by Jesus, key theophanies in Genesis, concepts of Holy War, and how to read poetry and wisdom literature.
An especially useful aspect of Part Three, New Testament, is the New Testament’s connection with the Old. Key quotations from the Old Testament are situated in a chart and shown where they are fulfilled in the New. Also noted are key Old Testament figures and how and why they are included in the New Testament. Another useful aspect of Part Three is a chart outlining the promises of Jesus that were fulfilled prior to 100 AD. Also valuable is the attention paid to the New Testament’s context within the Roman Empire. The Greco-Roman worldview is described along with its main deities and where they are referred to in the New Testament. Roman rule is also describred through explanations of its senatorial and imperial provinces, its specific emperors and prefects and their connection to the New Testament, and the Herodian kings. The additional charts explaining the harmonies of the Gospels, the sermons and discourses of Jesus, and his miracles are also particularly helpful, as is the chart comparing the proposed locations of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A spiritual gift chart is also included and finally there is a guide to reading to the book of Revelation.
The archaeological information is a great asset of this book. Archaeology is defined, its value for Bible students is noted, the dating process is explained, archaeological periods are delineated, and a glossary of archaeological terms is included. In Parts Two and Three, important archeological discoveries of the both the Old and New Testament are pictured, dated, described, and assessed as to their value.
The colored and labeled maps are one of this book’s best features. Maps of a variety of locations are included such as those of the Promised Land, the ANE, the modern Mediterranean world, ANE roads, geographical zones, rainfall, the patriarchs, the Exodus and desert wanderings, the conquest, tribal divisions, the judges, the United and Divided kingdoms, the exile and return, Jerusalem in various time periods, NT Israel, the early travels of the Apostles, the seven churches of Revelation, and Jewish population centers in the Roman world.
The book contains full color diagrams and pictures with brief, but detailed descriptions, including: genealogy charts, agriculture tools, weapons, archaeology findings, the Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, a four-room Israelite house, a Bedouin tent, burial practices, city defensive systems, ancient ships, musical instruments, a synagogue, fishing techniques, crucifixion methods, tomb styles, and Herod’s temple.
This book is masterfully organized, easy to read, and aesthetically appealing. Different font sizes, colors, bolding, lines, boxes, and graphs aid the reader and provide clarity for their study. It does not give lengthy explanations; rather it gives readers brief “need-to-knows” about various topics. The variety and breadth of topics is comprehensive.
Beck assumes Mosaic authorship of the Torah. He also reveals some of his theological convictions regarding the Bible. For example, he understands the Bible to have both a human and divine side to it, that it was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, that the original manuscripts were without error, that the Bible provides insight on life and living, that it is true in all that it asserts as truth, that it deserves humans’ attention and trust, and that it provides life-changing answers to life’s big questions. Beck argues that it was the Lord’s will not preserve the original documents of the Scriptures, but rather to guide the copying and translation processes. It is clear from the charts that Beck places a high priority on the Bible being read and interpreted correctly, and for space to be made for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of the readers.
Anna C. Rask holds a Master’s of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is currently an adjunct professor for the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in Minnesota.
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The Baker Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines