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Charting the Holy Land:
The Shift From Exodus to the Holy Land


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The shift of emphasis from the Exodus to life upon the land itself can be seen in Nicholas Sanson's Holy Land map, published in 1696. No delineation of the Exodus route appears. The map's interest is, as it states, in depicting the Holy Land as it was divided among the Twelve Tribes, "duodecim Tribus divisa." Nine and a half tribes live between the Jordan and the Mare Magnum, the Great Sea; two and a half remain east of the river. Tribal division maps became popular, particularly because they lent themselves to the Biblical illustration and instruction which flourished during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Different coloring divides the tribal holdings, and two decorative cartouches give it balance. The upper left features Moses and Aaron, both seated; the lower right depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with docile animals-camel, elephant, lion, ox, horse, and ostrich-and lush greenery. Eve is pointing to the Tree of Knowledge entwined by the serpent. Chin on hand in contemplation, Adam looks at the tempting fruit, torn between fear and desire.

When the forty-year journey from Egypt to the Holy Land was over, the land was divided among the Twelve Tribes, as this hand-colored map by French cartographer Nicholas Sanson depicts. Each tribe's territory is marked in bold letters; cities and towns are noted by picture and name, (Nicholas Sanson, Judaea Seu Terra Sancta, Amsterdam, 1696. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress Photo).

A dozen years before Sanson, the greatest of early French cartographers, published an edition of Geographia sacra that contained the prototype for the above map, the English divine and historian Thomas Fuller issued A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, London, 1650. Here, the "tribal division" depiction of the Holy Land finds its fullest expression. A pullout map of the land opens the volume. Each tribe is accorded a delightfully illustrated two-page map and a sprightly account of the geographic and historical illustrations. R. V. Tooley rightly describes these as "the most quaint and decorative series of maps." Let us look at one, that of the Tribe of Benjamin.

The maps in Thomas Fuller's A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, are as much biblical history as geography. Long descriptions accompany the depiction of events. We see Jerusalem and Jericho, the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan, and the Patriarch Jacob's dream of angels on the ladder ascending to heaven in this map of the land of the Tribe of Benjamin, (Thomas Fuller, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, London, 1650. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress Photo).

The Jordan River emptying into the Dead Sea captures our attention. A mighty river, at its western bank are "the twelve great stones set up by Joshua in memorial that there they passed over the river Jordan on foot." In an aside, Fuller calls them "The Jewish Stonehenge." Above stands Saul, first king of Israel, crown on head. Bowing before him is the prophet Samuel, who has just anointed him. They are surrounded by crowds of people and troops of soldiers, one of which follows a trumpet- sounding leader off to battle. We skip across a Levitical City of Refuge, picturesque towns, and countryside, to arrive at Beth El where Jacob sleeps on his rocky pillow and dreams of a ladder ascending to heaven, on which we see three angels. We also observe King Jeroboam, joined by the High Priest in idol worship, to whom a prophet has come to protest and denounce. Fuller describes it in his rich seventeenth -century prose:

Here Jeroboam set up one of his golden calves: and how busie was he about sacrificing unto it, when a Prophet sent from God denounced the destruction of his Altar, which presently clave asunder ... An Altar, which (were it of brass or stone) was softer then the miracle-proof heart of Jeroboam, which neither was broken, nor bruised thereat ... indeed he conceived, that his kingdome must have idolatry for the pillars, which had Rebellion for the foundation thereof.

We travel southward. To our left is Jericho, surrounded by palm trees, its walls in the process of falling. Further south, we see the armies of Benjamin and of the Israelites engaged in battle. To the west, King David, crown on head, harp in hand, accompanied by musicians with horns and drum, escorts a wagon bearing the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. The Great City is depicted as domed and turreted stone buildings surrounded by a wall. Fuller reserves description of Jerusalem and subsequently devotes to it a detailed map and a full chapter.


Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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