In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land,
The Carta New Testament Atlas, Vol. 1
By R. Steven Notley
(Jerusalem: Carta, 2014), 82 maps, photos and illustr., 88 pp., $25 (paperback)
Reviewed by Claire Pfann
Students and visitors to Israel often ask me to recommend one or two books they should purchase to help them better understand the world of Jesus. This is one of those books. Based on the magisterial atlas The Sacred Bridge by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley,* In the Master’s Steps excerpts and updates the sections dealing with the Gospel narratives. The Sacred Bridge is quite literally a weighty tome of 448 beautifully illustrated, glossy pages in somewhat small print. (It weighs more than 4 pounds.) Notley’s new publication sacrifices none of the scholarship or sophistication of that volume but presents it in a format that is physically more accessible—larger type, updated photos, excellent maps, Hebrew and Greek words in transliteration only—thereby broadening its user-friendliness.
Purchase The Sacred Bridge: Enhanced Edition by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley in the BAS Store >>
In nine chapters, Notley addresses and assesses the major geographical and chronological blocks of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. He does not skirt difficult questions (e.g., the dating of Jesus’ birth, Herod’s death and the census of Quirinius; or the Galilean appearances of the resurrected Jesus [Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:7, 16–20; John 21] vs. Luke’s Jerusalem narrative [Luke 24; Acts 1]). He assumes the reader has enough background to follow his discussion. Intriguing and often compelling suggestions are offered (e.g., the interpretation of “Nazorene” in Matthew 2:23; the identification of the Bethany of John the Baptist’s ministry with Batanea/Bashan in the northeast).
Rabbit trails of previous generations are laid to rest (e g., the myth of the Essene Quarter in Jerusalem), and thorny, still-unresolved issues are revisited (e.g., just where was Bethsaida/Julias located?).
Most important, new archaeological data are presented in rewritten sections from The Sacred Bridge (e.g., the excavations at Magdala; though an update on the recent work at the Pool of Siloam is lacking!), making this publication one of the most up-to-date dealing with the geography of the Gospels.
Perspectives commonly held by archaeologists and New Testament scholars, but less familiar to the broader audience (e.g., the location of ancient Cana, or the location of Jesus’ trial before Pilate in the praetorium in the western side of the city), are clearly and judiciously explained.
Throughout, meticulous annotation (the New Testament, Josephus, Philo, Rabbinic literature, Pliny and the Church Fathers) assures the reader that the suggestions in this book are grounded in a deep and comprehensive familiarity with the primary literary sources as well as with the archaeological data.
Notley is not dogmatic; he acknowledges that some questions cannot be resolved at this time due to insufficient data (the location of Bethsaida being a case in point), and some of the discussions cannot be adequately resolved in a few short pages (e.g., the tension in the chronology between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John regarding the date of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion—though he decisively lays to rest the suggestion that Jesus was following an Essene calendar).
It is rare to find a book so densely packed with critical information, one that makes you want to dig deeper, one that would be most valuable to have beside you as you read the Gospels. A generation ago, Bargil Pixner’s more devotional volumes met this need.1 Today Notley’s In the Steps of the Master has superseded Pixner’s work. I know I will turn to it frequently in the years to come.
1 Bargil Pixner, With Jesus through Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel (Rosh Pina, Israel: Corazin Publishing, 1992); Bargil Pixner, With Jesus in Jerusalem: His First and Last Days in Judea (Rosh Pina, Israel: Corazin Publishing, 1996).