The Sacred Bridge

Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World

by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley

Jerusalem: Carta, 2006, 448 pp.
$135 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Harold Brodsky
The Lord spoke To King Solomon in a dream offering him long life, honor, riches and freedom from enemies. Solomon asked only for a sage and discerning heart that he might rule his people wisely (1 Kings 3:4–15). Two narratives follow this Biblical passage confirming that King Solomon’s wish was indeed granted. The first narrative reveals Solomon as a ruler with the ability to ferret out truth when judging a conflict between two women about which one was the true mother of an infant (1 Kings 3:16–28). The second narrative shows Solomon as an efficient administrator who delegated authority on both a functional and geographic basis. Solomon created eight ministerial offices and divided Israel into 12 districts, each with a prefect to supply the king during one month of the year (1 Kings 4:7–19).

Although the narrative about the 12 territorial subdivisions is less dramatic than the episode about the two women, the description of Solomon’s administrative organization is “one of the most crucial passages for understanding the development of the kingdom of Israel in the tenth century B.C.E.,” according to The Sacred Bridge, a new atlas of the Biblical world. The book is illustrated with more than 300 maps, plans, photographs, charts and tables, spanning in depth the historical geography of Biblical lands from the dawn of history into Old Testament and New Testament times and through the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.).

Most Biblical atlases pay little attention to Solomon’s administrative districts. The Sacred Bridge, however, analyzes virtually every word and place name in this passage. The text is presented in Hebrew script (and in some cases in Greek script), as well as in English translation. Names, dates and pages of scholarly publications are inserted into the text and thoughtfully color-coded for differentiation.

Deciding on the number, size and boundaries of national divisions requires great care. Divisions reflecting existing tribal and historical associations encourage cooperation and communication. On the other hand, if local loyalties become too strong, they may compete with the national authority. For that reason, governments may try to break up homogeneous regions. How about number of divisions? If only a few, then the central government may find itself too close to each, which may lead to micromanaging. If too many, then it may be difficult to keep track of each unit. Twelve is a nice number allowing the central administration to focus on each division for one month every year.

Did King Solomon select “ideal” divisions? Scholars will argue this point by comparing Solomon’s regionalization with the tribal territories described in the Book of Joshua (13–21). The fact is that Solomon was able to maintain a united kingdom during his entire reign. A traditional reading of the text suggests that the split into two kingdoms after Solomon’s death stemmed from Rehoboam’s harsh words to the northern tribes rather than from a defect in Solomon’s administrative and geographic divisions (1 Kings 12:12–14).

The Sacred Bridge offers a feast of expert information for the serious reader of the Bible. Unfortunately the type size is too small for sustained reading. Let us hope that the publisher will produce a digitized version that will allow greater ease when browsing or searching through its rich detail.

Harold Brodsky is professor emeritus with the department of geography, University of Maryland, College Park.

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