Christian Maps of the Holy Land
Images and Meanings
- ISBN: 9782503585260
- Published By: Brepols
- Published: July 2020
Throughout the centuries, many Christian maps have been made of the “Holy Land.” Roughly, the Palestine area wherein most of the stories of the Bible took place. The cartographic and historical geographic studies on Christian maps of the Holy Land have only focused on the reliability of the maps as cartographic documents. These studies overlooked questions of spirituality and of the religious needs that lie at the base of the Christian maps of the Holy Land. In Christian Maps of the Holy Land: Images and Meanings, Pnina Arad uses a new lens to look at these maps, which date from the 6th to the 19th century. In Arad’s research, these maps are considered “iconic images” of an “iconic landscape.” The iconicity is of greater importance than the question of cartographic reliability, so in Arad’s telling the maps had more to do with answering religious needs and constructing a specific Christian image of the Holy Land than with documenting a geographic reality. According to Arad, we should read them not only as maps of medieval Palestine, but also as maps of medieval Christian ideology. The map functions as a mirror that reflects the mapmaker’s own vision and beliefs. What then do the Christian maps of the Holy Land tell us about the mapmakers? Which Christian visions lie behind these maps?
Arad convincingly argues that the maps tell the story of “Christian fulfillment.” The fulfillment story is a Christian ideology that views ancient Israel, as portrayed in the Old Testament, as the foreshadowing of Jesus’ life and death, as portrayed in the New Testament. “The past is needed, because it imparts togetherness to the group and because it builds social identity” (23). In these maps, the reality of the Christian message is imprinted on the ancient sites of medieval Palestine. The sacred events that took place there are made tangible, and a Christian identity is constructed through a focus on and exegesis of medieval Palestine. Apart from their role in highlighting the ancient sites that foreshadow Jesus’ life, these maps also portray the city of Jerusalem as physically large. This oversized representation of the city is filled with references to Jesus’ life and death and mark the commemorative pilgrimage sites that are connected to it. In addition to telling the story of fulfillment, then, the maps also function as pilgrimage guides. They highlight the Christian hotspots of medieval Palestine from a perspective not available to pilgrims on the ground. All the maps Arad discusses are cartographic representations of medieval Palestine that tell the story of Christian fulfillment and double as pilgrimage guides.
The book opens with eleven beautiful colored plates and provides rich and detailed map imagery throughout. We see Jerusalem, Mount Sinai, the route of the Exodus, pilgrimage sites, biblical and Christian figures, and episodes of Jesus’ life, and on one map we even see God present in the sacred landscape. These rich images invite us to explore the Christian ideologies that lie behind the maps. Arad provides us with an analysis of every map but probes especially deeply when there is more to say. The ideology of fulfillment is extensively treated, as are the elements of pilgrimage, but a more substantive interpretation of the biblical and Christian figures on the map is lacking. Nonetheless, Arad argues convincingly that these maps provide us with valuable insights into medieval Christian ideology and the religious and spiritual needs that underlie them.
The book also provides an extensive overview of maps and mapmaking from the 6th to the 18th century, ranging from Europa to Central Asia. Each specific area and time period has its own focus, its own Christian imagery and ideology. Arad has successfully reimagined the field of Christian map studies and invited a further and deeper study into the specific Christian imagery and ideology present in these maps of the Holy Land.
Gert Jonathan Naberman is a graduate student in religious studies at Utrecht University, Netherlands.Gert Jonathan NabermanDate Of Review:February 19, 2023