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Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Justin Taylor – editor at Crossway Books and managing editor of the ESV Study Bible. Today, I have a few questions about the maps and illustrations in this Bible – particularly about how they came about.

Trevin Wax: The full-color maps, charts and drawings in this Bible are very helpful. Who is responsible for the maps? How did these come about?

Justin Taylor: Not to get all technical on you, but some background on our maps might be of interest to some readers.

In the year 2000 NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency spearheaded a project called the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Its radar system was aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and it was able to generate “the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth.”

This database became the basis for the maps found in the ESV Study Bible, which means that the maps found in the ESVSB are using the very best and latest elevation data available anywhere—with precision that wasn’t available even a few years ago. For those interested, here is a brief overview regarding this new level of accuracy we were aiming at:

  • the terrain shading is at 90-meter elevation
  • all of the points and lines you see are vector-based (i.e., mathematically defined by latitude-longitude coordinates)
  • most of the ancient sites have been confirmed by pinpointing actual ruins or modern towns with Google Earth (e.g., you can often see the actual amphitheater, city walls, etc.)
  • most of the river paths and roads have been created by tracing them in Google Earth (they are essentially exact)

Our cartographer is David Barrett, who is the creator of the free software, Bible Mapper, “a fully interactive, highly accurate Bible mapping system that helps you quickly and easily create customized maps of the Holy Lands or study a particular period and aspect of Bible history.” Barry Beitzel, professor of OT and Semitic languages at Trinity, was our geography editor who reviewed every map for accuracy.

In addition to the 16 full-color maps in the back of the Bible (the kind on glossy paper), there are 200+ maps within the Study Bible itself. That way you can see the events and locations right there as you are reading.

It’s amazing what a difference color can make in seeing the various regions and countries! We hope readers find it to be a helpful feature.

Trevin Wax: What about the illustrations? How were they judged to be historically accurate?

Justin Taylor: The work on the illustrations was a collaborative process. Frankly, it was enormously time-intensive and complicated process—but I’m so thankful for the team that worked on it and for how it turned out.

One of the things that struck me in the original research phase is that there is not a single resource out there that contains a comprehensive collection of up-to-date reconstructions. In fact, accurate reconstructions are actually few and far between.

We first needed to find an illustration firm that could pull off a project of this scope and set a new standard of excellence, and we found it in Maltings Partnership, located in England. They have provided lots of illustrations for the DK Travel Guides, and were the exclusive illustrators for the National Geographic Traveler Guides.

We then needed to find an expert who could provide all of the details for the drawing, and we found Leen Ritmeyer, a Dutch scholar who works with his wife Kathleen at Ritmeyer Archaeological Design. He is widely considered the world’s leading authority on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. His PhD at Manchester was on Solomon’s Temple. He was the chief architect of the Temple Mount Excavations which took place in Jerusalem after the Six-Day War, and served in a similar capacity in the Jewish Quarter Excavations and the City of David Excavations. For all of these places within Jerusalem (and beyond) he has produced important reconstruction drawings. His combined expertise as archaeologist-architect-artist proved crucial for producing the drawings.

With regard to their reliability, the research comes through a combination of textual and archaeological information—and that combination is different based upon the reconstruction in question.

For example, there are no remains today from Solomon’s Temple. Even though we know where it stood (on Mount Moriah, where Herod’s Temple later stood and the Dome of the Rock now stands), we do not have any remains from the temple itself. We do, however, have a fairly detailed description of it in 1 Kings 6-7—including measurements, color, description of artistic elements, etc. So in this case, the researcher needs to combine this information with what we know of similar temples from the ancient Near East.

On the other hand, the synagogues aren’t described in the Bible (color, materials, style of roof, size, etc.). So in that case, we have to rely entirely upon archaeological work and material outside of the Bible.

Here are the illustrations we’ve posted online, giving a sample of the 40 or so illustrations and city plans:

All of the illustrations in the ESVSB have labels and explanations, though that’s not reflected in the samples above.

Here’s perhaps one more note of interest. With our main illustrations we tried to keep the angle of the drawings roughly the same—and also to keep the perspective in proportion.

So, for example, you’ll find in the ESVSB three temple reconstructions (Solomon’s temple, Zerubabbel’s temple, and Herod’s temple). All are from the same angle (roughly, from the SE), which allows for better comparisons among the three. This is even more so for Jerusalem, where we’ve included five reconstructions (in the times of David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and Jesus). Not only are these from the same angle, but they are scaled in such a way that you can see precisely how the city grew throughout biblical times. If you look at the Guided Tour portion of the ESV Study Bible video you can see how this works:

Trevin Wax: I am guessing that the proofing process for this Bible has been quite a chore. Who has been responsible for overseeing the proofing process? How many people have been involved in this part of the work?

Justin Taylor: Good guess! Yes, it was a huge undertaking. We worked with a team of proofers—including Peachtree—to work through every page. Each book and article was treated as an individual unit, and each went through multiple rounds of checking. (And yet, of course, in a project of this magnitude with over a million words and hundreds of images, there are bound to be mistakes!)

You may get a kick out of this picture, showing researcher Travis Buchanan and Wayne Grudem holding the page proofs for the Study Bible (mercifully, the printed Bible will not be this thick!).

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10 thoughts on “Interview with Justin Taylor (Part 2): The Maps and Pictures”

  1. brian says:

    is there a reason the temple in the ‘golgotha and temple mount” image is in crucifix form?

  2. brian says:

    how about changing that to cruciform

  3. John says:

    There is an error in the Jesus tomb picture. The dimensions are not drawn correctly in that there is no space for the rock to roll in front of the tomb. It actually looks like an optical illusion. Is that going to be fixed?

  4. Pics look great. Glad to see that the final copy of the book is not going to be as thick as the one that Wayne Grudem is holding.

  5. Tony says:

    Yeah… the tomb illusion threw me off too.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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