How Do We Know the Locations of Biblical Place?

My colleague Kevin Wilson, who is currently teaching an introductory Bible class at Wartburg College, showed me a student’s test paper. The student completly messed up on the map test. The student locates Jerusalem at the vicinity of Damascus; Megiddo is located in Egypt; and so on.

I asked myself these questions, “How do we know the locations of biblical place?” “How are the locations of the ancient places determined?” “Did William F. Albright was completely right to locate the biblical places?” There can be little question, regarding the locations such as the Jordan River, ancient Jerusalem, Hebron, and Mediddo. But many biblical locations are problematic.

In his article, Maxwell Miller (“Biblical Maps” [BR 3/4, 1987]) notes three kinds of evidence to locate sites of ancient cities: (1) ancient written sources, including the Bible, provide to determine the loactions; (2) modern Arabic place-names that preserve the memory of ancient names offer a second kind of evidence; and (3) the archaeological excavations are the thrid kind of evidence.

Miller points out that the most influential biblical archaeologist William F. Albright was wrong to locate the biblical site Debir (Joshua 10:38-39; 15:15). After his excavations between 1926 and 1932, he published the book The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim (1933) and argued Debir is identified with Tell Beit Mirsim. His identification of Tell Beit Mirsim as biblical Debir was dependent on his military conquest model, and it is presupposed in a whole generation of Bible atlases, such as The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible. In the 1960s, however, Moshe Kochavi excavated a site called Khirbet Rabud, a deep in the hill country by southwest of Hebron, this site is regarded as a more likely candidate for Debir than Tell Beit Mirsim. 

Miller insists that our biblical maps and atlases represent scholarly opinion as result of the biblical and archaeological research, rather than primary evidence of what they assert. Thus, the three kinds of evidence-ancient written sources, modern place-names, and archaeology-must be used carefully and cautiously.

Reference List

Miller, Maxwell. “Biblical Maps” BR 3/4 (1987).


One Response

  1. Anthropomorphic Maps

    Anthropomorphic maps were generated by configuring the body of a god or goddess over the area to be mapped. The name of each part of that
    body became the name of the area under that part. This produced a scale 1:1 map-without-paper on which each placename automatically indicated its approximate location and direction with respect to every other place on the same map whose name was produced in this way.

    You are cordially invited to join the BPMaps discussion group on this topic, a very quiet list that averages about 2 messages per month. The URL is:

    The Challenge: To produce computer software that will find additional body-part maps elsewhere in the world. Available inputs:
    (1) geographic databases with ancient place names (e.g., the Perseus project).
    (2) body-part names on Swadesh lists. Unfortunately, the navel is not included.

    *Attributes of Anthropomorphic Maps*

    (1) The navel is the center of the body, the center of the map, and usually the center of the map’s language community.

    (2) Place names (toponyms) may be reversed, metathesized, misspelled or euphemized for various reasons:
    (a) The same part in the same language exists on another map of a different body. Cranium > Mo[n]rocco because Ukraine existed? Aphrodite is looking backwards over her right shoulder. She is bent at
    her waist (Misr/Mitzraim Rus *( Ro@SH) => Ukraine (Greek kranion)
    * Caused by a change in the sound of the aleph from CHS to a glottal stop.
    (b) Libya (Semitic LeB = heart) => Cyrenaica (Latin cor = heart, compare coronary) => Libya

    (4) Rivers and bodies of water may be named after bodily excretions:
    (a) Milk River in Alberta.
    (b) Red Sea (Latin Mare Rubrum) is Aphrodite’s menstruation.
    (c) Gulf of Aqaba (Semitic QaVaH = digestion / defecation)

    (5) Internal body parts may represent subdivisions of external parts.
    (a) Arabic Misr / Hebrew Mitzraim (< TSaR = narrow) = waist (Hebrew MoSNaim). Egypt (< Greek hepato- = liver). Goshen (with a T-sound shin Latin Gossypium (English gossamer = cotton-like)
    (b) Atlas mountains < atlas = first cervical vertebra that supports the cranium.

    (6) Islands near a body’s hands may be named for weapons.
    (a) Trinacria = trident ( Sicily (< VL *sicila < Latin secula = sickle to harvest wheat; compare Semitic SaKiN = knife). The trident was in Neptune/Poseidon’s
    right hand (Italy, like Anatolia < N’TiLas yad = arm being washed by the seas).
    (b) Greece = reversal of Semitic S’RoG = (weighted) net, held in his left hand.
    (c) Crete = reversal of targe = small shield (compare English target) also in his left hand.

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