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Jun 19, 2014 David Lang

Throwback Thursday: Developing the PhotoGuide

When we first developed the Accordance Bible Atlas, we knew we needed to include a resource that would give information about the more important site and region names on the map. The other module developer (there were only two of us at the time) was occupied with developing the data for the Atlas, so I was tasked with developing this tool which would come to be called Place Names.

Each of the sites on the Atlas are given an importance ranking on a scale from 1 (least important) to 5 (most important). This ranking is used to determine which sites should be hidden when you zoom out from the map. We decided to use the sites of importance 3 or above as the ones we would cover in the Place Names module. Once I had this list of sites, I then had to research each site and write up a description of its location, history, and overall significance.

The main challenge of developing the Place Names module was the deadline. The Atlas was nearing completion and Place Names had to be finished before it could be released. To meet that deadline, the site descriptions had to be kept pretty basic and concise.

Some time after the release of the Atlas, I was approached with the idea of expanding the work I had done on Place Names into a new resource that would include photos of each site. This new resource would eventually come to be called the Bible Lands PhotoGuide.

I was given a large archive of photographs of Biblical places I had never personally visited, and I had to decide which photos best illustrated each site.

My research often began with the Bible dictionaries I had available in Accordance. Anchor Bible Dictionary was especially good about giving information about the archaeological discoveries at each site, but it had relatively few photos and illustrations. Going from a description of a Bronze Age wall discovered at a site to actually identifying that wall in a photo was next to impossible. I soon was combing through coffee table books and magazines on Biblical archaeology, tourist guide books which might illustrate how a site looks today—anything I could find that would give me clues as to what I was looking at. It would have been easy to annotate each photo with something like "Ruins at Miletus," but I wanted users of the PhotoGuide to be able to see the outline of the ancient harbor and the surrounding bay which have long since silted up. It's that level of detail which sets the PhotoGuide apart from the typical illustrated Bible dictionary.

Miletus

At times it was frustrating finding the information I needed, but I learned more about the Bible doing the research for the PhotoGuide than I ever learned in seminary. If you haven't explored the PhotoGuide in depth, begin reading through its articles on sites mentioned in your current passage of study. You'll be surprised how much it can deepen your understanding of the Bible.


 

Mar 12, 2014 David Lang

A Preschool Lesson on Lachish

Last night as I was helping Jo Jo, my five-year-old son, brush his teeth before bed, I asked him who Naaman was. No, I don't typically quiz my preschooler on obscure Bible stories, but some weeks ago he had shown me a craft he had made during a Sunday school lesson about the leper healed by Elisha (2 Kings 5), and I had been impressed with his level of comprehension. The other day I had stumbled across that craft again, and I was curious to see how much he remembered. Not surprisingly, the words "Naaman" and "leper" failed to jog his memory, but when I mentioned that Naaman had been told to wash seven times, he said, "In the Jordan river." Needless to say, I was very pleased that he still remembered some details of the story.

It was at this point that Jo Jo turned the tables on me. "Daddy," he said, "I don't know if you know this Bible story, but my teacher told me about some people who shot arrows so far the people couldn't even see them and they used logs to break down the walls." Now, I'm not completely sure what Bible story he was referring to—for all I know his teacher could simply have been relating a scene from a movie about the Trojan War—but I said, "Well, that sounds like when the evil Assyrians conquered the city of Lachish." I then told him, "I can even show you pictures of the battle!"

Then, in lieu of a bed-time story, I fired up Accordance on my laptop, opened the Bible Lands PhotoGuide, and did a search for "Lachish." I then showed him a photo of the modern day tel, the walls, and the siege ramp built by the Assyrians.

Lachish1

As exciting as these pictures were to me, archaeological site photos won't hold a five-year-old's interest for very long, so I quickly moved on to the Assyrian reliefs which depict this siege in vivid detail. I showed him the Assyrian archers, spearmen, and slingers. I showed him the battering ram being pushed up the siege ramp to the base of the walls. I pointed out how the defenders on the walls were throwing torches in an attempt to light the battering ram on fire, and how the Assyrians were ready for this, using water to douse the flames.

Lachish2

Finally, I showed him the Judean prisoners prostrating themselves before the Assyrian king and begging for mercy, while other prisoners were being executed and tortured.

Okay, so it wasn't the most cuddly bedtime story I could have told, but it had plenty of the action and adventure little boys crave. I assured Jo Jo that even though the Assyrians were strong and terrible, God preserved the people of Judah and eventually the Assyrians were defeated. As I said, I could have told warmer and fuzzier stories, but here was a chance to reinforce the fact that the Bible story he had asked me about was something that really happened. And thanks to the PhotoGuide, it was easier than going to the bookshelf to find Green Eggs and Ham.


 

Aug 9, 2013 David Lang

Sergius Paulus and Pisidian Antioch

Last week, my wife and kids participated in Vacation Bible School at our church. This has had two ongoing effects on our family. First, they brought back a cold which has inexorably worked its way through every member of the family! Second, since the VBS curriculum took several lessons from the life of Paul, they have come back with a lot of questions about Paul's conversion, his missionary journeys, and his imprisonment. We have therefore been spending time in family devotions surveying the chapters in Acts which deal with Paul's life and ministry.

The other day we were reading through Acts 13, which relates the events of Paul's first missionary journey. After the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul at Paphos, Paul and Barnabas suddenly leave the island of Cyprus and head to Pisidian Antioch in what is now southwest Turkey. To show them this sudden change of location, as well as to explain the difference between this Antioch and the one at the beginning of the chapter, I naturally turned to the Accordance Bible Atlas.

Sergius1

Now, I have an icon for the Atlas in my workspace Toolbar, so I simply opened a map by choosing a map background from the pop-up menu associated with that icon. (I like the Light Browns background.) Once the map was open, I chose Paul's First Journey from the Route Layer pop-up menu.

Sergius2

Now I could show them how Paul and Barnabas started from Syrian Antioch, sailed to Cyprus (where Barnabas was from), crossed the island until they reached Paphos, then sailed to Attalia, passed through Perga, and arrived at Antioch of Pisidia. I then asked my family why Paul and Barnabas would decide to go there.

I have to admit that I asked the question before I was entirely sure the point I wanted to make was correct. You see, I vaguely remembered from somewhere that there is a connection between Sergius Paulus, the proconsul converted at Paphos, and the city of Pisidian Antioch. So while my family was pondering the question, I double-clicked the name Antioch on the map to look it up in my Bible Lands PhotoGuide.

Sergius3

Sure enough, a quick skim of that article reminded me that an inscription with the name Sergius Paulus had been found at Pisidian Antioch. This suggests that Sergius Paulus may have urged Paul and Barnabas to take their message to Pisidian Antioch because he had some personal connection there.

Sergius4 While explaining this to my family, it occurred to me that it would be clearer if I could actually show them the inscription. Unfortunately, the PhotoGuide does not include a photograph of the inscription itself. So I decided to search the rest of my library for any pictures of the Sergius Paulus inscription. I clicked the magnifying glass inside the Search All field of the Workspace toolbar and chose Image from the pop-up menu. Then I entered the word "Sergius" and hit return. Instantly I found several pictures of the Sergius Paulus inscription—in the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, the Biblical Archaeology Review archive, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the New Testament, and Gundry's Survey of the New Testament.

Sergius5

Now that I had brought this interesting archaeological discovery to their attention, I needed to answer that all-important question: so what? I explained that for me, the so what is that Paul and Barnabas began their missionary work by going places where they had a natural connection: to Barnabas' native land of Cyprus, then to Pisidian Antioch because of its connection to Sergius Paulus. They didn't just go haphazardly from town to town, but chose their destinations strategically, going through whichever doors were most open to them.

Our family Bible study started out as an attempt to clarify the details about Paul's life, but thanks to Accordance, I was able to (re)discover an interesting detail that led to a meaningful application.


 

Dec 20, 2012 David Lang

Why is Rachel Weeping at Ramah? Part 3

In this series of posts, we've been exploring why Matthew sees the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem as "fulfilling" Jeremiah 31:15, which speaks of Rachel weeping for her lost children at Ramah. In part one of this series, we saw that the connection between Bethlehem and Ramah has to do with Rachel's death in childbirth on the way to Bethlehem. It appears from 1 Samuel that she died and was buried in the vicinity of Ramah. In part two of this series, we looked at the geographical and historical context of Jeremiah 31:15. There we discovered that in Jeremiah's day, Rachel was weeping because it was from Ramah that the conquering Babylonians were deporting the captive Jews from Jerusalem. In this post, we'll conclude by putting all the pieces together so we can understand the point Matthew was trying to make.

When I taught this to my Sunday School class, I explained that Matthew is not merely quoting clear predictive prophecies about the Messiah. Rather, he is associating the events in Jesus' life with a wide range of events in the history of Israel. I said it's a bit like that word-association thing psychologists do:

Psychologist: "What do you think of when I say 'Bethlehem'?"
Matthew: "Rachel's death."
P: "And what does that make you think of?"
M: "Her tomb at Ramah."
P: "And 'Ramah'?"
M: "Rachel weeping for her lost children!"

If we understand this dynamic, then we can appreciate the parallels Matthew wants his readers to draw.

In Genesis, Rachel dies giving birth while on the road to Bethlehem. In the midst of her suffering, the midwife tries to comfort her with the news that she is having another son. In this way, her child is both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Jeremiah's day, Rachel weeps over her children once more, this time because they are being led into captivity and exile near the very spot where she is buried. She is then comforted with the promise that her children will return. Once again, her offspring are both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Matthew's day, Rachel weeps yet again: this time over the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem. No words of comfort are given her in Matthew, but the very next verse speaks of Herod's death and the return of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as in Jeremiah's day, the situation seems bleak, but the hope of salvation lives on.

There are, of course, additional historical parallels in this passage. When the wicked king Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children to protect his rule, we naturally think of the Egyptian pharaoh who ordered the slaughter of Hebrew children. One child, Moses, escaped the slaughter and went on to deliver his people from captivity and exile. In the same way, Jesus escapes the slaughter of the innocents—ironically, by going into exile in Egypt. Like the Israelites, he is led into Egypt by a man named Joseph, a man whom God speaks to in dreams. Like the Jews for whom Rachel wept in Jeremiah's day, this child knows the experience of living in exile, and like the Israelites of Moses' day, he goes through his own exodus from Egypt. Just as Rachel was comforted with the promise that her children would be restored, and just as Moses' birth was a sign that the Israelites' deliverance was near, so Matthew's readers are meant to understand that the long-awaited Messiah has been born and the hope of salvation is close at hand.

Obviously, there's a lot more going on in Matthew's infancy narrative than most modern readers realize. If you want help in bringing out these kinds of connections, here are some resources you'll find helpful:

You may find this surprising, but the main resource I used in preparing my Sunday School lesson was our Bible Lands PhotoGuide. It's tempting to think of the PhotoGuide as primarily a collection of pictures, but it's actually one of the best places for clear, concise information about biblical sites. The photos are really just the icing on the cake. The PhotoGuide article on Ramah gave me all the relevant passages needed to explain the connection between Ramah and Bethlehem, so that constituted the bulk of my research.

Beale&Carson-cover-sm Of course, this passage was focused specifically on a place name, so the PhotoGuide was an obvious place to begin. For other New Testament passages that deal with quotations from or allusions to the Old Testament, I find Beale and Carson's Commentary on the New Testament Use of The Old Testament to be particularly helpful. While most good commentaries will deal with the interpretive issues this commentary focuses on, it is precisely this commentary's focus which makes it so valuable. Rather than having to skim commentary which deals with the use of the Old Testament as one of a dozen important aspects of a passage, Beale and Carson put that one issue front and center.

Other resources which help to explain the links between the Old and New Testaments are the various Bible Background Commentaries available from Zondervan and IVP. These are not as narrowly focused on OT and NT parallels as Beale and Carson, but they'll generally draw your attention to those parallels, along with providing information on the historical background of a passage.

While explaining why Rachel was weeping at Ramah required having my Sunday School class look at a number of different passages together with several maps, they were able to follow my explanation without getting overwhelmed by the details. On the contrary, they were excited to see how all these passages fit together. I hope you've found this series helpful—and maybe even a little exciting—as well.


 

Dec 18, 2012 David Lang

Why is Rachel Weeping at Ramah?

In Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, he points to specific events as the "fulfillment" of several Old Testament "prophecies." For the past several weeks, I've been exposing my Sunday School class to these Old Testament passages in their original context to show how Matthew's narrative is much more nuanced and profound than most of us realize. I wrote about doing this with the Immanuel prophecy in a previous post. This past Sunday, I talked about how Matthew saw the slaughter of the innocents as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's imagery of Rachel weeping at Ramah.

The subject of Sunday's lesson was all too painfully illustrated by the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and I hesitate to discuss it for that reason. While the wanton killing of small children is always shocking, it is, sadly, nothing new. It wasn't new in Matthew's day, either, and he tapped into the memory of a still more ancient infanticide to make his point.

I began by asking my class why Rachel would be weeping at Ramah over the slaughter of children at Bethlehem. Are these two towns close to each other?

To answer that question, I selected "Ramah" in Matthew 2:18 and chose my favorite Map background (Light Browns) from the Map submenu of the Amplify toolbar icon. This opened a map with two sites named Ramah highlighted in red. I didn't bother pointing out the northern Ramah, but quickly zoomed in on the one between Bethel and Jerusalem.

RachelRamah1

I then pointed out that Ramah and Bethlehem are not all that close. Ramah is north of Jerusalem, while Bethlehem is south of it. There are about 11 miles between them—a fact I just happened to mention, but I could easily have shown my class by option-dragging from one site to the other and pointing out how the distance is shown in the Instant Details panel. (See the image above.)

If these were not neighboring towns, why would Rachel weeping at Ramah have anything to do with the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem? To explain the connection between these two towns, I presented several seemingly disconnected passages. First, we looked at Genesis 35:16–20, in which Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin somewhere along the road from Bethel to Bethlehem. In her suffering, she is comforted with the news that she is having another son.

RachelRamah2 Genesis 35 says that Rachel was buried on the way to Bethlehem, and tradition locates her tomb about a mile north of Bethlehem. I even showed my class a photo from the PhotoGuide of Rachel's Tomb. But then I explained that there are reasons to believe that Rachel was not quite so close to Bethlehem when she died. I had my class turn to 1 Samuel 7:17, which describes Ramah as the center of Samuel's prophetic activity. Then we looked at 1 Samuel 10:2, in which Samuel tells Saul that he will meet two men at Rachel's Tomb shortly after he leaves the town (of Ramah). This would seem to indicate that Rachel actually died in the vicinity of Ramah.

If true, that would certainly explain the connection Matthew saw between Ramah and Bethlehem: Rachel died near the one while traveling toward the other. Thus, she weeps at Ramah because she is buried there, and she weeps over what is happening in Bethlehem because it's as if she is still looking in that direction.

There's still more to this story, but I'll have to finish it in another post. In my next post, we'll look at why Jeremiah spoke of Rachel weeping at Ramah. In the process, I'll show you several little-known tricks to using the Accordance Bible Atlas.


 

Feb 22, 2012 David Lang

Finding the Pinnacle of the Temple

On Monday, I recounted a study of Psalm 91 I did with my family last week. During his temptation of Jesus, the devil quoted Psalm 91:11-12, so we also looked at the account of the temptation in Luke 4. There we discovered that the devil was using these verses to tempt Jesus to throw himself down from the "pinnacle of the temple."

Have you ever wondered what the "pinnacle of the temple" is? Here's how to stop wondering and find out: simply select the phrase "pinnacle of the temple," then choose PhotoGuide from the English Tools menu of the Resource palette. (I'm assuming, of course, that you have the PhotoGuide, because, well, why wouldn't you?)

The PhotoGuide shows the probable location of the pinnacle of the temple.

As I explained in a recent post, the value of the PhotoGuide is not just in its vast collection of photos, but in the detailed historical and geographical information it contains. If you want to know something about Jerusalem in general or the temple mount in particular, the PhotoGuide is one of the first places you should turn. Here we can see photos of the southeast corner of the temple mount, which is its highest point above ground level. We also see the model of what that location would have looked like in Jesus' day. The caption also discusses another possible identification of the "pinnacle" and points to another figure in that same article.

If you don't own the PhotoGuide, you could choose any other resource in your Accordance library, or even choose to search all your tools at once. To do the latter, simply select the phrase "pinnacle of the temple," then choose [All Tools] from the Search menu of the Resource palette. A Search All window will open displaying every occurrence of the phrase "pinnacle of the temple" in your entire Accordance library.

A library-wide search for

Now, it's certainly nice to be able to do such a broad search so quickly, but this particular example shows how problematic such searches can be. Browse the results, and you'll see that no Bible dictionary has an article on the pinnacle of the temple. Instead, almost all of the results come from the body text of articles focused on other things, such as the martyrdom of James or the account of Jesus' temptation. Click to read those articles and you'll find interesting information, but not much of it is focused on describing the pinnacle itself.

That's the challenge of library-wide searches: you get the results quickly, but then have to wade through them looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. It doesn't take long for your Bible study to become bogged down looking for the answer to a simple question like "What is the pinnacle of the temple?"

In this way, it ends up being far more efficient to consult a resource like the PhotoGuide which specializes in illustrating such historical details. Remember to consult it, and you can usually find your answer quickly and get back to your passage of study.


 

Feb 13, 2012 David Lang

Link the PhotoGuide to the Atlas

Last week, I wrote a couple posts highlighting aspects of our Bible Lands PhotoGuide, the illustrated dictionary of place names included with our Graphics Bundle. Today I want to show you how to make the PhotoGuide more accessible by linking it to the Atlas.

When you're looking at a place name in the Atlas and you want to learn more about it, wouldn't it be nice if you could just double-click it to look it up in the PhotoGuide? Doing so would give you in depth information as well as illustrative photos. This is the primary way I access the PhotoGuide in my own study.

To establish this link, simply open the Preferences and choose the Map Tab Display settings. In the section labeled "Hypertext," choose PhotoGuide 3 from the Default Tool pop-up menu. That's it! Click OK to close the Preferences dialog.

MapDisplayPrefs

From now on, you can double-click a place name in any new map window to look it up in the PhotoGuide. Spend some time double-clicking a few place names and see what you discover.


 

Feb 9, 2012 David Lang

Not Just Any Photos

In order to make sure the Bible Lands PhotoGuide had adequate coverage of each biblical location, we supplemented our own photos with the work of some professional photographers. Not surprisingly, these photos are some of the most beautiful in the PhotoGuide. Yet as we went through their catalogues looking for photos, we found that not every photo was suitable for the PhotoGuide. This is because the PhotoGuide is focused on teaching you about the biblical and historical significance of a site rather than just offering you an attractive image.

While it is certainly possible for an attractive image to be useful for teaching, we were surprised how often the artistic shot was not necessarily the most illustrative shot. You see, an artist may look at a site and choose an angle which offers the most dramatic composition, while a different angle might offer a better view of the site's most significant features. For example, a photographer might be drawn to a site's beautiful Byzantine-era ruins while ignoring the much less impressive remains which can tell you something about the site during the biblical period. Thus, the best postcard image is not necessarily the best image for a dictionary of biblical locations.

We were therefore very selective when it came to licensing photos from other photographers. If the photo didn't help us explain something important about the site, we typically chose not to use it, even if it happened to be stunning from a purely aesthetic standpoint.

One of the articles which offers a particularly good mix of photos which are both aesthetically striking and instructionally helpful is the one on "Heptapegon" or "Tabgha." Heptapegon is the ancient name of the site, meaning "seven springs," while Tabgha is the modern name. It's a site at the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee where tradition locates Jesus' feeding of the five thousand, sermon on the mount, and reinstatement of Peter. Three separate churches commemorate the three events, and the relatively undeveloped setting makes it easy to envision them happening there.

Hanan Isachar's Aerial photo of the Churches of Tabgha

In addition to our own photographs, we licensed some beautiful shots from an Israeli photographer named Hanan Isachar, including this aerial shot showing the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes (center) and the Church of the Primacy of Peter (right). The PhotoGuide article then moves from this orienting photo to detail photos of each church.

Hanan Isachar's photo of crowds on the Mount of Beatitudes

This same photographer also captured this shot of a crowd seated on the Mount of Beatitudes. Their modern dress aside, this shot really gives you a feel for what it would have been like to hear Jesus deliver a sermon here.

Many dictionaries which teach you about a site settle for one or two token photos which do not necessarily add much to your understanding of that site. The PhotoGuide seeks to use informative articles, illustrative photos, and detailed captions to give you a vivid understanding of a site's biblical and historical significance. If a photo didn't further that goal, it simply didn't make the cut.


 

Feb 8, 2012 David Lang

So Much More Than Pictures

The Accordance Bible Lands PhotoGuide contains more than 1,600 high-quality photographs of biblical sites and regions. Yet it is far more than just a photographic archive. The PhotoGuide is a carefully-researched dictionary of biblical places which is packed with useful information. Take the time to explore it, and you'll learn a great deal about the world of the Bible. Over the next several posts, I'll highlight a few of the gems you'll find in the PhotoGuide.

One of my favorite articles in the PhotoGuide is the one entitled, "Inscriptions and Ancient Texts." This article has photos and in depth descriptions of various hieroglyphic, cuneiform, Hebrew, Semitic, Greek, and Latin inscriptions. These include the Rosetta Stone, the Law-Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian Flood Story, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Gezer Calendar, the Siloam Inscription, the Lachish Letters, inscriptions from Herod's temple, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Moabite Stone, and more.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser shows the king of Israel bowing before the king of Assyria

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, pictured here, celebrates that Assyrian king's many conquests. The figure bowing down before Shalmaneser is identified as "Jehu son of Omri," the king of Israel at that time. (By the way, this identification of Jehu shows some confusion on the part of the Assyrians. Can anyone tell me why?)

This inscription may have belonged to the tomb of the steward condemned in Isaiah 22

This paleo-Hebrew inscription was found at the entrance to the tomb of a royal steward located outside Jerusalem. The inscription is damaged at the place where his name is given, but scholars believe this may have been the tomb of Shebna, whom Isaiah condemned in Isaiah 22:14-19. (How does this inscription corroborate the sin Isaiah was condemning?)

DividingWall2

We've all heard that Gentiles were not allowed beyond the Court of the Gentiles in Herod's temple, but the sign pictured here actually warned them in Greek that they would have no one but themselves to blame for their own death should they be found inside. The PhotoGuide actually gives you a transcription of the Greek as well as an English translation! (Who in the New Testament was accused of violating this prohibition?)

These are just a few of the fascinating inscriptions shown and explained in the PhotoGuide. The Inscriptions article alone can dramatically increase your knowledge of the Bible. If you own the PhotoGuide, take some time to read it. If you don't own it, what are you waiting for?


 

Sep 19, 2011 David Lang

Linking Atlas and PhotoGuide

Our Graphics Bundle combines our interactive Bible Atlas, Bible Lands PhotoGuide, and interactive Timeline at a significant savings, which is probably why it's one of our best-selling products. To get the most out of this bundle, I recommend linking the Atlas and PhotoGuide in your preferences. Doing so will enable you to double-click a place name on the map to look it up in the PhotoGuide, giving you detailed information about that site along with spectacular and illustrative photographs.

MapSettings

To do this, simply open the Preferences panel and click the Map Tab Display settings. You'll then see a variety of settings you can tweak. In the section labeled Hypertext, select PhotoGuide 3 from the pop-up menu labeled Default tool.

That's all there is to it! From now on any new map you view will be linked to the PhotoGuide. Start double-clicking place names of interest and see what you discover.