Last week, I blogged about how good we have it with the Accordance Bible Atlas, and boasted that it is "so far beyond what most people have access to that they're still wishing for the basics." One of the comments on that post asked me to compare the Accordance Bible Atlas with a PC Product called the Holy Land 3-D CD.
While I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with that product to be able to give an informed comparison, we have known the developers of that product for years, and can certainly vouch for the quality of their work.
I went to my first SBL conference in November of 1995, when I was still a fresh-faced seminary student. I vividly remember my excitement at getting to sit in on meetings with various publishers, scholars, and software developers—all aimed at establishing strategic partnerships to help move Accordance forward. One of the most memorable of those meetings was with the gentleman who would eventually develop this Holy Land 3-D CD. Back then he was demonstrating high-resolution 3-D images on a Silicon Graphics workstation running Unix, since what he was doing was well beyond the capabilities of personal computers. In fact, certain images could only be viewed properly using a pair of expensive 3-D goggles (which I was careful not to drop!).
While we didn't end up establishing on ongoing partnership, I think we both benefitted from the interaction, and we've both delivered products which enable people to explore the topography of Israel in three dimensions. From what I can see of this product, it looks to deliver a first-rate multimedia experience.
How then is Accordance distinct from this or any other Bible Atlas? One of the things I think makes the Accordance Atlas unique is our focus on teaching and integration with other texts, reference works, and study aids. When I say that we are focused on teaching, I mean that our primary focus is not on the multimedia experience itself, but on what that multimedia experience can teach the user about the Bible. The Accordance Bible Atlas is intended to be a resource you can consult for information about the geographical locations you read about in Scripture; and it has been designed in such a way that you can easily answer any question that might arise.
For example, when I demonstrate the Atlas to people, I usually will start with a passage like Joshua 10, which describes the battle of Gibeon. "Where is Gibeon?" I ask. I'll then select the name Gibeon in the text of the Bible and click the Map button to display Gibeon on the map. To learn more about the site, I'll double-click Gibeon on the map to read a detailed article and see photographs in the Bible Lands PhotoGuide. If I want to go to another resource, such as a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, I can easily do that too. Then I'll overlay an animated route of the Battle of Gibeon, which shows the Canaanites attacking Gibeon from the southeast, but fleeing to the northwest to escape Joshua and the Israelites. "Why," I ask, "would they not have fled back the way they had come?" To find the answer to that question, I'll simply select the terrain and create a 3-D map, which will clearly show that when they fled to the northwest, they were heading downhill toward the coastal plain. If you're running for your life, the last thing you want to do is flee uphill!
This ability to customize the map to show the information you want, or to jump to other resources as needed, makes it easy to explore the geographical background of the Bible in a way which is natural and non-linear. Many other atlases I've seen are far less flexible. They may offer hyperlinks to information or the Biblical text from the map, but there's just not the same level of integration among resources that Accordance offers.
By the way, this same focus on teaching and integration is also what distinguishes our Bible Lands PhotoGuide from other collections of Bible land photographs. Since this post is already so long, I'll discuss the PhotoGuide in a future post.
My point here is not to make direct feature comparisons with other products. As I said at the beginning of this post, I don't know enough of their specifics to be able to offer an informed comparison. Thus, my general comments about "other Atlases I've seen" should not be taken as criticisms of any particular product. My aim has been to emphasize what I see as a strength of Accordance. It is our focus on teaching and integration among resources which has driven the development of all our graphical tools, including the Atlas, the PhotoGuide, and the Timeline.