Accordance Bible Study –– 2. More than Maps
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Sample Accordance Bible Study

K. Allison Brannon

Introduction to the Atlas

This article will take you a step further in your Bible study. Using the same passage as before, Mark 1:1-13, you will learn some basics of geography in Bible times, helping to set the stage in your mind for the beginning of Mark's gospel. Accordance has a wonderful tool to help you learn about the physical locations of places and events mentioned in Scripture. Called the Atlas, the program will show you maps of Bible lands, as well as let you see ancient highways, view the terrain, and more.

Atlas Basics

To open the Atlas, click on the triangle next to Atlas under the Background category in the Library. Then choose a background from the available options. A full-color map will open in a new window.

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(click image to see at full size)


From here, you can zoom in or out using the buttons on the left side. You can also select an area and double click in it, or shift-command click to zoom in, or shift-command drag to move around. Start by zooming in near Jerusalem. Because the resolution is so high (in version 2 of the Atlas), you can get very close and still see the terrain clearly. You should see the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, and other important places nearby.

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Play with the pop-up menus at the top of the window and try changing the background colors, removing the criss-crossing highway lines, and adding or removing geographic names. Measure distances on the map by option-clicking, and dragging to another location. When you are comfortable with the basics of the Atlas, open up a search window with the text we are studying (Mark 1:1-13), and we can begin to explore the passage using the Atlas as a guide.

Sites Mentioned

It is always helpful to put a passage of the Bible in geographic context. In order to grasp fully what is going on in the text, it is useful to know how far people had to travel, what towns they may have passed through, what the land was like, and what rivers or mountains were nearby. Information like this gives a clearer, more complete understanding of the passage being studied.

We note that the places mentioned in the text are: the desert region, the Judean countryside, Jerusalem, the Jordan River, Nazareth in Galilee, and again, the desert. Find these sites on the map to get your bearings. To do this, simply close your map, highlight a place name (like Jerusalem) in the text, and open a new map. The name of the place you selected will be in red. Simplify the map by changing the pop-up menu from Major Biblical Sites to New Testament Sites. Then change Ancient Highways to [No Routes].

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The Jordan River is to the north of the Dead Sea. Nazareth is far to the north, a small town in the region of Galilee (make sure the Geographic Regions are on in order to see Galilee; this is another pop-up menu). You can see Nazareth if you zoom in between the Sea of Galilee and the Carmel mountain. Although it is not labeled, the Judean desert is in fact the area between Jerusalem and the deep valley of the Jordan river and the Dead Sea.

Now you should be able to work out a rough idea of the events in the story and their locations. John the Baptist was baptizing in the desert region, with people coming from the whole Judean countryside and from Jerusalem to be baptized in the Jordan River. Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized, and then was driven by the Spirit into the desert. By finding these sites on the Atlas, you should gain an overview of the action taking place in the text.

Animated Routes

The Atlas offers opportunities to follow the path Biblical characters took in traveling from one location to another. Now that you have imagined the route Jesus took from Nazareth to the Jordan and to the desert, you can see the map animate the journey for you. Simply open the top-right pop-up menu (right now, it should say [No Route]). Scroll down almost to the bottom of the list and select Jesus' Baptism and Temptation. You will see colored lines leading down from Nazareth to the Jordan (the Journey to John), out into the desert region (Sojourn in the Desert), and back north to Nazareth (Return to Galilee). Click the Animate box in the corner if you want to watch it again. You can see what a long trip these few verses encompass!

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3D Maps and Terrain

It is easy to see what the terrain in a specific location looks like up close. For example, if you are interested in seeing what the land was like in the area of Jesus’ Sojourn in the Desert, use your mouse to draw a box around that section of the map. Then click the 3D button (). You can choose from different vertical magnifications. This will open a new window with that section of the map in 3D. You will even see the arrows still drawn on it, indicating the path Jesus took. You can make this cross-section of land rotate to give you a better view by using your arrow keys. You will notice the rough terrain and the deep valley the river winds through. Zoom in further on the map before selecting a given location to get an even more close-up view of the land.

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Modern Sites

To find how the story fits into today's Israel, it is helpful and interesting to change the bottom-center pop-up menu from Geographic Names to Modern Nations. This gives you the knowledge of where the events in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark took place, in relation to the Middle East today.

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In this article, you have learned the basics of putting a Biblical passage into geographical context. You have used the Atlas to locate important sites, to find the sites mentioned in Mark 1:1-13, to map out routes, to follow the animated routes the program offers, and to use the 3D maps to visualize the rugged terrain. Using the Atlas to supplement your Biblical studies adds depth and reality to the words of Scripture.

(Article images and content updated September 2013)

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