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Historic Views of the Holy Land

The American Colony & Eric Matson Collection

The ease of modern travel gives most of us the ability to see the land of the Bible for ourselves if we so desire. However, modern architecture and ways of life have easily overshadowed the ancient world described in the Scriptures. But what if you could go back in time and visit ancient Israel to see what it and its people looked like in biblical times?

Perhaps the closest experience of seeing the biblical world as it used to be can be found in the photographs of Historic Views of the Holy Land: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Before the onslaught of industrialization and automobiles, life in much of Palestine and surrounding lands went on much the same as it had for thousands of years. People still dressed essentially the same, performed the same kinds of work, and traveled on the same beasts of burden.

Founded by the late Horatio Spafford, who wrote “It Is Well with My Soul,” the American Colony began as a 19th century millennial sect whose followers moved to Jerusalem to await the end of the world. But even waiting for the Apocalypse requires funding, so one of the financial ventures of the American Colony was it’s photographic service. They created photos of locations and landscapes and used locals for recreations of biblical stories—all to sell to tourists who had begun to pour into these areas. These pictures, taken from the late 1800s to the mid-1940s depict a land and way of life that can never fully be recaptured.

As described in the introductory section of this Accordance module,

A chief value of this photograph collection is that it allows us to revisit the land and its people the way they used to be. We can go back, through the lens of the photographer, to sites before they were excavated, panoramas before they were polluted, villages before they were urbanized, and people before they abandoned the way of life of their fathers.

This collection of over 4,000 high-res images have been curated from the massive Eric Matson archive at the Library of Congress. They have been touched up to remove blemishes and damage to the originals. Images are arranged by themes and topics with commentary provided so that teachers and preachers can immediately make use of them in their presentations. The Accordance module also includes in-depth articles describing the history of Horatio Spafford’s life, the American Colony, it’s charities and photographic service, and the background of Eric Matson who inherited the archive.

As mentioned above, some of these photos include recreations of biblical stories with locals depicting biblical characters and events. In fact, photos for the entire Book of Ruth are part of this collection allowing your audience to see the events of this book with authentic-looking backgrounds and characters.

To see a number of the photos from Historic Views of the Holy Land: The American Colony & Eric Matson Collection, check out a past Accordance Closer Look with video of these moving biblical scenes.