Mapping the Word, Reading the World: Biocartography and the “Historical” Jesus

In: Religion and the Arts
Author: John D. Thomas1
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  • 1 Rutgers University
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In the early nineteenth century, the study of “sacred” geography gained traction in American Sunday schools, buoyed by the popular belief that students needed to familiarize themselves with the Holy Land in order to understand the Bible. As religious educators designed geographic curricula, they turned to cartography for assistance and developed map-based lesson plans that would, they hoped, enliven the study of scripture by making visible the spatial layout of ancient Palestine. This article tracks the emergence and widespread use of a particular type of thematic map that featured the life of Jesus superimposed onto the Holy Land, a form of biographical mapmaking that I call “biocartography.” To help students visualize scripture, mapmakers translated the gospel narratives into vectors that crisscrossed Palestine, which meant that they had to overlook the New Testament’s textual discontinuities in order to create a seemingly authentic mosaic of biblical history. Paying close attention to the semiotics of cartography, I explain how biographical circuits that were largely (if not entirely) speculative were regarded as historical fact and how educators who used such maps invented a wide range of cartographic activities to help students comprehend and internalize the Bible’s most salient passages.


In the early nineteenth century, the study of “sacred” geography gained traction in American Sunday schools, buoyed by the popular belief that students needed to familiarize themselves with the Holy Land in order to understand the Bible. As religious educators designed geographic curricula, they turned to cartography for assistance and developed map-based lesson plans that would, they hoped, enliven the study of scripture by making visible the spatial layout of ancient Palestine. This article tracks the emergence and widespread use of a particular type of thematic map that featured the life of Jesus superimposed onto the Holy Land, a form of biographical mapmaking that I call “biocartography.” To help students visualize scripture, mapmakers translated the gospel narratives into vectors that crisscrossed Palestine, which meant that they had to overlook the New Testament’s textual discontinuities in order to create a seemingly authentic mosaic of biblical history. Paying close attention to the semiotics of cartography, I explain how biographical circuits that were largely (if not entirely) speculative were regarded as historical fact and how educators who used such maps invented a wide range of cartographic activities to help students comprehend and internalize the Bible’s most salient passages.

Constant reference to maps is indispensable for a thorough comprehension and vivid recollection both of Sacred Geography and Sacred history. It is no less important as the means of giving interest to the perusal of the Word of God.

The Map and Diagrams in the book … are among the interesting features of this work, and when used by the reader as he passes along over the narrative of our Saviour’s life offer great help towards a clear understanding of the text. Most of Christ’s words and deeds depend for their true significance very much more upon their surroundings, both of time and of place, than the generality of the readers of the Gospels are aware.

LYMAN COLEMAN, An Historical Geography of the Bible, 1850JAMES CADMAN, circular for Christ in the Gospels; or, A Life of Our Lord, 1885

In 1912, the New York bookseller George Croscup collaborated with the Sunday School Times Company of Philadelphia to produce The Gospel History of Our Lord Made Visible, a chronological outline of Jesus’s life designed to supplement that year’s “International Sunday School Lessons,” one of the period’s most widely read religious curricula. Croscup modeled the book after his popular 1910 textbook History Made Visible, and encouraged educators to adopt the “visible method” of education, as he called it (40). What Croscup had in mind was a “synchronic” form of storytelling in which historical events were superimposed onto world maps. To illustrate New World colonization, for example, he translated the routes of European explorers into a set of horizontal, transatlantic lines that emanated from England, France, Portugal, and Spain.1 By layering multiple episodes onto the same image, Croscup hoped to help young scholars create and retain mental maps of world history: “The importance of localizing historical facts is well-known to every successful teacher, for unlocalized knowledge must always remain nebulous” (5; emphasis in original). In order to understand the past, he argued, students literally had to see history unfold.

This was especially true of “sacred” history. Croscup was deeply invested in religious instruction and, like so many educators, believed that the historical Jesus was not “real” enough to interest American schoolchildren.2 The land of Palestine was too exotic, the first century too remote. According to Croscup, if students merely read the gospels—if they did not see, in imagination, the landscapes of Palestine as they turned the Bible’s pages—they would neither understand Jesus’s ministry nor appreciate scripture’s magnitude. The life of Jesus would lose its substance, and young children, bored by lifeless historical narratives, would turn from the Bible to other more entertaining stories. In the Gospel History, Croscup thought he had discovered a solution to this pedagogical problem: “When the apparently detached events in the Life of Our Lord are woven into one composite whole as in a chart, their closer relationships become more apparent and their deep significance is made more clear” (5). He believed students learned best if they studied the gospels in conjunction with detailed maps of Jesus’s life since the images would translate the Bible into a more accessible medium, would “make visible and therefore more real the earthly life and ministry of Our Lord” (5; emphasis in original).


Figure 1

George Croscup. The Gospel History of Our Lord Made Visible (Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, 1912).

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

To simulate historical reality, he overlaid ten maps onto a harmonic grid of the New Testament, transposing biographical events onto geographic templates. Students were encouraged to look from text to map and back again in order to plot New Testament narratives using both temporal and spatial coordinates. Take, for instance, the map entitled “Central Galilee Showing Events 49 to 66 with Journeyings” (fig. 1).3 In it, Croscup condensed an entire year of Jesus’s life into one picture, collapsing numerous stories into sequential numbers linked by dotted lines. The map promised readers an authentic bird’s-eye view of scripture. It also encouraged them to interact with its surface—to match the numbers on the map to those on the page, to follow Jesus’s wanderings by tracing the lines, and to relate each episode in the “Event and Place” column to a specific geographic site. The map thus mitigated the vagaries of ancient writ, harmonized the New Testament’s narrative discontinuities, and synthesized the life of the historical Jesus. Relying on selectively sourced material gleaned from three of the four gospels, Croscup invented an imaginative semiotic system that masked the Bible’s discrepancies, yet he assured his young readers that he had, as far as possible, accurately mapped biblical history.

Protestant educators had long been accustomed to visual methods of religious instruction, but Croscup’s interest in historical biography led him to embrace the map as the most efficient medium for charting spaciotemporal phenomena. As scholars of cartography have long noted, maps are remarkably suited for such purpose. They transpose three dimensions into two, translating a slice of the material world into an iconic register that masquerades as historical reality. According to Stephen Hall, these representations “make sense of confusion,” enabling readers to see “the story line running through random pattern” (15), yet as Denis Wood, John Fels, and William Boelhower note, there is “nothing natural” about them. They are not a “representation of space” but a “space of representation,” value-laden sign systems that reveal “not geography in se but the eye of the cartographer” (65, 479; emphasis in original). These figures mask the act of figuration and conceal the cultural values that led to their design and production. Maps remake the world in their own image and, in doing so, entice credulous viewers who mistakenly assume that they provide empirically trustworthy data.

Consider Croscup’s map of central Galilee. The asterisk next to number forty-nine calls attention to a note at the bottom of the page: “The dates of Nos. 49 to 75 are approximate only” (16). The harmonic index suggests that the map is empirically sound even though the mapmaker admits that his dates are rough estimates, not historical facts. This explanation is no minor detail. It instead calls into question both the map’s spatial layout and the book’s harmonic grids and exposes the fiction that lies at the heart of Croscup’s cartographic experiment. To map Jesus’s life, the author filled in history’s lacunae with inventions of his own making, arranging the gospels as he saw fit to create a single coherent narrative. Croscup recognized these problems but excused them: “While the time and place of many of the recorded events are still undetermined, yet the general order is sufficiently probable to warrant a chronological arrangement, even where much must remain in dispute” (5). Despite mapmaking’s inexactitude, he trusted that the ends justified the means, that the fictions of cartography confirmed the facts of the Bible.

These pages examine a genre that I refer to as “biocartography,” a specific type of thematic map that grew in popularity as the nineteenth century progressed, paving the way for (indeed entirely prefiguring) Croscup’s “visible” method. A cross between historical and route maps, biocartography supplemented geographic curricula throughout the nineteenth century. These were no ordinary maps of Palestine. With the addition of spatial and temporal coordinates, they conflated two cartographic precursors (historical and route maps) and thus encouraged viewers to study complex discursive networks that distilled a lifetime of activity into the frame of a single image. They emphasized movement, not stasis, the travels of Jesus across landscapes, not merely the landscapes themselves. They translated Christ’s entire life into an image of interconnected narrative networks, often via linear systems that were superimposed onto the Holy Land. Educators argued that biocartography made religious instruction more interactive, made history visible. When shown a map of Jesus’s life, schoolchildren were taught to read it intensively—to trace its lines with their hands, follow its narratives with their eyes, and recount the journey for their teachers and peers.

Biocartography was a hybridized form of historiography that masked the hermeneutic difficulties involved in both the harmonization of the gospels and the art of mapmaking. To translate the life of Jesus into a cartographic network, mapmakers had to blur the distinction between fact and fiction since the gospels provided no clear chronological guide. Bible harmonists had grappled for centuries with such dilemmas, but mapmakers found themselves in a double bind. They had to synchronize the gospels in order to create an orderly plot and translate that harmonic narrative into a series of transverse lines that linked geographic sites to one another. Because the success of biocartography depended upon an imprecise set of historiographic and aesthetic calculations, mapmakers had to make sure that their maps appeared historically legitimate, whether or not they were factually accurate or artistically precise. The linear mosaics had to be simple if the map were to be read, studied, and memorized by young scholars, but if they were too simple, the lines might be called into question by those who doubted the map’s verisimilitude. For biocartography to succeed, mapmakers had to maintain this tenuous balance between educational utility and historical probability.

But there was more at stake than mere mapmaking. Religious educators were drawn to biocartography’s potential, to the promise that the conjunction of biography and cartography would give life to the historical Jesus in ways that earlier pedagogies had not. Over time, this interest in making the gospels more substantial contributed to a Christ-centered shift in Protestant piety as children raised in a culture of cartography began to see the Bible anew. These changes were sometimes subtle, sometimes straightforward. First, students grew accustomed to map-based pedagogies as illustrated Bibles, atlases, and wall maps were made more affordable by advances in printing technology during the first few decades of the nineteenth century. Second, adults gradually became convinced that the young needed to see scripture in order to comprehend it, and this view led to structural changes in Sunday-school curricula as educators developed cartographic lessons designed to impress upon children an unwavering faith in both the Bible’s authority and the map’s exactitude. Third, biocartography further humanized Jesus even as mapmakers struggled to translate his historical existence into a coherent shape. These maps rooted Christ to a specific time and place in human history, making the study of first-century Palestine key to religious education. In transfixing his life to the landscape, mapmakers contributed to the rise of a humanist sensibility among Protestant educators who unconsciously and unintentionally tempered Christ’s divinity in favor of his humanity. Many mainstream Protestants were Trinitarians and were thus adamant about the God-man duality, but in the Sunday-school classroom, the complexities of incarnational theory were lost amidst the realities of weekly instruction. Simply put, God was too big for a map (no matter how large). Biocartography thus depended upon a subtle and often inconsistent decoupling of Jesus’s humanity from his divinity, a tendency to highlight those human activities that could be compressed to fit the map’s narrow geospatial parameters.

Such maps call attention to the mechanics of religious instruction, to those activities that were designed to introduce students to Bible history and to instill in the young a lasting faith in scripture’s historicity. They point to the waxing of the Holy Land in Protestant thought and to believers’ growing interest in the historical Jesus. They also highlight the shift in religious instruction from a home-based, catechismal system to one that was increasingly institutional and standardized. What started out as a relatively simple exercise—students would read the Bible, then look at the map, then read the Bible again—became more interactive and kinesthetic as educators sought to enliven the study of scripture with tactile, map-based exercises. Substituting spaciotemporal vectors for biblical narratives, biocartography brought the Jesus of history into stark relief, making his historical life a visible reality.

I. The Rise of Biocartography

In his popular textbook An Introduction to the Geography of the New Testament (1811), the Unitarian minister Lant Carpenter claimed that students suffered from an experiential crisis when it came to religious instruction. They were told to study the Bible, but they could not understand the book’s complexities due to their age and intellectual immaturity. The events they read about were thus not entirely substantive since many children were unable to imagine life in first-century Palestine with any degree of historical accuracy. For Carpenter, geographic study remedied the Bible’s opacity by transforming the indeterminate shape of ancient history into recognizable form:

It is agreeable to well known laws of our frame, and to direct experience, that, by forming a regular connected view of the transactions of Jesus, we must gain a more vivid impression of their reality. When they are bound together by the customary connexions of time and place, they are no longer loose and floating in the mind, but are brought into view, regularly and readily, like the passing events of life. It does not appear too much to assert, that a regular, consistent view of the transactions, recorded respecting our Saviour, impressed on the mind in the early periods of life, and not suffered to be forgotten amid its cares and business, would produce a belief in the reality of the words and actions of the Friend of man, which more than all the external argument for the truth of his mission, would protect the mind from the doubts of vice and scepticism, and which would enable it to give their due weight to those external arguments, whenever fairly proposed.


Three things are worth noting here. First, Carpenter suggested that young uninformed readers neither understood nor fully appreciated scripture and that such lapses inevitably stunted children’s future spiritual development. Second, he argued that parabiblical texts improved Bible study, that knowledge of historical and geographic facts not found in the ancient source material revitalized children’s devotional labors. Third, he claimed that geographic knowledge empowered pious scholars, giving them spiritual assurance against both personal uncertainty and arguments to the contrary. Before children could understand biblical history, he explained, they had to grasp the relationship between sacred stories and sacred lands.

Carpenter repeated the word “view” three times in this introductory paragraph, drawing an implicit link between geographic instruction and visual education. As Martin Brückner and Susan Schulten have noted, the late eighteenth century witnessed a sharp increase in the production and circulation of national and regional maps, texts that reinforced, for newly-minted American citizens, a sense of shared identity. Spurred on by the likes of Jedidiah Morse, who wrote the best-selling schoolbook Geography Made Easy (1784), educators mandated geographic study in classrooms across the nation, making it “a basic and popular subject rather than the specialized domain of the cultured elite” (Brückner, “Literacy” 175). But this growing interest in “geoliteracy,” as Brückner calls it, soon led to clashes over methodology as educators experimented with specific classroom curricula. In the early nineteenth century, teachers were often torn between two competing schools of thought: “hard verbalism” (championed by Morse, who emphasized reading and rote memorization) and “soft visualism” (practiced by Emma Willard and William Woodbridge, who preferred map lessons and drawing exercises).4 For Willard and Woodbridge, language could not convey geographic information to the mind as effectively as images. If children did not have access to accurate maps, the material in their textbooks would remain, as Woodbridge once suggested, a “mass of insulated facts, scarcely connected by any association but that of locality” (viii). Although mapmakers were unable to develop a “perfect system of Geography”—because doing so would require “a complete sketch of a country, with its inhabitants, their institutions, employments, &c.”—Woodbridge assured his readers that cartographic “approximation[s]” sufficed (viii). As geographic study became more object-oriented, Morse’s textbooks fell out of fashion, eclipsed by the ocularcentric methodologies of Willard, Woodbridge, and their likeminded successors.5

Protestant educators were quick to channel this interest in geoliteracy toward more spiritual ends. Adherents to sola scriptura—a belief that the Bible alone was divinely inspired and that its text superseded all human invention—they were ostensibly the hardest of hard verbalists. As one American Sunday-School Union (ASSU) representative put it: “We are willing to avow that our grand object is, with God’s blessing, to make every child—while he is a child—a believer in the Bible, the whole Bible, and (so far as religion is concerned) nothing but the Bible” (“Report” 22; emphasis in original). But sola scriptura was more of a catchphrase than a creed. Educators actually had few qualms with books that supplemented Bible study so long as those texts did not supplant scripture itself.

Beginning in 1809, when Matthew Carey released his popular Scripture Atlas, the nation witnessed a surge of interest in “sacred geography,” and publishers responded to the growing demand by printing Holy Land atlases and gazetteers, inserting maps of Palestine into Bibles and Sunday-school textbooks, designing geographic primers and catechisms, and publishing large wall maps for public display. In colonial America, maps of Palestine were primarily status symbols since only a privileged few could afford to buy the imported productions of European mapmakers. By the late 1820s, they had become part and parcel of American mass culture—printed by New England publishing firms, voluntary societies, and religious organizations and sold or given away by publishers and booksellers, ministers and educators, colporteurs and circuit riders. When the Massachusetts Sabbath School Union advertised its 38 by 29inch Map of Palestine in 1828, the going rate for Holy Land lithographs had fallen to as little as a dollar, a “very moderate price” (according to one reviewer) for such valuable educational tools.6

Prompted by changes in American print culture, religious educators began to incorporate map-reading exercises into their Sunday-school lessons plans. The evangelical awakenings of the early nineteenth century spurred such developments by giving birth to influential voluntary societies such as the American Bible Society (1816), the American Sunday-School Union (1824), and the American Tract Society (1825), as well as a host of regional denominational groups. These organizations, in turn, contributed to the rise of a publishing industry that catered to religious readerships. Using new technologies (stereotyping, steam-powered presses, and machine papermaking), religious publishers provided an increasingly literate public with all manner of devotional texts, and churches across the country began to operate Sunday-school libraries that gave congregants access to an expanding catalogue of religious literature. As maps and atlases grew in popularity, educators used them to make Bible study a more cooperative, group activity.


Figure 2

Jarvis Gregg. Selumiel, or A Visit to Jerusalem (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1833). Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

Holy Land maps were crucial to this process. They framed the conversation (quite literally), excluding from view all geographic regions not associated with sacred writ. They also functioned as scripts that prompted teachers and students alike to practice both planned and extemporaneous recitals of biblical history using the map as a narrative guide. In 1833, the ASSU published Jarvis Gregg’s Selumiel, or A Visit to Jerusalem (1833), a popular didactic novel that modeled this process. The book’s frontispiece depicts a group of students gathered around their teacher, who holds a map for all to see (fig. 2). The small boy in front points to the map, indicating its centrality to the narrative, but the gesture also hints at the tactile responses provoked by maps, the hand and eye movements that occurred as viewers linked particular episodes from the Bible to particular places on the map. Most of the boys examine the map’s features with rapt attention, yet two of them have open mouths, suggestive of the dialogic responses promoted by cartographic instruction. The narrative of Selumiel attests to such excitement. When Mr. Andersen, the Sabbath instructor, reveals the map to his students, a young boy named George exclaims, “A map! a map of Jerusalem! You have brought it for us, have you not, Mr. Andersen? You are so good, and contrive so many ways to surprise us” (9–10). A young scholar named William then voices a sentiment that echoes the ideological impetus behind nineteenth-century cartographic study:

We will do as you wish us, Mr. Andersen. It makes the lessons so much more interesting to look out the places on a map, that I have almost worn out the little map of Palestine in my Union Questions, studying it so much. And I know almost all the places now, so that I shall not have to study very hard to get what you request us to learn.


The “worn” map indicates the frequency with which the boy studies both his textbook and the Bible and suggests that adults had to make scripture “interesting” to offset student boredom. But more importantly, the map reinforces scripture’s historical reality. When the class looks at the sight of Jesus’s crucifixion, for instance, the children are convinced that they have seen “every thing we have read about in our lessons” though they have merely gazed at a tiny illustration of three crosses (10).

As J. B. Harley notes, maps come with “narrative qualities” despite the fact that they often pass as mute artifacts (8). In antebellum America, educators thought that Holy Land maps made Bible stories more intelligible and assumed that such maps were innocent approximations of three-dimensional space.7 They generally did not think of them as narratological texts but as material objects that supplemented the act of reading other texts (primarily the Bible). But since mapmakers must compress the world into a simulacrum of itself, they inevitably transmit to readers “semiotic information” in a “coded” language that presupposes both cultural awareness and linguistic proficiency (Boelhower 486; Wood and Fels 56). Maps are not necessarily a lingua franca—since their codes often require a certain degree of acculturation—but they are decidedly discursive.8 Take, for example, the ASSU’s Map of the City of Jerusalem (fig. 3). In the preface to Selumiel, Gregg explained that the book was “intended to accompany the map of Jerusalem recently published by the American Sunday-school Union” (3). The narratives involving Mr. Andersen and his young scholars were thus recursive episodes for readers who had already seen maps of Jerusalem. At first glance, the map appears relatively non-discursive in that it presents a bird’s-eye view of the city; however, its subtitle suggests otherwise: “Exhibiting the locations of the most important places mentioned in the New Testament, as correctly as can be ascertained.” This was no mere city map since its illustrations were linked to specific moments in sacred history. It was instead a visual analogue of Jesus’s public ministry; it told the story of his Passion, death, and resurrection.


Figure 3

Map of the City of Jerusalem (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, n.d.). Lithograph, 66×50cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

To be clear, city maps do not “tell” anything, as Wood and Fels note.9 They are neither self-explanatory nor self-evident since their iconic language always requires some form of translation or mediation. But this map, in its telescopic rendering of a very specific spatiotemporal landscape, sutures the features of the city to passages drawn from the gospels. The map is the life of Jesus, the Passion in cartographic form. Viewed by religious educators and their Sabbath scholars (especially those who were well-acquainted with the Bible or even Selumiel), the coordinates indexed on the map would represent much more than simple place names, proper nouns that denoted the city’s architectural and environmental layout. They would instead be intertextual nodes in a narrative network that encouraged young readers to transpose New Testament stories onto the map’s symbolic register. Its purported realism masked cartography’s artifice—the mapmaker’s limited knowledge of first-century Jerusalem or the map’s impossible bird’s-eye view—so that when the students in Selumiel (and presumably Gregg’s imagined audience as well) turn from their lessons to the map, they do not see a sketch of Jerusalem. Prompted by their teacher, they see instead “every thing” from that day’s lesson superimposed onto the map’s semiotic system. This resonance was key to religious instruction since educators believed that geoliteracy was not an end in itself but a means toward a greater spiritual goal—they wanted their young scholars to see through the map to Jesus. In other words, the ASSU’s map served as the optic equivalent of the Passion once students had learned how to project the gospels onto its surface. It thereby acquired a special aura as it entered into a sympatric relationship with scripture. It was no longer the product of artistic invention; it was instead an analogue of divine truth.


Figure 4

Frederick Catherwood. Plan of Jerusalem (London: F. Catherwood, 1835). Lithograph, 21.5×26.5cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The imagined correlation between biblical events and cartographic conventions benefited from the production and circulation of thematic maps that were increasingly diachronic. Unlike the ASSU’s Map of the City of Jerusalem—a historical map with few explicit biblical reference points—these maps yoked biblical events to contemporary landscapes, which meant that viewers could follow sacred history with or without reference to the Bible. In 1835, the English architect Frederick Catherwood published the first edition of his map Plan of Jerusalem (fig. 4), a small lithograph that was, according to his friend and fellow traveler John Lloyd Stephens, “a better guide to all the interesting localities than any [map] he could procure in Jerusalem” (iv). The map was reprinted in Boston, New York, and London and translated into German, Russian, and Swedish. It was cited by Holy Land explorers, researchers, and cartographers, and it served as a template for Catherwood’s enormously popular panorama View of Jerusalem, a 10,000 square foot painting that attracted over 140,000 visitors in London and that became America’s first permanent panoramic exhibition.10 In 1838, Catherwood partnered with a New York lithographer to reprint his original map in much larger dimensions. The new 56 by 77inch map was, as a reviewer for the New-York Mirror explained, an “invaluable” aid to Bible study: “All the localities made memorable by our Saviour and his disciples are minutely marked upon the map, so that it is interesting not only as a correct topographical plan, but as throwing light upon scriptural history” (“Catherwood’s” 191). The map directed readers to a series of “spots” (small numbers, letters, or type) that synchronized spatiotemporal phenomena—from the Tomb of the Kings in the map’s upper-left corner to the Mosque of Omar in its center, from the “Spot Where Simon Assisted to Carry the Cross” to the “Spot Where Christ Appeared to the Women After His Resurrection.”11 In doing so, it translated the gospels into a set of pinpointed coordinates that fused the Bible to the Holy Land. The life of Jesus became more palpable once cartographers took the next logical step and linked said spots to one another, translating sacred history into matrices of intersecting lines.

II. Ecce Homo: Mapping the “Historical” Jesus

In 1854, Lyman Coleman, a professor of ancient and modern languages at Princeton University, noted the significance of Holy Land cartography in his popular work An Historical Text Book and Atlas of Biblical Geography: “Read with careful reference to geographical and chronological data, locate in time as in history, and in space as in geography, the events of the past, trace upon chart and map the shifting scenes of the narrative, and what was before insipid and profitless, becomes, like the ‘expressive canvas’ and the ‘speaking marble,’ alive with life and spirit” (3). Coleman voiced a common anxiety among nineteenth-century religious educators—a fear that students who routinely read the Bible might grow tired of its familiar stories. Harriet Beecher Stowe shared such sentiments. She claimed that scripture often lost its “freshness and reality” due to “early and long-continued familiarity with its language” (iii). But Coleman believed that the Bible could be revitalized, that its stories would once again “speak” to readers if educators introduced their scholars to sacred geography and Holy Land cartography. Such activities would enliven religious instruction by prompting students to read as well as “locate,” to study the Bible and the map in tandem in order to form concrete ideas about biblical history. Using metaphors commonly associated with landscape art and classical sculpture, he thought that the Bible would come to life if its stories were projected onto cartographic templates.

Coleman’s book remained in print until 1893, a testament to the popularity of geographic education throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. Although he explicitly linked the terms “history” and “geography,” he also alluded to the close relationship between two related disciplines: biography and cartography. Take, for instance, the thematic map entitled The Travels of Our Saviour (fig. 5). The color-coded map presents readers with a series of overlapping lines that simulate Jesus’s ministry. These “circuits” recreate both spatial trajectory and temporal progression and condense Jesus’s life into a convenient linear system. Coleman recognized the map’s shortcomings, but he trusted that students who saw the mosaic would be awed by Jesus’s labors:


Figure 5

Lyman Coleman. An Historical Text Book and Atlas of Biblical Geography (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1854); courtesy Rutgers University Library.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The map may be more unsatisfactory and conjectural than the others. The travels of our Lord are seldom defined by localities sufficient to allow them to be sketched with any degree of certainty. Still, a view of them, even though the exact route may be altogether conjectural, serves to impress the mind with the extent of his travels and the wearisome life which he lived, in his labour of love, going about everywhere doing good. The chart of these journeyings may seem somewhat confused, but they may be easily traced in their order, as delineated by the different colours on the map according to the following descriptions.

An Historical Text Book n.p

The historical record provided few glimpses into Jesus’s first-century travels, but for Coleman, this did not matter. A composite portrait, however artificial, impressed upon students the scope of Jesus’s ministry, the measure of his selflessness, and the reality of his trials and hardships. Although he took certain artistic liberties with the biblical record, he thought that his map served a greater purpose. He might have lacked the requisite information to record Jesus’s exact movements, but he mapped them anyway and excused such conjectures by citing the map’s educational value. According to Coleman, he had not distorted scripture. He had simply consolidated its stories into a coherent plot that made the gospels more intelligible. The ends justified the means, he suggested, since such maps could help students imagine, visualize, and appreciate the New Testament’s most important narratives.


Figure 6

Andrew Stout. The Journeys, and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine (Indianapolis IN: A. C. Shortridge & Co., 1881). Lithograph, 52×75cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

Whereas Coleman was only interested in mapping general routes—perhaps stemming from his anxieties regarding biocartography’s inexactitude—later mapmakers eschewed hermeneutic self-consciousness in response to the growing demand for such products. The maps that circulated in the latter half of the century reveal an increased effort to anchor every important moment in Jesus’s life to specific geographic coordinates. In 1881, the Unitarian minister Andrew Stout completed The Journeys, and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine (fig. 6), one of the period’s most popular maps.12 The Indianapolis firm A. C. Shortridge & Company supplied it to regional booksellers and partnered with New York publishers and the Chautauqua Sunday-School Map Company to distribute it throughout the nation. On the heels of its success, Stout joined the lecture circuit; with map in hand, he delivered some 300 talks on the subject from the Midwest to the Pacific coast. In addition to national distribution networks, the map remained popular because it offered affordable options for American consumers. Unlike earlier attempts at biocartography—for example, Griffith Morgan’s 48 by 72inch Map of Bible History (1865), which came with rollers and cost ten dollars13—it appeared in three different formats and price points: $1.00 for a folded “pocket style” edition (20 by 30 inches and bound in a hardback cover); $2.00 for a “teacher’s style” model (same size as above but varnished and mounted on wood); and $5.00 for a “superintendent’s style” map (36 by 72 inches; varnished, mounted on cloth, and bound with rollers; with multi-colored lines and accompanying reference book). If purchased direct from the publisher, the maps were even more affordable—the teacher’s edition only cost $1.50. By the end of the century, they sold for as little as fifty cents.14

According to the Methodist minister Isaac Joyce, Stout’s map would “aid teachers in their work to an extent not possible through the agency of books” (Joyce). Designed to supplement the gospels, the map instead called attention to its own textual authority. Flanked by two manicules, its banner read “Search the Scriptures,” an injunction that implicitly conflated map reading with Bible study. The manicules served as metonymic figures for the somatic activities prompted by biocartography. Admonishing viewers to read with their hands, Stout created a system of visual and linguistic registers that made geoliteracy more tactile. The columns at right provided a key to these map exercises. The far-left column (entitled “End of Journeys”) associated specific numbers with specific sites to help viewers trace Jesus’s movements across the landscape of Palestine. Beginning with each line’s final destination, they were instructed to work backward to reconstruct the given journey—from a particular city to an individual line to a geographic starting point—and then move forward again, tracing the line from beginning to end. The column labeled “Deeds of Jesus” provided readers with narrative content that transformed the map’s lines into a biographical matrix, an interconnected network of plots characterized by temporal succession and spatial proximity. The four columns at right were a “Scriptural Index” that harmonized the whole, a catalogue that prompted readers to see in each and every one of the map’s lines an authoritative record of Jesus’s life and ministry backed by verses drawn from all four gospels.

Stout wanted viewers to move from text to image, to turn first to the informational columns and then to the mapped landscape. But his call to “search” scripture (unlike, for example, the injunction to “read the Bible”) freed them to explore the map at random—to read up or down, left or right; to follow individual lines using arrows and numbers; to move from line to line with or without reference to the columns at right; to note geographic features or colored political regions; to see in the map’s many Old Testament verses an alternate yet complimentary narrative to be studied; to turn from map to Bible and Bible to map while examining the Scriptural Index. No record exists of how nineteenth-century teachers and students read Stout’s map, but the map’s layout suggests limitless possibilities. Depending on an inconstant set of variables—from the day’s individual lesson to the instructor’s preferred methodology, from the age and maturity of the pupils to the layout of the Sunday-school classroom—viewers could have read the map purposefully (to follow the arc of a particular story or to look for answers to particular questions). But they just as easily could have examined it with no purpose in mind whatsoever, following its winding routes and textual notations out of curiosity or play.

Either way, the complexity of Stout’s map prompted viewers to study it intensively if they were to make any sense of its many layered narratives. In all, he superimposed at least 150 unique events onto the Holy Land, an intertextual collage of biblical narratives made possible by the map’s scale and its many individuated lines. But before Stout drew the map, he would have had to answer a tricky question: How does one map a life? As Louis Marin notes, mapmakers must decide “what is representable and what cannot be represented” and exclude from view all that does not fit conveniently within each map’s iconic system (212). To convince viewers of cartography’s exactitude, they cloak their figurations in the language of empiricism, passing off fiction as veritable fact. Stout clearly recognized that he lacked accurate primary source material—the gospels were fragmentary sketches of first-century life, not detailed biographies.15 Although the Bible provided few navigational markers, he collected and coordinated the narratives, disregarded all disparities, and cited as evidence information he had gleaned from “the best authorities.”


Figure 7

Detail from Andrew Stout, The Journeys, and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine (Indianapolis IN: A. C. Shortridge & Co., 1881). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001


Figure 8

Detail from Andrew Stout, The Journeys, and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine (Indianapolis IN: A. C. Shortridge & Co., 1881). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The map’s mosaic of interconnected, overlapping lines calls attention to the elaborate artifice involved in biocartography. It structures and regulates the shape of historical reality, prompting viewers to trace a plot from point to point in order to follow individual storylines. It also links spatial movement to temporal progression, transforming a single lifespan into a set of linear figures that traverse the map’s surface. The networks surrounding the Sea of Galilee illustrate these complexities (fig. 7). Small arrows serve as navigational guides, and curved lines wind from place to place, mimicking Jesus’s wanderings. The ten lines that branch out from Capernaum to the Sea of Galilee mark overlapping plots while the small wriggling line that spans the sea simulates a storm that Jesus calmed during one particularly difficult crossing.16 These are seemingly transparent simulacra (not actual historical routes), yet they paradoxically legitimize the overall biographical portrait. For casual observers, such fictions could easily go unnoticed because the irregular curvatures conveyed a sense of historical authenticity that masked biocartography’s pretense. The same could be said for lines 135 and 138, which illustrate Jesus’s movements from Jerusalem to Capernaum and back again before his trial and crucifixion. Upon inspection, the index provides no biblical justification for them. It simply reads, “No History” (fig. 8). In other words, the lines originate not from primary source material but from Stout himself. They thus encapsulate the map’s implicit ideology and cast a hermeneutic shadow over the art of biocartography. In lieu of historical surety—which was lacking due to gaps in the ancient record—Stout consolidated and harmonized the gospels, crafting a single coherent plot out of multiple disjointed sources. As a purportedly realistic mosaic of Jesus’s life, the map entertained and instructed students, but it also conditioned them to suspend disbelief, to mistake the simulacrum for the thing itself.

To preserve this tenuous equilibrium, biographical maps must convey some degree of semblance between fact and figuration, shifting the burden of proof away from the material object to the perceiving subject. In other words, biocartography succeeds when the artificial passes as natural, when viewers fail to notice the artist’s hand at work. A notable example of this process is the 1895 map Palestine: Illustrative of the Life and Journeys of Christ (fig. 9). That year, the Chicago firm C. F. Rassweiler & Co. published the Baptist clergyman Henry B. Waterman’s book The Holy Land in the Light of Recent Surveys and Explorations and hired a local cartographer named Charles Petford to produce several accompanying wall maps.17 Petford framed the Holy Land with popular religious prints, primarily those by Alexander Bida and Heinrich Hofmann. Given the premium placed upon “eye-teaching” in the latter half of the nineteenth century, educators might well have turned these pictures into narrative scripts, encouraging young children to look at Jesus while they learned about a particular moment in his life.18 They might have also treated the prints like nodes in a given lesson’s narrative arc, using them to transition students into or out of storytelling activities and map exercises. Like Stout, Petford translated Jesus’s life into a series of connected circuits, using colored lines to link each journey to similarly colored chronological tables found at the map’s margins. If viewers wanted to trace the mosaic in its entirety, they would begin with the purple line and proceed from green to yellow to pink before returning once more to purple, using numbers and directional arrows to mark the route. But Petford’s matrix was convoluted, a serpentine narrative that might have confused some scholars (fig. 10). The lines that surround Jerusalem weave to and fro and overlap more than thirty times. The green route winds south from Nazareth, curls east as it straddles the border between Judea and Peraea, and travels north back to Nazareth; from there, it repeats the south-north circuit, breaking only as it passes through Jerusalem. The number sixteen dot appears on the green line near Samaria, not between numbers fifteen and seventeen positioned south of Jerusalem (as one would expect to find it). The labyrinthine routes would have required viewers to pay close attention to each circuit lest they lose their place in all the confusion. On the one hand, the map’s intricate layout might have compelled some students to spend more time studying its system. On the other hand, such complexity might have also proved tiresome,


Figure 9

Charles Petford and H. B. Waterman. Palestine: Illustrative of the Life and Journeys of Christ (Chicago: C. F. Rassweiler & Co., 1895). Lithograph, 91.5×121.5cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

making map lessons more exhausting than interesting. As one reviewer complained, the map was “somewhat confusing” (Hoben 419).


Figure 10

Detail from Charles Petford and H. B. Waterman, Palestine: Illustrative of the Life and Journeys of Christ (Chicago: C. F. Rassweiler & Co., 1895). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001


Figure 11

Detail from Charles Petford and H. B. Waterman, Palestine: Illustrative of the Life and Journeys of Christ (Chicago: C. F. Rassweiler & Co., 1895). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The same could be said for the small inset map of Jerusalem in the bottom right corner (fig. 11). As I suggested above, religious educators prized such maps. As the Holy Land’s sanctum sanctorum, the city of Jerusalem was key to biocartography since so many pivotal events from Jesus’s life had taken place there, but mapmakers differed when it came to plotting Jesus’s movements in and around the city limits. Andrew Stout had reduced Jerusalem to a square frame that nearly enclosed the Passion (fig. 12). The interior lines were not designed to simulate Christ’s journeys (as the winding ones were); they instead marked the most important stations on the way to the cross. In 1886, the Chicago publisher James Cadman reproduced Jesus’s steps by stacking four maps atop each other (fig. 13), translating “Crucifixion Week” into a series of green lines that traversed the maps’ hachures and ended at Golgotha. Petford’s city map amplified a set of hyper-localized networks that would not fit the large map’s semiotic system; there were simply too many overlapping routes in too compact a space. Petford could not ignore the Passion—doing so would jeopardize biocartography’s verisimilitude—so he had to rescale the final days of Jesus’s life in order to make them intelligible. The pink line weaves across Jerusalem, tracking Jesus’s movements from Bethany to the Last Supper, then on to Gethsemane and Calvary. The numbers one through nine and the directional arrows provide navigational markers for viewers, yet they are superimposed onto another numerical system (numbers fifty-eight to seventy) linked to information in the map’s tables. To navigate the Passion, viewers would have had to contend with both systems, looking from lines to numbers and from inset map to Palestine map, especially since the larger map also marks Jesus’s Passion with small blue dots and stars. Amidst this confusion, the small city map enables those who study its networks to plot the Passion Week from beginning to end. Its scale magnifies information that would have otherwise been lost in translation, transforming the dot labeled “Jerusalem” into a snapshot of one of the most biographically dense periods in Jesus’s life.


Figure 12

Detail from Andrew Stout, The Journeys, and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine (Indianapolis IN: A. C. Shortridge & Co., 1881). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001


Figure 13

James Cadman. “Diagrams Illustrating the Principal Events of Crucifixion Week,” Christ in the Gospels; or, A Life of Our Lord in the Words of the Evangelists (Chicago: American Publication Society of Hebrew, 1886).

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

Because the figurations of biocartography succeed through dissemblance, viewers must believe what they see or else such maps lose all legitimacy. Perhaps this offers one explanation for why Jerome Travis’s Comprehensive Map of the Journeys of Christ (1892) fared so poorly in American markets. Travis graduated from Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) in 1877 and spent at least twelve years of his career as a common school principal and superintendent. In 1892, he partnered with the Congregational clergyman Charles Beale to publish a multi-volume Bible harmony that contained the Interspersed Harmony of the Life and Journeys of Christ (written by Travis) and the Comparative Harmony of the Four Gospels (written by Beale). Printed by the Beacon Publishing Company, a small operation based in the authors’ hometown of Lansing, Michigan, the book came with a small map that would, Travis suggested, “lay hold upon the imagination and the memory” (v). The following year, the prominent Chicago publisher Shober & Carqueville Lithograph Company printed a much larger, more detailed version of the map to be used in Sunday-school classrooms (fig. 14). Travis hoped that his map would serve three purposes. First, he sought to produce something “brief, simple, and at the same time so comprehensive” that the “ordinary reader” would not need to study secondary sources. Second, he attempted to arrange the gospels into “one Gospel, the only Life of Christ,” so that “even the child-reader may follow Jesus.” Third, he thought that doing so would make the gospels “seem real,” that the stories would be “so clearly laid out upon it … that a child can follow it without difficulty” (v–vi; emphasis in original).


Figure 14

Jerome Travis. Comprehensive Map of the Journeys of Christ (Chicago: Shober & Carqueville Lithograph Company, 1893). Lithograph, 60×85.5cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The colored lines represent the journeys undertaken by Jesus during four distinct periods of his life and public ministry—the “Preparatory” years (black), First Year (pink), Second Year (green), and Third Year (orange)—and they create an unbroken biographical circuit that could have been followed either in its entirety or piecemeal depending on the scope of the lesson or each viewer’s personal preference. Instead of reference numbers, Travis linked biblical episodes to individual spots on the map via colored connective lines that branched out from the routes toward the map’s margins. But in the marginalia, he did not include any Bible verses and thus did little to help viewers “search the scriptures,” to encourage them to think that map and Bible were somehow symbiotically linked (as Stout had done). He also plotted Jesus’s career using straight lines, symmetric curves, orthogonal angles, and sharp turns (fig. 15). Although his map was no less “real” than earlier examples of biocartography, it might have seemed (to some nineteenth-century viewers) as if Jesus’s life resembled a frenetic railway map, not an authentic illustration of biblical history. In fact, the Comprehensive Map seems to have disappeared from view as soon as it was published. It only had one print run, it was not advertised by Shober & Carqueville, and it was not reviewed in the nation’s Sunday-school periodicals. It was quite possibly never mentioned in the popular press. There are surely many reasons for the map’s utter failure as a commercial product, but if the success of biocartography depends upon both the mapmaker’s subtle artifice and the consumer’s implicit trust, then Travis’s map failed because its fictions were too explicit to overlook or ignore.

According to Susan Schulten, the rise of thematic maps in nineteenth-century America can be traced to several related phenomena: political independence, national historiography, population growth, westward migration, the rapid accumulation of socioeconomic data, and the emergence of new disciplines and bureaucracies (3–4). The period’s mapmakers were not usually professional cartographers, but they recognized the value of visual aids that compressed an unwieldy amount of information into an accessible, portable product. When religious educators began to draw lines onto Holy Land maps in order to simulate Jesus’s life and ministry, they were not appropriating time-tested strategies. They were instead demanding more from cartography—more information, more narrative, more utility. Biocartography remained popular as the century progressed, buoyed by ongoing anxieties about children’s geoliteracy (or lack thereof). In the process, religious educators began to experiment further with map activities, to explore the possibilities of cartographic instruction as they sought to teach and amuse new generations of scholars. They were sometimes at odds when it came to questions of methodology, but they were united in the belief that maps translated the Bible into an intuitive vernacular language. In the hands of capable teachers, they transformed abstract plots into meaningful stories and made religious education more effectual and lasting.


Figure 15

Detail from Jerome Travis, Comprehensive Map of the Journeys of Christ (Chicago: Shober & Carqueville Lithograph Company, 1893). Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

III. Mnemonic Maps, Manual Methods

In his teacher-training manual The Modern Sunday-School (1887), John Heyl Vincent noted a vexing pedagogical problem: “The Scripture area is so vast, its sweep so far-reaching, its objects of search and thought so colossal, that children need an orrery to bring within their grasp the unity of plan, and the inter-relation of the various, vast, and remote objects in the Scripture heavens” (243). Vincent hoped to replace the curricula of old with more systematic teaching and believed that children could with proper guidance “master the Word” by “dividing” it into thematically arranged fields, from history and archaeology to biography and theology. Hoping to promote greater coordination between Sunday-school teachers, church ministers, and Christian parents, he encouraged educators to introduce students to the “salient facts of the Bible, from the creation of man to the close of the New Testament history” (244–245), yet throughout his long career, he returned time and again to a single important subject: geographic study. “Bible geography should lie in the mind,” he claimed. As a “living map,” it would “form a part of the Bible student’s mental furnishing,” preparing the young for more advanced lessons. The Bible was, after all, a “book of geography from Eden to Ephesus” (243–244). As far back as 1861, Vincent had thought that the “ordinary facilities and modes of teaching” made it “extremely difficult to render sacred history and geography other than uninteresting to young children, and indeed to those of larger growth” (Eddy 5). But if teachers were willing to experiment, he argued, they could literally map the Bible’s stories onto geographic templates, physical objects that would condense scripture’s complexities into a more accessible, material form. When children read the Bible, they would see in the storehouses of their imagination the landscapes that they had previously studied. If taught systematically, geography would no longer be tedious. It would instead be “alive with interest” (Eddy 6).

This concern for lively map lessons generated some anxiety among educators who feared that cartographic study had become a rote exercise and had thus lost some of its vitality. In a discussion related to Andrew Mitchell’s popular Picture Map of the Life of Christ, one reviewer noted, “Of making many charts and pictorial helps toward Bible knowledge there seems to be no end” (“Our Book Table” 1023). Even though directional lines, harmonic grids, scriptural indexes, and biographical notations differentiated biocartography from cartography proper, these maps did not, in and of themselves, guarantee marked results in religious instruction. Educators recognized this fact and argued that maps had to be internalized lest young scholars forget their lessons. The complex networks preferred by Stout, Petford, and Travis were difficult to read, let alone memorize, so authors began to experiment with maps that were more portable and transparent. In 1898, the Church of the Brethren minister Charles Arnold published Chart of Christ’s Journeyings (fig. 16), a small map on linen paper that was, as one reviewer claimed, “handy for carrying in the pocket” (“Chart of Christ’s” 348). Piggybacking on the success of his earlier Chart of Paul’s Journeyings (1897) and adopting the format first popularized by Stout, Arnold copied the index from Matthew Riddle’s Outline Harmony of the Gospels (1895) and situated it on the right side of the page opposite four simple maps that he had drawn for easy reference.19 Like Cadman, he chose to transpose Jesus’s life onto multiple templates (instead of one large one), which minimized semiotic convolution. In fact, it appears that Arnold’s work was popular among some readers because it did not delineate each and every one of Jesus’s routes. That year, reviewers for the New-York Observer and Christian Work praised the chart because Jesus’s journeys could be “seen at a glance.” The “whole complicated sequence of journeys, places, and events” had been packaged in “an attractively compact and comprehensive form,” the Observer declared (“Chart of Christ’s” 348; “Literary Notes” 327). These references to the “glance” are important because they suggest that some viewers were looking for a simpler (and inexpensive) form of biocartography. Since the complex circuits on wall maps could not be miniaturized due to their scale, those linear systems were less suited to personal study than were the small maps on Arnold’s chart, especially since the Chart itself was priced at only twenty cents. The smaller scale meant that Arnold had to overlook many important routes (and practically ignore the Passion), but it also meant that viewers could grasp the gist of Jesus’s journeys without too much difficulty.20


Figure 16

Charles Arnold. Chart of Christ’s Journeyings (Philadelphia: J. D. Wattles, 1898).

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

The following year, Richard Hodge, a professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a frequent lecturer at the Chautauqua Institution, published an atlas that in its form and function expanded upon the multi-map model of previous biocartographers. In An Historical Atlas and Chronology of the Life of Jesus Christ (1899), Hodge divided Jesus’s life into nine periods spread across thirteen identical maps of Palestine that he referred to as “memory pictures” since he encouraged students to study each one until they could reproduce its specific configuration (1). In order to facilitate memorization, he modified Palestine, excluding from view all sites unrelated to sacred history: “Only the towns, provinces, streams and mountains that are directly involved in the history of Jesus’ life are represented” (1). These were radically condensed landscapes. Though Hodge referred to them as “historical,” they were acutely ahistorical in that they refracted the Holy Land through a narrow biographical prism, occluding most of the land’s striking features. In the bottom right corner of each map, Hodge inserted a photograph of a relief map that he and his students had constructed, an image designed to give Palestine depth and dimension. On each map, he used red lines to simulate routes, arrows to denote narrative progression, and numbered descriptors to mark important events. Because the maps were designed to be memorized or to be used in conjunction with popular Bible harmonies, they lacked the specificity of earlier productions. On “Palestine Map 6” (fig. 17), for instance, Hodge condensed a five-month period in Jesus’s life into a simplified cartographic snapshot. The red line begins at Cana and curves north to Gennesaret. Due to gaps in the historical record, Hodge then used a dotted line to chart a conjectural trip through Galilee. A straight line completes the route, moving from Galilee to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem to the Mount of Beatitudes. Along the way, Hodge consolidated various New Testament narratives in order to simplify the map and make its landscapes memorable. At positions five and six (near Chorasin and Bethsaida), the red type reads “Many miracles,” an explicit contraction of biblical content. Like the six slightly curved arrows that represent the gravitation of countless “sick people” to Jesus’s side, these numbers epitomize sacred history, condensing numerous plots into a single representative system. Hodge’s maps were not comprehensive; they were not meant to be “searched” with minute attention to detail. Because he wanted students to internalize the maps, he disregarded much of Jesus’s life and ministry and compressed large amounts of data into a set of austere cartographic networks.


Figure 17

Richard Hodge. An Historical Atlas and Chronology of the Life of Jesus Christ (Wytheville VA: D. A. St. Clair Press, 1899).

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

Such maps were thought to be effective mnemonic devices but only if they were neither convoluted nor overwhelming. If the networks of biocartography were too complicated, they would preclude mnemonic retention. With this in mind, religious educators began to push for more tactile, interactive activities in which children would design and construct their own maps of Palestine, what Hodge and other turn-of-the-century educators referred to as “manual methods.” These were not novel enterprises—children had been drawing, painting, and embroidering maps for nearly a century. But religious educators wanted the young to produce thematic maps that recorded Jesus’s journeys in order to illustrate Sunday-school lessons about the gospels. According to Hodge, “Altogether the best way to learn a map is to make it. Map-gazing will accomplish neither as thorough nor as quick results” (“Sunday-School” 420). In 1898, the Methodist minister and missionary A. E. Bishop created a double-sided map titled Palestine: Showing the Journey of Jesus (figs. 18 and 19), one of at least ten maps that he designed to accompany his textbook The Life of Christ in Ten Lessons. To use the map, students were instructed to memorize Palestine’s most important towns, drive a wire nail into spots marked by stars or dots, and wind the string from nail to nail to simulate Jesus’s movements, beginning with the nail at Bethlehem. But in order to produce an accurate mosaic, scholars had to study the map’s back matter (where Bishop had sketched out the journey) and follow all of the “steps” listed in Bishop’s book. Like the maps drawn by Jerome Travis, Bishop’s Palestine was an obvious simulacrum of historical reality. He thus encouraged his readers to ignore the map’s seeming deficiencies (which were due to its small size and scale) and instead act as if its networks accurately represented Jesus’s travels:

In order to avoid confusion we will separate the strings by placing nine posts at both Capernaum and Jerusalem, five at Nazareth, three at Bethany, and at Bethlehem, Bethabara and Cana two each, but you must always refer to them as one post and imagine that your strings runs directly to the center of the large round dot.

Palestine; bold in original

The systems produced by nails and string would lack verisimilitude—as Bishop noted, the small stars scattered throughout Palestine were “imaginary places leading to cities or through the country”—but he believed that his map would encourage students to memorize the makeup of the Holy Land in order to place their strings correctly. He wanted the young to internalize the landscape, to know the region “just as you would know the location of familiar streets or homes in your own city or neighborhood” (Palestine). This type of familiarity would alter children’s study habits, Bishop argued, making them more cognizant of the Bible’s historical reality.


Figure 18

E. A. Bishop. Palestine. Showing the Places Visited by Jesus (Racine WI: Arc Printer Co., 1898). 14×28cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001


Figure 19

E. A. Bishop. Palestine. Showing the Journey of Jesus (Racine WI: Arc Printer Co., 1898). 14×28cm. Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division.

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

Religious educators also embraced a pedagogical tool that was much more suited to biocartography than maps such as Bishop’s—the sand table. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell introduced sand tables into English and American common schools, as did Freidrich Froebel in his German kindergartens. Because such tables were essentially tabulae rasae, they were especially suited to classroom use. According to Patricia Crain, Lancaster used them to help his youngest scholars—whom he called “alphabet boys”—master their ABCs since sand could be written upon and wiped clean countless times. Lancaster and Bell thought of them as preparatory devices; once students entered into literacy, they would leave their sand tables behind “for more advanced classroom technologies” (Crain 72). Beginning in the 1840s, Froebel argued that sand-based lessons could teach more than mere alphabetization. When dampened, sand could be molded into everyday objects or transformed into generic landscapes, promoting imaginative, cooperative play among children. His students were even given toy rakes and shovels at an early age and taught to tend their “gardens,” activities designed to link play and work and to inculcate a sense of both accomplishment and responsibility. Believing that each child “invests with life all the things he makes or sees” (from stones to sticks to pieces of wood), Froebel thought that “plastic objects” such as sand or clay gave “more scope for the expression than the solid objects” (113–114).

Following the rapid expansion of Froebelian kindergartens in the 1870s, Sunday-school educators began to adopt sand tables and incorporate them into their classroom curricula.21 Well into the twentieth century, they remained a commonplace feature of religious instruction as teachers built their own tables (or bought pre-fabricated ones) in order to simulate sacred history. Unlike Holy Land wall maps, sand could be frequently manipulated. Once teachers and students had molded the sand into the shape of Palestine, they could study its contours for several consecutive lessons or rearrange its features to accommodate new topics. Relief maps were even built atop sand tables, transforming the Holy Land into a three-dimensional space. Sunday-school advice literature from the period teemed with a variety of sand-table applications. One author explained that popular biographies of Jesus could be used as dramatic scripts. While listening to the teacher, children could move a miniature Jesus (usually a “match or little stick painted white”) across the landscape (Cutting and Walkley 10). Another author suggested that teachers pour water onto the sand table to recreate the Sea of Galilee, then ask their students to recount episodes from Jesus’s life using tiny sticks and homemade boats and nets.22 The religious educator Alberta Munkres even encouraged readers to cut out “a good artist’s conception of Christ,” attach it to a piece of cardboard, and paste the cardboard to a small stick (167). Students would then mimic Jesus’s journeys by planting and re-planting the stick figure as the lesson unfolded.


Figure 20

Milton Littlefield. Hand-work in the Sunday-school (Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, 1908).

Citation: Religion and the Arts 18, 4 (2014) ; 10.1163/15685292-01804001

As these examples suggest, sand tables did not supplant maps of Jesus’s life; they made them multi-dimensional. Children were now actively involved in the mapmaking and storytelling process—building the Holy Land from the ground up using sand or rag-pulp, making miniature stick figures to represent Jesus and his disciples, creating routes for those figures to follow, and enacting and reenacting the New Testament’s most popular stories. This integrated approach to biocartography can be seen in Milton Littlefield’s Hand-Work in the Sunday School (1908). Littlefield was a New York clergyman, a district secretary for the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, and a member of the Association of Church Directors, an interdenominational organization devoted to religious education.23 Tasked with the annual oversight of nearly 500 Sunday schools, he developed a keen sense for which pedagogies worked well in classroom environments. In the Hand-Book, he described how sand-table maps helped children witness events from the life of Jesus, stories that became “real” due to the technologies involved in their telling.24 Littlefield not only provided readers with detailed instructions on how to create and illustrate biographical maps of Jesus’s life. He also included several photographs of Sunday-school scholars and their sand-table creations. In an image entitled “Historical Geography: Tracing the Journeys of Jesus on a relief map” (fig. 20), he shows a group of students gathered around a sand table, listening to their teacher’s account of Jesus’s childhood and looking at strings that lead to and from Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth. The photograph does not reveal the labor involved in the creation of the map—the manipulation of sand, the addition of water, the construction of valleys and mountains, and the placement of the string—but it does highlight the centrality of the map to the lesson as well as the opportunities for future study made possible by the cartographic mold. Strung across a three-dimensional model, the string conveyed a mimetic exactitude exceeding the finest productions of earlier mapmakers. It simulated geographic movement and enabled young scholars to reconfigure Jesus’s life with relative ease, replacing the string with each new story. Littlefield believed that these sand table exercises enlivened religious education by encouraging children to see in maps and models (which they had themselves created) semi-sacred landscapes that substantiated biblical history.

Littlefield’s textbook provided early-twentieth-century teachers with practical pedagogical advice, but his methodologies were deeply indebted to nineteenth-century educational innovations that had become popular in the 1820s and de rigueur by century’s end. This period not only witnessed the rapid institutionalization of religious education, the proliferation of Sunday schools and Sunday-school associations, and the publication and distribution of religious textbooks designed for classroom use. It also fostered new anxieties in parents and ministers alike, those who feared that their young charges might be overwhelmed or intimidated by scripture’s complexity. The Bible itself threatened children’s spiritual development, they claimed. Though inspired by God, it lacked simplicity, clarity, and novelty—those qualities that children most needed. To account for Sunday-school students’ inexperience and immaturity, scripture had to be made more lifelike, more “real.” It had to be adapted for the young, to be “divided” (to use Vincent’s expression) in order to be intelligible. It had to be mapped before it could be mastered. The drive to highlight the Bible’s historical reality and the imperative to study sacred geography compelled educators to transpose the Holy Land onto maps that could be inserted into textbooks or hung from classroom walls. For the many children who could not visit Palestine, maps offered the next best thing to actual travel.

But educators increasingly sought new and novel maps, thematic texts that conflated Word and world. Like the Bible, Jesus’s life seemed daunting, its chronology fragmented, its order uncertain. If transferred to a map, it became much more intelligible, a visual reflection of historical reality. This method of instruction appealed to religious educators since maps compressed scripture into a single illustration. They made Bible stories more tangible and introduced entertaining classroom activities into rote weekly routines. Religious educators did not reject sola scriptura. They simply enlarged its scope to include texts that illustrated scripture (albeit maintaining the Bible’s preeminence). The popularity of biocartography reflected their ongoing interest in interactive cartographic lessons and pointed to the growth of a specifically American form of “geopiety,” what Burke Long refers to as “that curious mix of romantic imagination, historical rectitude, and attachment to a physical place” (1–2). Maps of Palestine thus index the varied modes of geopiety that evolved with time and highlight the educational exercises that contributed to their diffusion. As the Holy Land gained greater prominence among nineteenth-century Protestant parishioners, it became increasingly central to religious instruction. Young students were taught to prize such knowledge, and they, in turn, transmitted that appreciation to their own children. The intermittent antebellum interest in biocartography grew exponentially in the final few decades of the century as Sunday-school educators looked to professionalize their field and expand their curricula.

Maps were not only the product of such change. They actively fostered it. They reinforced classroom lessons, they illuminated the life of Jesus, and they encouraged cooperation and interaction among churchgoing children. They were also ephemeral—examined, handled, and destroyed by frequent use. Few maps remain today, but the ones that do call attention to the anxieties of nineteenth-century religious educators, the morphology of Sunday-school instruction, and the technologies designed to promote spiritual growth in scholars of all ages.

Works Cited

Adrichem, Christian van. Jerusalem, et suburbia eius. Braun: Georg and F. Hogenberg, 1584.

Arnold, Charles. Chart of Christ’s Journeyings. Philadelphia: John D. Wattles, 1898.

—. Chart of Paul’s Journeyings. Philadelphia: John D. Wattles, 1897.

“The Association of Church Directors of Religious Education.” Religious Education: The Journal of the Religious Education Association 12 (February–December 1917): 51.

Balfour, Alan. Solomon’s Temple: Myth, Conflict, and Faith. Malden MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Ball, Karl Johannes. Plan von Jerusalem. Elberfeld, Germany: Pfeiffer & Koenen, 1843.

Beale, Charles. Comparative Harmony of the Four Gospels. Lansing MI: Beacon Publishing Company, 1892.

Beatty, Barbara. Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

“Bible Atlas.” The American Sunday-School Magazine 6 (February 1829): 53–54.

Bishop, A. E. The Life of Christ in Ten Lessons. Racine WI: Arc Printer Co., n.d.

—. Palestine: Showing the Journey of Jesus. Racine WI: Arc Printer Co., 1898.

Boelhower, William. “Inventing America: A Model of Cartographic Semiosis.” Word & Image 4. 2 (April–June 1988): 475–497.

“Book Notices.” The Jewish Era: A Christian Quarterly 5. 2 (April 1896): 75–76.

Brown, Frank. The Superintendent and His Work. Chicago: The Methodist Book Concern, 1911.

Brückner, Martin. The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity. Chapel Hill NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

—. “Literacy for Empire: The ABCs of Geography and the Rule of Territoriality in Early-Nineteenth-Century America.” Nineteenth-Century Geographies: The Transformation of Space from the Victorian Age to the American Century. Eds. Helena Michie and Ronald R. Thomas. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003. 172–190.

Burford, Robert. Description of a View of the City of Jerusalem. Boston: Perkins and Marvin, 1837.

Cadman, James. Christ in the Gospels; or, A Life of Our Lord. Circular. Chicago: Cadman Publishing Company, 1885.

—. Christ in the Gospels; or, The Life of Our Lord in the Words of the Evangelists. Chicago: American Publication Society of Hebrew, 1886.

Calhoun, Daniel. “Eye for the Jacksonian World: William C. Woodbridge and Emma Willard.” Journal of the Early Republic 1. 4 (Spring 1984): 1–26.

[Carey, Mathew]. A Scripture Atlas: Containing All the Maps Necessary for Understanding the Geography of the Countries Mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1809.

Carpenter, Lant. An Introduction to the Geography of the New Testament. Cambridge MA: William Hilliard, 1811.

Catherwood, Frederick. Plan of Jerusalem. London: F. Catherwood, 1835.

“Catherwood, Frederick (1799–1854).” Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840–1865. Eds. Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. 163–166.

“Catherwood’s plan of Jerusalem.” The New-York Mirror. 8 Dec. 1838. 191.

“A Chart of Christ’s Journeyings.” Christian Work 64. 1620 (3 March 1898): 348.

Coleman, Lyman. An Historical Geography of the Bible. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1850.

—. An Historical Text Book and Atlas of Biblical Geography. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1854.

Crafts, Wilbur. Through the Eye to the Heart; or, Eye-Teaching in the Sunday-School. New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1873.

Crain, Patricia. “Children of Media, Children as Media: Optical Telegraphs, Indian Pupils, and Joseph Lancaster’s System for Cultural Replication.” New Media, 1740–1915. Eds. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree. Cambridge MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2003. 61–90

Croscup, George. The Gospel History of Our Lord Made Visible: Historical Charts of the Life and Ministry of Christ with an Outline Harmony of the Gospels. Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, 1912.

—. History Made Visible: United States History with Synchronic Charts, Maps and Statistical Diagrams. New York: Windsor Publishing Company, 1911.

Cutting, Mrs. Charles, and Mrs. Frances E. Walkley. The Bible Study Union Lessons: Primary Teacher’s Helper. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.

Eddy, Thomas. “Introduction.” Little Footprints in Bible Lands by John Heyl Vincent. New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1861. 5–6.

Ewing, William. The Sunday-School Century. Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1918.

Duffield, Thomas. A New Map of the Land of Promise and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Philadelphia: Thomas W. Duffield, 1823.

Forbush, William B. The Illuminated Lessons on the Life of Jesus. New York: Underwood & Underwood, 1904.

Froebel, Friederich. Friedrich Froebel: A Selection from His Writings. Ed. Irene M. Lilley. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Gregg, Jarvis. Selumiel, or A Visit to Jerusalem. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1833.

Hall, Stephen. Mapping the Next Millennium: The Discovery of New Geographies. New York: Random House, 1992.

Harley, J. B. “Deconstructing the Map.” Cartographica 26. 2 (Summer 1989): 1–19.

Hoben, T. Allan. “Wall-Maps of Palestine.” The Biblical World 13. 6 (June 1899): 413–422.

Hodge, Richard M. An Historical Atlas and Chronology of the Life of Jesus Christ. Wytheville VA: D. A. St. Clair Press, 1899.

—. “The Sunday-School Curriculum: III. Manual Methods of Sunday-School Instruction.” The Biblical World 27. 6 (June 1906): 418–422.

“Individual Year Conversion Factor Tables.” Oregon State University, 8 May 2013. 13 Sept. 2013.

Joyce, Isaiah. “New Map of Palestine.” Sunday School Journal for Teachers and Young People 14. 12 (December 1882): n.p.

Keipert, Heinrich. Plan von Jerusalem. Berlin: S. Schropp & Co., 1845.

Koch, Peter O. John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood: Pioneers of Mayan Archaeology. Jefferson NJ: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2013.

Krafft, Wilhelm. Plan von Jerusalem. Bonn, 1846.

“Literary Notes.” The Biblical World 11.4 (April 1898): 286–288.

“Literary Notes.” The New York Observer 76. 36 (8 Sept. 1898): 326–327.

Littlefield, Milton. Hand-work in the Sunday-school. Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, 1908.

Long, Burke. Imagining the Holy Land: Maps, Models, and Fantasy Travels. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2003.

“Map of Bible History.” The Ladies’ Repository 32 (March 1872): 236.

“Map of Bible History.” Minutes of the Twenty-Third Session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Milwaukee WI: Riverside Printing House, 1869.

A Map of Palestine, for the use of Sabbath Schools and Bible Classes. Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Union, 1828.

Map of the City of Jerusalem. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, n.d.

Marin, Louis. “The City in Its Map and Portrait.” On Representation. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. 202–218.

“Masonic Geography.” The Voice of Masonry 5. 6 (June 1867): 215.

“Missionary and Extension Department.” The American Missionary 69. 12 (December 1915): 555.

Morgan, Griffith. A Map of Bible History. Chicago, 1865.

Morse, Jedidiah. Geography Made Easy. New Haven CT: Meigs, Bowen & Dana, 1784.

Munkres, Alberta. Primary Method in the Church School. New York: The Abingdon Press, 1921.

“New Map of Palestine.” Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions. Indianapolis IN: Central Printing Co., 1881. n.p.

“New Map of Palestine.” Sunday School Journal for Teachers and Young People 14. 12 (December 1882): n.p.

“Our Book Table.” Record of Christian Work 24. 12 (Dec. 1905): 1019–1025.

Petford, Charles, and H. B. Waterman. Palestine: Illustrative of the Life and Journeys of Christ. Chicago: C. F. Rassweiler & Co., 1895.

Pilgrim’s Map of the Holy Land for Biblical Research. Jerusalem: The Carpenter’s Workshop, 1942.

“Report.” The Seventh Annual Report of the American Sunday School Union. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1831. 9–42.

Riddle, Matthew B. Outline Harmony of the Gospels. Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, n.d.

Robinson, Edward, and Eli Smith. Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petræa. London: John Murray, 1841.

Rubin, Rehan. “Timing a Sacred Space: The Diachronic Concept in Early Maps of Jerusalem.” Horizons in Geography 60–61 (n.d.): 323–330.

Schulten, Susan. Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Smiley, Thomas T. Scripture Geography; or, A Companion to the Bible. Philadelphia: John Grigg, 1831.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petræa, and the Holy Land. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1853.

Stout, Andrew P. Chronology of Christ’s Life. Indianapolis IN: Hiram Hadley, 1885.

—. The Journeys and Deeds of Jesus, and Scriptural Index, on a New Map of Palestine. Indianapolis IN: A. C. Shortridge & Co., 1881.

—. Students’ Map of Palestine, For Tourists of Palsetine, Adult Bible Classes, and All Bible Teachers. Indianapolis IN: Meigs Publishing Co., 1905.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. “Introductory Essay.” The Incarnation; or, Pictures of the Virgin and Her Son by Charles Beecher. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1849. iii–ix.

Thompson, Jason, and Angela T. Thompson. “Between Two Lost Worlds: Frederick Catherwood.” Travelers in Egypt. Eds. Paul Starkey and Janet Starkey. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. 130–139.

Travis, Jerome. Comprehensive Map of the Journeys of Christ. Chicago: Shober & Carqueville Lithograph Company, 1893.

—. Interspersed Harmony of the Life and Journeys of Christ. Lansing MI: Beacon Publishing Company, 1892.

—. Travis’ Comprehensive Map of the Journeys of Christ. Lansing MI: Beacon Publishing Company, 1892.

Trout, Ethel. Jesus the Light of the World. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1922.

Van de Velde, Charles William Meredith. Narrative of a Journey Through Syria and Palestine in 1851 and 1852. London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1854.

Vincent, John Heyl. The Modern Sunday-School. New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1887.

[Waterman, Henry]. Eiler’s Hand Book of Bible Geography for Bible Students and Sunday School Workers. St. Louis MO: A. H. Eilers & Co., n.d.

Waterman, Henry. The Holy Land in the Light of Recent Surveys and Explorations. Chicago: C. F. Rassweiler & Co., 1895.

Wigowsky, Paul. Pilgrimage in the Holy Land: Israel. Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse, 2013.

Willard, Emma. A Series of Maps to Accompany Willard’s “History of the United States, or, Republic of America.” New York: White, Gallaher and White, 1828.

Wood, Denis, and John Fels. “Designs on Signs / Myth and Meaning in Maps.” Cartographica 23. 3 (Autumn 1986): 54–103.

Woodbridge, William. “Preface by the Author.” A System of Universal Geography, on the Principles of Comparison and Classification. Hartford CT: Oliver D. Cooke & Sons, 1824.

“Works on the Geography of Palestine.” The Spirit of the Pilgrims 1. 11 (November 1828): 589–592.

Young, Emanuel. The New Testament History. Elgin IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1900.


I would like to thank Anthony Mullan, Mike Klein, and Charlotte Houtz—reference specialists in the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division—for their assistance with locating and sorting the library’s largely unaccessioned archive of Sunday-school wall maps. I would also like to thank Bert Emerson and the anonymous reader for Religion and the Arts for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


Croscup was hardly the first educator to translate world history into linear form. In 1828, Emma Willard did so in A Series of Maps to Accompany Willard’s “History of the United States, or, Republic of America” (Schulten 23–28).


This particular anxiety has plagued religious educators from the nineteenth century to the present. According to William Harper, the University of Chicago’s first president and a strong supporter of the Chautauqua Institution: “[I]n all attempts at reading one’s Bible nothing is more difficult to obtain than a sense of reality!” The famed educator William Forbush agreed with Harper and cautioned his readers about “the absurdity of trying to study the real Jesus and the real Palestine in an American atmosphere” without any visual aids (22).


Large-scale maps and detailed views can be seen at (last updated 25 April 2014).


As Daniel Calhoun notes, Morse regarded verbalism as “the indispensable means of communication—and this at a time when Isaac Watts had praised the eye, and the most ordinary textbook reformers insisted on the primacy of maps for teaching geography” (7). In his analysis of antebellum geoliteracy, Brückner includes a third model: the Lancasterian monitorial system. For a survey of these competing schools of thought, see Brückner’s “Literacy for Empire: The ABCs of Geography and the Rule of Territoriality in Early-Nineteenth-Century America” (175–177) and Chapter 7 of The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (238–264).


In Willard’s Historic Guide: Guide to the Temple of Time; And Universal History for Schools (1850), Emma Willard explained to her readers how the constraints of hard verbalism in the early nineteenth century had made geographic study problematic: “When, in 1814, I commenced in Middlebury, Vermont, the school which by enlargement and removal became, in 1821, the Troy Female Seminary, the subjects of Geography and History were difficult of instruction; the books of Geography being closely confined to the order of place, and those of History, as closely to that of time; by which much repetition was made necessary, and comprehensive views of topics, by comparison and classification, were debarred. In Geography, the eye was not made the sole, or the chief medium of teaching the signs of external things, as the forms, proportion, and situation of countries, rivers, &., for though maps existed, yet they were not required to be used; but the boundary was learned by the words of the book, and the latitude by numbers there set down—as historical dates are now commonly learned. Numbers thus represented, are hard to acquire, difficult to remember, and, standing by themselves, of little value when remembered” (Schulten 19).


“Works” 59. In today’s currency, the Map of Palestine would cost roughly $25. See Oregon State University’s “Individual Year Conversion Factor Tables.”


In the preface to his popular book Scripture Geography; or, A Companion to the Bible (1831), Thomas Smiley summed up these sentiments: “The importance of a proper acquaintance with the geography of countries and places mentioned in the Holy Bible, must be apparent to all who have ‘diligently searched the scriptures,’ with a view to a thorough and proper understanding of them. It is believed that many have neglected the sacred volume, and have never attained a necessary knowledge of its contents, not because they are infidels, or that they are abandoned to vice, nor indeed that they have any specific objections, but because the Scriptures appear unintelligible” (iii).


According to Denis Wood and Robert Fels: “Most readers make it through most essays (and maps) because as they grew up through their common culture (and into their common culture), they learned the significance of most of the words (and map symbols). Those they don’t recognize they puzzle out through context, or simply skip, or ask somebody to explain … It is not, then, that maps don’t need to be decoded; but that they are by and large encoded in signs as readily interpreted by most map readers as the simple prose into which the marks are translated on the legends themselves” (56).


Regarding the purportedly “self-explanatory” material on map legends, Wood and Fels claim: “NO symbol explains itself, stands up and says, ‘Hi, I’m a lock,’ or ‘We’re marsh,’ anymore than the words of an essay bother to explain themselves to the reader” (56; emphasis in original).


See, for example, Edward Robinson and Eli Smith’s Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petræa (1841), Karl Ball’s Plan von Jerusalem (1843), Heinrich Kiepert’s Plan von Jerusalem (1845), Wilhelm Krafft’s Plan von Jerusalem (1846), John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petræa, and the Holy Land (1847), and C. W. M. van de Velde’s Narrative of a Journey Through Syria and Palestine in 1851 and 1852 (1854). For an early account of Catherwood’s Jerusalem panorama, see Robert Burford’s Description of a View of the City of Jerusalem (1837). For more on the subject, see Frederick Catherwood’s biographical entry in Pioneer Photographers of the Far West (2000), Jason and Angela Thompson’s article “Between Two Lost Worlds: Frederick Catherwood” (2001), chapter eight of Alan Balfour’s Solomon’s Temple: Myth, Conflict, and Faith (2012), and chapter seven of Peter Koch’s John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood: Pioneers of Mayan Archaeology (2013).


Although relatively unknown to most American readers until the 1830s, “historical-imaginary maps,” as the scholar Rehad Rubin calls them, had been published in Europe since at least the sixteenth century. The most prominent example is Christian van Adrichem’s Jerusalem, et suburbia eius (1584), an elaborate, multi-temporal map that depicted some 280 events from the life of Jesus (Rubin 324–325). The one American exception was Thomas Duffield’s A New Map of the Land of Promise and the Holy City of Jerusalem (1823), an America reprint of a London map drawn by Cluer Dicey in 1765. As far as I can tell, few contemporaries would have heard of Duffield’s map, much less seen it, since it was not advertised in any popular religious periodicals. The only extant copy can be found in the Boston Public Library. For more on these maps, see Rubin’s “Timing a Sacred Space: The Diachronic Concept in Early Maps of Jerusalem.”


In one prominent 1882 circular, John Heyl Vincent, a Methodist minister and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution, called it “invaluable to Bible students” and claimed that the map “should go into every minister’s study and into the home of every Sunday-school teacher.” The famed Jesse Lyman Hurlbut claimed: “I find it excellently adapted for Sunday-school teachers, being accurate and systematic.” And Francis Peloubet, the author of the best-selling series Select Notes on the International Sunday-School Lessons, explained how he had “traced out the journeys of Christ on the map, and find it very instructive and helpful, giving a clear and vivid comprehension of Christ’s life in Palestine.” See the circular entitled “New Map of Palestine” in the back of the Sunday School Journal for Teachers and Young People (1882). In 1905, Stout republished the map as Students’ Map of Palestine, For Tourists of Palestine, Adult Bible Classes, and All Bible Teachers. In 1942, a publisher in Jerusalem, citing Stout’s 1905 work, published a look-alike map entitled Pilgrim’s Map of the Holy Land for Biblical Research. Travelers can apparently still purchase this map. See Paul Widowsky’s self-published book Pilgrimage in the Holy Land: Israel (2013), in which the author mentions buying the map while touring Jerusalem (61).


Despite its price, the map was advertised for several years in various religious periodicals. See “Map of Bible History,” Minutes of the Twenty-Third Session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, of the Methodist Episcopal Church (58); “Map of Bible History,” The Ladies’ Repository (236); “Masonic Geography,” The Voice of Masonry (215).


See “New Map of Palestine,” n.p. The A. C. Shortridge & Company advertisement can be found at the back of the Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions.


Stout recognized that the gospels were not biographies per se, but he argued that these “sketches” were biographical: “The Gospels are four inspired biographical sketches of the wonderful life of Jesus the Christ. They were written by different persons, at different times, under different circumstances, and largely for different objects. Each Gospel is so omissional, fragmentary, and supplementary to the others, that it is impossible to obtain a full, clear, and connected knowledge of Christ’s life by studying either one of them, or, by studying any chronological combination of either two of them” (Chronology 5). His map, he argued, harmonized all of them, making a composite whole out of each separate sketch.


See Mark 4:35–41.


The set included two historical maps of Palestine, one topographical map, and the map of Jesus’s journeys. The four maps were bound to rollers and packaged together in a spring-mounted canvas box that could be hung from classroom walls. The entire “portfolio”—which included Waterman’s book and a folding tripod for classroom use—was advertised for $17.50, a considerable amount (roughly $480 in today’s currency). See “Book Notices,” The Jewish Era: A Christian Quarterly (75); T. Allan Hoben, “Wall-Maps of Palestine” (419–420). The dedication to Waterman’s book reads: “To Bishop John H. Vincent, L. L. D. My First Guide in Bible Geography.” The text was later reissued by the St. Louis publisher A. H. Eilers & Co. and came packaged with sixteen tipped-in maps that were also available in wall maps sizes, ranging from 36 by 48inch cloth-mounted maps for $1.50 to 48 by 72inch maps on rollers for $6.00.


In Through the Eye to the Heart; or, Eye-Teaching in the Sunday-School (1873), the famed educator Wilbur Crafts voiced a sentiment held by so many nineteenth-century religious educators: “Put the ‘bread of heaven’ into object-lessons and visual illustrations, and the many hearts who find it hard to realize the truth they hear will eagerly receive it and understand it … All the senses seem to merge themselves in sight. As each of the four fingers is exactly opposite the thumb, so each of the other four senses seems to connect itself with sight” (11; emphasis in original).


He might have even inspired (or been inspired by) the nine maps found in the Brethren professor Emanuel Young’s Life of Christ (1898), considering he praised the author’s use of “journey lines” in a publisher’s blurb. The advertisement can be found at the back of Emanuel Young’s The New Testament History (1900).


The small maps were, for at least one reviewer, somewhat problematic. According to the Biblical World, “This volume may be of some value, but the maps are thoroughly incorrect in places, not only in that they take Jesus to such places as the cities of Tyre and Sidon, but also in that they entirely neglect the roads and paths over which Jesus went” (“Literary Notes” 287).


As Barbara Beatty notes, the first Froebelian kindergarten opened in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin, but the kindergarten movement did not expand into nationwide public educational systems until the 1870s. See Beatty, Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present, 52–131.


Trout 178. Trout often encouraged educators to develop Sunday-school lessons around religious imagery. To study Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, for example, she had the following advice for Sabbath scholars: “Look at the picture of Christ Before Pilate which has been painted by the artist Munkácsy, or that by William Hole. Then model on your sand table a judgment chair, or seat. Make from paper a pavement to put under it. Color this to imitate marble” (155).


See William Ewing’s The Sunday-School Century (64, 127–128); the “Missionary and Extension Department” (554); the “Association of Church Directors of Religious Education” (51).


Littlefield 40. In The Superintendent and His Work (1911), the religious educator Frank Brown emphasized the importance of “hand work” (another name for manual methods) in his review of Littlefield’s book: “Hand work is the expression of the lesson of Bible truth through map making, model forming, compilation of scrap and note books, and decorative and illustrative work, so that the lessons and the Bible become real to the scholar” (94; emphasis mine).

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