The Unique Value of the Survey of Western Palestine Maps
By Todd Bolen, producer
In the early 1870s, the Palestine Exploration Fund of
Great Britain sent out a team of explorers to make a careful survey of
the land west of the Jordan River. Published in 1880 at a scale of
1 inch to 1 mile (1:63,360), the map collection included 26 sheets, each
approximately 2 feet (60 cm) square. This undertaking was
extraordinary for its day, and was the first scientific map of the Holy
Land. What the surveyors could never have known, however, was just
how valuable their work would be to future generations. Within a
few years, the First Aliyah began, and increasing streams of Jewish people moved
to Palestine in the following decades. The Arab population was
also exploding because of a high birthrate. Riots, uprisings, and
wars in turn led to major changes in the locations of populations.
Sites which had long preserved ancient names
were abandoned. Old cities were expanded and new cities
were built. One hundred years later, the map of the land is
radically different. The maps of the Survey of Western Palestine
captured the land before these momentous changes.
Though there are some significant advantages to an electronic
edition of the maps of the Survey (see below), the primary motivation for publishing this work is
to provide access for scholars, teachers, and students. These maps
are rare, and few libraries have copies. Those that do naturally
restrict access in order to protect the maps. Recently, a reprint
was published of the Survey of Western Palestine by
Archive Editions Limited.
This is a very welcome publication, but its cost of $4,795 for
the 13-volume set makes it unaffordable for most individuals and for many libraries
that don't have specialized collections. Those interested in only
the maps will find that they are not
available separately. Furthermore, the maps
were produced at a reduced size (80% of original), and the print quality
makes it difficult to see detail and to read some of the place names. This electronic work makes it possible for
all to have quick access to the original documents in the highest
resolution and in full color.
This electronic edition is a republication of
the original; no alterations have been made to the maps. One
additional map not published in the original series has been included: a
map made by later surveyors of a portion of Eastern Palestine (modern
Jordan). Unfortunately, the Survey of Eastern Palestine was never
The detail of this map is extraordinary. The
surveyors distinguished between vineyards, orchards, gardens, woods,
scrubs, palms, and fir trees. The locations were designated for
winepresses, milestones, tombs, wells, cisterns, and caves. The
team surveyed successive regions, the dates of which can be seen by the
color coding on the "Key Map."
The survey covered all of the territory west of the Jordan River between
Tyre in the north and Beersheba in the south.
These maps contain a wealth of information, and have
been fascinating to study. As I worked to prepare them for publication,
frequently I would find myself stirred by some new detail.
Normally reserved when working alone in my office, there were times when
I simply could not help but pound the table and produce an ear-to-ear
grin. I was amazed time and again. Of course, what catches
my attention may be completely different from what interests the next person.
With thousands of details in these maps, such is to be expected.
With that said, I offer a few observations:
The original names of many ancient and biblical sites
are preserved in the Arabic names of the villages, including: er-Râm
(Ramah), el-Jîb (Gibeon), Jebá (Geba), Kabur el Beni Israin (Tombs of
the sons of Israel), Mŭkhmâs (Michmash), Lifta (Mei Nephtoah), Beit
Jibrin (Beth Guvrin), Beit Ur el Fôka (Upper Beth Horon), Beisân (Beth
Shean), Khŭrbet Tekûá (Tekoa), Tell Hum (Capernaum), el Mejdel (Magdala),
Kh. Kerâzeh (Corazin), Ain Shems (Beth Shemesh), Sŭrah (Zorah), Tell
Jezar (Gezer), and many more.
In the 1870s, the population of Palestine was
approximately 450,000; today the population of the same area is nearly 7
million. Much of that growth is in the urban centers. A look
at the maps of the areas of Jerusalem, Jaffa (now Tel Aviv), Haifa,
Tiberias, Nazareth, Beersheba, Hebron, and Nablus reveals just how much
has been lost to modern development.
Another matter of interest to me as a teacher of historical geography
is the corruption of one particular name in recent history. For many years,
I've known and taught about the importance of "Wadi Faria." This
broad valley is easy for travel in eastern Samaria, connecting Tirzah
(Tell el-Farah North) to the fords of Adam. It is likely that this
is the way
that Abraham and Jacob traveled on their way to Shechem (Gen 12:6;
I recently learned that I had long been in error: there is no "Wadi
Faria." I was alerted to this by Dr. Ginger Caessens who
discovered it by talking to local residents. I checked and found that the erroneous "Wadi Faria"
was listed in most recent Bible geography works, including the
Student Map Manual (Pictorial
Archive), Geographical Basics (Monson), Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Beitzel),
NIV Atlas of the Bible
(Rasmussen), Baker's Concise Bible Atlas (Laney), Roads
and Highways of Ancient Israel (Dorsey), and the Holy Land Satellite Atlas (Cleave). But if you look back at the Survey of
Western Palestine maps, you see the valley is named "Wadi Farah." And this is still
what the local Arabs call it today. Somewhere in scholarly
"tradition," the name became corrupted and passed on as such.
Many more interesting details of the Survey project
are given in the book by the Palestine Exploration Fund, Thirty
Years' Work in the Holy Land (1895). Extracts from this book
about the survey are included on the CD and are recommended
reading. The first section included describes the
publication of the work, and the second details the
research done by others before the Survey
commenced. This is followed by information about the
for the survey, the survey itself, and finally a summary of the
contributions that the Survey has made to our knowledge of the Holy Land.
Altogether, these will increase your appreciation for the project hailed
as "the most important work on the Holy Land that has ever been given to