Map of Israel, Abraham Bar Jacob, 1712
This is a later edition of a map created by the Dutch cartographer Abraham Bar Jacob in 1695 and printed as part of the Amsterdam Haggadah. Abraham Bar Jacob, whose name appears on the bottom of the map, was born a Christian and converted to Judaism. This is one of the earliest maps of the Land of Israel in Hebrew and is believed to have been based on a map designed by the theologian Christian van Adrichem.
At the top of the map are the words written in Hebrew:
This is to show the journeys of forty years in the desert and the width and length of the Holy Land from the river of Egypt to the city of Damascus and from the River Arnon to the Great Sea and in it every tribe’s allotted land, and the wise will understand.
The journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Israel is marked with a dotted path, with Hebrew letters indicating the names of the forty-one places where they stopped along the way. The name of the stops are displayed in a box on the bottom right-hand side of the map.
The map illustrates other biblical stories and themes, such as the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah and the shipment of wood from Tzor (Tyre) for the building of the Temple. In addition, Bar Jacob depicted the story of Jonah being thrown to the whale and then spat out onto dry land. The Land of Israel is divided into the twelve territories of the twelve tribes. The map is oriented to the east and not the north as is conventional today, with Jerusalem in the centre of the map together with other biblical locations, such as Beit El, Beit Lehem, and Hebron. On the bottom left corner of the map is a verse from Exodus chapter 19 that describes God’s role in bringing the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land.
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles’ wings, and I brought you to Me.
To illustrate the verse, the cartographer included a drawing of an eagle spreading its wings.
The well-known description of the Land of Israel as a land of milk and honey is portrayed through pictures of beehives and cows with the words “honey” and “milk” printed underneath. These images are based on the cows and beehives that were common in Bar Jacob’s home country, Holland and not the date honey and goat’s milk which were more likely in the biblical Land of Israel. In the bottom right-hand corner of the map there is a drawing of a woman with a parasol sitting on top of a crocodile. It seems that this picture was supposed to represent Egypt where crocodiles were common and a part of Egyptian mythology. The woman with the parasol is thought to represent nobility. One of the lakes marked on the map as Mei Maron is the Hula Lake of today’s Israel.
Ancient maps are different to modern maps in a number of ways. They are not scientific and often reflect the imagination of the cartographer, who may have never visited the site in question. Similarly, they are often subjective and present a certain idea, rather than scientific facts, about the place. On example of this is the focus on many maps of the Holy Land on biblical stories. Since the convention of placing the north at the top of the map had not been commonly adopted, ancient maps often orientate (from the word orient – east) toward the East in the direction of the Holy Land and not the North. Finally, since cartographers had probably not ventured far from their homeland, the attributes of the cities in the maps often reflect those that were known to them. For example, in this map, Bar Jacob depicted houses in Israel in the architectural style of the houses of Amsterdam.
The map was originally included in the Amsterdam Haggadah and shows the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Land of Israel. The festival of Pesach celebrates the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt and the beginning of their journey to freedom; the Promised Land, Israel. The Haggadah is a book that Jews traditionally use when recounting the events of the redemption from Egypt during the Seder ceremony.
This map can be used in Geography lessons to compare between the borders of ancient and modern Israel and to discuss cartography in general and the differences between ancient and modern maps.
It can also be used in Jewish History and Bible classes to illustrate the journey of the Jewish people through the desert and the ancient land of Israel.
Since the map was printed for a Haggadah, it can also be used as a resource to study Pesach by Jewish Studies teachers.
The resource can also be used by Jewish History teachers to analyse the borders of the region as perceived in the seventeenth century and to discuss the changes in science and knowledge during the early modern period.
What country is depicted in the map?
What images are on the map?
What story does the map tell?
Who drew this map?
Which picture on the map suggests that the illustrator was from Amsterdam?
Look carefully at the illustrations of the map. What scenes can you see?
What is the dotted path on the bottom right of the map?
What do the fires in the Dead Sea represent?
Reading Between the Lines
Why does this map, created in Europe, focus on the Holy Land?
Why do you think this map was originally printed in a Haggadah?
Read the various phrases found on the map.
What is Bar Jacob celebrating and honouring?
Does this map look like a modern map? Why or why not?
Bar Jacob included many biblical cities on this map.
Take a look at the illustrations depicting towns and villages. Do they look like buildings from Israel or from somewhere else in the world? Why is this the case?
Compare this map to a modern-day map of Israel. What are the difference and similarities?
This map was originally part of a Haggadah.
What illustrations have you seen in Haggadot? Have you ever seen any maps, and if so, maps of what areas?
Draw a modern-day map of Israel.
Make sure to include illustrations that depict what life is like in the different parts of Israel today, just as Bar Jacob did.
Which significant events will you choose to depict? Why?