Atlas or Passover Hagaddah?
Or – On Ancient Maps at the National Library
The illustrations and the map are the work of a Dutch cartographer named Avraham Ben Yaakov. The beautiful and unique map hides special and interesting details.
For the digital copy of the Hagaddah, click the links below:
The question here is, what appears in the map and why was it included in a Passover Hagaddah?
We invite you to examine the map in four stages, and maybe it will help us find the answers…
Stage 1 - First Impressions
First, we get a first impression of the map:
How does the map look? What geographic area does it represent?
Initially, the geographic region represented in the map is unclear. At the lower part of the map we see a body of water and on the right side we see land.
Another glance and some assistance from the names written there and it becomes clear that it is a map is one of the Land of Israel. The locations of the various places, however, are odd.
Let’s keep examining…
Stage 2 - Attention to Details
Now we’ll look at the details on the map:
What do we know about the period during which the map was printed? What details are indicated on the map? What details appear on the map aside from the geographical information?
The map was produced, as mentioned, in the city of Amsterdam in Holland by Avraham Ben Yaakov, who signed the map. See if you can find his signature.
The title of the map is interesting and not entirely clear at this point:
“This [map is being produced] so that all can know the route of the travels [of the Israelites] for forty years in the desert [through] the width and the length of the Holy Land from the Nile to the city of Damascus, from the Arnon Valley to the Mediterranean Sea, and in it, each and every tribe was given its own portion of the land…”
but further investigation gives clues to better understanding the title.
First, we will examine the words written on the map itself: Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron, Datan, Jordan, Mt. Grizim, Mt. Ibel and many more. On the map you can also see the names of the various tribes of Israel: Naftali, Zvulon, Judea, Isachar, Menashe, and the others.
If we continue to examine the map, we can see small illustrations, such as cities going up in flames in the middle of the Dead Sea…what does it mean?
As we saw during the previous stage of our analysis – the map’s orientation is not aligned with the directions that are used today. At the south of the map (on the right) we see the delta of the Nile and the pyramids, which are located south of Israel geographically.
An additional interesting element is the dotted line that leads from the region of Egypt to the Land of Israel, upon which we can see Hebrew letters that appear at different points along the line. What do these letters represent?
At the bottom of the map, on the western side, we see the label of the “Great Sea”. Within the sea we can see a large boat next to which we see a sea creature. What does it represent? On the left we can see boats that are towing rafts in the sea. What do they represent?
Beyond the details that appear on the map itself we can find additional elements. On the right at the bottom there is a board upon which is a title that reads “Travels through the desert…” on either side of the board there are illustrations of marine creatures characteristic of the European creatures of the modern era. On the right there are three illustrations – fruits next to which is written the word “Milk”, a house next to which is a bee hive with the word “honey” and an eagle above which we see the verse “You have seen what I did to Egypt and that I bore you on the wings of eagles and I brought you to me.”
Stage 3 - Understanding the Meaning
According to the details that you identified on the map – what is the central topic that the map is presenting? What can we learn from the map about the time and place in which it was produced?
As you already understood, the map appears in a Passover Hagaddah and the map, in fact, presents, among other things, one of the central motifs of the holiday, which is the Exodus from Egypt. The dotted line that runs from Egypt to the Land of Israel is simply a representation of the trail walked by the Children of Israel in the desert. The letters along the path indicate the stops the nation made along the way.
The map does not represent the reality that existed in 1695, when it was published. The names of the places on the map are not places that existed in Israel at the end of the 17th century but rather names of places from Biblical times.
The cities around the Dead Sea are Sodom and Gemorrah and the other cities of the Jordan plain. The boats towing rafts in the sea are ships that are carrying the Lebanese cedars for construction of the Temple during the period of King Solomon. The boat and the sea creature are those described in the story of Jonah and the whale. The names of the tribes indicate the portions of land that belonged to the various Tribes of Israel during Biblical times. Can you find illustrations and elements that hint towards other biblical stories?
And in fact, this map is a schematic representation of a picture of the Land of Israel during Biblical times. Before us is essentially a historical map that describes events from various historical periods rather than a map that represents a picture of a single period.
Another detail is the orientation of the map. As you have probably understood, the land of Israel on the map is not oriented in the manner that we have grown accustomed to today where northern Israel is at the top. This map is facing east, which we find in additional historical maps.Why is the map oriented in this manner? First of all, when the map was produced, no standard had yet been defined for map orientation and you can, in fact, find different maps from that time period that are oriented in different directions. Some claim that the map was produced to be facing eastward intentionally because of the religious significance and symbolic element of the east.
In addition, as mentioned, this map does not represent the reality that existed in the Land of Israel at the end of the 17th century and many of the details in it were products of the map’s producer. The map’s creator, Avraham Yaakov, was a Dutchman who was familiar with the region, structures, symbols and animals that were popular and known in Europe. For this reason, the structure at the bottom of the picture does not represent structures found in Israel, and the boats in the sea and the animals that appear in the illustration are also not representations of the reality in our region during that time.
Stage 4 - Thinking and Evaluating
What do we still not know? What else do we need to examine? How do we fill in the big picture?
During the previous stage, we considered the orientation of the map, the details the map contains and the source of inspiration for the illustrations. Is the map before us unique in these aspects? Do other ancient maps represent these same characteristics? We invite you to enter to see the collection of maps of the Land of Israel at the National Library and check it out for yourself!
We’ve presented you with an analysis of a single source from the archives that contain hundreds of thousands of items and more. You are invited to make use of the analysis sheets on the education website in order to analysis many other sources.
In the days before Pesach, the topic of the holiday is no doubt the focus of many lessons such as Bible Study, Israeli Culture, Hebrew Literature and more.
The importance of integrating current events into education is clear, but what can a geography teacher present before Passover? It would appear that there is nothing relevant to Passover that might be appropriate to teach during geography studies.
But that’s simply not true! The National Library’s archives have just the thing!
Among the collections of Hagaddahs in the National Library, is a Hagaddah that was printed in Amsterdam in 1695. This Hagadda contains many beautiful illustrations and… a map!