Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. 8 vols.

By Todd A. Bolen
Colorado Springs, CO : setSystems (2001). Pages.

Reviewed by
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 108-110

 The immeasurable value of visiting the land of Israel caused the great church historian, Philip Schaff, to remark, “I would advise every theological student who can afford it to complete his Biblical education by a visit to the Holy Land. It will be of more practical use to him in his pulpit labors than the lectures of the professors of Oxford or Cambridge, in Berlin or Leipzig, valuable as these may be. The best thing, of course, is to combine the most thorough theoretical study and personal experience on the spot” (Philip Schaff Through Bible Lands: Notes of Travel in Egypt, The Desert, and Palestine [London: James Nisbet & Co., n.d.] 15). With the practical realities of such a trip prohibitive to many, the advent of modern technologies opens new opportunities for those unable to make such a journey.

The emergence and rapid expansion of computer-based resources have dramatically altered both our perception of information and our ability to communicate effectively. The rush to digitalize the land of the Bible is no exception. Numerous commercial products exist that afford the viewer modern pictorial depictions of the ancient biblical lands. These products vary dramatically in digital quality, image availability, and fair usage agreements. To the market comes the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Pictorial Library of Bible Landsis the work of Todd A. Bolen, assistant professor of Biblical Studies and a resident faculty member at The Master’s College Israel-Bible Extension (IBEX) Program in Israel. Bolen has lived and traveled extensively in the Middle East since 1990. His personal knowledge of the biblical sites through residential contact and direct field teaching experience contributes to the quality of this fine work. Previous digital archives tend to emphasize “traditional” locations majoring in tourist interests and not necessarily those of Bible teachers and students.

The Pictorial Library of Bible Landsconsists of an eight volume CD-Rom set containing approximately 4,500 high resolution digital (jpg format) images of the biblical lands. They include Galilee & the North [Israel] (1), Samaria & the Center [Israel] (2), Jerusalem (3), Judah & the South [Israel] (4), Jordan (5), Egypt (6), Turkey (7) and Greece & Rome (8). The resolution of the images is high (approximately 1600 x 1200) making them ideal for projection purposes. Each CD, in addition to the digital images, contains pre-organized Powerpoint® files that are ready for immediate instructional usage; a screen-saver that may be edited for personal interest, a Vueslide feature that allows one-click access to view all images in a geographic region. CD’s may be purchased separately or as a set.

Four points in question were particularly relevant to this reviewer. First, the issue concerning ease of access and ability to locate the digital file: Could the image be easily located and retrieved? Second, Was resolution quality high enough to provide a clear image when submitted to data projection using presentation software? Third, To what level did the publisher permit usage beyond that of personal benefit without drifting into grey areas of copyright limitations— i.e., public, non-commercial purposes? Finally, What was included in the archive? Were the images of churches and “traditional” tourist sites primarily, or was significant attention given to biblical locales, including those seldom visited by traditional tourists but of importance to teachers.

Concerning the issue of accessibility, Pictorial Library of Bible Lands images are organized logically by geographic site or region, using a named file, assisting the user in rapid identification of the desired image. Previous knowledge of the geography of the biblical lands is helpful in navigating the file-directory structure. For those less familiar with Bible cartography, a Bible atlas might be helpful. In contrast, the Zondervan Image Archive images need to be searched out through a less than intuitive process and individual images were cataloged numerically as opposed to textually. Pictorial Library of Bible Lands can be opened in Windows Explorer or a similar file directory navigational tool and quickly accessed.

Issues concerning resolution quality of the digital images deserves significant attention by any potential user. Again, by comparison, the thumbnail, low-resolution of the Zondervan Image Archive (approx. 320 x 280) proved aggravating when clear data projection was needed. Users were encouraged to “upgrade” to a high-resolution version at significant additional cost if such was desired. This reviewer was left with the distinct impression that a “bait-and-switch” had been performed. Pictorial Library of Bible Lands offers crisp and clear resolution that lends itself readily to data projection— ideal for pastors and teachers that desire something for use in their teaching. Web developers will find the images flexible and readily adaptable to professional quality Web sites. The images are of such quality as to be readily useable in promotional brochures or church bulletins. This reviewer has made extensive use of the images in course-note packets and has not been disappointed.

Third, Bolen has provided liberal permission to use his digital images in a capacity broader than traditional copyright allows. Many existing image archives are vague in their usage permission concerning copyright, thus plunging the user into the murky abyss of copyright fair use. Those individuals or institutions seeking to use images for non-personal purposes would be advised to consider such legal issues before purchasing other such image libraries. Public usage, such as an Internet website, brochures, or certain instructional settings, may place the user outside the fair-use boundaries of other such archives—to say nothing of digital images acquired directly from Internet websites or scanned photos of previously copyrighted works.

Finally, Pictorial Library of Bible Lands provides a good balance of biblical sites, geographic locations, traditional locales, and general subjects of interest. Some sites of modern interest are also included. Additional aerial photographs and expansion of biblical manners and customs illustrations would be helpful but their absence does not diminish this fine collection. In many cases, the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands offers the user multiple images of a site from a variety of different vantage points. Unfortunately, the greatest handicap of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is limited market visibility. Those interested in the set will need to contact Bolen through his website. Such limited market availability has failed to dampen the enthusiasm expressed by previous reviewers and professors as evidenced on the website. Overall, the CD’s are comprehensive in scope and would satisfy the digital needs of most individuals. Users who have been to the geographic regions covered by the collection will be pleased with the thorough nature of image inclusion and selection. As a professor himself, Bolen understands what a teacher or pastor wants for his teaching—not what a tourist might want as a memory of a tour. Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is a must for any professor or pastor who desires high quality digital images of the biblical lands. Though other digital libraries and archives exist, the general quality is inferior, accessibility and selection are limited, and issues of copyright fair usage are problematic. For those who desire to enhance their teaching or preaching through the visual medium, Pictorial Library of Bible Lands is clearly superior to what is commercially available elsewhere. Interested individuals should explore the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands website at