Cities of the Biblical Word

By LaMoine F. DeVries
Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson (1997). 398 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 227-228

One of the often neglected aspects of biblical interpretation is what might be called the “picture-frame” surrounding the text: the history, culture, and physical settings. The “frame” can either enhance the view of the text or distract from it, depending on how it is used. In the last several years many good sources for background information have come into print, including Cities of the Biblical World.

The author, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Southwestern Missouri State, intends his book to “introduce students of the Bible to the archaeology, geography and history of several important sites of the OT and NT worlds” (xv). To this end, he has achieved his goal with remarkable excellence. The book has two major parts: Old Testament cities and New Testament cities. DeVries divides both sections regionally: in the OT section, Cities of Mesopotamia, Cities of Aram/Syria and Phoencia, Cities of Anatolia, Cities of Egypt, Cities of Palestine; and in the NT section, Cities of Palestine and Cities of the Roman World. He lists individual cities of each section in alphabetical order.

Entries for each city vary in length from three to several pages, with an excellent bibliography for further study at the end of each entry. The entries follow a format of basic geographic situation, history, and culture and the site’s relationship to the biblical text. Not all cities dealt with are specifically mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Mari, 26-30, and Hattusas, 99-104), but their impact on the overall affairs of the Ancient Near East merits their inclusion. The author has incorporated a helpful chart of historical periods in Egypt, Israel, and Mesopotamia in relation to the standard archaeological designations. Also included are place and Scripture indexes and a list of abbreviations.

Only a few criticisms of the book are in order. Although amply illustrated, the photographs are too often of individual structures or artifacts and fail to give the reader a good visual understanding of the physical settings. This problem is compounded by a surprising lack of cartographic illustrations. The author gives rather superficial treatment to the location of “Ur of Chaldees” (38-42), dismissing, in this reviewer’s opinion, the more likely northern location with one sentence (cf. Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands [Moody, 1985] 80). He also avoids taking a precise stand on the dating of the Exodus, and even its location on the Historical Chart (386) is ambiguous. Additionally, it would have seemed that in a book of this genre at least a general discussion of the seven cities of Revelation (only Ephesus is dealt with) would have been warranted.

These however, are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent work which should serve the student and pastor well.