Photo Companion to the Bible – Joshua
A Denver Journal Review by Denver Seminary Professor Dr. Richard S. Hess
Todd Bolen, Photo Companion to the Bible – Joshua. DVD and Digital Version. www.BiblePlaces.com, 2020. ISBN 978-1-938-32430-7.
Todd Bolen and his team have been producing the Photo Companion to the Bible since 2018. I have received copies of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the Gospels, Acts, and Romans. In viewig them I have been impressed by the variety and value of the images, for study, for teaching, and for better viewing the biblical world. The images are organized by chapter sequentially through the biblical book concerned. Thus the book of Joshua divides into 24 folders representing the 24 chapters of the book. The first chapter contains 71 images and is representative of the other chapters in terms of number and type of pictures.
The images begin with Michaelangelo’s Moses, something probably available online. This is followed by a photo of a Jerusalem street sign, Yehoshua Bin-Nun street. Again, this may provide entertainment but is unlikely to deepen understanding of the book and its major human figure. There follow eight slides of Mt. Nebo and the surrounding area. These include views toward Mt. Nebo and from Mt. Nebo as well as three aerial and satellite views of the surrounding lands and the Dead Sea. These latter images appear both as unmarked and marked; i.e., with the names of the major features. This is followed by a view of the appropriate section on the Madeba map. There follow four photos of the Jordan River beginning with a black and white photo of the Allenby Bridge from c. 1918. There are three different views of the Jordan Valley. Additional photos of the region follow. Some are pre-modern black and white images, important for an understanding of the pre-industrial Holy Land. Most are in color and provide both aerial and satellite images. In my view these are among the most important images for study and teaching. They provide an important perspective.
The inclusion of a slide illustrating the supposed appearance of “Israel” in a c. 1400 BC inscription from a Berlin Statue Pedestal Relief. I don’t see how this illustrates the opening verses of Joshua 1. The appearance of Israel on the Merneptah stele (c. 1209 BC) is virtually undisputed. However, it is not included as an image here. Instead, this highly controversial attempt to read the name “Israel” into a broken fragment of hieroglyphic signs. The reason for the appearance of this controversial inscription here is not clear.
Two images of a Roman period footprint and three of sandals follow. They illustrate Joshua 1:3 about every place where the soles of the Israelites feet tread. I am reminded of the “divine footprints” portrayed at the Iron Age ‘Ain Dara temple. Why not include them? They are much closer in time and culture.
In addressing Joshua 1:4, the geographic vistas of the Sinai and southern wilderness are stunning. The picture of the Euphrates is useful. It is not clear how the portrayal of Hittite treaties and cultural remains in Egypt and at Hazor and Megiddo demonstrate “the land of the Hittites.” A satellite or aerial view of something of southern Syria or the Hatay would have served better what is a geographic realization. In fact, these are the images Bible scholars are least likely to have in their own collection of photos. Many have been to the Sinai and to Israel, but far fewer have appropriate views of Syria. Many may also have pictures of the Mediterranean coast and sunset over it.
For Joshua 1:5 the Medinet Habu relief of Sea People captives is closer in time and place than the 23rd century BC victory stele of Naram Sin. The Merneptah relief would have been even more appropriate as it may portray Israelites and probably dates to the time of Israel. Unfortunately, the only position taken by the editors of the photos is the fifteenth century BC date for the exodus. Thus we view the image of Thutmose III as the pharaoh of the exodus, but no portrayal of Ramesses II is available. It would have been helpful to balance the selection of images, and not only privilege the early date.
My viewing of the rest of Joshua and of the other sets of OT and NT images agrees with this overall evaluation. The collection is a valuable one. Multiple images of the same subject often allow the viewer to choose their preference for teaching or other display purposes. While not my only source for images nor always the best, it is the most convenient resource available for quality photos that are largely relevant to the books and passages of the Bible that they are intended to illustrate. I recommend this collection as an important resource for studying and teaching the Bible.
Richard S. Hess, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament