A collection of 30 Christian maps and atlases dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries has been donated to the University of Haifa. The rare collection belonged to the late Dr. Richard Umansky, a world traveler, historian, and pediatrician. The maps and atlases are filled with biblical illustrations and offer a Christian perspective on the Holy Land from the 1500s and 1600s.
Dr. Zur Shalev is the head of the university’s General History Department. He was thrilled to receive the collection—maps he had first expressed an interest in two decades ago. The collection offers a rich opportunity to study the past from the perspective of mapmakers.
“We’re delighted. It was 20 years ago that I wrote an essay about two of these maps, and now they’re actually here,” said Shalev. “We have maps from German Reverend Heinrich Binting, who drew many beautiful maps from the time of the Canaanite
people, a Semitic-speaking civilization.”
“Binting compiled biblical accounts into a collection of travels. This 16th-century man managed to document long distances in voyages with zero advanced equipment to aid him while explaining the spiritual meaning of Abraham and John the Baptist.”
Today, mapmakers—cartographers—are expected to strictly document the topography and the lay of the land they are exploring. Binting documented his voyages, but he also communicated biblical stories through his maps. Dr. Shalev said that Binting and other ancient mapmakers of Israel would often provide more of a biblical interpretation of the area they were exploring rather than just cataloging physical landmarks.
“Despite previous acquaintance with various parts of the world, maps back then were drawn from the perspective of biblical interpretations rather than physical presence in the drawn location. A cartographer is expected to go into the field and draw based on his voyage,” Shalev said.