The Dictionary Project is a post-a-day exploration of The Century Dictionary and Cylopedia, a twelve-volume set printed in New York in 1901. The Project runs from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015, and matches volume numbers to calendar months. Volume X is The Atlas, and today is Day 31.
Okay, now I’m really wishing this Atlas were Volume XII of this set, because if December 24’s post would have been the North Pole, December 25th’s would absolutely have been “Palestine at the Time of Christ”. A lame joke followed by an irreverent reference? Sign me up!
The inclusion of this map in an Atlas intended (I think) for the turn-of-the-century, affluent, American schoolchild is strongly suggestive of the Judeo-Christian religious teachings that were the norm at the time, even in secular schools. (Heck, I remember saying the Lord’s Prayer, and readings from the Bible, in my earliest years at school, and that was many decades later!) The Twelve Tribes of Israel, the specific layout of Jersualem, ancient Israel and Judea, a floor plan of Solomon’s temple and palace (but not the mines, because apparently those were in Africa?): all included here. My idle, religiously-unaffiliated self finds it pretty interesting, too; presumably the Philistines were from Philistia, and the Samaritans from Samaria? It’s probably a bad sign for the immortal soul (that I don’t really believe in) that, when I see the name Judea, I think of this scene from “The Life of Brian”.
Moving on! Let’s have a little peek at ‘Modern’ Palestine, on an enlarged inset from the map of the Arabian peninsula. Apart from the “part of Turkey” aspect of things, lots of the names have changed. Lebanon, which was the name of a mountain in the time of Christ, is now the name of a whole area, located north of another region called Beirut. Damascus, a city at the time of Christ, is the name of a the surrounding region, within Syria. And in spite of the markings on the map of ancient times, the area directly east of Syria is marked as “unexplored”. This is shorthand for “unexplored by Europeans”; the local people were undoubtedly well-acquainted with the area.
White European exploration of the globe reminds me of that old question about trees falling in the forest: can a place exist if no white man has claimed it for his king?
And finally, here we are in the same area in the actual modern day, courtesy of Google Maps. The “unexplored by Europeans” area east of the Dead Sea is now part of Jordan, the city of Beirut is in Lebanon, and the area that was called Beirut is now Israel. The hands of the British and the French, dividing up the Ottoman Empire post-World War I are evident in the straight lines delineating borders, and the resulting odd shapes of countries like Jordan and the dotted lines running through Jerusalem and around Gaza.
And this, ladies and gentlemen–all three of you who read these posts–brings Volume X, the Atlas, to a close. Thank you for sticking with me for this whole long month. I have some thoughts about how I’m going to proceed with the other eleven volumes, and I welcome reader thoughts, too. Watch this space for another post coming later today.