Mountains of the Bible

I recently added to my collection The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible by Hardesty, 1883, with two comparative panels, one showing the mountains of the Bible and one showing the rivers, with each panel divisible into two sections. This comparative is unique in two aspects. First, rather than showing the largest mountains or longest rivers (or whatever “principal” is used to mean), the criteria for inclusion here is biblical importance. Second, this comparative makes no effort to consistently scale the features.

Comparative view of the mountains and rivers of the bible. Own work.
‘The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible’ by Hardesty, 1883. Comparative view of the mountains and rivers of the bible. Own work.

This comparative is divided into two panels so I will split my treatment of it into two posts. This post will analyze the top panel featuring mountains.

As I am not a bible scholar, I will not analyze the significance of the mountains other than to point out that pivotal events from the Old and New Testaments are associated with them. I will however, point out that the mountains shown here include may sites of biblical importance: Mt Ararat, where accounts hold that Noah’s Arc came to rest, and Mt Olivet, believed to be the site of the Jesus’ ascent, among other mountains. That said, this is not an exhaustive list; it excludes, for example, Mt Zion and Mt Calvary. Not having the entire atlas, there are few clues available as to why some mountains were excluded, if there are any clues in the rest of the atlas at all.

This comparative is remarkable in that it is not well scaled. Although the mountains are broken into two rows, no devices (e.g.: border, different titles) clearly delineate separation which would signal the reader to expect a different scale between the rows. Moreover, looking at the first two peaks, Ararat and Lebanon, it’s clear that the row lacks scale: Mt Ararat, at 17,750 feet, is by no means 1.7 times the height of Mt Lebanon, at 10,539 feet.

After measuring the height of the illustrations in pixels, I plotted their reported height in feet against their drawn height in pixels: the result is not surprising. Points form a steep line on the lower left part of the graph, bending to form a shallower line extending to the upper right, confirming that the points do not share a consistent scale; fitting a line to the data is ridiculous.

Scale analysis of the Mountains of the Bible. Each point relates the stated size of the mountain in feet (x-axis) to the feature size in pixels (y-axis). Own work.
Scale analysis of the Mountains of the Bible. Each point relates the stated size of the mountain in feet (x-axis) to the feature size in pixels (y-axis). Own work.

As it happens, the points on the shallow side of the curve match to the 5 mountains on the top row of the comparative, and those on the steep side match to the mountains on the lower row. The conclusion that can be drawn from this: each row has a unique scale. Splitting the rows so that the top row and bottom row are plotted separately reveals that they are scaled on an individual basis. That said, they are not scaled as well as other comparatives. Mountains of both rows ‘wander’ slightly on either side of the trend line, whereas the features of other comparatives fall squarely on the trend lines when they are plotted. In particular Mt Lebanon is taller than it should be, explaining the incorrect difference in size vis-a-vis Mt Ararat mentioned above.

Mountains on the upper row are shown in blue, those on the lower row in red. Own work.
Scale analysis of the Mountains of the Bible. Each point relates the stated size of the mountain in feet (x-axis) to the feature size in pixels (y-axis). Mountains on the upper row are shown in blue, those on the lower row in red. Own work.

What could explain the apparent lack of regard for scale in this comparative? Because the criteria for inclusion was biblical importance rather than size, and the lack of scale, I am confident that this exhibit is actually a pseudo-comparative. Its purpose is to serve as an illustrated list of the biblical mountains rather than a true examination of their heights, merely piggybacking on the popular comparative style.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

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