Rivers of the Bible

The rivers of the bible may bring to mind Noah hidden among bulrushes, but that’s not where they end. The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible by Hardesty, 1883, shows 11 biblical rivers in a small panel below another comparative panel of biblical mountains. This is the companion panel to the mountains piece that shares the same page.

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. Note the inconsistent scales used. Own work.

As comparatives go, it’s unusual. Where comparatives typically (everywhere except perhaps this example) concern themselves with ‘principal’ features (I find that usually means largest, although that is up in the air with some comparatives), this comparative shows features described in the bible. Further making this view unique are the inconsistent scales used. A uniform scale is critical to a comparative in that without one, the ability to visually ascertain the relative size of a feature is lost.

To perform a scale analysis I measured lengths of the rivers as drawn and plotted that against their stated lengths, with each river shown as a dot. If the comparative had a uniform scale, the plotted points would fall on a line.

Plot of river lengths as drawn and stated to determine uniformity of scale.
Scale analysis of rivers from The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible by Hardesty, 1883. Note the non-linear arrangement of points. Own work.

The scale plot generated in the analysis is not a flat line. Instead, it’s more of a curve, climbing steeply on the left hand side of the plot, then becoming shallower.

Scale analysis of rivers from The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible by Hardesty, 1883. The rivers sorted into two groups. Own work.
Scale analysis of rivers from The Countries of Exile with Mountains and Rivers of the Bible by Hardesty, 1883. The rivers sorted into two groups. Own work.

I split the longer rivers (Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates) which fell on the right hand ‘spur’ of the graph into a separate group and replotted them so that I could fit lines to each group individually. The result: within groups, the rivers scale consistently.

This finding points to the possibility that the author intended for this piece to be a visual tool for showing the lengths of the rivers, but for practical reasons could not do so in a way that would adequately address all 11 rivers. Quite simply, to show a 3,700 mile and a 19 mile river on the same chart would require either a chart so large as to be unwieldy or a chart that condenses the smaller features so much that it lacks resolution. The author no doubt wanted for the reader to see the differences in river lengths, but lacked (or chose not to devote) page space to show it, instead hoping that the reader would figure it out.

 © Peter Roehrich, 2016

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