Borders and Boundaries was mounted at the Herbert & Eileen Museum, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, during the summer of 2002. The following two articles by Thomas Suarez and senior curator Elka Deitsch opened the catalog which accompanied the exhibit.

Any quest for humankind's earliest geographic descriptions inevitably leads to the Hebrew Bible, specifically to the Book of Genesis. In the beginning, the earth was empty and without shape; then God created an expanse of land in the midst of the waters and planted an orchard in the east, in Eden. Finally, initiating the division of the world into separate regions, a river flowed from Eden and divided into four headstreams.

The primeval garden and Jerusalem became two of the earliest cartographic points of reference. The Bible placed Eden toward the east at the rising sun, but it otherwise remained a vague point on the earth, despite the attempts of various medieval commentators to place it more precisely. (Columbus, reaching the South American continent in 1498, speculated that he may have reached its foothills.) Jerusalem, however, was tangible holy ground. It could be confidently placed on maps at the confluence of the three parts of the world — Europe, Africa, and Asia — and this pivotal location seemed entirely natural for the land that was central to three faiths. Thus, it was not only proper philosophically, but geographically logical to place the Holy Land and Jerusalem at the center of the earth. Indeed, for many centuries, that was an assumption upon which many mappaemundi (maps of the world) were constructed. As we see in the world map by Heinrich Bünting, even when Europe came to "know better," Jerusalem was still depicted as the central axis around which the world, figuratively, revolved.

Detail, A Draught of the City of Jerusalem, Cornelis de Bruyn, 1780
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One of the geographers to place Jerusalem squarely in the center of the world image was also the first to create a detailed, empirically based representation of the Holy Land. This was Petrus Vesconte, a mapmaker whose rendering survives in a work by Marino Sanudo of circa 1320. The map was used as part of Sanudo's appeal to the kings of Europe to undertake a new expedition against the Turks; the West's loss of Tripoli and Acre in 1289 and 1291, respectively, was still a fresh and bitter memory when the map was made.

The mapping of the Holy Land was of such importance that the first European printed map based on actual empirical observation was not of readily surveyed European land but rather of the Holy Land. It was published in 1475 and was derived from the pilgrimage of the thirteenth-century Dominican Burchard of Mt. Sion. Furthermore, shortly afterward, when the maps of the ancient Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy were first published, a map of the Holy Land, based on Vesconte's work, was among the first crop of "modern" maps made to supplement it.

While the explosion in printed maps in the sixteenth century created a demand for more accurate and detailed examples, these older sources were not abandoned. Christian van Adrichom (1533 — 1585) produced a map of the Holy Land that endured as the principal prototype of the region for two centuries, yet even his model owes considerable debt to both Burchard of Mt. Sion and Vesconte.

Detail, The Holy Jewish Land, Sebastian Münster, 1545
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Nor was the biblical significance of the region lost in the Renaissance. Quite the contrary; the new mappings of the Holy Land served as a canvas for reconstructing biblical events and better placing the Twelve Tribes. This is already evident in the map of the Holy Land from the first methodically conceived, uniformly produced atlas, the 1570 Theatrum of Abraham Ortelius. That map, based on the contemporary geographer Tilleman Stella, carefully plots the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Pictorial representations of biblical events also became an important element in maps of the Holy Land. Ortelius's Terra Sancta of 1584 is based on geography by Peter Laicksteen and Christian Sgrooten, sporting different misconceptions from its 1570 predecessor and showing Jonah being thrown from his ship. Ortelius's Abrahami Patriarchae Peregrinatio et Vita expands dramatically on the synthesis of cartography and iconography, flaunting twenty-two finely engraved vignettes illustrating the life and travels of Abraham. They include Abraham's journey from Ur, his offerings on the altars at Shechem and Bethel, the birth of Isaac, and the expulsion of Hagar.

As with printed maps, the Holy Land provided the makers of printed city views a rich subject with which to develop their art. The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, the first lavishly illustrated printed book, included three views of the Holy Land — one of the walled city of Jerusalem, one of Solomon's Temple, and the third, displayed in the exhibition, depicting the destruction of Jerusalem with the Temple ablaze. When in 1572 Braun and Hogenberg produced the first atlas of city views, Jerusalem was their focus three times, including the finely detailed plan of Jerusalem et suburbia.

These and other early models for the mapping of the Holy Land and Jerusalem remained the basis for the charting of the region up until relatively modern times. Despite the emphasis on accuracy and the quest for improvement in Western mapmaking, it might be said that in its mapping of the Holy Land, more than any other region, this "scientific" attitude was always tempered with a reverence for tradition, iconography, and the past.


Congregation Emanu-El is fortunate to possess a diverse collection of approximately five hundred pieces of Jewish art objects. Ranging in date from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries, the collection includes pieces of Jewish ceremonial art, household ritual objects and memorabilia reflecting the history of the Temple. The core of the collection is composed of two major gifts to the Congregation, one by Henry M. Toch in 1928 and another, consisting of 150 pieces, by the Judge Irving Lehman in 1945. This distinguished collection is striking not only for its beauty, rarity and splendor but for the way it illuminates a notable segment of American Jewish history and the heritage of an eminent synagogue.

The Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum
Located at the Temple at One East 65th St.
Just off 5th Ave. in New York City



From: Bernard Museum Catalog, Borders and Boundaries: Maps of the Holy Land, 15th-19th century

footnotes Thomas Suarez, author of Early Mapping of Southeast Asia, The Crustacean Codex, and Shedding the Veil
sources Maps in Judaica Art Gallery



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