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Samuel Halperin and Henry Epstein maps of the Holy Land collection

Identifier: MAP0002
The maps represented in this collection were donated to the collections by Dr. Samuel Halperin (who also donated a large number of Bibles) and Mr. Henry Epstein, between 1990 and 1999. Some of the map makers represented here include Gerhard Mercator, Sebastian Mnster, Christian von Adrichem, and Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville. The maps, many of them rare, are valuable for scholars studying that region of the world.


  • 1590-1850


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9 Linear Feet


Collection contains maps of Israel, Palestine, and other areas of the Middle East. Some of the map makers represented here include Gerhard Mercator, Sebastian Mnster, Christian von Adrichem, and Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville. The maps, many of them rare, are valuable for scholars studying that region of the world.

Historical Note

For centuries, the Holy Land was the most important and prominent subject in mapmaking. This area of the world witnessed the convergence of three major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was also a center of military and trading powers, situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Over the centuries, centers of mapmaking moved with the fortunes of various military and economic powers to countries like France, Italy, and the Netherlands, which advertised their successes with maps of the regions they had explored. However, due to the religious training of early medieval scientists, maps often distorted the relation of the Holy Land to the rest of the world. A map by early church father Jerome allots the Holy Land one-sixth of the world's surface. Following the invasion of 1099, during which Frankish knights on the First Crusade captured Jerusalem, Palestine "was at once moved to the exact center of Mappaemundi." Map makers of the Middle Ages gave differing depictions of the Holy Land. The Holy Land is the only area to have been portrayed by map makers in all four possible orientations. The land was usually interpreted by the direction from which the navigator was traveling. For example, in Mnster's Ptolomaeus edition, the north on the Terra Sancta XVI Nova Tabula appears on the lower edge of the map and the south on the upper margin. Istakhri, a 10th century Islamic map maker, placed south at the top, while Sebastian Mnster, Willem Blaeu, and Nicholas Visscher produced maps with west at the top.

Cartographers encountered difficulties in delineating the region. The territory was arid, unpopulated, and rarely explored. Difficulties in measuring bodies of water were due to the problem of measuring longitude, which was not solved until the late eighteenth century when a portable chronometer was invented that enabled determination of a meridian anywhere in the world. Accurate maps of the Holy Land were not developed for centuries despite the small size of the country and the simplicity of its geographical features. Two cartographic traditions dominate the history of mapping the Holy Land, the biblical and the classical. The Bible is, necessarily, the most important source for the cartography of the Holy Land. Early church fathers such as Eusebius (about 260-340) and Jerome (348-420) attempted to identify every place name in the Bible, compiling maps as illustrations. Pilgrims to the Holy Land guaranteed a continual flow of new information. They published memoirs with pictures and maps, providing their own descriptions of the Holy Land.

The classical school of mapping the Holy Land began as the legacy of Greek and Roman scientists and historians. New information from improvements in methods of mapmaking (including the use of the compass and the triangulated survey), advances in the theories of geography, reports of merchants and navigators, and the recovery of ancient texts gave mapmakers a new dimension to their works. The first "modern map" of Palestine was designed in 1320 in Italy by Pietro (Petrus Visconte) and attached to a book by the Venetian Marino Sanuto. The advent of the printing press revolutionized the field of cartography. After the introduction of movable type in 1440, the Bible was translated into the vernacular and made accessible to the common man. This revolution coincided with Europe's discovery of formerly unknown parts of the globe, including the Indies and, in 1492, America. Voyages were undertaken into remote countries and pilgrimages to the Holy Land became frequent. As a result, not only Bibles but also historical and religious works printed between the end of the fifteenth century and up to the nineteenth century often contained maps and illustrations.

With the expansion of Western power came Europe's rediscovery of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographia (150 AD), the earliest known atlas of the world. Reprinted in 1477 it contained instructions on how to accurately illustrate the shape of the earth on a flat surface by using a curved grid of longitude and latitude. However, many later cartographers simply copied Ptolomy's work without copying his methods. This enabled cartographers to build upon the classical tradition in maps of the Holy Land, unlike cartographers of the early Middle Ages, who relied primarily upon Biblical interpretation and imagination.

During the mid-sixteenth century, Venice and Rome were the centers of the European map and chart trade. The Italian Gerhard Mercator is one of the most prominent names in the history of cartography. Mercator used a north-by-northwest orientation and provided angled latitudinal and longitudinal marks on the border, which is still in use today. Prominent in Venice was Giacomo Gastaldi, who produced more than 100 influential works. He compiled large multiplate maps and scores of folio sheets that often appeared in the "Lafreri Atlases." His edition of Ptolemy's Geographia was the first to be designed in a small, pocket-sized format; all preceding editions had been folios. Other important figures in the history of cartography in the sixteenth century include Jacob Zeigler, Tileman Stella, Abraham Ortelius and Christiaan von Adrichem. Zeigler was a German Jesuit, whose revival of the classical tradition had an influence on Mercator. Tileman Stella, a German mathematician and map maker, consolidated the advances from maps by Mercator and Zeigler in his own wall map. The most prominent atlas publisher of the sixteenth century, Abraham Ortelius, published, in 1570, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum [combining 53 maps] which became the first modern atlas. He solved the problem of carrying a large number of folio-sized maps and charts by producing a series of maps on uniformly sized sheets that could be easily conveniently bound. Finally, Christian von Adrichom, a Dutch priest serving in Cologne, became "the acknowledged master of biblical topography" with his delineation of Jerusalem, the most important of the sixteenth century. Oriented to the north, the map illustrates Jerusalem and its surroundings at the time of Christ. Through extensive historical research, he identifies over 250 sites; most importantly, the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which had varied in number, from 11 to 31, and in location. He was the first to depict the 14 sites that are most widely accepted today, using the texts.

In the eighteenth century, with the rediscovery of classical sources, particularly Ptolemy's Geographia, mapmaking expanded from its Biblical roots to become more scientifically based. During this time, the French mapmaking dynasty of the Sanson Family rose to prominence and cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville produced a map that served as the chief authority until the early nineteenth century.
Biographical Sketch of Samuel Halperin Samuel Halperin (May 10, 1930 - May 6, 2014) was the founder and Senior Fellow of the American Youth Policy Forum. He held leadership positions in academia, the federal government, a foundation and non- profit organizations for over 40 years. Dr. Halperin was President of the Institute for Educational Leadership; Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; Director of the U.S. Office of Education's Office of Congressional Relations and Assistant U.S. Commissioner of Education for Legislation; a congressional fellow of the American Political Science Association; and Study Director of Youth and America's Future.

Dr. Halperin was awarded HEW's Superior Service Award twice, HEW's Distinguished Service Award, and the National Association of State Boards of Education Distinguished Service Award, twice the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award of Jobs for the Future, the President's Medal of the George Washington University, the Harry S Truman Award of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Lewis Hine Award for Service to Children and Youth of the National Child Labor Committee.

He taught at Wayne State, American and Duke Universities, and Teachers College-Columbia University, and lectured at many others. Dr. Halperin has served on various boards including the Peace Corps, Secretary of the Navy's Advisory Board on Education and Training, National School Volunteer Program, Jobs for the Future and others. He is the author of A Guide for the Powerless and Those Who Don't Know Their Own Power. He holds a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a doctorate in Political Science from Washington University, St. Louis.

Collection Organization

Organized into two series: Samuel Halperin maps of the Holy Land collection, and the Henry Epstein maps of the Holy Land collection

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dr. Samuel Halperin (who also donated a large number of Bibles) and Mr. Henry Epstein, between 1990 and 1999.
Guide to the Samuel Halperin and Henry Epstein maps of the Holy Land collection, 1590-1850
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America