Digital Library > Gallery > The Cycle of the Year > Passover > Calculating Out a New Route: The Exodus from Egypt in Maps and Drawings

Calculating Out a New Route: The Exodus from Egypt in Maps and Drawings

If, by some chance, we will ever have to get out of Egypt again, we will already have the maps handy. The enormous map collection of the National Library contains many antique, rare and illustrated maps that trace the epic journey of the Israelites in the wilderness.

​Because there is no accurate record of the points along the route of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt, the maps show an approximate or imagined one. The path they journeyed in the desert is not the only thing the maps show – many are accompanied by illustrations in which the artists offered their versions and interpretations of various aspects of the biblical story. The maps in our collection do not strive for geographic accuracy but rather emphasize the religious ethical narrative, and therefore also incorporate detailed depictions of figures and events to illustrate and enliven the well-known story. 

 Out of Egypt by Way of London

מפת יציאת מצרים, לונדון 1562

With the development of print, publishers began to make series of biblical maps. Most series included descriptive maps of the Garden of Eden, the Promised Land, and its division among the tribes, Jesus’ wanderings, and of course the Exodus from Egypt.

This map of the Exodus, was added to the book of Numbers in the Bible published by Richard Harrison (London 1562). The map shows the route the Israelites followed through the wilderness including 42 various stops along the way. Along the route we see the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with the Egyptians in chariots and on horses chasing after them, the Israelites battling the Amalekites, gathering the manna, dancing around the Golden Calf at the foot of Mount Sinai during the revelation with the name of God indicated in Hebrew letters (י-ה-ו-ה), and Moses with the copper snake. Along the borders from the left down are the Nile delta and the land of Goshen, and above are Moab and various cities, including Kadesh Barnea, Jericho and Hebron. 

 A Special Map for the Amsterdam Haggadah

מפת אברהם בר יעקב, אמסטרדם 1712


Less than one hundred and fifty years later, in 1695, Abraham Bar Yaakov, a Protestant priest from Germany who converted to Judaism and worked as an engraver in Amsterdam, created the map for the Amsterdam Haggadah.  This is, in fact, not only a map of the Exodus, but a map of the entire Promised Land, of which only the right half is dedicated to the Exodus. The route of the exodus includes a number of small illustrations including the falling of the manna, Mount Sinai and the revelation, and the altar with the twelve precious stones east of Jericho. There is also a key listing the places where the Israelites stopped along the way.

In creating the map for the Amsterdam Haggadah, Abraham Bar Yaakkov was influenced by other contemporary maps made by Christians, and of course his own familiarity with Christianity and knowledge of Latin was useful. There is a striking similarity between his map and the map prepared by Hondius Jansson after the map by Christian van Adrichom from 1633. One can see that the route of the exodus from Egypt, the small illustrations, and even the storm tossed ship tossed on the sea and the figure of Jonah being thrown from it, all derive from that map.

However, Bar Yaakov also introduced important changes in his map. In the lower right corner is the figure of a nude woman on a crocodile, which in the Middle Ages and early modern period symbolized the continent of Africa. In medieval literature, the crocodile was used to symbolize Egypt. Bar Yaakov converted other Christian symbols into Jewish ones on his map: he changed the fleet of ships into the barges of King Hiram transporting the cedars of Lebanon for the building of the Temple, and at the lower left, the promised land is represented as the Land of Milk and Honey, with a herd of cows and next to it the Hebrew word for “milk” and beehives with the Hebrew word for “honey.”. The eagle nearby is accompanied by the verse “You have seen what I have done to Egypt and I will carry you on the wings of Eagles and bring you to me,” stressing the map’s main motif of the exodus from Egypt.

 A Comic Book Version of the Priestly Activities in the Tabernacle

מסעי בני ישראל במדבר, פריס 1728

Also this map printed in Paris in 1738 by Jacques Francois Brand is dedicated to the Israelites' journey in the wilderness. The route and various stops along it are marked in red and around them are a series of illustrations connected to the priestly work in the Tabernacle and its vessels. These pictures were intended to illustrate the worship in the Tabernacle during the encampments along the wilderness journey, and it is possible to identify the following (counter-clockwise): the high priest, the tabernacle and the surrounding camps, the tent of meeting, the ark and the cherubim, the altar, the table of the showbread, the candelabrum, the tabernacle covered, the high priest performing a sacrifice inside the tabernacle, a lower priest with a sacrificial bull.