New Testament Significance
The Madaba Map displays many locations which hold significance to the narrative of the New Testament. In particular the detailed image of the City of Jerusalem and the banks of the river Jordan.
The map provides a very detailed topographical representation of the old city of Jerusalem. There are a few features in particular which are easily identifiable: the Damascus Gate, the Lion’s Gate, the Golden Gate, the Zion Gate, the New Church of the Theotokos, the Tower of David and the Cardo Maximus. Given the detailed nature of the mosaic this is a useful source on the Byzantine Jerusalem.
Linking the Madaba Map to the New Testament is the fact that it features the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city very significant to both the Jewish and Christian faiths. In the New Testament, Jerusalem is the location of many significant events in the life of Jesus. In Luke 2:22, Jesus is brought to the Temple as a baby to be presented to the Lord. It is where a large portion of his ministry takes place. For example, Matthew 4:25, Mark 11:11, Luke 19:28. And finally, it is the place where Jesus goes to his death, finishing his time on earth.
There are 144 references to Jerusalem in the New Testament, 68 of these are in the gospels, 60 in Acts, and the rest scattered throughout the rest of the books in the New Testament.
The preponderance of churches and shrines over other buildings seem to suggest that the map would have been tailored to cater to the needs of pilgrims. Indeed the position of Jerusalem within the map draws the eye, suggesting it may have been the intended focus. The contents of the captions, especially the direct references to the tribes of Israel, names, quotation of biblical benedictions, clearly indicate that the Map is primarily a document of biblical geography. The addition of places mentioned in the New Testament, and the primary importance given to Christian shrines, churches and to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre makes of the map a Christian re-reading of the story of salvation in a geographic context.
The River Jordan
This region is defined by various symbols: palm trees at the oases of Jericho; bushes by the banks of the river, to define their inaccessibility due to the thick vegetation; the pulley driven ferries to indicate the fording spots on the river. The inhospitable desert nature of great part of the region is depicted by a lion (disfigured by iconoclasts) chasing a gazelle. Fish are represented in the rivers thus depicting the life supporting waters of the river as opposed to the lifeless brackish waters of the Dead Sea. Look-out towers with ladders to access them are also common.
Often thought of as the location of John's baptism of Jesus the Madaba Map draws close attention to this particular area. Perhaps to help pilgrims to identify the location.
The biblical significance is clear. Once again indicating that the map's purpose may well have been to guide pilgrims wishing to visit sites of particular biblical significance.