Ancient Malaria Risk and the Apostle Paul's Travel Decisions in Asia Minor: A GIS Approach

Authors: Daniel C Browning Jr*, University of Southern Mississippi
Topics: Bible Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: Bible, Roman Roads, Disease Mapping, Disease Modeling, Ancient Travel, GIS,
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 56
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over a century ago, geographer and archaeologist William M. Ramsay suggested that Paul’s movements in Asia Minor, as reported by Acts, were partly dictated by the region’s physical terrain coupled with the apostle’s propensity to suffer from recurrent malaria. Ramsay’s claim, now largely ignored, is reexamined in this study through a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach to assessing malaria risk for ancient Roman travelers; specifically, those utilizing certain Roman roads.
A GIS model for malaria risk in antiquity, based on risk factors refined by contemporary studies, was constructed, calibrated, and validated for Italy, using a pre-eradication map of malaria endemicity resulting for systematic data collection in 1880. The resulting model provides a tool for assessing various textual sources from antiquity, including travel accounts.
In this case-study application is made to the journeys of Paul, specifically to travel decisions by Paul in Asia Minor as detailed in Acts 13:13-14, 16:6-10, and 19:1. The model results for Asia Minor, overlaid with Roman road data, and related research strongly suggest a reevaluation and re-appreciation of Ramsay’s premise, with potential implications for understanding the Acts passages and Pauline studies. This contribution is only one of many possible applications of the model and demonstrates the potential for adapting the technical capabilities of GIS to the task of evaluating nuanced textual sources.

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