Max Miller, Eugene: Cascade Books, 2020. xvi+205pp. ISBN: 978-1-5326-6031-3. $48.99 (paperback), $70.94 (hardback).
The Introduction to this book provides a brief discussion of the beginnings of modern pilgrimages to Palestine. The author then outlines his own personal engagement with the area, which began in 1960. Since then he has led–“as an archaeologist and historian of biblical times”–many annual visits, leading groups, in the years “from 1980 through 2014” (xiv). The book is based on his travel notes, and covers those places that a Christian tour group would typically visit. The introductory remarks end with the important caveat that biblical Palestine takes in more than modern Israel, it includes Jordan as well.
Chapter One, “The Long Sweep of History”, outlines first the archaeological and geological terminology used, and how geologists will consider geological epochs, while archaeologists speak of archaeological eras and historical periods. Miller explains what a Tell (Arabic) or Tel (Hebrew) is; important as tells appear frequently in the text that follows. There is a brief discussion of Israel’s place in the archaeological timeframe, and a discussion of place names and how and why they have changed over the centuries.
Chapter Two, “The Lay of the Land”, describes the five areas that make up the “Holy Land”, namely, the Mediterranean Coast Plain, Galilee and the Central Hill Country, the Jordan River Basin, the Transjordan Highlands, and the Syria-Arabian desert. Each is described topographically, climatically, in terms of how productive the land is, and with reference to biblical place names.
The heart of the book comes in the next two long chapters: Chapter Three on the sites within Jordan, and Chapter Four covering Israel and the Palestinian areas. Miller provides a mix of a potted history of a site, along with discussion of (selected) scriptural references to the place, often providing a quotation of the biblical text itself. The discussion of the sites is necessarily brief, broad rather than granular, although he will pick out particular important features for more extended comment. The comment on the history of a site will go across all periods, from pre-Israelite history, biblical times through Crusader or Islamic periods to more modern times. A final, fifth brief chapter outlines the present-day political situation of Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian areas, with a sketch history of how they came to their present configuration.
Miller’s experience and knowledge of the area shows through as he is able to give helpful advice, as for instance on not attempting to make one’s visit to Petra a daytrip from Amman, but to “[t]hink of Petra as an experience for a full day and at least one overnight” (39). Elsewhere, in outlining sites around Caesarea Philippi, he recommends a drive to the Banias waterfall. “Better still,” he writes, “walk the trail that follows the Banias stream from the cave and cultic terrace site to the waterfall and arrange for your transportation to meet you there. The walk will take a little more than an hour” (127).
The book contains a number of sidebars: “Did Thutmose III campaign east of the Dead Sea?”; “Excerpts from the Mesha Inscription”; “The Nabateans”; “The Druze”; “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”; “Stations of the Cross”, to name six of the ten. The book includes helpful maps and figures, and is illustrated throughout with excellent colour photos. There are a few typographical errors: the most unfortunate being “bother” for “brother” (47), and the most serious being dating the Parthian invasion of Syria-Palestine in the time of Herod (the Great) as “40 CE” when “BCE” is meant. A brief bibliography providing full details of the few books cited would be a helpful addition.
Who will benefit from this book? I should think that anyone leading a tour to the Holy Land would benefit from having this book in their library. Visitors or pilgrims to the Holy Land will want to read it to give them an idea of the history of the sites, and to help them decide what to see and how to allocate their time.
Chapter Three, “Jordan” covers the following: Amman; Gilead and the Decapolis; Mount Nebo, Jordan River, and the Dead Sea; Through Moab and Arabia Petraea to Petra; Petra; Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Chapter Four, “Israel and the Palestinian Areas” covers: Lower Galilee (includes among other sites: Sepphoris, Nazareth, Mount Tabor); Sea of Galilee (Tiberias, Capernaum, Magdala, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, and Primacy of Peter Chapel); Caeserea Philippi and Jordan River Sources; two routes from Galilee to Jerusalem (one through Samaria and the other down the Jordan Valley); Jerusalem (Ophel–the pre-Davidic and Davidic city–the Temple Mount, Western Hill and Mount Zion, the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb, Museums in Jerusalem); Bethlehem; Jerusalem to Caesarea Maritima (including Emmaus, Lydda, Joppa), the Judean Wilderness and the Dead Sea (Qumran, Masada).
Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus.