Following Jesus in the Holy Land. Pathways of discipleship through Advent and Lent
Stephen W Need
Durham: Sacristy Press, 2019
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Review by Dr Clare Amos, JMECA Director/Trustee
This book is dedicated to St George’s College, Jerusalem, where Stephen Need taught for a considerable number of years, initially as Course Director and later on as Dean. It is a fitting dedication for the book itself is an example of what St George’s College offers at its very best: the drawing together of key biblical and theological insights alongside the study of the topography, historical geography and archaeology of the Holy Land, and allowing them to influence Christian spirituality. And an additional element – the need to be aware that contemporary study visits and pilgrimages to the Holy Land are not made in a vacuum, but in a context in which the tensions of that ‘competitively loved’ land impact profoundly on the lives and well-being of the Israelis and Palestinians who live there today.
The book is helpfully structured so that it could form the framework of both an Advent and a Lent course. It is designed so that each chapter focuses on a location or site, and biblical, theological and spiritual insights linked to that particular place are then offered. During Advent we are encouraged to look first at Jerusalem and reflect on the coming of Jesus to be the ‘New Temple’. We then move towards Bethlehem, ‘God Stooping’ and Nazareth, ‘Growing in Wisdom’, to conclude the Advent section with a visit to the River Jordan, to explore what ‘Becoming a Disciple’ may mean. The Lenten section of the book begins appropriately with the desert or wilderness, and then takes us to Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, Mount Tabor, and finally back to Jerusalem for Holy Week and Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the whole the order works very well, though perhaps in the Advent section it may appear a little forced with theological and ‘church year’ insights occasionally competing with each other.
Stephen’s own biblical expertise and years of living in the Land shine out frequently: one insight for which I personally am grateful is his reminder that Mount Tabor (the traditional site of the transfiguration) and Mt Megiddo (the traditional site of the final apocalyptic war) lie within sight of each other. The implicit (but clear) message is choose which way you want to walk!
The book packs a great deal into comparatively few pages, which is of course an additional bonus, as it means it is easier for those on St George’s College courses, or other pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to fit a copy of it into their luggage. I would certainly encourage them to do so.