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Holy Land? Challenging questions from the biblical landscape

Holy Land? Challenging questions from the biblical landscape.

by Andrew D. Mayes (former Director of Studies at St George's College Jerusalem)

SPCK Publishing (17 Nov 2011) 160 pages ISBN: 978-0281064663

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Review by Canon John Rogerson, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

For anyone contemplating a visit to the Holy Land today, this is an indispensable work of orientation and explanation of what the visitor will encounter. In particular, it describes the problems faced daily by Palestinians and by non-Palestinian Christians as they try to cope with the political realities of the area, although it also includes space for Jewish voices and opinions.

For those who have arrived in the Holy Land, this is not a guide to the history and topography of biblical sites. Of course, it mentions the most obvious ones: Bethlehem, sacred sites in Jerusalem, Mount Tabor (traditionally and probably wrongly identified as the site of the transfiguration), Emmaus (wherever that was), the Jordan valley, the Mediterranean, the desert, and so on. Its emphasis is on spirituality, however, not history or geography, and it relates the sites and landscapes to aspects of the Christian life. In a land where there are so many bitter memories of suffering, on both sides, the question of forgiveness and of overcoming the past looms large.

Each chapter ends with questions for meditation and discussion, and suggested further reading. The use of the Bible is distinctly non-critical, and there are occasional errors of detail. The most serious is the claim that the name “Palestine” was first used by Hadrian in the second century AD, and that it was not used officially until the establishment of the British Mandate after the First World War.

In fact, a Semitic form of the name was used in Assyrian records from 800 BC, the Greek form was first used by Herodotus in the fifth century BC, and the name is well attested from the fourth century AD. In the 19th century, it was regularly used by writers who visited the area, such as in A. P. Stanley’s classic Sinai and Palestine (1856).

The exact boundaries of Palestine have been, and remain, a contentious issue. This apart, if I were taking a party of students to the Holy Land today, I would certainly put this book on their preparatory reading list.


Featured in Bible Lands magazine, Summer 2012