Reading Suggestions for Travelers to the Bible Lands

 Note that links to Amazon are my associate links


GENERAL BIBLE HISTORY

To get the big picture of the biblical lands and the biblical history, I recommend a Bible atlas. It will provide a historical overview, so information is not organized according to sites. It will have lots of maps and photos that will help you link a site to its place in the Bible.

         I really like the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas. It is what I use in the Bible Lands class, but itís too big to carry to Israel! You can get the Kindle version, however.

         For a concise Bible history overview and atlas, I am happy to recommend the atlas I co-authored: Atlas of the Biblical World. Itís available on Kindle and as a durable paperback intended to withstand the rigors of travel.

 

TURKEY and GREECE Travel Books

 

Guides to the Sites

There are numerous travel guides to Turkey and Greece. Some are more for the general tourist and provide information about sites to visit as well as about hotels, shopping, etc. These can be quite helpful, but for the traveler interested in the biblical sites, there are organized according to the sites and focus on the history and provide specifics about visiting a site.

         The archaeological excavations keep changing the sites, so this book is getting just a bit dated (2003), but my top recommendation is A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey by Fant and Reddish. Note that it covers both countries, and itís only $10 in the Kindle version.

         Other good ones to consider that are more recent:

o   Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor by Mark Wilson (2010).

o   Greco-Roman Cities of Aegean Turkey: History, Archaeology, Architecture by Henry Matthews (2014)

o   Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor by Mark R. Fairchild (2017). Fairchild is one of the leading experts on archaeological sites in Turkey. (He teaches Turks training to be guides.) The book is organized by topic but includes maps, photos, and maps of almost every site we visit.

         Some general travel guides to consider:

o   A Traveller's History of Turkey by Richard Stoneman

o   Fodorís guides to Greece and Turkey

oDK Eyewitness guides to Greece and Turkey

o   For Rick Steves fans: Greece and Turkey

o   Greece: An Oxford Archaeological Guide: Also includes information on all the classical sites

 

Historical Fiction Novels before Visiting Turkey and Greece

 

Here are some historical fiction novels written by biblical scholars with stories set in the places of Paul, Revelation, and the early church in Turkey and Greece.

Links provided are my Amazon associate links. Most are rather quick reads, but they are a great way of learning about the social context of the early church. They are especially fun to read in connection with sites you have or plan to visit!

Before buying a book, you can check if your public (or seminary) library has it, but do check out Hoopla. This is an online book borrowing service that you may have available through your local public library. They have at least four of these books that you can Ďcheck outí digitally for free.

Summary blurbs are from Amazon, and I have added some comments.

Not Turkey or Greece but others in the series related to the early church:

 

         A Week in the Life of Rome by James L. Papandrea
In first-century Rome, following Jesus comes at a tremendous social cost. An urbane Roman landowner and merchant is intrigued by the Christian faith―but is he willing to give up his status and lifestyle to join the church? Meanwhile his young client, a catechumen in the church at Rome, is beginning to see just how much his newfound faith will require of him. A Week in the Life of Rome is a cross section of ancient Roman society, from the overcrowded apartment buildings of the poor to the halls of the emperors. Against this rich backdrop, illuminated with images and explanatory sidebars, we are invited into the daily struggles of the church at Rome just a few years before Paul wrote his famous epistle to them. A gripping tale of ambition, intrigue, and sacrifice, James Papandrea's novel is a compelling work of historical fiction that shows us the first-century Roman church as we've never seen it before.

         Phoebe: A Story by Paula Gooder
Sometime around 56 AD, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. He entrusted this letter to Phoebe, whom he describes as the deacon of the church at Cenchreae and a patron of many. But who was this remarkable woman? Biblical scholar and popular author and speaker Paula Gooder imagines Phoebe's story―who she was, the life she lived, and her first-century faith―and in doing so opens up Paul's world, giving a sense of the cultural and historical pressures that shaped his thinking and the faith of the early church. After the narrative, Gooder includes an extensive notes section with comments on the historical context, biographical details, cultural practices, and more. Rigorously researched, this is a book for anyone who wants to engage more deeply and imaginatively with Paul's theology.

 

ISRAEL, PALESTINE, and JORDAN Travel Books

 

General Bible History

To get the big picture of the biblical lands and the biblical history, I recommend a Bible atlas. It will provide a historical overview, so information is not organized according to sites. It will have lots of maps and photos that will help you link a site to its place in the Bible.

         I really like the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas. It is what I use in the Bible Lands class, but itís too big to carry to Israel! You can get the Kindle version, however.

         For a concise Bible history overview and atlas, I am happy to recommend the atlas I co-authored: Atlas of the Biblical World. Itís available on Kindle and as a durable paperback intended to withstand the rigors of travel.

 

Guides to the Sites

         The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-OíConnor. As archaeological excavations continue, this one is getting a bit dated (2008), but it is the one I recommend.

         An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land for Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims by Lamontte M. Luker. This is a pocketable guide also available in Kindle.

 

Background for the Political Situation

         For something that is engaging reading that will help you understand the current realities in the land, try Tolanís . The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East or Chacourís Blood Brothers.

         Mitri Raheb is a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem who has become a prominent voice for Palestinian people. He has written many books you might find interesting. (Try Faith in the Face of Empire.)

         Check out A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground, especially if you are a seminary student. Itís an excellent mix of tour guide and Bible reading guide.

 

Historical Fiction Novels before Visiting Israel, Palestine, and Jordan

         The Source by James A. Michener
MGVH: This is a typically long Michener novel, but it really provides a sweeping account of human history. The setting is based on the site of Tel Hazor in Israel. Highly recommended! In his signature style of grand storytelling, James A. Michener transports us back thousands of years to the Holy Land. Through the discoveries of modern archaeologists excavating the site of Tell Makor, Michener vividly re-creates life in an ancient city and traces the profound history of the Jewish peopleófrom the persecution of the early Hebrews, the rise of Christianity, and the Crusades to the founding of Israel and the modern conflict in the Middle East. An epic tale of love, strength, and faith, The Source is a richly written saga that encompasses the history of Western civilization and the great religious and cultural ideas that have shaped our world.

         The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen
MGVH: This is a book I require in my class. Theissen is a respected New Testament scholar. The structure of the book is a bit odd, but it provides an excellent perspective into the character of the historical Jesus. First published in 1987 by Fortress Press, this 20th anniversary edition of this classic bestseller includes a new Afterword from the author. Here, in narrative form, is an account of the activity of Jesus of Nazareth, scrupulously constructed so that it does not undercut the insights of New Testament scholarship. What makes it different from other such attempts is that Jesus never actually appears. What we find everywhere is his shadow, his effect. Such an approach avoids the usual pitfalls of the genre and lends this story - attributed to a fictitious narrator - an attraction, freshness, and power all its own. Tension and interest are maintained to the end, even for those sated with books about Jesus. Careful documentation in the footnotes shows how much of the narrative is based on ancient sources.

         A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion by Gary M. Burge
Enter a world of warfare and treachery, of duty and honor, of love and loyalty, interwoven with the inner workings of a Roman centurion's household. And then trace it as the road curves toward little Capernaum. Follow the story of Appius, a proud centurion, and Tullus, his scribe and slave. From a battle with the Parthians, through a tragic personal crisis, to the gladiator arena at Caesarea Maritima, their tale finally leads to the backwater village of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee. There, in a culture not their own and during a week they will never forget, they encounter a Jewish prophet from Nazareth. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion gives us a first-century view of the world of the Gospels. In entertaining historical fiction, splashed with informative sidebars and images, we capture a view of Jesus' world from the outer framework looking in.

         Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George
MGVH: George is a respected novelist (so this reads more like a novel!), but she has done a good job of setting this story in the time of the Jesus and connecting it to the Gospels. (900 ! pages but available as an audiobook) Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute, a female divinity figure, a church leader, or all of those? Biblical references to her are tantalizingly brief, but we do know that she was the first person to whom the risen Christ appearedóand the one commissioned to tell others the good news, earning her the ancient honorific, ďApostle to the Apostles.Ē Today, Mary continues to spark controversy, curiosity, and veneration. In a vivid re-creation of Mary Magdalene's life story, Margaret George convincingly captures this renowned woman's voice as she moves from girlhood to womanhood, becomes part of the circle of disciples, and comes to grips with the divine. While grounded in biblical scholarship and secular research, Mary, Called Magdalene ultimately transcends both history and fiction to become a ďdiary of a soul.Ē

         The Book of Longings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd
MGVH: This is a well-written novel by another respected novelist. I am convinced that Jesus was never married, but if he had married, this is a very likely scenario of how his life might have played out. Jesus is actually somewhat peripheral to the story, but the depiction of everyday life is excellent.  (429 pages but available as an audiobook) In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything. Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings with the Therapeutae sect. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history. Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman's bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers.