We promised to review books that will stand the test of time. One of the books we treasure most (and which we would never dream of lending out, for fear of being left without it!) is The Sacred Bridge by Anson Rainey and Steven Notley. Reading it is like visiting a library with an erudite companion, who knows all the languages necessary to explore the culture in which you are interested or like walking in Bible lands with an omniscient voice guiding you: “This is the way, walk ye in it!”
The culmination of the life’s work of Anson Rainey, probably the world’s greatest authority on Semitic languages, together with Steven Notley, a notable New Testament scholar, this book contains learning more typical of nineteenth century scholarship, coupled with twenty first century presentation. Its prototype was the seminal Macmillan Bible Atlas, by Aharoni and Avi-Yonah, first brought out by Jerusalem’s Carta publishers in 1968 and which covered numerous aspects of the Biblical period.
The premise of this latest title is set forth in the blurb: “The Land of Canaan, the Land of Israel and early Roman Judea are treated as the southern part of the Levant, and as the focus in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean history. The Levant is the land bridge between Asia and Africa, between Greco-Roman culture and the coasts of Arabia. As such it has seen the influx of peoples bringing new blood and initiatives to the life of the region. It has also suffered the conquerors’ heel as ancient empires sought to dominate this geographical hub of communications and commerce. The historical experience of the southern Levant, well documented in the Bible and in many inscriptions from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia, has become enshrined in Jewish/Christian tradition … It is therefore more than a land bridge between different cultures. It is a bridge of faith.”
The Sacred Bridge‘s main distinguishing feature is that it utilises the languages of the written sources to cast light on the Bible and its geography. Biblical texts are considered side by side with the other ancient Near Eastern sources, Egyptian, Akkadian, West Semitic and Greek. The use of colour coding makes a book with so many academic features more accessible. References are printed in red, original texts in light blue, with their translation in dark blue. It is very moving to read Lachish Letter No. 4, which bemoans the fact that the fire signals of Azekah, the only other fort remaining in Judah against Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign could no longer be seen from Lachish, in the original. There are very few books in the popular domain in which this is possible.
Produced by Israel’s best-known cartographic publishers, its maps, needless to say, are excellent and we have used them extensively in our work for a new digital Bible. On numerous occasions while mapping journeys, we were struck by the inevitability that Biblical characters chose to go by a certain route because of historic connections. An example of this would be the fact that both King David and Jesus crossed over the Brook Kidron after their betrayal. With the help of this magisterial volume, you too will be able to “pass through” Bible lands, as did the Hebrews (whose name literally means “passer through”), and absorb the lessons embedded in these singular places.