Recommended: The Sacred Bridge

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.

Lost in words – Recommendations from our library

Libraries have transformed our lives. Living in Jerusalem, as we did for many years, we had access to some of the world’s greatest libraries. The Hebrew University had the largest collection of works on Jewish culture (many donated by supporters of the fledgling State of Israel). Sadly, some of these precious volumes were vandalised by students, with many of the books’ spines broken due to photocopying or even missing pages! Our professor, Benjamin Mazar, also had a prodigious book collection at his home in Rehavia, which he shared very generously with us. It was the library of the École biblique et archéologique française, however, that blew our bibliophile’s socks off. Here, such solicitous care was taken of the library’s 140,000 volumes, that a “fantôme”, or mock volume had to replace every book that was removed, until said book was returned to safety.

The more we read, the more the city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel stepped out of the shadows and into our comprehension. We were cool university students no longer, when we perhaps did not appreciate the richness of the Library of the Academy in Arnhem or Dublin’s splendidly domed National Library. We hungered to understand the lessons that the past of our adopted country could teach us.

Reading Jerusalem Revealed, when it came out in 1975, was an epiphany, making sense of the results of the explosion of excavations that had become possible after the 6-Day War. We carried single volumes of Josephus around in our pockets, seeking his contemporary witness to the ancient city we were trying to build up in our minds. We scrutinised the tractates of the Mishnah, some of which were written by rabbis who had observed the ritual of the Temple prior to its destruction in 70 A.D. Each book stood out like a milestone and we felt that we were becoming the sum of the books we had read. We must remember that because of the unprecedented opportunities in archaeology at that time, there was a flowering of works reporting on the dramatic new discoveries. Kathleen remembers comparing the books that were appearing then, with the single book, Kenyon’s Archaeology in the Holy Land, that was recommended for her course on this subject in University College Dublin in the early 70’s!

Now we live in Cardiff, Wales, far from the enticements of the Bodleian and British Libraries. However, due to our drawings being printed in numerous publications and the requests for book reviews we receive, we have managed to amass our own extensive private library. We can truly say that our books transport us every day to the Land, allowing us to live a life unfettered by sea or border crossings. In our book-lined space, we can explore Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring, walk around the destroyed city walls with Nehemiah or bring in our boat to harbour in first century Capernaum – all without leaving our chair.

Despite the dominance of Google, we are often asked to recommend books to our readers. For that reason, we hope to regularly post reviews of publications (and occasionally movies or software) we consider useful, defining and illuminating. Look under the Recommended menu for reviews of works that will stand the test of time!