Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Project Israel- Books Read in Preparation

In preparation for the journey to the Holy Land (less than 24 hours to go!), I read/re-read a couple books to bone up on my knowledge of the land, the history, and the issues people are facing there right now.

The Word of God and the World of the Bible: An Introduction to the Cultural Backgrounds of the New Testament
This is a great book by Peter J. Miano, the Executive Director of the Society for Biblical Studies- the organization that put our trip together. The books stated purpose is to make insights from biblical scholarship accessible to people who are not scholars, and it largely accomplishes this. While some of the early chapters may be a tad remedial for someone who has been to seminary or even taken a Bible class or two in college, Miano makes complex concepts like the different forms of biblical criticism and cultural norms of the ancient Near East very accessible. I learned a lot from this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to take the Bible seriously as a collection of ancient documents that has spoken to people across thousands of years all over the world.

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work
This is Jimmy Carter's argument about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it existed in early 2009, and I do wonder how his opinion might have changed in light of recent events in the region. Like any book by a politician, particularly a former President, he spends a lot of time trying to shape people's perceptions of his place in history, but Carter does have a darn good legacy to promote on these issues. He is very gracious to his successors of both parties, praising their efforts on the peace process, and the appendices contain many of the important agreements and resolutions from the last half-century. He advocates a two-state solution with joint control of Jerusalem and significant involvement from the international community in economic and security issues. It seems to make sense on paper, but Carter does acknowledge that it's more complicated because of the recent history of violence between the groups. I'm looking forward to learning more about the personal feelings people bring to the table while I'm over there.

A History of Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths
Karen Armstrong is really good at making detailed, nuanced historical study accessible to anyone, and much like Miano. It's not a quick read, but it helps the reader understand the long history of the city and how the different groups that have controlled it have shaped the geographical, political, social, and even spiritual landscape. Armstrong conveys the strong attachment many different groups have to this city and how complex the issues are surrounding its future.

Where God Was Born : A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion
Bruce Feiler has written a number of really good books about popular religion, and his book about Abraham's place in the three major monotheistic religions is especially informative. The first section of this book mixes historical background with his accounts of travel in Israel, guided by men who fought in the modern state of Israel's earliest wars. His conversations with those warriors are very insightful and really give the reader a sense of how important the land is to those who live there. The last two sections tell similar tales about Iraq and Iran, and are also worth reading.

In retrospect, I wish I'd also read something that presents a Palestinian perspective on the events of the past century and their views on how to solve the current problems. I probably could have found one, but I stuck to books that were already on my shelf. I'm obviously out of time to do any more prep reading, but I'd love to hear from anyone who knows of any books that present Palestinian perspectives.

No comments: