'Biblical Holy Places: An Illustrated Guide' by Rivka Gonen

'Biblical Holy Places: An Illustrated Guide' by Rivka Gonen

Catherine Sheehan

Biblical Holy Places: An Illustrated Guide by Rivka Gonen (Paulist Press, 2000, 288pp, $39.95. Available from AD Books)

This is a comprehensive guide to places of Biblical significance around the world, complete with colour photos and helpful maps. Featured are biblical sites from nine different countries including Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey but, of course, most of the book is taken up with Israel - the Holy Land itself.

For anyone who wants to travel to these places, Biblical Holy Places is particularly valuable as it provides a detailed history of each site and the corresponding scriptural passages. The sites are from both the New and the Old Testaments and hence some are Jewish and Islamic, as well as Christian. A guide such as this is essential for any traveller wishing to visit these historical places which can be very confusing to those not familiar with their history.

These holy sites have often been built upon several times, first by the early Christians, later by the Byzantines, and still later by the Crusaders and others who followed them. After all this, the sites usually do not resemble the images a pilgrim gains from reading Scripture. Biblical Holy Places explains what has been done to each site over the centuries to bring it to the condition in which we see it today.

Some locations have been put forward as holy sites, although the evidence for this is lacking, while others are simply one of many claiming to be where a certain biblical event took place. For example, there are several locations in Israel that claim to be Emmaus, where the risen Christ appeared to two disciples. Then there are others which have never been disputed, such as the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity and the place of the crucifixion in Jerusalem.

It can also be confusing as to why certain holy places are arranged the way they are. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which contains the place where Jesus was crucified (Golgotha) and his tomb, seems to be, as the book states, "a large, sprawling, and rather confusing complex". It is looked after by the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians, the Franciscans, the Ethiopians, the Copts and the Syrian Jacobites. Each of these six Christian communities has its own clearly defined section of the church to look after which is guarded zealously. To the uninitiated visitor, it can be daunting to find it so sharply divided up between the different denominations.

Biblical Holy Places is highly recommended to anyone wishing to visit the holy places, for it contains a wealth of information calculated to make the experience all the more enjoyable, including beautiful colour pictures. It is doubly useful for anyone simply seeking to learn more about the history of the holy places connected with the birth of Christianity.

Catherine Sheehan is a Melbourne Catholic writer.

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