When we go to another country, other than guidebooks on the area, I like reading fictional novels that are set in the places we will be visiting. In preparation for our trip to Israel and Jordan, even though one can get a lot of information online, we bought several guidebooks, downloaded The Holy Bible on our phones and tablets for handy reference while we are at a particular site and bought magazines and books on the life of Jesus and following His footsteps in the Holy Land. Finding a novel was not easy. I was trying find ones like those I previously read written by Anita Diamant and Marek Halter, who wrote mostly about women based on or mentioned in the Bible. We did buy a copy of Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly which I did not think was particularly well written but the book did give us enough atmosphere about the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Our tour operator included references on our itinerary to the Bible verses that mentions the places we would see, so we are able to relate them in the historical context as told in the Bible.
Unfortunately, I did not find a book that would satisfy my need to read a fictional book about the ancient history unfolding in the Holy Land. That is until, we got home. Browsing through Amazon and Goodreads, I saw a newly released book by James Martin S.J. called Jesus, a Pilgrimage, although non-fiction it was a great read. Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest and Gospel scholar who combined his extensive knowledge of the New Testament with his experiences on his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a sense of humor and imaginative and meditative thoughts in writing this book. It gave one a picture of Jesus as he was in the 1st century when he was preaching in Galilee and Jerusalem. It was such a delight reading about Father Martin’s experiences on his own pilgrimage and comparing them to our own. Many of his observations mimicked ours and so since we were reading this book after we came back, we had a wonderful time reliving our trip to Israel and Palestine along with him. My husband enjoyed reading the book so much that he actually read most of the book aloud to me. You learn from the book also, as Father James illuminates the relationships between the places we saw and the New Testament. You get a feeling that you were there in the 1st century and hearing Jesus’ message as he delivered it then and appreciate its relevance to this day.
|A 1st century boat found on the Sea of Galilee similar to what Jesus and His disciples may have used|
And then I also came across the novel The Dove Keepers by Alice Hoffman at Barnes and Noble bookstore, one of the last major bookstores around and one which I still patronize as my own little campaign against the disappearance of bookstores. The Dovekeepers was exactly what I was looking for and I immediately purchased it in paperback and could not wait to start reading it. Reading an ancient story seem to go well with turning pages of paper and enjoying the distinct aroma of the printed book. I do not think that reading this book would have been as pleasurable on Kindle or IBooks which has long been my norm for reading books and magazines due to convenience. Reading this book in print was definitely more enjoyable and gratifying than on an ebook although, at more than 500 pages, it was a long and challenging read.
Dovekeepers is set in Masada in 70 AD which was built by King Herod high on a mountain top in the Judean desert. Masada was the last stronghold of the Jews against the Roman army. The story revolves around four women, Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah, who were the dovekeepers at the fortress. The doves were used to send messages and their droppings were important source of nutrients for the orchards and plants in the fortress. According to Josephus Flavius, an ancient Roman historian, two women and five children survived the siege and they told the incredible story of the men and women who died there at the last moments of the Roman attack. According to Josephus, rather than allowing themselves to be subjugated by the Romans, the men and women in Masada were systematically killed by the men among them who were selected by lottery, with the last man standing killing himself. Alice Hoffman was able to spin a great lush story based on these two women survivors. I was intrigued by the women in this novel, they are strong, courageous, passionate, resourceful and adaptive. In the end, these traits helped two of them endure and live to tell their story. I like the premise of the book, four supposedly unique women, coming from different places and status, with different backgrounds converge during the last months of Masada and eventually become fierce friends as they held on to their own secrets and helped each other instinctively. What I did not like too much is that the four women seem to lose their distinct characters or identity from time to time in the book. But, I still recommend the book highly since for me, it brought Masada to life. I think I am glad I did not come across this book before we went on our Holy Land trip because I truly believe, it is a better read after seeing Masada. While reading the book, I can see the places we visited and put the characters there. So now, when I see Masada, in my mind’s eye, I picture it with Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah and the other men and women who were there as the defeat to the Romans became inevitable.