Israel: I Looked Over Jordan, by Lee Anderson
This is an odd book, but not a bad book. If I learned little from this book, and founds its organization and structure to be more than a little bit haphazard and scattered, this book is at least worthwhile as part of a larger context of books written on Israel and its religious and geopolitical importance . In many ways this book is an artifact of its time, published in 1995, and looking at the period between the first and second intifadas where there was some hope of peace between Jews and Palestinians and generally wide access to religious sites all over Judea and Samaria. The author, as an evangelical Christian, gives a perspective on Israel that would match that of many Americans like myself, with a strong interest in defending Israel as a state, a strong prophetic interest in Israel’s key role in the Bible, and a great deal of concern about the lack of religious belief among many Israelis, as well as a strong interest in biblical history, all of which are explored in almost random order in this particular book. It cannot be emphasized enough how random and odd this book is, but ultimately that oddness makes it memorable and worthwhile, and quirkiness is something to be enjoyed and appreciated.
In terms of its contents, the book has a grab-bag approach to contents that is designed to appeal to American evangelical readers. The author begins with an introduction that also serves as a madcap tour of the political history of Israel and its current turmoil. After that comes a look into the promised land, a discussion of the disappointing Jordan River, an examination of Jerusalem today. A discussion of the holy land, biblical history, the land of Christ, Jericho, the gathering of the diaspora, Herod the Great, the fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus’ clash with second temple authorities and his resurrection, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Masada, Israel’s wars and the ruins left behind, various cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, the land of Israel again, and Armageddon. If all of this order sounds as random and odd to you as it does to me, perhaps you can understand just how unusual this book and its materials are. It is not as if any of the materials themselves are unusual, it is that the author appears not to have a firm of idea of how to structure them as part of a larger and coherent narrative.
Since I come from a perspective not far from the author, I find this book’s approach to Israel to be particularly intriguing. Not novel, to be sure, but intriguing. Among the book’s more intriguing features is the frequent use of maps for explanatory purposes. The author points out how small Israel is, especially minus the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria and how vulnerable its territory is. A reader who has basic geographical literacy would be able to see without too much trouble the reason why Israel is so nervous as a nation about its territory and about its neighbors and internal enemies. Any fair-minded reader would at least concede that Israel has good reason to be concerned, and a reader who approaches the book from a Christian perspective will find a lot of prophecy dealt with both in terms of prophecy fulfilled in the past and prophecy yet to be fulfilled in the future. And though I cannot recommend this book from a literary perspective, its content is worthwhile and at 120 pages it is small enough to be a handy reminder of what we know about and care about concerning the history and geography of Israel and its contemporary place in a troubled world.
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