Baretz, Julie. “The Bible on Location: Off the Beaten Path in Ancient and Modern Israel”, Jewish Publication Society, 2015.
The Historical Books and their Sites
Julie Baretz brings us a guidebook that is innovative and it takes us to twenty-one sites in Israel that are somewhat off of the beaten path—locations where, it is said, that Bible stories happened. At each site—The Valley of Aijalon, Zorah, Geshur, Shunem—to name just four of the twenty-one in this book, the scene is set by having the historical context as part of the test as well as the biblical text and Baretz’s commentary. The biblical characters come alive and we learn of the social, ethical, and spiritual dilemmas they faced that are not so different from our own today. Baretz’s narratives draw on history, archaeology, academic scholarship, and rabbinic literature for interpretations and these enhance the meaning of the biblical events. Each story is told in the voice of Baretz as the tour guide in a friendly and knowledgeable manner.
The book, as a whole traces, the chronology and narrative arc of the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. We begin with Egypt and the arrival of the children of Israel and go on with arrival in the land of Israel (following the exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wandering). This then continues for more than six hundred years, until the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to their homeland.
The book contains colorful maps and photographs and each location gives us a new episode and narrative that provides inspiration and commentary. that will enhance visits to the various sites. Baretz knows about what she says and she combines that an aesthetic perspective and “credible imagination” which makes us feel like we are on a very special tour. One thing special is that although this is a guidebook, it can be read just for fun—I have visited most of the places in the book and the information is not only correct but a wonderful read. It was written with passion and love and this comes through every page. We receive excellent orientations about place and time and it is as if the ancient texts are doing the speaking.