A colleague suggested to me that John A. Beck’s new travel guide to Israel is a happy medium between the popular Dyer and Hatteberg handbook on the one hand, and the classic Jerome Murphy-O’Connor tome on the other. I suspect that he is right, and that The Holy Land for Christian Travelers: An Illustrated Guide to Israel will soon be in the satchels of many tourists, students, and pilgrims as they fly off for the trip of their lifetimes.
The book has two sections: a general introduction and a sites section. The 40-page introduction provides a historical survey of the periods, an overview of the climate, and several sample itineraries.
This won’t replace your standard geographical textbook or atlas, but it’s not intended to do so.
The heart of the guide are six chapters organized by region: Jerusalem, Jerusalem vicinity, Coastal Plain, and Central Mountains (South, Center, and North). Most of the sites the average tourist will visit are included, all in alphabetical order. Here are the sites included in two of the regions:
Jerusalem (Old City and vicinity): Akeldeama and Hinnom Valley, Bethesda Pools, Broad Wall, Burnt House, Chapels of Flagellation and Condemnation, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, City of David (6 pages), Ecce Homo, Garden Tomb, Jerusalem Archaeological Park, Kidron Valley Overlook, Old City Walls and Gates, Saint Peter Gallicantu, Temple Mount, Tower of David Museum, Upper Room, Via Dolorosa, Western Wall, Wohl Archaeological Museum.
This seems to me to cover all the important sites that you need an explanation for. (Note: places like the Mount of Olives and Israel Museum are included in a separate chapter.)
Central Mountains North: Banias (Caesarea Philippi), Beth Shean, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Dan, En Harod, Gamla, Har Bental, Hazor, Heptapegon, Jezreel, Katzrin, Korazim, Kursi, Megiddo, Mount Arbel, Mount of the Beatitudes, Mount Precipice (Nazareth), Mukhraqa (Mount Carmel), Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, and Sepphoris.
This too seems to cover just about all the sites that 99% of tourists would visit. I’m surprised that Tiberias is not included, given all that has been excavated in recent years, but I’m pleased that important sites like Hazor and Jezreel are addressed.
The book concludes with 7 maps, a timeline, and the all-important index of locations. A color-coded tab system on the pages makes it easier to find the region you’re in.
The publisher asked me for an endorsement in advance and this is what I wrote:
This book provides an outstanding introduction to the land of Israel, as well as accurate descriptions of the most important sites.
I could talk about the size (very handy!), the illustrations (beautiful, but not as many as I expected from the subtitle), or the directions given (don’t forget your map!), but in my opinion a guide succeeds or fails on two criteria: does it cover the sites you’re visiting and is the information accurate. On both counts, this guide fares very well, and I’m happy to recommend it.
For more information, note that Amazon has the “look inside” feature, and Baker’s webpage provides a pdf of the entire introduction (on the left sidebar).