The obvious first response is that this region has been a gaping “hole” in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. But I never really thought I would be able to travel there. When sanctions on Iran were lifted a few years ago, and a friend invited me to come teach at his institute in the Gulf region, I thought that we might have the opportunity. Then Donald Trump was elected and he slammed the door on visas for Iranians, with the government of Iran reciprocating on American visas.
More about the New Persia Volume
What inspired you to go to Persia?
So what made the trip possible?
We heard rumors that visas were actually being issued to Americans, and we decided to give it a try. After developing an itinerary with a travel agent there, our applications were submitted to the government. Several months later we had approval and we booked our plane tickets.
Was it scary?
We didn’t know what to expect, and we took some precautions (such as leaving all electronic devices behind, excluding camera equipment). But our trip went very smoothly, and we didn’t have a single question or problem the entire time. The people were friendly and helpful. By contrast, the news in America during the days of our travel (May 2018) made it sound like the country was a horrible, terrifying place. I do not regret keeping my travel plans private from most people, including my mom.
What were some highlights?
Most people would say Persepolis, so let me start with that. This amazing “city of the Persians” is so well-preserved and beautiful. I loved the grand staircase, the enormous Gate of All Nations, and the halls with their numerous columns. But the reason I took more photos at Persepolis than at any site I’ve ever visited was the astonishingly detailed reliefs of the ancient peoples.
From a biblical perspective, Susa was the highlight. While the remains there are not spectacular, you can see exactly where Esther approached the king, where Mordecai discovered the conspiracy, and where Nehemiah served as cupbearer. I have written a short article on my visit to Susa for a future issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
How would you describe the land of Persia?
This is a land of immense variety. We drove through the desert and through rainy mountain ranges. We saw shepherds roaming the hillsides with their flocks, and we saw gas flares at petroleum refineries. We saw lots of poverty in a land rich with natural resources.
What was your big take-away from the trip?
I was most impressed with the greatness of the Persian Empire. I’ve “bumped into” the Persians in Greece, Turkey, and elsewhere, but when you’re in the heart of their kingdom you see their power and wealth on full display.
Would you recommend others visit Persia?
Absolutely. And I’ll be happy to give you some advice, including recommending a good Iranian travel agent, guide, and itinerary. I recommend you start talking to your travel agency at least six months before you plan to travel.
Why are you excited about this new Persia volume?
It’s a volume I never thought I’d be able to make. And it’s loaded with lots of great photos of fascinating places. An additional bonus are the photos from museums around the country. My two favorite museums were the National Museum and the Reza Abbasi Museum, both in Tehran. This photo is the famous “Audience Relief” that depicts Darius the Great sitting on his throne, with Xerxes (Ahasuerus) standing behind him.