The next best thing to walking where the saints of Ancient Israel walked is walking it through the eyes of a skilled photographer, recalling to life the very air they breathed. History is tied not only to real people but real places–places you can revisit, relive, places retaining insights even in its soil into the lives of those who trod there.
Disappointingly, I didn’t find any evidence that the author is a Christian and views Christianity as distinct from “other world religions”. For example, when speaking about Moses in the wilderness he said: “…Introducing a pattern that would become familiar with other prophets–including the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed–Moses was born into the civilized world, flees into the desert, has a spiritual experience with God, then returns to share his wisdom with the people he left behind.” (pg. 89)
One of the ways this shows is in the author’s tendency to discredit more miraculous workings of God in favor of easier explanations. For example he claims that the Israelites crossing the Red Sea is based on a mistranslation. “Yam suf”, he says, commonly translated “Red Sea”, actually reads “sea of reeds” which, he says, rules out the Red Sea.
“Speculation focuses on Lake Timsah, a shallow lake, and it’s easy to imagine, on a windy day, the Israelites wading across and the chariots getting stuck in the mud.” (pg 101)
I think this is a mockery of the Old Testament record. Why did the Israelites not simply go around the tiny lake? What about the part where they went “out of Egypt” and came to the “land’s end?” What’s so extraordinary about the Egyptian chariots getting stuck in the mud? Why didn’t THEY just go around the lake? Are you saying the single most miraculous event in the history of Israel owes it’s origin to MUD?
Because of his false premise what the author says after the Exodus is of lesser value because his map’s off. If he gets the Red Sea crossing wrong he gets the location of Mt. Sinai wrong and everything else wrong which is really a shame because he so heavily researched the Sinai Peninsula. However, some of the explanations the author offered for Biblical events were interesting–like the striking resemblance of the excretion of a certain species of plant lice to the Biblical description of Manna.
“A tamarisk is a conifer that grows in various places in the Sinai. In spring, two types of plant lice…infest the salty bark, suck the sap, and excrete a white, sweet, sticky substance that forms into globules and falls to the ground. If you pick up these globules before midday you can eat them; by noon, they have melted.” (pg. 121)
There are even some scholars who translate “manna” as “plant lice”. “Man-hu” can be translated as “What is it?” or “This is plant lice” (weird, but that’s Hebrew for you).Though the phenomena described above was specific to the wrong geographic locale (the Sinai peninsula) it’s not outrageous to think that plant lice might have been the Biblical manna. That raises the question “does it diminish the glory of God to offer a ‘natural explanation’ for miracles?” To which I would say, is God’s glory diminished because he sent a worm to destroy Jonah’s tree rather than just destroying it with a ‘miracle’? By no means! In many ways it increases it. It displays God’s control over all of nature and manifests his providence.
Rather than a last minute “oops, I’ve got to part the Red Sea to get the Israelites across” we see a land bridge prepared since the time of Noah, waiting until the proper time to receive the steps of the Israelites into freedom. Instead of a manna poured out in response to the Israelites’ complaining (as if God had forgotten they might get hungry) we see a plant lice, created and placed in the right place at the right time to serve God’s sovereign purposes. The provision was there all along but the Israelites were too blind to see it. I’m more awed by the thought of planets and stars traveling on paths since the dawn of time that would position them in just the right places to prophecy the birth of Christ then I am by the abstract idea of God thrusting a new, temporary star into the sky for that purpose. Sure, God COULD have done that, He can do anything (and at times, does do the unexplainable), but how much more does a “natural explanation” point to the planning of God? It wasn’t an accident. Or a plan B. It was there since the beginning.
So no, I don’t think God’s glory is diminished by discovery, I think it’s enhanced, though I can’t say that that was the perspective of the author of “Walking the Bible”.
But none withstanding, I did still appreciate the premise of his book–that the stories of the Bible are closely tied to the actual places they took place in. The story of Joseph loses much of it’s meaning when you remove it from Egypt. The visit of the Lord to Abram in his desert tent makes more sense when you understand Middle Eastern custom and how the tents were divided into a section for the men and a section for the women. Sarah would have been listening from behind the flap of the 2nd room but not allowed to greet the men. You get a better understanding of the fear of the wilderness-bound Israelites when you study the desert and study what Egypt was to the world at that time.
That’s why VeggieTales falls so short!
Though some of the locations the author records is the wrong location for the Biblical event due to his misidentification of the Red Sea crossing site, much of his research still applies generally to the region and reveals some enriching and intriguing insights into the life of the Ancient Israelites. A lovely book to flip through.