Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL: “An Exciting Story with Superb World-Building”

C. S. Wachter is a fantasy writer with more than seven books published including the four volume The Seven Words series. It is both delightful and instructive to read an encouraging review from an accomplished world-builder and fantasy author on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle, The Dragons of Sheol.

To read the C. S. Wachter review on Goodreads

To read the C.S. Wachter review on Amazon

In case the links stop working and also for your convenience, the 4/5 star review is posted below …

When Al Gleeson’s wife and child are kidnapped by an old enemy, Al and his friends travel to Abaddon to stage a rescue mission. Abaddon is a fearful place filled with strong enemies; and, yet, the rescuers find friendship and help when least expected. The story is filled with twists and the rescue mission seems destined to fail at every turn.

This is an exciting story with superb world building. I felt the terror as the Necoran attacked and the ground rumble as the pachydons charged. The way the rebels work through the Guild and the feel of the city of Seth is wholistic and believable. And . . . of course, the dragons! Black. Brown. And the loveable Green.

So much of the action takes place on the terraces where my fear of heights caused me shivers when I thought of the immensity of the drop offs. Not for the faint-hearted but excellent fare for an armchair adventurer.

The action of the story begins with Dave, but he is only one of many characters. (The POV is restricted to only two—Dave and Al—so it is not overwhelming) Though there is a degree of depth to the characters, the depth is the fact that this is a plot driven story.

The Christianity is woven through the story in snippets of conversation, thoughts, and prayers. Some of the rescuers question the existence of God while others exhibit a strong faith. This is not a treatise on religion, but a fantasy and Kazmaier handles the Christian aspects well. But, deeper than any character’s faith or lack thereof, the very existence of Abaddon, Sheol, and the Bent Ones establishes the foundation of a Creator within the world-building itself. The Green Dragons express a hope in the Creator. Once again, well done.

Personally, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. So, for me, this earns a four-star rating. It is a well-written book with interesting scientific details interspersed. I recommend you read the series starting with book one, The Halcyon Dislocation, to get a better feel for the characters.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review is my own unbiased opinions.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: The Golan Heights and Tell Dan

Introduction

A source of the Jordan River in the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

As I stated previously, before I talk about my trip to the Golan Heights and Tell Dan, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he was in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).

He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.

Ravi passed away a few days ago on May 19, 2020. Although I did not know him personally, I have read so many of his books and attended a course of his that I feel as if I do know him personally. Since, as it turns out, this interview was the last message from him that I heard, it is even more significant for me.

Tell Dan and the source of the Jordan

Attribution: Map Data © 2020 Mapa GISreal. Orion-Me. A view of the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

The land given to the tribe of Dan is very different from the country we have seen up to this point. Close to Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights, this country was lush as opposed to arid. We saw some of the streams that formed the source of the Jordan River.

The abundant water reminded me of Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, a tree planted by streams of water.

A tree planted by stream of water. Psalm 1:3.

An Ancient Canaanite City

Ancient Canaanite arch predating the Roman arch

One of the remarkable finds in the archaeological excavations in this area was the discovery of a “Canaanite Arch” (shown above) which predates the Roman arch. 

A Canaanite Small City

One of the interesting excavation sites in this area was a Canaanite City (much smaller than what we consider a city today). Notice they do not have freestanding walls but rather back-filled walls. The stone work and foundations required for free-standing walls were apparently not known yet.

Walls supported by earth before free-standing walls could be constructed
A closeup of the fortifications
An altar

In the picture below, one sees the remnants of a frame that held the posts of the sedan chair or throne that would be carried to the outside of the city gate for the king to greet delegations, negotiate with neighboring rulers, or perhaps even hear complaints and charges from his own subjects.

This again verifies the historical accuracy of the Bible as the city gates play such an important role in the historical Old Testament accounts. Meeting strangers outside the city gates also likely served a strategic, military purpose: visitors could not spy out the defenses of the city itself since they were not allowed inside.

The platform for the king’s chair just outside the city gates

Personal Reflection

The past two weeks have seen the passing of two very important people in my life. My father passed away on May 10th, while Ravi Zacharias passed away on May 19th. They were very different people: my father was a private man who influenced his family, his friends and his faith community; Ravi Zacharias was an international speaker who profoundly challenged everyone who would listen (including me) to think carefully and consistently about their faith.

Different as they were, they both impressed me with their commitment to understanding the Bible rightly and living out a life that put trust in the Lord Christ. Seeing the picture of the tree in the middle of the pool at Tell Dan reminds me to do the same.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:

The Halcyon Dislocation

The Battle for Halcyon

The Dragons of Sheol

Questioning Your Way to Faith

Kazmaier Review of Glen Robinson’s THE HERETICS

My Review …

The HereticThe Heretic by Glen Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy books that keep me engaged and keep me reading. But I also like books that get me to think. Indeed, it is the books that have both of these attributes, which I read again and again. THE HERETIC by Glen Robinson excels at both.
On the one hand it is a thriller that kept me reading to find out what happened next. So much so, I couldn’t wait until my next reading session came along. I cared about the main protagonist, DJ, and constantly found myself hoping he wasn’t putting himself into situations he couldn’t escape. The ending was exciting, but to large measure, surprising.
On the other hand, this thriller gave me a great deal to think about. It posed the problem: what would be the fair, just, and honorable response if one encountered a vigilante (or even a terrorist organization in the eyes of the FBI) that was willing to break the law to accomplish good. Would rescuing the kidnapped and giving purpose to those whose lives no longer had meaning, compel me in some sense to approve or condone the actions they took? I would say that the end does not justify the means, but what if the end were unmistakably good and authorities seemed powerless?
Elijah Brown runs an organization he founded by rescuing street gang members, prostitutes, and drug addicts. But he is hunted by the FBI. What the FBI does not know, or will not believe: many of Brown’s foes are supernatural and have powers that make them almost impregnable. Is Brown breaking the law? Yes. Is he bringing criminals to justice? All the time. Does this excuse him and his associates? I don’t know. The story makes it difficult for me to give an easy answer.
If you like a fast-paced thrillers with a supernatural component, this book is for you. My rating—five stars.

View all my reviews

THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL Review: “A solid, well-balanced novel within an epic framework”

Writing a novel is a bit like cooking dinner for someone else: a badly prepared meal will appeal to no one, but even a well-prepared main course will not appeal to everyone, since tastes legitimately differ.

Having said that, it is always a special pleasure for me, as a writer, to find a kindred spirit that seems to appreciate the same things in novels that I do. I am so grateful for speculative-fiction-author Tessa Stockton’s thoughtful and insightful five star review of The Dragons of Sheol. Check the links below …

On Goodreads

On Amazon.com

In case you have difficulty accessing the review on these sites, see below …

After having finished reading The Dragons of Sheol, I can’t help but come away feeling as if this is one of the most solid, well-balanced novels within a high fantasy, epic journey setting. This is not a subgenre in which I often read, as it’s not one of my favorites in the speculative fiction realm. However, the amount of work and detail the author skillfully presented was impressive. That in itself won me over, never mind the successful plotline.

This is some of what I appreciated about the book: deep symbolism, amount of fine detail, weapons hosting names, well-developed and likeable characters, as well as villains who make you cringe. There’s an array of interesting creatures—and I enjoyed that a vicious lup was adopted and turned rather cute and helpful. I also favored Hanomer, a critter with a hand at the end of his tail, and the green dragons were downright cool. The story held intriguing manners of communication, and the powers of nature were highly descriptive. Abaddon is evil and the dark magic that presides there invokes fear and trepidation as it should. The Dragons of Sheol is a complex story well carried out.

As a Christian reader, there are refreshing surprises along the way. One is with Al, a protagonist who kick-starts this journey in a search to find his kidnapped pregnant wife and stepson. The honesty that is painted regarding his sense of failure and defeat followed by purpose is realistic and relatable. And I appreciated most of all how questions were presented about the nature of God via down-to-earth conversations between characters; therefore, it never came across as preachy. A teaser from one of my favorite exchanges comes from character Dave in speaking to Al: “At the end of the day, my question still stands. Can God really love me if he’d let me choose a destiny that involves eternal torment?” It’s this kind of philosophical exploration that works—really works in causing one to think and ask those tough questions regarding spirituality and fate.

Overall, I was impressed with the amount of creativity, philosophy, purpose, sheer writing skill, and also a unique addition of scientific elements to cap this outstanding world-build. We are gifted by the author with the explanation of air pressure and how it is that dragons can fly, the topography of Abaddon, contour of the terraces, relative maps, and an in-depth glossary.

In offering something constructive, it would be with the chapter titles. Seems like an insignificant thing, and maybe it is. However, I as a reader find that an air of mystery would have had more impact. Many of the chapter titles here flat-out told me beforehand what to expect, and that kind of killed the suspense for me (because I especially love elements of suspense and mystery). As an example, when I read the chapter heading, “Necroan Attack,” I thought, “Okay, something called a Necroan is going to attack,”—and I was right! With all the interesting twists throughout this book, the chapter titles seemed, in contrast, too direct in telling. One of my writing coaches from back in the day said the best thing for a writer to give a reader is room for their own imagination to fill in some blanks. Tease them with hints of what a chapter might be about, but don’t summarize the chapter by its heading.

Those who admire J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will really dig this epic fantasy by Peter Kazmaier, as their influences are evident. Yet, I can also recommend this book in general, even if it isn’t what you’d typically read, because it’s very well done and deserving of a five-star review.

I received this book as an ARC for free and am giving it my honest review voluntarily.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Introduction

As, probably for the first time in my life, I celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday at home and not in the direct presence of other Christ-Followers, I reflect on the privilege it was to visit Israel and particularly Golgotha and the Garden Tomb only a couple of months ago, a short time before all travel was curtailed and then suspended. Easter is a time when I particularly reflect on the times and locales that were intimately bound together with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection: the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb.

Golgotha

Golgotha site photographed in about 1870. With the light optimal so one can see the eye sockets of the skull in shadow.
Same location, February 2020. Earthquake damage has obscured some of the features.

We are not 100% sure of the Golgotha (Calvary) site used for Christ’s crucifixion. We know when the Romans crucified someone, they chose a very public place, near a main road or gate, so that it would have maximum impact on passers-by. This location, along with a nearby burial site seem like a likely spot, particularly if one looks at older photographs when the area was less built up and the sun, at the correct angle throws the skull’s eye sockets into shadow.

The Garden Tomb

Line-up by the garden tomb

Near the site of Golgotha one can also find burial sites. These sites have a rock-sealed chamber where the wrapped body is left to decay, so that the bones can be recovered later and stored with those of other family members in a family ossuary. Sometimes there is also a chamber where mourners can wait.

Personal Reflection

Having visited Israel, I cannot now read the accounts of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection without remembering places we visited.

One cannot get around it. The death and resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel and the Christian message. One can disbelieve it, but one can’t legitimately explain it away.

At the end of the Garden Tomb visit, our group had a secluded patio to ourselves where we could sing about the resurrection. We sang one of those songs today as part of our internet Easter service. That song brought the garden musical worship experience flooding back.

Questions

  • With our coronavirus-imposed isolation, how has that affected your celebration of Easter?
  • How have you meaningfully connected with friends and family during Easter, a time when many of us would gather at someone’s home for a meal and family time?

I’d love to hear your answers as comments here or on Facebook.

For the previous post in this series …

A Writer's First Visit to the Holy Land: The Sea of Galilee

Introduction

Sunrise from our hotel on the Sea of Galilee

Before I talk about my trip to The Sea of Galilee, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he’s in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).

He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.

Travelling Around The Sea of Galilee

Nazareth, Magdala (near Migdala) and Capernaum [Attribution: Map Data © 2020 Mapa GISreal. Orion-M]

We left Nazareth and Mount Precipice to our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. (Capernaum and Magdala (near Migdala), which I will talk about presently are shown as ellipses on the above map). I was blessed to have an east-looking balcony to capture a beautiful sunrise from my room.

Our day began with a boat ride across the sea and for such a small lake, it had a fair chop. I guess the lake rift valley, surrounded by high terrain. means the surrounding mountains/hills act like a funnel and when the wind changes direction, it can whip up this relatively small lake significantly (reminiscent of the gospels).

Travelling up the west coast of The Sea of Galilee
A view of the rugged eastern shore

Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount

Mount of the Beatitudes

Capernaum

Capernaum, the site of much of Jesus’ ministry, has a church and significant excavations and restorations of a beautiful synagogue. This synagogue dates to a time after the first century, as indicated by the imported light-colored stone, but in a corner, below the newer synagogue, one can find the remnants of the older synagogue that Jesus attended.

The older synagogue from the time of Jesus in Capernaum

Peter/s house in Capernaum has been covered by a church, and the excavation is shown here.

A “homeless Jesus” sculpture in Capernaum

I learned that since the Galilee area is volcanic in origin, the older building from the time of Jesus consist of black basalt. Later when Capernaum became more prosperous because of a Roman road, the newer buildings used imported white or light-colored stone.

Magdala, Home of Mary Magdalene

The church at Magdala

We finished our day at a beautiful church at Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. There is a wonderfully restored synagogue from the time of Jesus at this site. Magdala is at the entrance of a pass that is the likely route Jesus would have walked from Nazareth to The Sea of Galilee, so almost certainly He would have used this synagogue after his journey.

Personal Reflection

At the Mount of the Beatitudes, I had the chance to site on a bench in the beautiful church gardens and reflect on Matthew 4:23-5:12.As I reflected on this passage, I focused especially on Matthew 5:7 ” blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

It struck me, when our hearts are right, that genuine mercy is always an option to the penalties specified in the Mosaic Law. In Matthew 1:19 when Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant before they had come together, it is written of him: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her [a betrothal had the same force as a marriage and required a divorce] quietly.”

Presumably, in that society, Joseph could have publicly shamed her or even demanded she be stoned (John 8:3-11). He did not because, as the wronged party, mercy was always an option.

Being merciful is always an option.

I and many others have sometimes wondered if the God of the Old Testament has the same character as the Father God of the New Testament. We know from our teaching that he does. The fact that mercy is always an option, if the people have the heart for it, helps me to look at the Old Testament in a new light.

Questions

  • If you have a particular passage in the Old Testament that troubles you, how might “mercy is always an option” help you understand it?
  • One of the questions put to us at the Mount of Beatitudes: “For you, what is the hardest part of being a Jesus follower today?” How would you answer that question?

I’d love to hear your answers as comments here or on Facebook.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:

The Halcyon Dislocation

The Battle for Halcyon

The Dragons of Sheol

Questioning Your Way to Faith

Sunrise over The Sea of Galilee

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: Nazareth Village and Mount Precipice

Our route so far: we traveled up the coast from Joppa to Caesarea Maritima, then over to Mount Carmel and finally to Nazareth (see the three ellipses).

Our Route So Far

We began our journey traveling up the coast from Joppa (south Tel Aviv) to Caesarea Maritima. We then headed inland along the the Valley of Yizre’el (also called the plain of Megiddo as in Armageddon).

One of the difficulties in reading maps of the Holy Land is that every place seems to have several different names, each with different spellings as the name gets transliterated into different alphabets.

In the case of the Yizre’el Valley/Plain of Megiddo, both Yizre’el and Megiddo were (and I suppose are) important towns in the valley and it makes sense for inhabitants to name it after the nearest important town in the valley. You’ll see the plaque on Mount Precipice near Nazareth called  the Yizrael Valley, yet its the same valley we saw from Mount Carmel.

Nazareth Village

The wine press at Nazareth Village.

Nazareth is a small city of about 77,000 surrounding the village area of  the Nazareth of two thousand years ago. The original village would have been located close to the springs that made life in this arid place possible.

We visited Nazareth Village, a reconstructed village from the time of Jesus on an archaeological site that used to be a terraced farm two thousand years ago. In the picture above, one can see the wine press itself, a flat, slightly sloped area where the grapes were pressed barefoot and then a channel to a deeper hollow where the grape juice was collected.

A closeup of the flat portion, the channel, and the collection basin of the wine press.

The History of Nazareth Village: “Extensive archeological [sic] excavations show that this remarkably preserved site is home to an over 2000 year old wine press cut into the bedrock. The remains of a vineyard, watchtowers, terraces, spring fed irrigation system and stone quarries tell the story of a working farm area just outside of the original old Nazareth. The hillside was preserved and untouched on the grounds of the Nazareth Hospital, established in 1906 by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS), now called the Nazareth Trust.

A vineyard watch tower at Nazareth Village (Read the Parable of the Tenants … Matthew 21: 33-46).
A reconstruction of an ancient olive press. The stones on the lever beam were successively engaged to recover three fractions of olive oil from the olive mash. The earliest fraction was purest and most precious.
Scrolls in the reconstructed synagogue at Nazareth Village.
Ceiling beams and ceiling cover of reconstructed dwellings following the ancient pattern. This is the type of roof that would have allowed loyal friends to lower their crippled companion into the presence of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12).

Mount Precipice

The Valley of Yizre’el (Plain of Megiddo) from Mount Precipice, near Nazareth.
According to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:16-30) “And they rose up and drove him out of town and brought him to the brow of the hill … But passing through their midst he went away.”

Personal Reflection

As I reflected on this passage in Luke chapter 4, after having just finished studying the life of Elijah and the confrontation on Mount Carmel, it struck me for the first time that Jezebel was a Sidonian (1 Kings 16: 31).

Yet even in the culture of that time in which the family members and people of Jezebel should be held equally culpable for Jezebel’s deeds, our gracious God sends Elijah to look after a Sidonian widow and her son during a time of extreme drought.

Confirmation Bias

My trip to Israel was much more than confronting and learning about history; it was also a time of personal learning and reflection. On Mount Precipice as we were thinking about the Luke 4:14-30, we were asked to consider the question:

If someone were to follow you for a week and watch how you live, what would they say about who you believe Jesus to be?”

As a scientist, I worry a lot about bias, in particular confirmation bias, the observation that if a person believes a theory or hypothesis to be true, then they leap with glee on any datum that supports their point of view,  but likely relinquish troublesome data points to the “To Be Explained” file with a sigh saying “I’ll have to give those data points more thought to see if I can see how they fit in.”

So “Whom should you ask?” I guess I would say ask someone else who does follow me around and then tell me what they see so that we’ll both know!

Likely there would be some indicators that I think Jesus is who He said He was, mixed in with many attitudes and behaviors that say the opposite (unfortunately).

Questions

  • If you have ever been to the Holy Land, what thought or experience has stayed with you the longest?
  • Did your visit to the Holy Land pique your interest in spiritual things or diminish your interest?
  • If you haven’t gone to the Holy Land yet, and were given a chance to go, what would you hope to see/learn/experience?

I’d love to hear your answers as comments here or on Facebook.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are in Mississauga and interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his books in the Mississauga Library.
Mount Tabor as seen from Mount Precipice.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: Mount Carmel

The statue of Elijah at the Deir Al-Mukhraqa Carmelite Monastery on Mount Carmel, the likely site for the contest between Elijah and the four hundred prophets of Baal.

Mount Carmel, Elijah, and the Prophets of Baal

Elijah served as prophet in one of the darkest chapters in the history of Israel. A weak and wicked king, Ahab had married Jezebel, a Sidonian. Jezebel ran the kingdom in Ahab’s name. She killed, likely with the complicity of the prophets of Baal, pretty well all of the prophets of Yahweh.

We read in 1 Kings 18:3-4 (almost as a footnote or side note) that Jezebel had cut off the prophets of the LORD:

And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over his household. (now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them bread and water.)

Many will likely remember this narrative well, where Elijah challenges the 400 prophets of Baal and the 450 prophets of Asherah that ate at Jezebel’s table to a contest on Mount Carmel. Ahab was urged by Elijah to:

“Send and gather all of Israel at Mount Carmel …” (1 Kings 18:19).

Having been on top of Mount Carmel, it is easy to see how that could have happened. One has the rocky and steep rounded mountain open to the vast Migiddo plain. The leaders of Israel could readily climb the mountain side to be near the summit to see the priests performing their worship ceremony. Yet the summit is so exposed that even people some distance away in the plain could seen the culmination of the sign with fire from the sky consuming Elijah’s offering.

A view of the plain of Megiddo

A Troublesome Question

A troublesome question for me (perhaps not for others) would be “where is the grace in this passage towards the prophets of Baal?”

Having seen the character of Jesus in the New Testament and recognizing that this is also the most complete representation of the God’s character in the Old Testament, I would expect to find some evidence of His desire for grace, repentance, and forgiveness.

For me (and I recognize there is no explicit evidence for this in the passage) I think one of the reasons the Baal worship and the taunting by Elijah went on for such a long time, was to afford some of the prophets of Baal an opportunity to realize that they were serving a false god and repent. There is no evidence they did so, but God’s willingness to accept repentance seems almost boundless.

Even Ahab, after all the terrible things he did and allowed to be done, had his repentance accepted (1 Kings 21:27-29). His repentance only temporarily delayed the deportation of Israel, since the rot was too deep, but it delayed Judgment Day for a time.

Rocks on the side of Mount Carmel present an interesting conundrum from a military perspective. The plain of Megiddo seems to be ideal terrain for tanks (or chariots) while the surrounding mountains with all their rocks would be nigh impassible for any but infantry on foot.

Personal Reflection

The teaching on this epic historical narrative on Elijah left me with the challenge: “How can I apply this to my life. What should I take a stand on, even if it goes against what many around me believe?

As I pondered these questions, it occurred to me how deeply our presumption of relativism in general and Political Correctness in particular has colored our view of every question. Indeed, it seems making pronouncements of any kind (except pronouncing that one shouldn’t make pronouncements) is seen as a statement of opinion or fashion and can only be valid for ourselves and has no universal applicability. Indeed to insist otherwise is seen as bigotry.

In our culture of Political Correctness, it seems that making a statement that ideas, attitudes, and behaviors have genuine consequences is seen by many as capricious and egregious as insisting that everyone must only wear black.

This state of affairs makes application of the Elijah passage quite difficult. As a writer of fiction, I am constantly being told by my writer’s group and editor “show don’t tell!”

For our culture, telling, or making pronouncements is an anathema and keeps the speaker from being heard. If, however, I can construct a fictional character so real as to be believable, let them have ideas, train their own attitudes, and then makes choices that have consequences, then perhaps the reader will see the connections.

This has been a spur to me to strive to be a better writer, avoiding the preaching of sermons (telling) in my books, but letting the reader discover the connections as the story unfolds. I hope I can continue to grow as a writer and do it.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his books on Chapters/Indigo.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: Caesarea Maritima

The Mediterranean seen through an arch of the aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima.

Walking from Joppa to Caesarea

In the previous post in the Holy Land series, I spoke about Joppa and an appeal by Cornelius, a Roman centurion situated Caesarea, for Peter to visit him. Peter traveled to the city of Caesarea (or more precisely Caesarea Maritima to distinguish it from other cities in the Roman Empire honoring Caesar – you may remember for example Caesarea Philippi), a distance of approximately 33.6 miles (63 km). Our guide spoke of an average walking distance of 15 km per day, so that would suggest it would be a four-day journey one way.

I think the 15 km/day walk was a leisurely trek that took into account the penchant of travelers of that day to be news-bearers as well as news-acquirers as they stopped along the way.

Cornelius’ servants were legionaries. The Roman army had three walking paces with full kit that had to be achieved by every legionary. Stragglers were unacceptable because they divided the army and put it at risk.

  • A standard march: regular step or military pace – about 18.4 miles (29.6 km) per day with full kit
  • Faster step: about 22.1 miles (35.5 km) per day
  • Forced march: up to 30 miles (48 km) per day

Thus given that Cornelius’ emissaries were likely traveling without full kit and the distance is easily achievable given legion requirements, the New Testament account of roughly four days round trip is easily achievable.

Herod the Great

A view of the harbor destroyed by earthquake and tsunami. Much of the coastline has been altered by these calamities and the jetties are submerged.
Cormorants roosting on ruins close to the sea in Caesarea.

Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great over about twelve years (22-10 BC). He was an audacious builder and we will encounter his work again, in the temple renovation in Jerusalem, at Masada, and at the city of Herodion (his burial place).

Herod’s construction was impressive: he built a breakwater and jetties to achieve a deep water port on a coast with no natural protection. he also built a Roman city complete with theater, hippodrome (horse and chariot races), and an amphitheater (gladiatorial events) as well as Roman baths, statues and temples. It became a major Roman base in the area, consistent with the New Testament teaching.

Paul also also was imprisoned in Caesarea, the governor’s residence (Acts 23:23-Acts 26:32) and made his defense before King Agrippa there.

Alas, Caesarea was built in an earthquake zone and was severely damaged by quake an tsunami sometime in the 1st and 2nd century. By the 6th century, the damage was so great the harbor was unusable. This can be seen from the pictures.

Personal Reflection

A replica of a stone found at this location bearing an inscription referring to Pontius Pilate.
The description accompanying the Pilate stone.

Caesarea, like so many sites in the Holy Land is replete with archaeological evidence that complements and corroborates the data historical data found in the New and Old Testaments.

As a scientist who has spent a good fraction of his life conducting research in chemistry and physics, I am well acquainted with the careful distinction that science makes between data and explanatory interpretations of the data (by that I mean hypotheses, theories, and laws).

One is taught that data is to be taken as correct and true and cannot be dismissed lightly. Even if one suspects an error was made in a measurement, one does not delete the offending datum, but one remeasures it and keeps both old and new.

In contrast, one works to disprove hypotheses in order to avoid confirmation bias.

However, to an outsider, it seems these rules are abandoned when it comes to the Old and New Testament. Indeed it seems to me they are often treated not like data but hypotheses and so analysts feel free obligated to disprove their reliability.

 

Yet coming to the Holy Land, one finds hundreds, likely thousands of pieces of evidence: places, people, landmarks etc. which are referenced in the Bible.

Both Old and New Testaments are ancient documents with an excellent documentary pedigree. Yet it seems, these documents are often put on trial and assumed to be fictitious until proven otherwise.

For me this is reminiscent of some of the shoddy police work one sometimes reads about, where an officer is so convinced that a defendant is guilty that he automatically adds any witness with a potential alibi for the defendant to the list of co-conspirators.

This process is helpful if one is only interested in getting convictions, but not if one is  looking for the truth. In the same way, if one treats the biblical texts as hypotheses and not as data, then one is not giving the texts the recognition they deserve.

If you are interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his Amazon Author page.
For the previous post in this series …
Remains of the aqueduct that once brought water to Caesarea.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: The Port of Joppa

Introduction

As a writer and a Christ-Follower visiting the Holy Land for the first time, it became apparent my trip cannot help but change the way I read the bible, look at history, and see one of the places that formed, in large measure, the civilization in which I live.

As someone pointed out, it is like going from a black and white picture to a three-dimensional color picture: the details are essentially the same but are seen in a wholly new way.

The bell tower of Saint Peter’s Church as seen from the steps of Kikar Kedumin Street in Joppa
A closer view of Saint Peter’s Church and bell tower.

Joppa

Joppa (also called Jaffa, Japho or Yapo) has been the port for Jerusalem from well-before King David. According to Wikipedia its use as a port dates back to 1800 BC.

It was captured from the Philistines in the time of David and used by Solomon as the port for the building materials used for the first temple  (2 Chronicles 2:16).

I saw Joppa on a windy day. The architecture is from different periods, given that port has been taken and retaken. It is an interesting mix of older architecture from successive periods standing along side modern art.

The new in the midst of the old. Modern iconic art in Old Joppa.
Although the original house of Simon the Tanner has almost certainly been destroyed, it would have been a house similar to this one, overlooking the shore. The flat roof was for guests and even though it is winter one can see that the vines on the roof, in summer, would have provided shade in the heat of the day.

Personal Reflection

In Acts Chapter 8 and 9 (Acts 8:36-9:48) we read the account of Peter and Cornelius. The latter, as a God-fearing centurion in Caesarea, after a vision, sends for Simon Peter in Joppa. Peter, himself, as an observant Jew needs convincing through a separate vision, that he ought to make the long journey to Caesarea and enter the house of a gentile. Peter does so and we have the first occurrence of the grace of the Christian message being extended beyond a Jewish audience in the New Testament.

As I read this, and I pondered Peter’s dilemma in being told, against his own background and inclination, to extend the gift he and his people had received through Christ, to not only others, but members of the oppressor’s class, it made me reflect on my own time and what it might mean.

We live in contradictory times. In school we are taught that we are biochemical machines that are the product of billions of years of mutation and selection, with bits of genetic code (genes) acting like puppet masters directing our every step to maximize our self preservation and reproduction so that our particular gene sequence comes to dominate the pool.

At the same time, in the same schools, we are also taught the contradictory assertion that we are held responsible for the past acts of our immediate ancestors, our clan, and our tribe even though we were not even alive to participate in the decisions (whether good or bad) that were made on our behalf.

For me the teaching in Acts 9 brings harmony to our modern contradiction. We owe duty and allegiance to family, clan, and tribe. However, Acts 9 teaches us to look beyond with a duty to those outside since they are also our brothers.

Acts 9 teaches me to care for, and do my duty toward family, clan, and tribe. Yet life is not a zero sum game where we only win, by pushing outsiders down, but rather, in the end, there are no outsiders.

Looking north toward Tel Aviv from Old Joppa. The little dots in the water are surfers.
A zoom lens closeup of the surfers waiting for the next big wave, north of Old Joppa.