A Writer’s First Trip to the Holy Land: The Decapolis City of Beit She’an (Scythopolis)

Beit She’an (Scythopolis) showing the ruins of the city with the tell in the background.

It is about the one year anniversary of our trip to Israel. I am grateful I had the opportunity to complete this trip of a lifetime. I would like to finish this series with a description and images from our trip to Scythopolis. After a year it remains a trip of a lifetime and I gladly remember the many wonderful people Kathyrn and I met in our group.

A Description of Scythopolis

At the junction of the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan Valley one finds the ruins of the ancient city of Scythopolis one of the towns of the Decapolis. These Greek settlements were founded after Alexander the Great’s conquests. Likely Pella and Dion were founded first, since they are Macedonian names.

The location of Beit She’an in modern Israel.

Scythopolis is the only Decapolis town on the west side of the Jordan River and sits athwart one of the key access routes connecting the coastal region with the caravan routes skirting the fertile crescent.

Approximate location of the ten cities at the time of Christ.

According to E. M. Blaiklock, the presence of a Greek city in Palestine had a significant influence on Jewish culture and Jewish awareness of Greek culture. For example, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the far off land where he fed the swine may have been modeled on Scythopolis.

Scythopolis was likely destroyed by an earthquake as evidenced by these giant toppled pillars.

The presence of Scythopolis may also indicate that Jews and Galileans in biblical times had an understanding of Greek since they likely traded and interacted with these Greek cities.

The hill behind the town was likely used as a fortification and refuge in case of attack.

Acknowledgment. The excellent article by E. M. Blaiklock in The Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible on the Decapolis was most helpful in the writing of this article.

COVENTRY 2091 – The Manuscript is Finished!

Coventry Penal Colony on Iron Isle

In this pandemic year of 2020, having experienced so many constraints on my freedom, having endured isolation from my inner circle, and watching the economic devastation of people in my community, one of the few bright spots has been my writing. I have completed the manuscript for my next novel. Here is my first attempt at a teaser. Let me know what you think.

Coventry 2091

The year is 2091. Jacob Kraiser is chained to a metal bench outside a guard compound at a penal colony he didn’t even know existed. He had thought, when his parents and siblings died in an accident a few years ago, that his life had reached bottom. How wrong he was!

Coventry Penal Colony is hiding a colossal secret that will take Jacob on the adventure of his life. Will he die? Will he be able to fight back against the tyranny that surrounds him? Will he help to forge a way of escape for those who are trapped as he has been?

This is a fast-paced science fiction thriller that follows Jacob from the penal colony north of Lake Superior, to a floating city in the atmosphere of Venus, to a fledgling colony on Alpha Centauri. Why not go along for the ride?

Feedback

What do you think of this teaser? Am I revealing too much? Is it too bland? Your comments would be appreciated.

I’m enjoying Parler, the censor-free media platform, very much. If you’re on Parler, why not connect? Find me @PeterKazmaier

My Review of THE END, THE WAYFARER’S GUIDE TO THE APOLCALYPSE

The End, The Wayfarer's Guide To The ApocalypseThe End, The Wayfarer’s Guide To The Apocalypse by Joanne Rolston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joanne Rolston, in her book THE END: A WAYFARER’S GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE, wrote in the Epilogue, “I hope I’ve given you a different view of the enigmatic end-times book of Revelation.” She has certainly done that!

In the personal, storytelling style reminiscent of PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, Wayfarer is a traveler looking for the house of wisdom after hearing Wisdom speak in a town square. When she finally comes to Wisdom’s house she meets the sisters, Wisdom and Prudence, their father Abba, and Miles who is in charge of the house library.

What follows is a detailed journey through the book of Revelation mostly guided by Abba, but also with input from Miles and his resources in the library. Rolston has worked meticulously to make contact with modern-day events as she expounds on the various passages in Revelation. These modern-day touch points of Rolston’s narrative make this book of special interest to me since I like to check things out. For example, I did not know that the Greek word for the pale rider is transliterated chloros (green), the root word for chlorine, a green-colored elemental gas. I also looked up the UNESCO World Heritage site for the birthplace of Gautama Buddha (the site number is 666 which a significant numeral in Revelation). Finally, I looked up the Halloween asteroid of 2015 on the Near Earth Object database. These are only a few of the significant observations that are open for further investigation and verification by the reader.

In summary, if you have an interest in the book of Revelation and would like a new, easy-to-read perspective that touches on many recent events, this book would be of great value to you. I highly recommend it.

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A Four-Star Review of THE BATTLE FOR HALCYON by Science Fiction/Fantasy Author Andrew M. Seddon

Andrew M Seddon is an author of Fantasy and Science Fiction who has written more than a dozen books. His four-star review of The Battle for Halcyon can be found here on Goodreads. On the other hand, for your convenience, it can also be found below.

You can check out the Andrew M. Seddon website here.

I typically don’t like to jump into the middle of a series, and so decided to read “The Halcyon Dislocation” before embarking on “The Battle for Halcyon”. I don’t know that it is totally necessary, because “Battle”, taking place a year after “Dislocation”, can probably stand on its own, but I appreciated knowing the characters and background situation first.


There is much to like about both books. Kazmaier has obviously put considerable time, thought, and effort into world-building, in the process of which he has combined science fiction with fantasy and created a unique and intriguing parallel Earth into which the island university of Halcyon is dislocated as the result of a physics experiment. Abandoned ruined cities, strange creatures, unusual races both human and non-human, the lurking threat of an ancient evil – all combine to provide a fascinating milieu for the story he aims to tell.


Particularly well-done is the depiction of the effects of atheism and secularism as embraced by Halcyon University – principles (anti-principles?) which flourish in our own universities and culture. The decay of Halcyon society following the death of the morally upright chancellor starkly depicts the consequences when the forces of secularism and atheism are set loose (as if the lessons of the 20th century weren’t enough). The death plants, which “resurrect” the dead into soulless, mindless beings are potentially illustrative of this (although whether this was Kazmaier’s intent or not, I don’t know). On an individual level, the imprisonment of a Christian student for “mental illness” because he prays and believes that God answers prayer, is chilling, and surely not beyond the bounds of credibility.


Kazmaier illustrates the consequences of willful departure from God by creating several races of humans: the Ancients, who possess some capabilities that regular humans lack, still seek to follow God; their opposites are the Bent Ones, followers of the evil Meglir who corrupt the good creation for their own ends; the Lesser Men, humans like ourselves, but lacking the wisdom and some characteristics of the Ancients; the Halfmen, degraded humans that follow their lusts; and the Apeman, soulless creatures that obey the will of Meglir. Best of all are the amiable Hansa, lacking the intelligence of humans, but wise, good-natured, and self-sacrificing creatures.


This depiction of the corruption and degradation of humanity and society is perhaps the strongest aspect of the two novels.


For those who like adventure, there is more than enough and to spare as the Halcionites, most prominently Dave Schuster and his friends Al, Pam, and Floyd, adjust to life in their new world. Dave’s slow journey towards faith is handled discretely. Spiritual themes are generally woven in naturally, although Kazmaier is not afraid to have his characters engage in frank discussions when appropriate. There are fewer instances of this in “Battle” than in “Dislocation,” perhaps because of the increased focus on action in “Battle”.


The romantic relationship between Dave and Arlana (an Ancient) is handled with humor (I love how she likes to call him “Youngling”), while that between Al and Pam is rockier but also satisfying.


While I enjoyed both books, “Battle” does not feel as polished as “Dislocation”. Both come across stylistically as a little stiff, perhaps because Kazmaier prefers to use dialogue tags such as “said Dave”, “answered Al”, “encouraged Pam”, rather than the reverse. Other readers may not mind this. First person thoughts interjected into a third person narrative felt intrusive. And there are several inconsistencies. For example, Dave is distraught when he loses his New Testament when captured by Halfmen, but there was no mention of him possessing or reading a New Testament before, and no mention of one ever again. Similarly, a Swiss Army knife and flashlight appear out of nowhere.


“Battle” could benefit from additional proof-reading and polishing. There are numerous missing commas and quotation marks, repeated phrases, too many dialogue tags, and a tendency to use a character’s name repeatedly, when “he” or “she” would suffice.


But technical and stylistic details aside, it is really the story that matters, and Kazmaier’s Halcyon Cycle is certainly a worthwhile, enjoyable series with spiritual depth that is natural and not forced. On the level of storytelling, Kazmaier delivers. Not everything is resolved at the end of “Battle”; Kazmaier wisely leaves the door wide open for a sequel. The battle of good versus evil isn’t over. And surely there is more to come for Dave and Arlana…
I definitely recommend this series.

My Review of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for FailureThe Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To my thinking, THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND is really two books which I would rate very differently and as such the average overall rating (three stars) is misleading. The first three chapters are excellent and I would rate that portion of the book as four or five stars. They delineate the root causes behind many of the disturbing trends one sees in the thinking and conduct of undergraduates today and analyzes these causes in terms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). They distill their observations and recommendations into three lies and about nine pit falls in thinking CBT attempts to counteract. I found these ideas very helpful and continue to use them to analyze my own thinking. I will read these chapters over and over again.

I am much less sanguine about the second part of the book which provides anecdotes, supposedly in support of the early chapters. Reiterating the events at Evergreen State College was useful, but for most of the anecdotes and discussion, I found that the authors broke their own rules. They used labeling extensively without clearly defining their labels. Many of the labels were highly pejorative, yet as far as I could see the authors did not explain why the labels were appropriate. They seemed to engage in mind reading (another of the pitfalls) in that they seemed confident they knew what motivated the various non-university groups which they also seemed to blame for the anxiety-ridden undergraduate mindset.

When I finished and thought about what I had read, it seemed to me they were aiming for an “equality of blame” in their analysis of the anecdotes. This made no sense to me. The university administrations establish codes of conduct, enforce them, hire faculty, permit or exclude external speakers, and ultimately decide if they will support or not support teachers and students that are under attack for their views. Similarly the reading lists, course work, examinations, and grading are carried out by the faculty. Furthermore professors, by their own conduct and the way they approach questions provide examples to the students on how one should behave as one purses truth in an unbiased and objective manner.

It seems ludicrous to me to argue that outside forces or groups that have trouble even getting an invited speaker onto campus can share equal culpability for how students are turning out.

In summary, the early chapter are excellent and deserve a rating of four or five stars. The rest of the book, to my mind deserves only one or two stars. The average or overall rating, is perhaps, 2.5 to 3 stars.

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Review of R. J. Gilbert’s DUNGEON OF ILLUSION

Dungeon of Illusion (Tales of Vantoria #3)Dungeon of Illusion by R.J. Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DUNGEON OF ILLUSION, by Robert J. A. Gilbert, is the third novel in the TALES OF VANTORIA series. In it he describes the unexpected arrest of Wenchel and his friends when they arrive at the isolated mountain city of Samsara to go to the Palace of Worlds. After a rescue by Grolit, a soldier working for Luciana’s mother, they are on the run pursued by a cyborg lizard, a former friend of Grolit’s, and the Lizard’s drone army. What follows is the kind of non-stop action that keeps me interested. The highly visual descriptions of the mountain city, the mines, village and lake, as well as drone soldiers and huge predatory spiders make for a captivating tale.

The story also has some thought-provoking moments when, for example, young Jeremy laments the absence of his father after his parents divorced because they couldn’t stop arguing. Seeing the fear of all disagreement and the loss experienced from the divorce through Jeremy’s eyes was quite moving. The non-stop action, the excellent dialogue, and the imaginative pictures the writing portrays make this a five-star book for me.

In summary, if you like (as I do) a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, an action-filled tale that keeps you reading, filled with moments that make you think, this may be a book for you. I highly recommend it.

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Another Encouraging Four-Star Review of THE BATTLE FOR HALCYON by Author J. R. Baude

Reviews are valued by all authors since they represent feedback from very significant people–our readers. When those readers are also authors themselves they often bring an added level of insight from their own writing experience. I am grateful for this four-star review by J. R. Baude. By all means check out the original either on Amazon or on Goodreads. If you love fantasy and science fiction, why not check out J. R. Baude’s book, The Lazarus Chain on Goodreads or Amazon?

Links to the Original Reviews

Review on Goodreads
Review on Amazon

If you can’t find this review elsewhere …

The battle for Halcyon is a classic “second in a series” kind of book that moves it’s characters through a dense landscape of worlds and cultures. It is a journey picking up from the opening act (Book one which I unfortunately didn’t read before this) and leaving us wanting more in the end and looking forward to the third book. The story contains too many facets to elaborate here (and not to add spoilers as well), but as a whole, the novel has something for everyone with some deft surprises one would expect from any well-crafted, world-building speculative fiction.

There is a lot going on here, so any reader will want to consult the glossary in the back periodically to gain background and some history in regards to pretty much everything in the book. It’s a thoughtful addition by the author to aid the reader. Also, The length of the book is rather daunting and if I have one gripe, the writing can be over-detailed making the pace a bit too patient at times for the reader.

If you are a fan of speculative fiction, you should give this a read.

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A Review of REVELATIONS SOULSIGHT, a Novel by Robert Christian Reed

Revelations Soulsight: A clean Christian fantasy full of actionRevelations Soulsight: A clean Christian fantasy full of action by Robert Christian Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story describes an epic battle between good and evil. However, it is a battle with a difference. Good, strives to keep the battle from ending, since the ongoing battle permits the operation of grace and the rescue of the lost.

The forces of evil, naturally enough, want evil to win the battle and triumph. But there is a third party called The Watchers. They are angels who have taken on immortal bodies and fathered children, the Nephilim. The Watchers also want the battle to end, but do not want Satan to win. So sometimes they help the forces of evil and sometimes they aid the forces of good.

High schoolers Sarah and David Krieger are orphans living in Boston. David is gifted with extraordinary abilities. Johnathan (Uncle John) Adler, their newly designated guardian, takes Sarah and David to his home in Washington state in the high country near the Cascade Mountains. Sarah notices that there is much more to Uncle John and his son Jake than meets the eye. There seems to be a shared secret between Jake, David and Uncle John from which Sarah is excluded.

If you like epic battles, hand-to-hand combat, and fantastic creatures, you will enjoy this book. It is filled with demons such as Baal and Moloch, hell hounds, gargoyles that come to life, and even familiar animals such as dogs and horses that have supernatural abilities.

I enjoyed the exhilaration of the combat in the story. I liked even better that the author uses the action to ask important thought-provoking questions that leave the reader with more than an action-packed story.

At one point, Samyael, one of the Watchers, had commissioned a life-sized painting of Christ upon the cross. He looks at it again and sees Mary crying at the foot of the cross. He asks:

“… why did Mary cry? If she believed in Him, then where was her faith? If she knew her son was the Christ, why did she weep?”

In the end Sarah surprises us. We learn John, Jake, and David’s secret. However, there are enough loose ends to let us know there will be a sequel.

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To see the review on Goodreads
To see the review on Amazon

An Encouraging Four-Star Review of THE BATTLE FOR HALCYON by Author Jes Drew

Reviews are valued by all authors since they represent feedback from very significant people–our readers. When those readers are also authors themselves they often bring an added level of insight from their own writing experience. I am grateful for this four-star review by Jes Drew. By all means check out the original either on the Drew blog or on Goodreads.

Links to the Original Reviews

Author Jes Drew’s Blog

https://agencyofbooksandspies.blogspot.com/2020/08/review-of-battle-for-halcyon-by-peter.html

Review on Goodreads
Review on Amazon

If you can’t find this review elsewhere …

Strangely enough, I read the third book before reading this, the second in the series. That was an interesting experience, but not a bad one. Suddenly, all the foreshadowing became references that I had inside knowledge of that the characters didn’t yet. Also, it was quite charming to see a couple that I knew as already married and established in their relationship first meet and fall in love. Theirs was a very interesting dynamic that I wasn’t expecting, knowing their future selves!

My favorite aspect of this particular book was probably that particular romance, because it was so sweet and charming. It reminded me somewhat of Aragon and Arwen from the Lord of the Rings if they met later in life instead of growing up together.

Another aspect of this book that I really like that also reminds me of The Lord of the Rings is the strong bond of friendship between the protagonists. While I haven’t yet read the first book to find out all of the friendship origins, I have seen how they have been tested and held true.

Also, it was great to visit this world (these worlds?) again, because it really is quite unique. There is something about it that combines fantasy, science fiction, and Biblical/apocalyptical together like the three strands of a braid.

Anyway, for anyone who likes speculative fiction, romances between immortals and mortals, and books in general, this is the series for you.

I received a copy of this book from the author, but was not required to give a favorable review.

Review first published on my blog: https://agencyofbooksandspies.blogspo…

Check out Peter’s books here

The Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton

Cover from my volume of FATHER BROWN CRIME STORIES

I am reading the Father Brown stories for the second time. I believe I now have a complete set and can read them all in chronological order. I particularly want to focus on one story I had not read before:

  • Chapter 1 entitled “The Resurrection of Father Brown” in The Incredulity of Father Brown

The Resurrection of Father Brown (caution spoilers)

Father Brown is in an unnamed south american country (it is on the northern coast of the continent) quietly serving as a priest to some of the poorer citizens when his ministerial assignment is discovered by an american reporter named Paul Snaith. Mr. Snaith wrote so many glowing articles of the famous Father Brown serving in South America to readers in America, that Father Brown was invited to go on an american speaking tour (which he declined). At Snaith’s hands, Father Brown’s fame continued to grow. He received a bottle of wine from a Mr. Eckstein, asking him to try it and say what he thought of it. Knowing the lunacy of american advertising, Brown had a glass and went out for an evening walk. He realized he was not alone. But he was a man of courage and even stronger curiosity and walked on.

“All his life he [Father Brown] had been led by an intellectual hunger for the truth, even of trifles.”

He was beset by two men, one with a knife and one with a cudgel. This attack was observed through a window by John Adams Race an american engineer who happened to be an evangelical Christian. Race left his house and rushed to the scene. As he arrived, the cry went up: “Father Brown is dead!” Snaith was there and confirmed it. The death was also confirmed by Dr. Calderon.

The funeral, with Brown in a wooden coffin at the foot of a wooden crucifix, was held a short time afterward, and Mendoza, one of the local politicians gave a long oration, praising Father Brown. His political opponent, an atheist and revolutionary named Alavarez kept his peace until the oration grew to be too much when Mendoza, as part of his speech, began berating his political opponents.

Alvarez, beside himself with rage, berated and blamed God for this and every other tragedy. He ended up defiantly by saying:

“I defy the God who is not there to waken this man who sleeps forever.”

“Stop! Stop!” cried Snaith; “somethings up! I swear I saw him move.”

The wonder at this miracle, as expected, caused the crowd to roar with excitement. Surrounded by the adulation of the crowd and of Snaith, Father Brown sat up and tried to calm everyone down. When he failed he staggered off.

Later on, Race asked Brown where he had gone. Brown explained he had rushed to the telegraph office to tell his bishop to disregard the reports of this “resurrection miracle” since it was a hoax.

My Personal Thoughts

If I put myself in Father Brown’s shoes, wouldn’t I be tempted to use this supposed miracle to strengthen the faith of believers? Wouldn’t I be tempted to use a “noble lie?”

Father Brown’s answer to this question is telling. Brown told Race that he would praise God not for saving him from death but from disgrace.

“And if it had only been my disgrace! But it was the disgrace of all I stand for; the disgrace of the Faith that they went about to encompass.”

Snaith, Mendoza, Eckstein, and Calderon had set the whole thing up. Eckstein drugged Brown. Calderon confirmed his death. Snaith would have published the miracle broadly and then he have “uncovered” the hoax he had orchestrated. Snaith had even duped Brown into writing a few letters, although innocent at the time, later would have made it sound as if Brown had perpetrated the hoax.

For me this underlines that commitment to the truth is paramount. There are no shortcuts. There are no “noble lies” permissible. This, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in miracles, but rather I must, through diligence and a certain degree of skepticism make very sure they are indeed miraculous, much as the gospel writers and Father Brown did.

If you are interested in checking out Peter’s books, look here.