A Historical Tour of the Holy Land
By Beryl Ratzer
Gefen Publishing House, 2010, 170 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 23, 2010
This popular book by a veteran Israeli tour guide offers readers a unique perspective, for the writer combines the history of the land of Israel with a description and pictures of various sites. This is the third edition of the volume, expanded from the prior editions, which sold out. Colored pictures appear on virtually every page. The book is written for all audiences and will be well-received by Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Ms. Ratzer begins by discussing the prehistory of Israel. She then introduces her readers to the Hebrew Scriptures and describes the land as it existed during the days of the early settlements by the Israelites. She tells about the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and how and why the people split into two kingdoms around 922 BCE, Judah and Israel. She speaks about the nineteen kings of Judah and nineteen kings of Israel, and about the one queen of Judah, Athalia, who ruled Judah from 842 to 836 BCE. She includes information about archeological finds from these times.
She talks about the Greek period in Israel, which began in earnest in the fourth century BCE when Alexander the Great visited the area, and which caused disagreements between Jews whether they should accept Greek philosophical ideas and their alien practices such as a gymnasium. She gives information about the Hasmoneans who battled the Syrian Greeks whose king wanted to restrict Judaism, and about the later Hasmonean kings, including the one queen from the Hasmonean family, Shlomzion Alexandra who ruled Judea alone after the death of her husband, 76-67 BCE, during an unusual time of peace and absence of internal strife.
She tells about the Roman period in Israel, which began when two of the Hasmoneans fought about who should rule and one of them invited Pompey to come and help settle the issue, resulting in the Romans staying, taxing, crucifying, and ultimately destroying the land. She writes about the composition of the Mishnah and the Talmuds, the early Arab period and the rivalry between the Arab groups, the crusader period, including tales about their butchery and their incompetence, the marmeluke period of warriors who snatched control from their Egyptian overlords, the four hundred year ottoman period whose influence remains in many Israeli laws, and the terrible, insensitive times of the British mandate. She ends her superb book by speaking about the reestablishment of Israel.