A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimages to the Holy Land

(London, Melisende, 2000)
Edited by Duncan Macpherson.

Other contributors include Chris Doyle, Peter Miano and Michael Prior.
Perspectives include an historical treatment of pilgrimages to the Holy Land; Past and present circumstances for the Palestinian Christians; denominational identitites; prospects for peace; sample itineraries; contacts and addresses of travel agents and agencies in Britain and Palestine.

Review of Guide Books to the Holy Land

So you are planning to visit the Holy Land. You want to make the most of it. You want to be prepared. Which guide book should you buy? Here is a biased assessment of 22 you might consider. There is no one guidebook that will suit everyone. It is hoped this review will save you some money and make your tour or pilgrimage more memorable for having chosen one or more really useful guidebooks. And if you come across one not listed here please let me have your evaluation.


Indispensable *****
Valuable ****
Useful ***
Doubtful **
Avoid *


Every Pilgrim's Guide to the Holy Land: Norman Wareham & Jill Gill
(Norwich: Canterbury Press; 1996. 207 pages. £6.50. ISBN 1-85311-123-6)
This is the kind of small guide book you can easily carry around with you in the Holy Land. A no nonsense explanation of each site is given on a separate page covering location, access, history, opening times, phone numbers, availability of toilets together with pithy 'author's comments' which are wise and to the point. It does what it says in the title. Quite simply the best. (Rating *****)

Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide: Shirley Eber & Kevin O'Sullivan
(London: Rough Guides; 1989. 451 pages. £7.99 ISBN 1-85828-067-2)
Sadly out of print. If you like conspiracy theories, perhaps this is because its controversial content upset the Israeli government and Jewish interest groups pressured the publishers to drop it from the series. Apparently last year the publishers pulled out of a contract to reissue the book shortly before the authors had completed their update. This book is unique and well worth searching for second-hand. The only authoritative guide to travelling around the West Bank as well as Israel. No glossy photographs or fancy paper, simply detailed knowledge not only about the biblical and historical sites but also on just about everything else from bus numbers to visiting the refugee camps. Written from a perspective sympathetic to the Palestinians. (Rating *****)

Baedeker's Israel
(Stuttgart: Baedeker (available through the AA); 1993. 445 pages. ISBN 0 671 87132 3)
Baedeker have been producing guidebooks to the region since the mid 19th Century which has given them a wealth of knowledge and experience. I have a copy of the fifth edition of Baedeker's Palestine and Syria, dated 1912. This latest edition is probably the most comprehensive guide book to the Holy Land, and the standard by which all others should be judged. The book is printed on high quality paper so that the maps, diagrams and coloured photos are clear. It contains comprehensive information on the topography, climate, flora and fauna, population, religion, languages, history, etc. For the traveller there are suggested routes as well as an A-Z of practical information. The guidebook also includes a large useful map to the Holy Land, both of which are kept clean by a removable plastic cover. (Rating *****)

Pilgrims and Peacemakers: A Journey Towards Jerusalem:
Garth Hewitt (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship; 1995. 160 pages. £5.99. ISBN 0 7324 0946 2) This is an exciting book combining Bible reflections, prayers and meditations linked to geographical locations around the Holy Land. You are also introduced to the 'Living Stones' the local Christians and hear their story as they strive for peace and reconciliation alongside fellow Jewish and Moslem peacemakers. This is an essential tool for pilgrims but particularly pilgrimage leaders. An audio tape is also available from BRF on which Garth reads some of the reflections and sings a election of songs written about the Christians of the Holy Land. Garth's passion for holiness, peace, justice and reconciliation shines through in this book and it is highly infectious. (Rating *****)

The Holy Land: Everyman Guides
(London: David Campbell; 1995. 480 pages. £20. ISBN 1 85715 891 1)
This is one of the most recent guidebooks published. Its also one of the heaviest, lavish and most expensive but well worth the investment. It combines historical and contemporary information with high quality photographs, three dimensional maps and coloured drawings which illuminate the mind like no other guide book. It also finds a balance between the needs of the Christian or Jewish pilgrim as much as the secular tourist. The expanded pull out pages on the walls of Jerusalem, Masada and the Via Dolorosa are particularly useful. Nor do the authors shy away from the contemporary political struggle between Jews and Palestinians but contain very moving poems and prose from authors such as Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish. There is also a wealth of practical information on weather, transport, and living in the country. This is my favourite. (Rating *****)

Israel including the West Bank and Gaza: Insight Guides
(London: Harrap/APA; 1987. 384 pages. ISBN 0 245 54400 3)
This guide comes closest to a thick National Geographic production. The book is the product of 20 journalists, reporters and world class photographers. The text is vivid, the maps detailed, the photos simply stunning, the information practical. Special essays cover subjects such as archaeology, kibbutzim and ecology. Dealing with secular Israel as much as the religious sites, this book is probably broader and more comprehensive than is needed by pilgrims, aimed at the wider tourist market. While dwelling on life in Israel today, the book honestly addresses many of the issues faced by Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. (Rating *****)

Come See the Place: Ronald Brownrigg
(London: Hodder & Stoughton; 1988. 273 pages. £4.95. ISBN 0 340 42578 4)
This is a revised and expanded edition of a tried and tested guidebook providing a unique combination of the historical, devotional and practical. The book contains detailed information on how to contact the local Christian communities and religious sites as well as bus routes and archaeological courses. The Church Times goes as far to claim, "It is the best informed and most comprehensive of all the Holy Land Guidebooks that have come my way, and I found it hard to put down." Had it contained more information of the contemporary political scene it would have deserved five stars. (Rating *****)

Holy Land Pilgrimage: A Guide For Visitors
(London: CCBI Middle East Relationship Committee; 1992. 33 pages. £1.95. ISBN 0 85169 226 5) Strictly speaking not a guide book but an essential read before you go. Encourages contact with the local Christians as well as those of the other faith communities. (Rating *****)

The Holy Land: An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700: Jerome Murphy O'Connor. (Oxford: Oxford University Press; Revised 1998. 320 pages. ISBN 0 19 285088 1)
This is a very readable guide to the archaeology and history of the Holy Land. The back cover describes this as "Concise, readable and wittily erudite... an ideal companion for those who intend to go and see for themselves." Quite so. (Rating *****)

Companions of God: Praying for Peace in the Holy Land: Janet Morley
(London: Christian Aid; 1994. 71 pages. £4.99. ISBN 0 904 379 19 1)
This is a prayer guide for pilgrims which will not only assist you in following in the footsteps of Jesus but also "'pray with your eyes open' for a just and lasting peace in the land where he walked." As the back cover continues, "Poignant, biblical, but sharply contemporary, these reflections and images will resonate in the hearts and minds even of those who cannot travel there. For those who can, it will be an enduring resource - before, during and after your visit." Small enough to slip into the pocket although I doubt if it will stay there for long once you have begun to devour it. (Rating ****)

Arabs and Israel For Beginners: Ron David
(New York: Writers and Readers; 1993. 215 pages. £6.99. ISBN 0 86316 161 8)
This is not a guide book as such but is included because it is a brilliant satirical look at the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The back cover claims, "Arabs and Israel for Beginners is one of few books to cover the issues of both Jews and Arabs objectively, insightfully and in an easy-to-read style." 'Objectivity' is a risky word to use of any book on the Middle East but in my opinion, and I am writing this review, this comes closest to anything else I've read. Particularly useful for those confused by facts that just don't seem to add up. (Rating ****)

Introducing the Holy Land: A Guidebook for First-Time Visitors: J. Maxwell Miller
(London: SCM; 1982. 185 pages. £6.50. ISBN 334 02085 9)
Maxwell Miller is an archaeologist and distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Emory University, Atlanta. He focuses on the history, archaeology and geography of the Holy Land. Not so much a travel guide as a handbook for pilgrims with maps, diagrams and Bible readings. (Rating ****)

Bethlehem 2000: A Guide to Bethlehem and its Surroundings: Sawsan & Qustandi Shomali.
(Waldbrol: Flamm Druck Wagener, 1997. 144 pages ISBN 3 9802690 8 6)
This is the first tourist guide written specifically about Bethlehem and by local Palestinian authors, both of whom are on the staff of Bethlehem University. It rates favourably for style, detail, content, beautiful photos and imaginative use of colour as any Western production. It provides all you ever need to know about the historical and archaeological sites, as well as traditional arts and Palestinian culture. That the authors know and love their homeland is obvious on every page and I hope this will set the standard for more Palestinian authored guide books to the Holy Land. Available from all good Palestinian hotels or Flamm Druck Wagener, Tel 02291 4005, Fax 02291 4500. Incidentally, this is also the first guide book I have read that invites readers to send their suggestions, comments or corrections for the next edition. (Rating ****)

The Blue Guide: Jerusalem: Kay Prag
(London: A & C. Black; 1989. 331 pages. £11.95. ISBN 0 393 30480 9)
This is the most comprehensive guidebook I know of dealing with Jerusalem. It offers 17 detailed walking routes for long stays as well as short visits through the Old City, the suburbs, Bethany and Bethlehem. This is a book for academics as much as for pilgrims. There is much detail here on the history and architecture of Jerusalem, its geology, topography and population. There are also plenty of historical and route maps as well as 50 monument and city plans. Indispensable to anyone concentrating on Jerusalem. (Rating ****)

Simon Mayo's Breakfast in the Holy Land: Simon Mayo & Simon Jenkins
(Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering; 1988. 144 pages. £4.99. ISBN 0 551 01739 2)
For those who don't know, Simon Mayo is a Radio 1 presenter, and this 'unorthodox' guidebook is based on a BBC Radio 1 programme voted best programme at the 1987 International Radio Festival of New York. The front cover gives a clue to its pedigree, "A Pilgrim's Guide to Israel's Holy Places." and the back cover reveals all with an El Al Airline logo. Inside a note acknowledges that El Al Israeli Airlines and Superstar Holidays helped in the compilation of the book. Forgiving Simon Mayo for such biased sponsorship, this is a book designed for young people and in this really excels. The style is punchy and witty, and the photos just like those we take as tourists. The maps and plans show off the skills of Simon Jenkins who also edited and illustrated "The Bible Mapbook" and "The Bible from Scratch" for Lion Publishers. The weakness of the book is that, despite its spontaneity and freshness asr recording Simon Mayo's first impressions of the land, it also reveals his, then, superficial acquaintance with the complex issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. What I would like to see is a second edition incorporating the kind of material contained in Ron David's "Arabs and Israel for Beginners" (see above). (Rating ***)

Travel Diary of the Holy Land: John Bimson
(Tring: Lion: 1989. 95 pages. £4.95 ISBN 0 86760 996 6)
As the title indicates this is really not a guide book as such but a companion guide with a diary for you to add your own comments about particular sites visited. It reminds me a little of those 'I spy' books we used to take on summer holidays as children. John Bimson is an Old Testament lecturer and archaeologist and the historical and biblical information given about each location is clear and concise. Although limited, this will probably satisfy many people who travel to the Holy Land. Others will find it a handy supplement. In the back, practical information is provided about clothing, weather and opening times. There is also a brief introduction to the history of the Holy Land as well as an overview of the various peoples and faiths who share it. As with all Lion books, the photographs are stunning and the booklet comes in a nice plastic sleeve to keep it clean. (Rating ***)

Pilgrim to the Holy Land: A Practical Guide: Hubert J. Richards
(Great Wakering: McCrimmons: 1988. 256 pages. ISBN 0 85597 321 8)
For pilgrimage leaders, already familiar with the contemporary political situation in the Holy Land, this is a useful book combining not only archaeological and historical details on the important sites but also biblical quotes, prayers, hymns and other liturgical material. Richards has apparently spent twenty years leading Easter pilgrimages and the content on the 'Way of the Cross' is useful. There is though one glaring omission - in his recommended "nothing left out" 14 day itinerary there is not a word about meeting with or worshipping with the indigenous Christians (p. 23). Richards, for the most part, avoids reference to the contemporary political situation but when he does, makes a number of erroneous statements. For example, he claims Bethlehem is a town in Israel (p. 98). Without comment he notes with reference to Jericho how, "When Israel extended its borders to this West Bank in 1967..." (p. 133). Again, appearing to acquiesce over what amounts to ethnic cleansing he mentions how Nablus, "was called Shechem, as Israel now insists on calling it again." (p. 149). A useful book in parts. (Rating ***)

A Devotional Guide to the Bible Lands: Batsell Barrett Baxter & Harold Hazelip
(Grand Rapids: Baker; 1980. 295 pages)
Both informative and inspirational. Dwells on geographical and historical overviews with devotional messages. One of the best and most comprehensive including Egypt and Jordan. On locations like Megiddo the authors gently refute the speculative apocalyptic scenarios of some more fundamentalist authors. Probably out of print hence two stars. (Rating **)

Michael's Guide: Jerusalem: Dror Wahrman
(Tel Aviv: Inbal; 1987. £6.95. ISBN 965 288 008 6)
Teddy Kollek, former Mayor of Jerusalem, wrote the foreword for the book, claiming "This guidebook is an essential companion for the discerning visitor to our city." Dror Wahrman is a Jewish historian and guide and the book provides sixteen comprehensive, if biased, walking tours through the city and its neighbourhoods. On the current political scene Wahrman gives the impression of living on another planet. "Although the question of Jerusalem's political status evolved into one of the harshest points of controversy in the Arab-Israeli dispute, it is rarely debated today." (p. 36). Nice try. (Rating **)

The Holy Land Today: Basilea Schlink
(London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott; 1975. 364 pages. ISBN 3 87209 610 9)
This is indeed, as the back cover promises, 'a guidebook with a difference.' Through prayers, devotional readings and even hymns complete with music, the reader is confronted with the deeply emotional challenges of the holy places and the moving events associated with the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ. I confess to having used much of it when leading pilgrimages. Basilea Schlink has provided a helpful devotional tool based on years of ministry associated with the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Unfortunately she is also a deeply committed Zionist and while this is not evident in this particular book her other writings demonstrate a lamentable hostility toward the Palestinian cause. For example in her book, 'Israel at the heart of world events' she berates the Palestinian Intifada as 'terrorism... aimed solely at destroying Israel.' (Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, 1991:29). 'Anyone who disputes Israel's right to the land of Canaan is actually opposing God and his holy covenant with the Patriarchs. He is striving against sacred, inviolable words and promises of God, which He has sworn to keep.' (1991:21). Her uncompromising views are typical of many other Zionists who elevate the State of Israel to a privileged status far above any human sanction or criticism. (Rating **)

Travelling Through the Promised Land: Donald Bridge
(Fearn: Christian Focus Publications; 1998. 224 pages. ISBN 1 85792 272 7)
The cover promises that this is "The best for background information" touching on 4000 years of cultural history; recent archaeological discoveries; tour itineraries; 2000 years of church history; evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The question is, "Does it deliver?" The simple answer is 'no'. The author's uncritical sympathy for Israel spoils an otherwise useful background to the Bible. Unfortunately Donald Bridge slanders Moslems on virtually every occasion possible. In describing the significance of Jerusalem to Jews, Christians and Moslems, for instance, he writes, "Jews world-wide mark their calendars with events that took place here. Muslims world-wide are eager to engage in holy wars here..." (p. 55-56). It doesn't live up to the promises made on its cover. (Rating *)

Israel on a Budget: Nava Bloch
(Tel Aviv: Israel Tourist Guides; 1989. 360 pages. ISBN 965 222 163 5)
This is a guidebook probably designed for the Jewish American student market. In the foreword by Zion Ben David, former director of the Israel Tourism Ministry, under the blunt heading 'Is it safe to go to Israel?' we are told that the intense security measures inflicted on travellers is justified to catch hijackers and terrorists, in one instance 'disguised as a pregnant woman'. We are not told why it is also necessary to humiliate and interrogate all Palestinians travelling to and from Israel, nor that a distinction must be made between legitimate security measures and obtrusive intelligence gathering. This is a useful book, politically and sociologically, in that it shows how important tourism is perceived to be to Israel. Zion Ben David continues, 'Israel is now in a situation that it does not want contributions - it would rather tourists came and enjoyed themselves. For world Jewry, a visit to Israel is the right step to support the State.' Christian pilgrims must recognise how the Israeli government will seek to ensure our visits will 'support the State'. Inevitably the maps show the Occupied Territories as part of the State of Israel. The entry for Gaza reads like something out of George Orwell's '1984'. Tourists are recommended to visit one or more of the 14 Jewish settlements and tourist sites built in the sand dunes in the southern part of Gaza still occupied by Israel. You are encouraged to view dune agriculture, enjoy a motor boat, kayak ride or jeep tour through the sand dunes. You can eat at the rustic style Hof Temarin restaurant and stay in the hotel or holiday village at the Nof Katif settlement. Apparently a 38 bus can take you there from Ashkelon, three times a day. Although the most densely populated place on earth you can enjoy a holiday in Gaza without ever having to meet a Palestinian. (Rating *)