Watzman (Company C, 2005), an Israeli journalist and Orthodox Jew, ruminates on his 2004 travels by car, bicycle and foot along the great geological rift that both geographically and metaphorically splits the Holy Land.
The author does not consider the sacred texts of his people to be accurate history. Throughout, he displays a healthy skepticism—even cynicism at times—routinely challenging the assumptions of the archaeologists, ornithologists, farmers, security guards, Christian pilgrims and others he interviews. After introducing us to the geology of the rift and explaining the debate about its genesis, he begins his journey, conducted over a period of months in a variety of weather conditions. He visits scholars, some old friends and numerous significant historical sites—often of Biblical importance—and notes that, in some cases, locations (e.g., the pit into which Joseph’s jealous brothers tossed him) are highly debatable. He encounters some Christians being baptized where the Jordan leaves the Sea of Galilee; they tell him they are there because it was the site of Jesus’ baptism. Watzman does not contradict them but notes for readers that the Gospels place the event elsewhere. Some may be surprised to learn that Israel contains the world’s highest density of bird species; the author teaches us about bird behavior, always with a sharp eye on the relevance to human behavior. He is frustrated that international borders prevent his visits to some places. He ends with a stunning encounter with a Palestinian at a remote gas station.
A graceful, erudite guide leads us across a fractured land.