An Israeli tour guide considers the complicated methods, both academic and personal, of performing for Christian pilgrims.
Having made aliya to Israel at age 22, more than 30 years ago, Feldman (Sociology/Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev), who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, sustained a living as a licensed Israeli tour guide mostly for Palestinian travel agencies in Jerusalem while also gaining his doctorate in anthropology. Here, the author chronicles his experiences shepherding tourists, mostly Protestants, on pilgrimages to the Holy Land as well as accounts of his interviews with colleagues and analyses of academic literature. The result is a vocabulary rather mixed and murky, as the author struggles between introducing analytic speak in defining “social and cultural codes” that the Holy Land has generated over the centuries (i.e., that the re-created panorama of the actual site has been manipulated over the centuries by a certain “visual mastery in the West”) and his emotional experience at the “seduction” of Christianity. The Holy Land generates enormous emotional power in the viewer, though the experience varies for Protestants and Evangelicals, intent on following the steps of Jesus, versus the Catholic, focused on shrines and iconography. However, both tours create a kind of “suspension of disbelief and skepticism” that the guide must encourage and respect, especially if he is going to get good tips at the end. Feldman writes extensively about “claiming and shaping space” as key to how the tourist/pilgrim views the Bible land tour; most often, that means ignoring the Muslim/Palestinian presence. The author delineates the two-year program for gaining an Israeli license, involving hiking and extensive New Testament training, and the prickly particulars of tips and souvenirs. Traversing the Separation Wall marking the passage into Bethlehem underscores the fact that pilgrimage becomes a form of political power.
An odd book but nonetheless a unique lens through which to view the conflicted Promised Land.