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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Coles

Our Journey through the Land of Promise

Land of Promise is out now and is available on Kindle and paperback. What follows is a brief account of my own journey through the Holy Land...

I got bitten by the travel bug when I was 21. I backpacked around Australia the year I left uni and then spent a year in Canada at a bible school a year later. I decided then, I wanted to see as much of the world as possible. I have visited lots of countries over the years and hope to visit many more in the future. Visiting every country in the world before I die would be a dream.

Fiona and I went on honeymoon to Kenya which was an interesting but fantastic experience. I got rushed to hospital in the middle of the night and we had to have a police escort to the airport. But we also had a fantastic time on safari and revelled in the luxurious resort on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Where next? We wanted to go somewhere we probably wouldn't get a chance to go once kids came along, and I had always wanted to go to Israel.

We visited many of the sites that appear in the Land of Promise and so here is the story of our trip through the same country Varius, Asher, Eliashib, Shifra and Sarah journey through.

Although not planned, we arrived on Shabbat so there was barely a car on the road. That was a huge relief to me as I got used to the roads. I punched the door a few times until I remembered the gear stick was on the other side. I did try and go around a roundabout the wrong way once but the blare of a local's car horn stopped me in my tracks.

We drove straight to Haifa and found our bed and breakfast which turned out to be a spare room in a woman's apartment. She was very nice and a published author of cook books. When she made us the sloppiest quiche I have ever seen, Fiona gamely agreed to eat more than her fair share, lest the woman get offended and I vomit everywhere.

Caesarea was only a short trip away so we drove there, marvelling at the lack of traffic on the roads. It is famous for its aqueduct, much of which is still in tact. Our first impressions of it were spoilt by the number of undesirables hanging around. Unfortunately it appeared to be the local hangout for wayward youth.

The town was so impressive though and we loved walking through the ruins, sitting in the amphitheatre and gazing out over the Mediterranean from where citizens used to watch the chariot races. Now I can imagine Varius and Asher cavorting through the town. I can see Sarah walking along the shore, wistfully thinking about her daughter Shifra and see in my mind's eye the opulence of the city, particularly the Herodian palace Pilate enjoyed.

In amongst the ruins is the possible cell in which the Apostle Paul was kept before his journey to Rome. There was also a famous stone tablet found here bearing the name of a Roman Prefect. We are so familiar with him from the trial of Jesus and he features prominently in my trilogy (spoiler alert: particularly in the last book).

We spent a few days exploring the area including the Mount Carmel or Elijah fame, the crusader sites at Acre and the Valley of Megiddo, future site of the battle of Armageddon. Then we drove across country and found a youth hostel on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We lunched in Tiberius, hired a small motor boat on the lake,

visited Capernaum, Chorazin and took a day trip to Nazareth. It was an exhilarating experience to visit the area we had been reading about all our lives. And because we did it ourselves and not with a tour group, we often had these places mostly to ourselves. We had a particularly poignant and quiet time at the supposed place where Jesus met with the disciples after the resurrection. We sat and read how Jesus restored Peter while the gentle waters of the Sea of Galilee rippled at our feet. The only other person around was a monk reading his bible under a nearby olive tree. The Mount of Beatitudes was beautiful too though I was hoping to see a raging storm develop over the lake.

I decided to base Asher in Chorazin because it fitted perfectly with this time in his life. It is the town Jesus cursed after all and my memory of the ruins fired up my imagination. I hope I have conveyed in the book what an interesting time it would have been to live in the Galilee in the first century AD. As news of this mysterious preacher seeped out among the people of the region, him and the stories of what he was doing began to have a bigger and bigger impact. Without giving too much away, this is a much bigger feature in the final book of the trilogy: In the Fullness of Time.

We left the Galilee and after a visit to the ruins of Beit Shean we spent a delightful

afternoon in what was an idyllic and exotic natural water park. I had one of the nicest pizzas

I've ever had there (it was vegetarian) but swimming in this paradise on the fringes of the West Bank was what made it really memorable. There were Jewish and Muslim families everywhere, there were barbecues going and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.

After a few hours we left there and drove the full length of the West Bank from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The wreckages of burn out cars and ruined homes reminded us of the troubled times this beautiful country had gone through. We passed a few army checkpoints but otherwise made the journey without incident, arriving with huge excitement at Qumran, the site at which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

The Dead Sea was unlike anywhere we had ever been. Surrounded by the barren and inhospitable desert of the Negev, little canyons or wadis provided respite from the heat. Glorious little streams, pools and waterfalls nestled in the hills around the Dead Sea. We loved walking through the streams and swimming beneath the waterfalls. This inspired some scenes in the book where Asher does that very thing with his friends. He also catches a glimpse of a stranger in the desert that that seems to have a penchant for locusts and wild honey. These hidden desert canyons are also said to be where David hid from King Saul. it was a thrill to imagine we were in the same spots where these famous events had happened thousands of years earlier.

We swam in the Dead Sea of course. It was hideous. I have dry skin so the salt seemed to creep into every pore of my body. The stinging sensation I felt was akin to being stabbed by a million tiny needles. I put on a brave face and posed for the obligatory photo of one floating in the Dead Sea while reading something. Despite the stinging, it was a fun and bizarre sensation. Swimming was futile and the buoyancy of the water took some getting used to. We had to get a little car-train from the complex to the water because the sea has receded so much in recent years. If you didn't have any footwear your feet would be cut to ribbons on account of the sharp and jagged salt that was everywhere.

We covered ourselves in the nearby mud which is supposed to have remarkably good healing and cleansing properties. I think people just do it for the fun of it. When it came to wash it off, I made the mistake of picking the wrong shower. The one I chose had water pumped straight from the Dead Sea and so I dowsed myself in stinging, salt water. It was all great fun though and an experience not to be missed if you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood. Varius and his colleagues do what we did on their way to Hebron and Jerusalem. It helped me greatly when writing it to remember that I had done the same.

The biggest highlight of our few days at the Dead Sea was Masada. It was a palace and fortress built by Herod the Great. Although only ruins remain, it towers over the area like a behemoth and has a fascinating history. During the Jewish revolt in the first century AD, the Romans laid siege to Masada which led to the deaths of hundreds of Jewish zealots. Varius finds himself at Masada at the beginning of Land of Promise and it is from there that the next part of his adventure begins.

Fiona and I got up before dawn and drove to Masada. We walked up the snake path in the pitch darkness, carrying plenty of water and greeting other pilgrims on the desert trail. We arrived at the summit in time to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. It was a breathtaking and unforgettable sight.

I imagine that what Varius would have seen from this very spot would be not too dissimilar. This area of Palestine will make another appearance in the final book of the trilogy: In the Fullness of Time. Only next time it will be from the other side of the Dead Sea, in the land of Jordan and the Fortress of Machaerus. No spoilers.

From the Dead Sea we made the short drive to Jerusalem where we spent five days. That will be the subject of another blog, especially as much of the trilogy's finale takes place there.

We had a blast in Israel and we would love to go back one day. Even though we went nearly 15 years ago, it still ranks as one of, if not the best holidays we have ever been on. The weather was glorious, the food delicious and the people very friendly. We loved visiting all the old sites of biblical and historical significance (More so I than Fiona. She got a bit grumpy with me more than once. She could only bear so many old churches) It didn't matter to us whether it really was the place where this happened or that happened. It helped us imagine and think upon the events we'd read about so often.

If you would like to go on a fictional adventure through the Holy Land (albeit with many non-fictional elements) then check out my Fullness of Time trilogy. The first two books are already out and available on Amazon (The Breaking Dawn & Land of Promise) and the final instalment will be out at Easter 2022.

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