Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Details, Major Details

The Source
by James Michener

This was yet another of the books that I read in preparation for my Israel trip (yes, I am aware that I am hideously behind on my blogging). The Source is a bit of a slog, but I ended up being really glad to have read it. It is the story of an archaeological tell, but so much more than that. Michener introduces us to the present day characters (well, sort of present day - the book was published in 1964), and a few artifacts that they find on a dig in Israel a short distance north of Jerusalem. Then, he takes us to the bottom of the tell and works us up through the 15 strata that the team has uncovered. He tells the story about the fictional town (Makor) at the time of each layer, and helps us see the way things developed in the cultural, religious, and intellectual evolution of the town and its inhabitants.

Michener must have employed a small army of researchers, because his historical novels are rich with minute detail. I randomly fact-checked a few things on the Internet, just to see how much the historical research could be trusted, and was pleased to find that he is amazingly accurate. The Source is not only a good read for the history to be found there, but also a reminder that there have been times in history when Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together peacefully, and there is reason to hope that it could happen again. Likewise, all three groups have been capable of outrageous brutality to one another at some point in history, and have no room to be self righteous when dealing with the other. Humanity's treatment of those who are different, as well as their horrific creativity in finding ways to hurt and kill each other, never fail to astound and sadden.

The Source is based on the real tell of Megiddo, which we visited on our pilgrimage. Michener is very explicit about the conception and engineering of an elaborate water system that enabled the residents of Makor to have access to water from a well outside the city walls even when the city was under siege. At Megiddo, we got to see the real thing, and even walk to the bottom of the water tunnel. That was an amazing experience, and as I walked those steps I silently thanked James Michener and his team for bringing the site to life before I ever set foot in Israel.

Reverent Reader


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