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Essentials of the Land of Israel: A Geographical History asserts establishing Jerusalem as Israel's capital “was a strategic, deliberate, and bold move”

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Among the photographs inside a brochure from the Ministry of Tourism promoting visits to the newly-reunified Jerusalem: a reverent Israeli man blowing the shofar inside King David’s Tomb. (Photo: Boroditsky Bros. archive)

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A new book by author Brandon Marlon, Essentials of the Land of Israel: A Geographical History, offers a comprehensive reference to the geographical history of Israel. The book is described as examining the “most significant political and natural features of the landscape…and the major biblical and historical events associated with them…”

It’s also a sequel, a companion to Marlon’s earlier reference guide, Essentials of Jewish History: Jewish Leadership Across 4,000 Years.

Through email, I asked Brandon Marlon some questions about his work: 

Q. There are many books about Israel out there. What inspired you to focus on this topic?

A. I thought it would be fascinating to learn the history of the Land of Israel through its geography. I focused on physical features, which fall into two categories: geopolitical and topographical. There was no such existent book, so I identified a niche and filled it. In this way, readers get a two-for-one resource that is one of a kind.

Q. What were challenges in researching and writing?

A. One considerable challenge was creating original maps for the book, which accompany each chapter. Each map serves as a title page of sorts for its chapter, and graphically depicts the information described therein. I conceived the maps in detail, then worked closely over a period of several months with independent cartographer Bill Nelson who implemented the concepts/designed the maps. In addition to the 20 original maps, there are 17 original photographs illustrating the chapters and book covers. 

Q. It’s a big subject with loads of information out there. Was it difficult to fit it all into one volume?

A. The book, which is a historical reference work, is quite concise, because I organized the material according to specific geopolitical and topographical categories, namely: borders, capitals, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, seas, deserts, forests, etc. I also cover the heartland of the homeland, the periphery, and must-see sites for pilgrims, travelers, and tourists. There are also three appendices that depict the key polities of Davidic Israel, Solomonic Israel, and Maccabean Judea.

Q. What are the most interesting or surprising book highlights you discovered during writing?

A. There were so many intriguing aspects about the Land of Israel that one encounters when delving deeply into the subject. Land of Israel studies requires immersing oneself in biblical scholarship (both rabbinical and modern academic), archeological findings, Near Eastern civilizations, and Israel studies more generally. I composed an article featuring some highlights from the book, as a teaser to whet the appetite:

https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/18-remarkable-facts-of-the-land-of-israel/

Q. For such a small area of land, Israel has many diverse geographical regions. How did that affect Jewish history? For example, was the geographical location of Jerusalem a major reason why it eventually became the capital and so central to Jewish life, instead of say a coastal city?

A. Perhaps the most revelatory reality about the Land of Israel is the sheer geographical/topographical variety within a relatively limited area. How geography affects history is of paramount importance, so it’s crucial to appreciate this premise: As human beings, what we do and how we do it, where we go and how we get there, are all determined to a significant degree by our physical environment. Physical environments shape civilizations and therefore human history. Lifeways are also closely linked to climate, geology (soil and rock types), flora, fauna, international and regional trade routes, etc. I touch upon all of these salient factors and more in the book.  

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Regarding Jerusalem, it was centrally located in the central hill country; situated on the watershed along the regional Derekh HaAvot (The Way of the Patriarchs/The Ridge Route) connecting Upper Galilee and the Negev Desert; and environed by valleys on three sides, which ostensibly made it highly defensible (history repeatedly proved otherwise). It is often claimed that Jerusalem was selected as the capital of the United Monarchy of Israel by King David because it was “neutral” territory, since it was outside the tribal territory of David’s own tribe, Judah, and since a Canaanite clan, the Jebusites, dwelled therein; while in actuality it might have been deemed tribally neutral, officially it had been allotted to the tribal territory of Benjamin, so that David’s capture and selection of the city overtly demonstrated his supersession of the royal House of Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin).

In addition to this, the  Jebusite enclave at that time was perhaps under Philistine protection, in which case David’s conquest of Jerusalem decisively signaled his overthrow of Philistine suzerainty (which in turn prompted the Philistines’ invasion of Israel at the outset of David’s reign). Establishing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a strategic, deliberate, and bold move.

Q. Topics about the Middle East and Israel in particular, are fraught with modern political tensions. Did you have to factor current day conflicts into your book about history and geography?

A. As a reference work, the book was written rather matter-of-factly and is fundamentally non-political in nature. That said, it is openly and proudly written by a Jew, from a Jewish perspective, albeit for a target audience comprising Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a general readership that appreciates history, geography, the Bible, the Middle East, etc. The Land of Israel is the Promised Land and the Holy Land to Jewry, and it is also a land that has been traversed, conquered, and settled by other peoples over the course of its storied history.

All of that is part of the historical record (as well as the biblical account), thus anyone who wishes to know the land thoroughly and comprehensively must reckon with its Jewish and non-Jewish history alike. 

The cover of a Jerusalem tourism brochure from the Israeli government shortly after the liberation of the Kotel portrayed the holy site as it was in 1840 (Photo: Boroditsky Bros. archive)

Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Essentials of the Land of Israel?

A. The book was written for several reasons, foremost to enhance popular knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the Land of Israel among its admirers and the curious. It is designed to be equally useful in the classroom and on the ground, in the Land itself.

My purpose was pedagogical more than ideological, but I would certainly be heartened and gratified if greater understanding of the land engendered a deeper connection to it and a profounder appreciation for it.

Brandon Marlon’s latest book, Essentials of the Land of Israel, is now available to order. (Photo: Supplied)

Q. Where can people get your books?

A. Essentials of the Land of Israel is now available as a standalone or as part of a 2-volume set with its predecessor, Essentials of Jewish History, from the UK publisher Vallentine Mitchell and its North American partner IPG. For the single volume, there is a limited-time 20% discount code, MARLON21, (valid 11.25.21–05.25.22) at either vmbooks.com / www.ipgbook.com. For the 2-volume set, there is likewise a limited-time 30% discount code, Essentials2 (for North America), or a special ISBN 978-1-80371-010-5 (for UK/ROW).

(Ed. note: The subject, Brandon Marlon, has been an unpaid contributor to TheJ.ca for our Arts and Culture section.)

Mark Shiffer is a freelance writer for a number of publications and to The Blogs of Times of Israel. One of his main interests is history and especially Jewish history.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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