Into the Ruins: a review of Biblical Turkey by Mark Wilson

library_of_celsus_-_ancient_city_of_ephesus_selcuk_turkeyWhen I was 21 years old I took a formative trip to Turkey. My then boyfriend and I rented a car and drove from Istanbul to ancient Troy. From there, we hugged the coast down to Antalya on an unforgettable archaeological odyssey that spanned several weeks and explored the myriad culutures present in modern Turkey’s “ruin” landscape. Unfortunately, now that I am encumbered by a small child and all the craziness that comes with that, I am only able to indulge in armchair travel. I am still a rabid ruin freak, thus it was with gusto that I picked up Biblical Turkey: a guide to the Jewish and Christian sites of Asia Minor by biblical heritage scholar Mark Wilson.

As the author states in his introduction, most people are unaware of the role Turkey played in early biblical history. After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, Asia Minor  was one of the regions that Jewish communities turned to for resettlement. By the first century AD “the land of Turkey became the center for the growing Christian movement”. I am neither a Jew nor a Christian so I cannot comment on the veracity of the author’s biblical research but there is much to admire in this book for the general archaeological enthusiast.

First of all, the book’s organization is well done. The content is divided into seven chapters, each representing a large region, then further divided by natural sites (such as the Tigris River or Mount Ararat); Ancient Countries; or by ancient city. As the areas described often are known by several names: ancient, Roman, Byzantine, or Turkish, this scheme provides a sense of the geography that will help travelers pinpoint which sites to visit. The book also contains detailed maps of major ruins such as Ephesus, Miletus, Sardis, and Pergamon and is replete with glorious pictures – enough to encourage fantasies of future trips. The author also pleasingly recommends texts from ancient, historical and modern writers to help round out the context for each site. My only quibble is that I wish the author had included a contemporary map of Turkey (with English place names) in addition to the historical maps provided. I often needed to refer to a second source to orient the sites’ locations in relation to the major contemporary cities and towns.

Published by Ege Yayınları, a specialist in Anatolian prehistory, classical archaeology, and Byzantine and Ottoman Studies; Biblical Turkey is the kind of book you buy to supplement your Lonely Planet or Rough Guide when planning a trip. It contains little traveler’s information except for specifics on location. Despite that, if you want to travel in the footsteps of an apostle, or gain a different perspective to the Hellenistic world of Asia Minor, this book will provide you with a great trip – real or imagined!

*The photo is of the Library of Celsus, a principal ruin of the ancient city of Ephesus (modern Selçuk, Turkey). The library is thought to have been third largest in the ancient world. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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