Biblical Archaeology Review 3:3, September 1977

Reading Robert Payne Without Embarrassment

By Hershel Shanks

Let me relieve your embarrassment at reading and enjoying Robert Payne’s “The Splendor of the Holy Land—Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon”a True, it is far below the level of most BAR readers. The author deals with four countries and a host of civilizations in a bare 190 pages printed in easy-to-read (i.e. large) type. And the cost per page is terribly expensive.

But it is a good read. And all but the most knowledgeable readers will pick up tidbits of information he or she will file away or consciously try to remember.

Payne is a travel writer. He enjoys the kind of trips we all wish we could take. Not that everything goes well for Payne, but what goes wrong only adds to the excitement and romance. He travels alone and at his own pace—except when his driver Abdul Razak careens at break-neck speed through desert canyons or decides that they will go to Jerash tomorrow because he has a girl friend there.

Payne knows that modernity will soon take the sense of discovery, adventure and accomplishment out of travelling. “Nevertheless, for a few more years, we can still travel in the Holy Land [he includes Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon] with a sense of its strangeness … We are still strangers travelling through a legendary land, aware that we are seeing everything through the veil of legends; and this veil, instead of obstructing our vision, unaccountably makes everything brighter.”

It helps to write well. And Payne does write well. Listen to his description of the Sea of Galilee.

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