Responding to my multitudes--well, okay, one reader--I offer a few notes on prep reading for an archaeological tour of the Eastern Med. Happy to oblige.
For general background, I tackled G.W. Bowersock, Roman Arabia (link in sidebar). It's dry, but it does the job --more helpful by way of review after I got back. In my trip backpack, I carried Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War (link in sidebar). I am advised that Josephus is unreliable on narrative events--he was mainly trying to suck up to his Roman masters and save his sorry Hasmonaean butt--but apparently he is safe on geography and it was kind of cool to walk over, say, Masada, with the original in hand.
I also carried Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East (link in sidebar), but I recommend it only with a large caution. I'm willing to believe Millar is a master (the master?), but this book is not aimed at a general audience. It is a (seemingly) thorough and (seemingly) honest discussion of the nature of the surviving evidence, with lots of reference to queer stones and potsherds. Of limited use on the site, but not a good general history.
For general background on matters of religion, my difficulty is that there is too much, and too much axe-grinding. I haven't yet found anything that strikes me as a good general history. I am working my way through Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? which Mrs. Buce used to use in teaching. It's a pleasant read, with provocative references to places I just visited (Lachish, Megiddo) but I haven't made up my mind about it just yet.
Before the trip I also tried to dope out a bit of the New Testament in Greek, with the aid of the superb little Cambridge JACT Reader. It was fun though I am not sure how helpful. I do notice that when John (the Evangelist) says "the Jews" did this and that, what he is really saying is "Hoi Ioudaioi"--which looks to me like "the Judaeans," i.e., in the shark-infested waters of imperial politics, an entirely different kettle of fish. Maybe I can get it together to say more about this later.
Fn. I just checked my Amazon Associates account and find that since the beginning of this blog, my total sales are, um, let's check here--yes, zero. People! Let's get with the program!