Sacred Geography: A Tale of Murder and Archeology in the Holy Land

Sacred Geography: A Tale of Murder and Archeology in the Holy Land

by Edward Fox

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A compelling, true murder mystery, that unfolds in the astonishing world of Biblical archeology, a field rife with skullduggery and intrigue

Biblical archeology has for centuries been subject to the manipulations of adventurers, generals, and statesmen, all seeking to further their own aims. Now more than ever, digging into the land of the Bible is a weapon as two rival nations seek to prove their claims to its treasures.

The most recent casualty in this bloody tug-of-war is Albert Glock, a prominent American archeologist, shot dead in the West Bank in 1992, who devoted his life to helping Palestinian archeologists find evidence of their historic roots. Edward Fox investigates the puzzle of Glock's murder and its background in the explosive cultural politics of archeology in the Holy Land. Fox reveals the strange sub-discipline of biblical archeology--a field rich in obscure mystics, greedy opportunists, and religious charlatans. He pursues the various suspects in Glock's death--Islamic zealots, Jewish extremists, and rival archeologists--only to find himself caught in an expanding labyrinth of deceit.

A lively history and a riveting mystery, Sacred Geography is also the tragic story of a man who devoted himself to a cause that ultimately destroyed him.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466864320
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 444 KB

About the Author

Edward Fox lives in London, where he writes for The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Times. He is the author of several books, including Obscure Kingdoms: Journeys to Distant Royal Courts and The Hungarian Who Walked to Heaven; Sacred Geography was his first book to be published in the United States.

Edward Fox lives in London, where he writes for The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Times. He is the author of the books Obscure Kingdoms: Journeys to Distant Royal Courts and The Hungarian Who Walked to Heaven; Sacred Geography is his first book to be published in the United States.

Read an Excerpt

Sacred Geography

A Tale of Murder and Archeology in the Holy Land

By Edward Fox

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2001 Edward Fox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6432-0


On the morning of Sunday, January 19, 1992, Dr. Albert Glock went to church with his wife, Lois, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The church they attended, the Church of the Redeemer, is a somber nineteenth-century Crusader pastiche, one of several religious institutions clustered tightly around the Holy Sepulchre, the lugubrious and claustrophobic Christian shrine that is traditionally believed to contain the tomb of Jesus Christ and the site of his Crucifixion.

Albert left the service after the Eucharist; Lois stayed to the end. Glock, an archeologist at Birzeit University, the main Palestinian university in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, wanted to get back to his office to work on pottery. He walked through Damascus Gate, the monumental, grimy Ottoman construction at the corner of the Old City where the world of Palestinian Jerusalem rubs uncomfortably against the world of Israeli Jerusalem. Under the wary eyes of Israeli soldiers, Palestinian women in embroidered dresses sell fruit and vegetables on the busy sidewalks, and minibuses and shared taxis depart for the towns and villages and refugee camps of the West Bank. Gray winter clouds clogged the sky, but despite the weather Glock was wearing only his well-worn black leather jacket. At about 10:30, he climbed into his blue Volkswagen van and drove northward out of Jerusalem in the direction of Ramallah. He passed first through Beit Hanina, where he and Lois lived, a Palestinian village that had been absorbed into the northern suburbs of Jerusalem. There he bought an Arabic newspaper, and then stopped at a local bakery and bought a ka'ak simsim, a ring of pastry filled with dates and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

The checkpoint separating Jerusalem from the West Bank — a roadblock of slabs of painted concrete, with a small cabin beside it occupied by Israeli soldiers — was open, so Glock was able to cover the distance from Jerusalem to Ramallah in about half an hour. He drove northward through the city, past the British-built prison inherited by the Israelis, along the road called Radio Boulevard, named after the array of three radio transmission masts built alongside it, also relics of the period of British rule that ended in 1948.

Glock stopped at a house on the outskirts of Ramallah, near the radio transmitters, where the road was muddy and gouged with ice-filled potholes. This was the house of Dr. Gabi Baramki, the acting president of Birzeit, and his wife, Dr. Haifa Baramki, the university's registrar. Nearly thirty years after first coming to Palestine, Glock still thought that it was an Arab custom not to make appointments, and Palestinian courtesy had restrained anyone from telling him this was not the case. On the other hand, Glock may have followed this habit after long experience of the unreliability of local telephone lines, or out of his own abrupt impatience with formality. When Haifa Baramki answered the doorbell and saw Glock in the doorway, she was not expecting to see him, but she was not surprised either.

Haifa told him that Gabi was not at home but invited him in for coffee. Albert declined, but said he would return after he had finished working at the institute. He would come back at about four, he said.

Before he left, Haifa Baramki asked him if he planned to stop at the house of the el-Farabi family in Bir Zeit. If he did, she asked, he might remind Maya el-Farabi, who was Glock's teaching assistant at the Institute of Palestinian Archeology, where Glock was director, to attend a meeting the next day. The el-Farabis did not have a telephone, and Haifa knew that Albert was a regular visitor to the house. This was an errand that he would have been happy to undertake. Indeed, he was probably intending to stop there anyway. Maya el-Farabi was Glock's closest colleague at the Institute of Palestinian Archeology. He had guided and nurtured her academic career every step of the way, from undergraduate to PhD, and had done the same for her younger sister, Huda. If Glock trusted anyone to take over his position as director of the institute, it was Maya el-Farabi. On working days, Glock would often have lunch at the el-Farabi house. As a sign of affectionate familiarity, the el-Farabis gave him a traditional Arabic nickname, Abu Abed, which meant "father of Albert," the name of Glock's eldest son.

Sometime between eleven o'clock and noon, Glock drove out of Ramallah and into a valley where the road to Bir Zeit crossed a bypass road to an Israeli settlement. There was usually an Israeli checkpoint here, with a jeep, a strip of spiked chain across the road, and some surly young soldiers with machine guns slung over their shoulders stopping vehicles and checking identity cards. Glock was slyly proud of his skill at talking his way past these obstacles. Palestinian friends would marvel at how he would appear at their door on days when the Israeli army had imposed one of its frequent closures of the West Bank, which meant that no one was able to travel. He took full advantage of his appearance as a serious-looking, elderly foreigner. He was even careful to establish discreet but cordial relations with a few Israeli soldiers, the ones he saw more than once at the checkpoints, chatting with them, aware of their boredom. If this made it easier to go about his business, he was willing to do it, though he was careful not to seem too friendly with the soldiers when he had a Palestinian passenger sitting beside him.

Covering the distance from Ramallah to Bir Zeit took about fifteen minutes. The road winds around the rocky, rubbly hills and through several villages. Just outside Bir Zeit, he drove past the new campus, built in 1980, which was closed by military order. Farther along stood a limestone quarry at the side of the road, and a scattering of houses, including the el-Farabi house, which he planned to visit later. He knew that Maya had a dentist's appointment in Ramallah that day, and he probably assumed that she would be back home by the time he finished work at the institute. He drove through the compact town, whose position on a ridge gave it a grand view of the valley below, with tiers of crumbling olive terraces — some in use, some not — descending to a narrow plain. It was on this plain where, according to local legend, the Roman general Titus encamped with his army in 70 C.E. before marching on Jerusalem to besiege it. From this road one can look down into the valley and across toward Ramallah, at the blinking lights of the radio masts, and beyond, to the top of a distant ridge, where the Israeli settlement of Beit El stands on the traditional site of the biblical Bethel. On the slope below Beit El, which housed the military headquarters of the region, sprawled the Palestinian refugee camp of Jalazun. At night, these two enemy settlements, irreconcilable worlds of victor and vanquished, were visible only as streaks of light, the upper one brilliant white, the lower one yellow. When a power cut cast Bir Zeit and the surrounding area into darkness, Jalazun would seem to disappear, while Beit El, with its own source of power, blazed on.

This winter had been the coldest anyone could remember. In Bir Zeit, the worst of winter was usually a few cold, rainy weeks at around the turn of the year. This year there had been heavy snow, which stayed frozen on the ground for days. The snow brought down telephone lines and power cables, cutting off electricity and telephones, and the ice caused water pipes to burst. People in the town had to endure long, bleak spells without electricity, telephone, and water. In the narrow, layered terraces of rocky soil sculpted into the slopes, the cold froze and killed thousands of olive trees.

The olive tree is the emblem of Birzeit University, the main university in the Occupied Territories. It is a good symbol for an institution that prides itself on being the hearth of Palestinian nationalism. The olive tree embodies the virtues the Palestinians like to see in themselves: it is ancient, tough, native, and it has deep roots. The name Birzeit means "reservoir of oil." In the academic calendar of Birzeit University, a day is added to a weekend in the middle of October, and this three-day break is observed as Olive Picking Holiday. The idea is that on this weekend, students return to their homes to help with the olive harvest. In reality, the Olive Picking Holiday is more of a political and nostalgic gesture than a matter of agricultural necessity. Few people any more have olive groves big enough to produce an economically viable crop.

In January 1992, Albert Glock was sixty-seven years old, and in his slow, perfectionist way was getting ready for retirement. He and Lois had been expatriates for so long, and were so deeply immersed in life among the Palestinians, that Glock felt he could never live in the United States again. For many years they had rented a large, comfortable house in Beit Hanina on the main Jerusalem road, with big airy rooms and a large study full of the books and artifacts that Albert Glock had accumulated over the years. Their children — three sons and a daughter — were grown and living their own lives in America. Everything the Glocks had was here, materially and spiritually. Now, on the verge of retirement, they were preparing to move to a smaller house in the same neighborhood. The American way of life — which Glock saw as a condition of comfortable ignorance of the rest of the world — had become foreign to him. He called it "living in the bubble." He had been visiting Cyprus on the periodic trips out of the country he was compelled to make to renew his Israeli visa, and favored settling there. But he had done nothing about it. This academic year he had relinquished most of his teaching responsibilities so that he could concentrate on completing the long-delayed publication of his life's work, the excavation of an archeologically complex site in the northern West Bank called Ti'innik.

The Institute of Archeology was accommodated in an old-fashioned family house with two stories built around a central courtyard that was entered by an ornamental iron gate. It stood on the edge of Bir Zeit's old town, a tight maze of dilapidated Ottoman buildings. Nearby, a car mechanic worked out of a dark cave of a workshop that had formerly been a blacksmith's shop. Down a narrow lane, among the tiny houses, stood a bakery where traditional flat bread was baked in a dome-shaped oven, and beyond it a small Greek Orthodox church in a poor state of repair.

Glock worked alone that day. The shelves in his workroom were filled from floor to ceiling with the cardboard boxes, neatly marked, that contained the excavation material from his digs. The worktables in the room were covered with hundreds of blackened shards of burnt pottery, arranged in a state somewhere between order and chaos. The fragments were from Ti'innik, and Albert was working with Maya and a staff technician on the painstaking business of putting as many of the fragments as possible back together into their original forms as domestic pottery vessels. The pots bore a mysterious pattern of ridges they could not identify. Several vessels had already been reassembled, among them a big two-handled water jar that dominated the room.

Ti'innik is a hamlet in the northernmost part of the West Bank, a few kilometers north of the town of Jenin in the flat, green Jezreel Valley. Nearby is the biblical site of Megiddo, better known as Armageddon, where the Book of Revelation prophesies that the battle to end all earthly battles will be fought. The village stands at the foot of an ancient man-made mound called Tell Ti'innik, which is almost certainly the site mentioned in the Bible as the Canaanite stronghold of Taanach. In 1987, Glock and Maya el-Farabi took the radical step of excavating, not the parts of the site that related to biblical history, which had been the dominant interest of archeologists in the Holy Land since the middle of the nineteenth century, but the more recent Ottoman remains, which had been largely ignored by archeologists.

Some time before three o'clock, he closed up the office and turned the key in the VW. It was his plan to stop off briefly at the el-Farabi house to leave the message for Maya about the meeting. He would not stay long: his appointment with Gabi Baramki was more important. Before he left, he scribbled a note to el-Farabi on the copy of the Arabic newspaper he had bought in Beit Hanina, that day's edition of al-Ittihad. He wrote across the top in block capitals, "I may be late tomorrow. Al," and left it where she would see it.

Many of Glock's friends were impressed by the fearlessness with which he drove around the West Bank during the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule that had erupted four years earlier. He traveled without hesitation into areas where a vehicle with Israeli license plates, like his, was almost certain to have stones thrown at it by children and teenagers. Glock had endured his share of stones, but he still went where he wanted to go. But lately he had begun to take precautions when he drove the van, aware that it was well known and that he was conspicuous driving it. He would vary his usual routes and check underneath the van before he got into it. He was afraid of something, it seemed, but whether it was a general fear for his safety at a dangerous time or if he was afraid of something or someone in particular is unknowable.

That day, a funeral was taking place at the Greek Orthodox church. The town of Bir Zeit is unusual among West Bank towns in that its population is mostly Christian. Unlike better-known Palestinian towns that have traditionally had Christian majorities, like Bethlehem, the proportion of its population that is Christian has increased rather than shrunk in recent years. The thresholds of the doorways of houses tend to be decorated with a carved relief of St. George slaying the dragon (a motif thought to originate with the Crusades), indicating a Christian household, rather than a Quranic inscription. Most of the Christians in Bir Zeit, in common with most Palestinian Christians, belonged to the Greek Orthodox church. As Glock was leaving the institute, the funeral procession, with its train of cars, came along the narrow road in the opposite direction toward the church. People in Bir Zeit remember that as the funeral procession approached, Glock patiently pulled over to the side of the road to let it pass. His VW van was a familiar sight in the area, and everyone knew it belonged to the American archeologist. They remember that moment as a characteristically modest, thoughtful act of courtesy. They also remember it as the last time they saw him alive.

After the procession had passed, Glock drove out of the town and along the road to the new campus. The el-Farabi house was on this road, about a kilometer outside the town. It was built on a steep slope, below the level of the road, so a person standing on the road looks down on the roof of the house, with its solar panels, hot water tank, and television antenna. Glock parked the van on the gravel shoulder at the side of the road, under a fig tree. It was a dark day, so he left the van's headlights on, not meaning to stay long. The time was just after three o'clock.

Albert Glock walked around to the gate at the top of the driveway, pushed it open, and walked down the concrete ramp. He probably did not hear the sound of a man jumping down into the el-Farabis' garden from the stone wall that ran along the side of the road. The assailant, later described by witnesses as a young man dressed in a dark jacket, jeans, sneakers, and a kaffiyeh — the black-and-white cotton scarf favored by many Palestinians — landed softly on a strip of plowed earth planted with olive trees. As Glock strode toward the front door of the house, the man crept up behind him, leveled his gun, and fired three times.


Excerpted from Sacred Geography by Edward Fox. Copyright © 2001 Edward Fox. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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