Some places seem interchangeable with other places. Unless you already knew, you couldn’t tell where you were–or even when. But other settings have a sense of time and place. Christopher Hitchens once wrote about driving through the New England countryside. The landscape reminded him of parts of England. Yet, he said, its English counterparts felt far older.
I think one reason some people find it difficult to believe Bible history isn’t just the distance in time, but the distance in space. The world that most of us inhabit looks very different from the world of the Bible. Our world feels modern. It doesn’t look like the kind of world where these things would happen. A different ambience. We read about one world, but live in another. We don’t easily relate to the physical world of the Bible.
Even though there’s a sense in which every part of the world is just as old as every other part, some parts of the world seem older than others. Years ago I was in Cappadocia. That felt far more ancient than any other place I’ve been in. Weighted with a sense of the yawning, forsaken, forgotten past. Like stepping into a different millennium. If you bumped into Abraham, just around the corner, it wouldn’t be out of character. If you happened upon a voice from a burning bush, it wouldn’t seem out of place.
I remember hiking along a bluff, overlooking a dry riverbed below, in a shadowy gorge. There were deserted, rock-hewn churches clinging to the treacherous edge of the bluff. Due to erosion, they were turning back into the rock formations from which they were originally hewn. Weatherworn, they blended into the austere landscape. A palpable sense of silence, stillness, emptiness, antiquity, and aloneness. Abandoned by time–like a misshelven book.