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Love's Labor's Lost

Just a few minutes ago, I hit the "send" button on my keyboard and dispatched the biggest manuscript I've ever written - 642 pages, not counting title page and TOC. Love's labor indeed, and what better day to send this to my publisher than Labor Day? The title, you ask? This has been a matter of some debate, but we've settled on "The Essential Reference to the Bible," to be published by National Geographic at some point next year.

Trying to conceive of a book that could serve my readers as a comprehensive and reliable guide to the Bible has been a tremendous challenge, and one that has consumed me for well over a year. Of course, I could draw from some of the resources I have developed earlier, notably for books such as "The Biblical World," "Who's Who in the Bible" and most recently, "The Archaeology of the Bible," but I wanted this book to be different from all the ones I have written for National Geographic to date. I wanted this book to be something that you could either read or browse through, alone or with kids or grandkids on your knee, for pleasure, out of curiosity, or for study and personal enrichment. Not easy to do, a book like that.

So I came up with the idea of creating a book that would be arranged by theme. Most biblical history books in my bookcases (which, much to my darling wife's despair, have flowed over into almost every room in our house) plow through the Bible in chronological order. They start with Genesis and end up somewhere with Revelation at the end. But you know what? That's not how people read the Bible--not really. Most people pick up the Bible because they thought of something, and want to see what the Bible says about it. They're driven by a particular idea; not because they feel like reading the Bible from start to finish. For example: wouldn't you want to know about how young women fared in the Bible? Or what daily life was like in ancient Israel? Or how people made a living, raised their children, and tried to stay safe and healthy?

That's the book I wanted to write, and my National Geographic editor, Bridget Hamilton-bless her heart-loved the idea. So that is what I have been working on this past year - a companion to the Bible that's organized by ideas. Did you know, for example, that one reason why early Christianity developed so rapidly across the Roman Empire is that Emperor Augustus had launched a vast effort to build roads that would connect all the principal cities in his realm? Just imagine: at its peak, the Roman highway network covered some 250,000 miles, of which over 50,000 miles were paved.

Some of these roads were so solidly built that they were still in use by the dawn of the 20th century, before the advent of motorized transport. In some ways, this vast effort wouldn't be matched until the development of Europe's E-road system beginning in 1947, as part of the post-war rebuilding of the Continent. That, in turn, inspired the Interstate Highway System launched by President D. Eisenhower in 1956. So you see, the Romans were well ahead of their time.

Stay tuned for more about the "Essential" book in the days and weeks to come....

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