Book Review: Holy Wars: 3000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land by Gary Rashba

HOLY WARS: 3000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land is one of the better primers about conflict in the Holy Land to appear within the last few years.  It consists of 17 chapters covering the initial Israelite conquest of Canaan in 1400 B.C. to the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 1982.  The more recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict is covered in the epilogue.  The work is 288 pages and includes extensive notes at the end of each chapter as well as a well sourced bibliography and index.  The Kindle edition, which is what I have, was mostly free of editing errors and the only complaint I have is the maps did not render well.  That is a common problem with the B&W Kindle though and does not reflect on the book, the maps showed up excellently when viewed on my PC.

This book is not aimed at the academic historian but is rather intended for the more general audience who just wants to know more about the military history of this violent part of the world.  In that, Mr. Rashba does an outstanding job of clearly narrating significant events from throughout the history of the Holy Land while fitting those events into the flow of time.  He does so in a surprisingly balanced and objective manner despite the author himself claiming he was not sure if he maintained that balance due to personal connections to the events he describes.  I can happily claim he succeeded admirably in suppressing any personal bias.

His selection of battles and campaigns is good and comprehensive.  Mr. Rashba acknowledges where his sources are scarce and makes use of modern research, particularly archaeological research where it is germane to his account.  He covers some events, such as Napoleon’s Palestine campaign, that are mere footnotes in western historiography.  I was impressed with his treatment of the Mamluks and their battle against the Mongols in 1260 which is practically ignored in most English language histories, even histories of the Holy Land.  He covers the Roman response to the first century Jewish revolt  but only mentions Masada in passing.  In a way that is fitting as the capture of Masada was actually a side note to the campaign but as he mentions, the battle and Jewish Response to the siege has become iconic to the modern Israeli Defense Forces.

In all Holy Wars is one of the best surveys of the Holy Land I have ever run across and I am certainly glad I did.  This book should be on the shelf of anyone who seeks to understand the history behind the hatreds evidenced in modern Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.