Dockser, the Wall Street Journal's correspondent in Israel in 1991-98, spares us yet another journalist's take on Islam or the Arab-Israeli conflict; instead, she does something far more creative and interesting, which is to provide a readable and solid account of recent advances in Middle Eastern archeology.
Her title refers to the hill in Jordan from which Moses was said to have viewed the Promised Land before he died; she uses the changes in understanding of that spot as a metaphor for the extensive rethinking that has taken place in scholarship, as summed up by the Franciscan monk who runs the dig at Nebo: "We are less interested in Moses and more interested in archeology." More generally, she finds a shift away from the two-century-old effort to use archeology to support Biblical tales. More broadly yet, she discerns a pattern of placing ancient Israel in its time and place: "The idea that Israel's history was unique has gradually been giving way to the notion that Israel's past can be best understood in the context of the general history of the ancient Near East."
All of this, of course, has plenty of contemporary implications, and Marcus notes these with skill—everything from the commercialization of the Patriarch Abraham's voyage westward to the portrayal of ancient Egyptian rulers. One curiosity is to learn that a producer for Steven Spielberg's animated film, The Prince of Egypt, spent time in Egypt and was sufficiently influenced by current trends in archeological thinking there to change the basic story line of the movie—yet the film was nonetheless banned in Egypt.