Journey to a place beyond conjecture or credulity
From the international bestselling author of A Mapmaker’s Dream comes a spiritual travelogue like no other. Following the legendary journey of the Holy Family through 21st century Egypt.
When Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus fled Bethlehem to escape the wrath of King Herod Antipas, they traveled for three years in Egypt, mainly along the Nile River. Using a fourth century text as his guide, James Cowan takes you on a fascinating journey through 21st century Egypt, exploring their legendary path. He follows their ancient tracks around the Delta, up the Nile, to a place called Mount Qussqam, where they are believed to have resided for six months.
Cowan’s itinerary retraces 2,000 year old steps according to Coptic tradition. In the process, he finds himself in the midst of a spiritual revolution going on in Egypt itself. Cowan meets with monks and health workers, desert mystics and visionaries, all of whom still seem to have a stake in the story of the journey of the infant Christ.
“James Cowan tells the farthest-flung adventure story...and every exotic word counts.”
-Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter
“Cowan’s writing is graceful and fresh. We are enchanted – wrapped in that magic and freshness that comes of a journey far from our own time.”
-Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams
“Travel with James Cowan on a unique journey through an Egypt at once modern and ancient, populated by hermits, monks and spiritual friends. Dreamlike and illuminated, this is a travel guide through an Egypt of the soul, bringing the reader into the life of the spirit as experienced in the gritty reality of this contemporary yet archaic land. You need to read this book.”
-Arthur Versluis, author of Wisdom’s Children
This travelogue through Coptic Egypt by James Cowan is an illuminating and provocative story of the Holy Family and Cowan’s attempt to put the pieces together on their journey through Egypt. Meeting with Coptic priests, nuns, and lay people, Cowan strives to bring together the story of the Holy Family’s journey with many available extra biblical texts that we have available. What I enjoyed about the book was its familiar way of letting us in on the journey, overhearing the interviews, breathing in some of the history of Coptic Egypt that I was unfamiliar with.
We find early on in the book some wisdom from the mouth of Pope Shenouda, leader of the Coptic Church. “The world forgets sometimes, Pope Shenouda went on, “that many of the questions relating to the nature of God were asked by the Ancient Egyptians before they became the subject of inquiry of others.” (5) Later on we find that Pope Shenouda believes that no one acted more courageously than Joseph, who defied the odds and traveled through Egypt with Mary (6). Without out the advent of motorized vehicles, the trek would have been treacherous and full of difficulty. Yet, as James indicates, we have no factual record of the Holy Family’s journey, but the established caravan route would have been best (10). The biblical record does indicate their precise journey because the journey was not as important as the fulfillment of prophecy and the setting up of two rival kings.
James goes on in the journey to find some very interesting writings relating to the infancy of Jesus. One source, namely Muslim narrator Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. AD 728), wrote of the way the infant Jesus upon realizing that part of his treasure had been stolen reported this to his mother. Jesus goes onto point out that a blind man in the crowd stole the treasure and the crowds soon beat him. The seer-like tendencies are evident in these early extra biblical accounts. There is a sense that many of these gospels, including the Arabic Infancy Gospel, wanted to fill in the gaps where the four gospels left out concerning the divine nature of Jesus being evident from the very beginning as a baby. My only concern here is to the veracity of the accounts of these gospel records (Thomas, Arabic, etc.).
Overall, I thought this book was a good look into the journey of the Holy Family through Egypt. More of a travelogue and dialogue with Coptic priests and nuns, the book serves as an entertaining guide to learning about Coptic Egypt and the difficulty the Holy Family might have faced traveling through such a tough terrain.
Spencer Cummins, For All It's Worth
What a unique book! Fleeing Herod tells the story of a pilgrimage of sorts by James Cowan as he makes his way through Egypt in the footprints of the Holy Family. In the process, Cowan discusses the intersection and conflicts between history and scholarship, between the politics of Jesus' day and the politics of today, of his own religious traditions and those of Coptic Christians in Egypt. In the process, he allows us to see the story of the Holy Family's flight to Egypt in new light, allows us to hear from some lesser heard voices in the Middle East, and open the doors for some new spiritual insights.
Fleeing Herod reads like an adventure story, a search for hidden treasure for the soul that will keep most readers turning from page to page. Of course, as with any spiritual autobiography from Eat, Pray, Love to Augustine's Confessions, there are going to be parts of the book that hit home with the reader, and others where one just has to chalk up Cowan's perspectives to who he is. Word to the wise though, Cowan does more reporting than editorializing, even though there are points where his perspective comes shining through) However, whoever reads this book will learn a lot, grow a lot, and be challenged to think about their lives, the world, and Scripture anew.
Clint Walker, Friar Tuck's Fleeting Thoughts