On Tuesday the freighter steamed through the Straits of Gibraltar and for five days plowed eastward through the Mediterranean, past islands and peninsulas rich in history, so that on Saturday night the steward advised Dr. Cullinane, “If you wish an early sigh of the Holy Land you must be up at dawn.” The steward was Italian and was reluctant to use the name Israel. For him, good Catholic that he was, it would always be the Holy Land.
Some time before dawn Cullinane heard a rapping on his door and went on deck while the stars were still bright, but as the moon fell away toward areas he had left, the sun began to rise over the land he was seeking, and the crown of stars that hung over Israel glimmered fitfully and faded. The shoreline became visible, mauve hills in the gray dawn, and he saw three things he knew: to the left the white Muslim mosque of Akko, in the center the golden dome of the Bahai temple, and to the right, high on a hill, the brown battlements of the Catholic Carmelites.
“Just like the Jews,” he said. “Denied religious liberty by all, they extend it to everyone.” He thought that might be a good motto for the new state, but as the freighter approached land he added, “I’d feel more like a traveler to Israel if they’d let me see one good synagogue.” But the Jewish religion was an internal thing, a system for organizing life rather than building edifices, and no Jewish religious structures were visible.
Even at the dockside his introduction to the Jewish state was postponed, for the firs man who recognized him was a genial, good-looking Arab in his late thirties, dressed nattily in western clothes, who called from the shore in English, “Welcome! Welcome! Everything’s ready.” Two generations of British and American archaeologists had been greeted with this heartening call, either by the present Jemail Tabari or by his famous uncle, Mahmoud, who had worked on most of the historic digs in the area. Dr. Cullinane, from the Biblical Museum in Chicago, was reassured.
For many years he had dreamed of excavating one of the silent mounds in the Holy Land, perhaps even to uncover additional clues to the history of man and his gods as they interacted in this ancient land; and as he waited for the freighter to tie up he looked across the bay to Akko, that jewel of a seaport, where so much of the history he was about to probe had started. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and finally Richard the Lion Heart and his Crusaders had all come to that harbor in glorious panoply, and to follow in their footsteps was for an archaeologist like Cullinane a privilege.” I hope I do a good job,” he whispered.
Excerpted from The Source by James A. Michener. Copyright © 2002 by James A. Michener. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.