Life in Year Now

Don’t miss Scott Korb reading at a Killing the Buddha event at KGB Bar in New York City on this Friday, March 19th.

Last March, while still outlining what would become the book Life in Year One, I took a research trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I told passport officials I was there doing research about first-century Palestine, which led them to detain me for about an hour so that they could question me about my intentions: What sort of book? Will you be visiting the West Bank? Are you meeting with people? I was heard to have said with a kind of desperation, “But I don’t know anyone here.”

Friends had suggested places to visit (the Davidson Center at the Southern Walls of the Temple Mount, the archeological park, the “virtual reconstruction” near the Dung Gate, the Ethiopian church). I was told where to eat (cafés on Emek Refaim Street and the Tochi House). I was told where to drink (American Colony Hotel). I was given the name and phone number of an American-born archaeologist and rabbi at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When I showed him my notes and outline he was very candid: “Let me make a general statement. Most of the things that I see there, I don’t know the answer. … And I would even be a little arrogant and say that no one knows the answer.” For someone setting out to reconstruct first-century Palestine with little experience in archaeology and no command of ancient languages, these words were something of a strange relief.

The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities and sites in the magnetic mess of Jerusalem’s Old City were of particular interest. And so was Bethlehem, the supposed birthplace of Christ.

As I’d outlined the book, dispatches from these locales were supposed to contrast with reporting I’d done that Christmas from a living nativity being staged at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. My interviews with Joseph (a.k.a Bryce), Mary (a.k.a. Julie), and Kyle the shepherd—to say nothing of my conversations with a number of visitors who, despite all the dinosaurs everywhere, all seemed impressed by the accuracy of the museum’s re-imagined Bethlehem—didn’t make it through final revision with my editor. The book is set completely in the Holy Land, and I think Life in Year One is a better book as a result.

The audio slideshow here is a collaboration I did with Kate Garrick, who accompanied me to Israel and the West Bank (and who shares half the dedication of the book with a cabbie named Ahkmed, whom you’ll meet in a moment). Kate took all the photos. The narration is adapted from what became the book’s epilogue.

Scott Korb

Scott Korb is co-author, with Peter Bebergal, of The Faith Between Us (Bloomsbury 2007) and is currently working on his own book, Life in Year One (Riverhead, Spring 2010).

Kate Garrick is a literary agent at DeFiore and Company and holds an M.A. in English & American Literature from NYU. She's originally from Jacksonville, Florida.