Generally in “road trip” films, travelers on a ribbon of asphalt are taken on both a literal and figurative journey — sometimes one that leads them to a deeper connection with the transcendent and divine.
The movie features two powerful American former diplomats, both of whose tenures have helped shape the modern Holy Land: former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, both of whom served together in the Trump administration.
In the movie, opening Monday, Pompeo and Friedman travel together in an auspicious convoy of black SUVs down Route 60, a modern two-lane highway that runs through Israel and Palestine and exists within a vital and millennia-old transportation corridor.
The 146-mile road, also known as the “Way of the Patriarchs” for its significance in biblical history, begins in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth and ends in Beersheba, today a hub of high technology. The vast majority of Route 60 runs through the Palestinian-occupied West Bank.
The movie premiered Sept. 12 at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Pompeo at the premiere said Christian and Jewish viewers alike have much to learn from Friedman’s commentary on the sites they visited.
“[Friedman] is a Bible scholar, and so I learned an awful lot from him,” Pompeo told CNA at the event. “We would go to places, and I would hear him tell the stories from a Jewish perspective. And it always added color to the things that I’d seen in my life, whether it was when I attended a sermon or when I was trying to teach Sunday school.”
Pompeo said walking around the Holy Land and taking in the sites described in biblical accounts helped to make the Bible more real for him and remind him that the events described in Scripture really happened.
“There is no mistaking the history. It reminded me that what you’re reading is, in fact, the word of God,” Pompeo continued.
“And it was wonderful to get a chance to see and experience that in a way that I had never done.”
“Route 60,” scheduled to appear in theaters Sept. 18–19 only, was produced by Trinity Broadcasting Network, a strongly pro-Israel Christian TV network based in Texas, and directed by Matt Crouch, the president of TBN.
Friedman told CNA that while serving as an ambassador he had the idea to create a movie in the style of Anthony Bourdain, starting off in the country’s north and heading south, stopping off at places of biblical significance.
“What I thought was important was to explain this area,” Friedman told CNA, referring to the region of the Holy Land known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria. Route 60 traverses through this region.
“It’s an area of conflict … the West Bank, a nondescript area. And it sort of sounds to most people like some strip of land 6,000 miles away, with people fighting over it for the last couple of hundred years,” Friedman said.
“I want people just to understand that there is massive history here, massive religious significance for Jews and Christians going back to Abraham.”
The images and sound design of the film are arresting, with the sweeping drone shots, artful illustrations and motion graphics, and booming score that cinema-goers expect from an epic documentary. It includes countless biblical references and passages as well as historical reenactments of biblical events as they are described.
Sites visited in the movie include the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb, and other places of significance to biblical figures such as Jacob, Joseph, and King David. The hosts also discussed the ecumenical nature of the sites, such as the Tombs of Abraham and Sarah at Hebron, which remains a place of spiritual significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
“You can’t be in that place and not recognize how central this is to who we are as faithful followers in the Abrahamic tradition,” Pompeo noted.
The men also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses, according to tradition, the tomb of Christ and the site of the crucifixion. The church was first consecrated in the year 335 and is jointly administered by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church.
In the context of Middle Eastern policy, Friedman and Pompeo are perhaps best known for helping bring to fruition in 2018 former President Donald Trump’s controversial vision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a decision that provoked a mixed reaction from the international community, including expressions of concern from the Vatican (which has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict).
The two men are also known for helping to broker the fall 2020 deals known as the Abraham Accords, whereby a number of Arab nations agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
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Despite the film’s laudatory and frequent references to these diplomatic accomplishments — not to mention conspicuous commendations of Trump — Friedman, at least, insisted to CNA that what they have made is “not a political film.”
“We don’t suggest solutions to any disputes. We just want people to care about [the region] and understand what’s there,” Friedman told CNA.
Friedman expanded on this point while introducing the film with Pompeo.
“What we want people to get from this, if they can, is just to care about Judea and Samaria as the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, and as the wellspring of the Jewish and the Christian faiths,” he said.
“I think if you’ll see that and I think hopefully it moves you, I encourage people to read the Bible. ’m sure many people here do. But there’s nothing like being there, nothing like seeing it,” he continued.
“There’s nothing like taking biblical stories that are in the nature of legends or myths to people and then all of a sudden you’re there and they enter the world of truth. And that’s extremely powerful.”
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.
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