Writing books about first-century Palestine begins with knowing the setting. When you look at a contemporary or ancient map you’ll find the Sea of Galilee about 100 miles north of Jerusalem. Galilee was a northern region of Palestine under Roman rule at the time of Christ. The town of Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from and where Jesus grew up after their return from Egypt, is located in this region. Capernaum, the town where Peter, Andrew, James, and John lived and fished, is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
When I wrote the first draft of The Fisherman’s Wife, a story about Peter’s wife, I envisioned a scene in which the men pulled their heavy fishing boat onto the sand. However, when I did further research and looked at pictures of the actual shoreline on the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum I realized that it is rocky, not sandy. I had to rewrite the scene.
I also found that since Galilee had no natural harbors there were many manmade harbors built around the shore. Then I found an archaeological photograph of a wide, rock breakwater that had been built out into what would have been the water at the time to provide shelter for the fishing boats from storms.
Present day Nazareth has a first-century village for visiting tourists and a website that provides pictures of ancient daily life as acted out there. I also studied the layout of ancient Capernaum from archeological information. Combined with my other daily life research, it gave me a much clearer picture of the setting for my stories.
Since I can’t literally go back in time to visit and see for myself the places I write about, the research helps me tell a story that can take me there and take my readers there.