The Trip Home

Wow Tiring:

We woke at 2:00 am and arrived home at midnight central time.  In between was 41 hours of travel.  Needless to say we were worn plum out.  The only thing of interest really was the security in Israel, wow its tight.  They ask you tons of questions, and if you received any gifts you have to have them searched.  You have to show your passport 4 different times, go through bag exrays, and in some instances searches, then go through immigration, then through typical security you would see in the states.  Its wild.  Oh also we flew over Greenland from London to avoid the winds…Greenland ha, big ‘ol ice mountains is all I saw – nothing remotely green.  Our flight was delayed from Chicago which was depressing – it added a few hours to our trip.  Finally we all arrived safe and sound, only a few bags missing…hopefully by now that has been fixed.

Day 7

Garden Tomb and Herodius

Garden Tomb
The Garden tomb is one of the possible sites of both Golgotha (Calvary) and the Tomb.  It has the distinct advantage of being 1. outside the city gates (something mentioned in the bible), 2. Looking like a skull hill (Which is what Golgotha means).  Being near a rich man’s garden – which is in the bible (Joseph of Arimathea) and the tomb is constructed in an unusual way that matches the biblical narrative.  Its disadvantage is it seems to have been identified late, unlike the Church of the Holy Seplucher which was marked as the site as early as the 100’s.

Regardless the tomb looks exactly like what you would expect was Jesus’ tomb.  There is a small opening (larger now than it would have  been) that opens to an anti-chamber and to the right is the area for the body. (This is the unique element to this tomb, most tombs have the body area behind the anti-chamber not to the right…read the account In John and see the detail).   My two cents or my gut feeling is that this is the Tomb.  We went in and had a few moments in the tomb…mind you you had to just stop and imagine the two angels sitting there and it was a little overwhelming.  Jesus body may have been right here for three days.  From here he might have stepped out resurrected and changed enough that nobody recognized him when they first encountered him.  He would have moved to the upper room from here, encountered Mary here, all of that stuff.  We read in Matthew sitting across from the tomb as we actually sat across from the tomb…it was surreal and hard to process.  This place was especially profound given that Easter is just around the corner.  After the crowds died down (We were a walking crowd – 50 in our group alone), I went back and spent some extended time in the Tomb.  There were ancient worship symbols inside – so some folks at least thought this place significant.  Some folks had put prayers in the walls like at the wailing wall, so i did the same.  Hope that was ok, but I thought, this is our Western Wall.  Its the place where heaven and earth met in a violent clash, where good overcame evil forever, and where the hope of eternal salvation springs forth.  I wanted a prayer there :).   Superlatives fail me!

Herodium

The Trip
This was an added trip for Jeff Kirby, Paul Wilson (Connie’s Husband), and myself.  Jeff asked me on the buss if I would be interested in splitting a cab (150 dollars or so) to go out to the ruins of Herodium.  I jumped at the chance, and so did Paul.  All along I had decided I was going to get the most out of the trip and take every opportunity to totally experience the places we were.  I would wander off from time to time to spend more time at a place I felt was profound (Always keeping the group in view of course), I climbed down to the base of Masada, Climbed up on top of Bet Shan’s Tell, basically always did the extra thing and left no stone unturned.  This was another chance to do the same.

Our bus driver called one of his cousins (a cab driver) to come get us and we met him at the hotel.  Our cabbie (I didnt understand his name) was what I would call a prototypical normal everyday Palastinian Muslim.  He was a citizen of Jerusalem, so he could go in and out of the West Bank as long as he was transporting Americans or other tourists.  Herodium is in the West Bank just past Bethlehem, so we had to go through the checkpoints and see the walls and all that.  It was facinating to ride with this guy and listen to his stories.  Jeff really drew him out, asking questions about the peace process, his feelings towards Jews, Christians, Americans, violence, etc etc.  He was very nice and we enjoyed talking to him a great deal.  At the same time, I began to realize that if his opinions were typical of the Arab street – peace is likely permanently elusive.  Most of the time he was pretty “PC” but at times he would say things that just made you go wow – you really believe that.  For example, he mentioned that all Jews have four houses – something thats obviously not true, but that he totally believed.  He said no Jewish leaders have ever wanted peace, said that Jews don’t love each other even that they stab each other in the back all the time, just lots of those sorts of prejudicial statements.  He worked hard to evangelize us to Islam, but pushed back at any attempt to talk about Jesus as God.  In fact he said he loved the prophet Jesus but that he did not die – that he was taken up into heaven like Elija.  His response to every question was a radical fundamentalism – “The Prophet Told Us” was a typical answer.  I recalled several times the words around the Dome of the rock – “There is only one God – He has no son”.   Where he nailed us all was when he mentioned that he had read the whole Old and New Testament and asked if we had read the whole Koran.  Yikes, he was right we were losers…..lol.  Heck most American Christians cant even make the first statment – which is very scary.  We wonder why Islam is advancing and Christianity retreating in Europe and to some extent here…maybe its because they believe their faith more completely…Anyway I digress.  Needless to say this was a facinating extra part of the trip.

Herodium itself

You can read a lot about Herodium here but here are the basics.  Herod is the  same guy who build Cesarea (See Day 2), The Second Temple (See Day 4), Masada (Day 5) and massacred the innocents in an attempt to kill Jesus at his birth (See Day 4 Bethlehem).  He was a busy guy.  In addition to all this, he killed one of his 10 wives, and 3 of his 14 children.  His sons ruled after him and one of them was the guy who chopped off John the Baptists head.  He was Jewish (From a convert family), but also very Roman.  He rose from being the overseer of Galilee (Day 1,2) to be the Governor of all of this area.  He loved to build things.

Herodium was both a palace and a place of refuge for Herod.  While he died in Jerico (Day 3) after a long disease, his Tomb was recently discovered here.   We arrived and our cabbie became our guide.  I wasn’t 100 percent sure how accurate he was but it was helpful to have him with us.  Especially when we wanted to find the newly discovered tomb.  We climbed to the top after paying for entry.  This place had many fewer visitors, probably because of its West Bank location, but we did run into a German Camera crew doing a documentary.  As we climbed the whole region came into view.  You could see why Herod liked this place.  Whats wierd is that he took these two hills and dug out one of them and added it to the top of the other so it made a higher mountain.  Thats where we were.  On the way to the top we saw all of these rounded bolders – clearly used to attack people making the treck up the mountain in more dangerous times.  As we got to the top the sight was breathtaking.  To the east was the Judean Desert, home of Masada, the temptation, Jerico, etc.   To the west was Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc.  There was a line where green turned to desert, it was striking.  Down below us shepherds were in their fields tending to their goats and sheep.  Its bizzare to see all of these scenes jump out at you as if they had been frozen in time 2000 years ago.

Dug into the top of the volcano looking hill, is a palace.  It includes a huge bath house,  a Synagog, living quarters, and all the entrapments of wealth. The place, like Masada, had huge cisterns that were fed by aquaducts.  We were able to climb down into the cisterns and see the tunnels dug into the rock in every direction.  We walked the tunnels and were just amazed at the engineering all of this took.  The tunnels allowed men to spring out of the sides of the mountains to supprise unsuspecting attackers.  We walked all over the place and were just amazed by everything.  It was very well preserved.  After a while we decided to go looking for the newly discovered Tomb.  This just came to light in May of 2007 so its very recent.  We walked down a path near active excavations (they were rolling rocks down this huge ramp as they dug).  We came down to the tomb area and were amazed.  This thing was huge, and looked out over the mountain towards Jerusalem.  Clearly its ornate nature meant that it was for Herod.  It looked like something a very wealthy person might have in an old Cemetery.  Jeff and I weren’t satisfied by the look we got so we climbed out further than tourists are suppose to go.  I call these our Indiana Jeff adventures.  We had a great time and found some cool stuff.

After an extended period of time on the mount, we descended and headed home, another adventure under out belts.

In case your interested in the Indiana Jeff Sagas there is:

Indiana Jeff and the Caves of Qumran
Indiana Jeff and the Temple Mount
Indiana Jeff and the Fortress of Masada
and of course Indiana Jeff and the Tomb of the Tyrant

All will be coming soon to theaters near you!

Day 6

This was the day for the Via Delarosa  which is the traditional path Jesus took through the old city, from his sentencing before pilot – to the place of execution.

We started at the Pools of Bethesda, these huge pools were excavated and you could look down into the area where people would once go to receive healing.   Jesus famously healed a lame man here, but interestingly it was without having him go into the pool.  He asked the man, “Do you want to get well” – great question for all of us.  Do we really want to be healed of our brokenness, thats a thought for another day.

Via Delarosa

The first impression I had about the VDR was that it was essential a street scene.  In other words the value of the experience was understanding that Jesus was hurried along these streets to his death.  The particular marked places were, in my mind, somewhat suspect.  Some more clearly the spot where something happened than others, but the overall importance is to see that the streets of the old city would have been crowded with merchants and citizens just like it was as we marched the path.

We started in a convent that commemorates the courtyard where Jesus was condemned.  The huge paving stones were likely moved here from another location but very likely would have been the stones Jesus would have stood upon during his “Trial” before Pilate.  In one of the stones was an engraved gambling game, and remnants of items used for the “King for a day” game they played with Jesus.  The romans were used to executing pretenders to the throan  so they had this game down pat.  I was fortunate to be able to read Isaiah 53 – The suffering servant passage before we started our Journey.   This passage was one that basically formed the foundation for my conversion.  700 years before Jesus, the prophet writes these lines about the suffering servant.

The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

52:13 See, my servant will act wisely [b] ;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him [c]
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

15 so will he sprinkle many nations, [d]
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression [a] and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken. [b]

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes [c] his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life [d] and be satisfied [e] ;
by his knowledge [f] my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, [g]
and he will divide the spoils with the strong, [h]
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

After this, we traversed the city streets stopping at several stations.  The Simon of “Libya” station commemorated where Jesus fell and Simon was required to take up his cross and carry it.  Interestingly it was at a sharp turn in the road so this one seems to make some sense to me.

Entering the Church of the Holy Seplechur, the traditional spot of Calvary, we first met up with some Ethiopian Christians in their part of the church.  One of the priests read from their holy language bible (Geds i think was the language).  It was very cool, these folks trace their heritage back to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon, and they have a huge mural commemorating that event.

After that we went into the Church proper.  It was very very crowded and we stood in line for quite a while.  We finally got to the top of the line and saw the Bedrock of “Calvary” from an enclosed glass case.  I was kind of disappointed because there is so much religiosity surrounding everything its hard to picture what it was really like.  I took some time to pray never the less across from the rock on which Jesus might have died.  The most interesting thing was to ponder the reality that near this place the three important sacrificial events of the Jewish/Christian faith happened.  Abraham agrees to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but is spared at the last moment foreshadowing God’s willingness to sacrifice his own son.  The temple sacrifices that were instituted as a means of forgiveness for the people’s sins.  And the sacrifice of Jesus, his shed blood as the final covering over the sins of all humanity, and salvation for all of those who will accept him as their Lord and Saviour.  Pretty Profound stuff.

There is also a section very close to the hill, where the Tomb of Jesus (Joseph of Arimithia’s tomb) is traditionally located.  Again its covered with a huge religious structure, part of it sticks out and you can see something that looks like a modern tomb encasing.  I just dont picture this as the tomb talked about in the scriptures.  Tommorow we see the Garden Tomb – another possible location for the execution and tomb….maybe it will look more like what I imagine.  One thing I didnt realize is that the tomb was very close to the execution site….I just hadn’t ever read it that way.  One of those things you just gloss over if your not careful reading the texts.  Oh we also saw Joseph of A’s tomb which looked more like a tomb, and there were Russians everywhere – only place we encountered Russians lol.

Caiphas’ House (Peter of Gallilleecan

This place was amazing.  It was the house of the high priest who stood against Jesus.  It is across a valley from the Mount of Olives where Jesus was arrested, and down the road from the Temple steps where Jesus would have taught a strong and offensive message about the religious leaders.  After the Garden prayer when Judas betrayed Jesus, this is where they would have taken him until the morning trial with Pilat – Herod  – Pilat.  There were places were people would have been tied up to be flogged. You can see the rope holes and hand “Ledges”  its profound.  The apostles would also have been held here and flogged here (acts 5).  There is a huge cistern which was used for a jail.  People were lowered down into it and could not get out.  There is a gaurd post and all the tools of a holding cell.  Also leading away from the house are the steps Jesus would have taken to go to Pilate the next morning.  It was shocking to sit at the bottom of those steps and imagine Jesus and the Apostles walking down them headed, in Jesus case, to his trial and death.  I sat there for a long time and took it all in.  It is also the place where Peter betrayed Jesus and heard the rooster crow.   This place took my breath away.  I had never heard of it, and yet it was possible the most profound thing we saw all day.  I could just imagine it all happening before my eyes and it really got to me.  The two places I got really emotional were coming down the Mount of Olives, and here.  This should be a mandatory stop on everyones trip to the holy land…we just got lucky and had some extra time for it.

Sorry no post yet for day 6

I slept from the time I got to my hotel room until this morning….I’ll post later today on the last two days….today will only be a half day then we leave for the airport at 2 A.M.  Yikes.

Day 5

Today – Short Posts because I’m very tired.

Tommorrow – Via De La Rosa

Masada

Masada was Herod’s winter palace, out in the Judean Desert near Ein Gedi and amidst the stark barrenness and soaringmasada1.jpg mountains. The city is most famous for the End of the Judean Revolt that lead to the destruction of the temple. The city is amazing, it is so high up we had to take a Gondola to get to the top. The Jewish Rebels were able to hold out because the city had huge storehouses for food and water, and an ingenious system of gathering rainwater from the runoff of the surrounding hills. The whole city was covered with plaster and masada2.jpgfresco’s so it would have been beautiful. In both the north and the south end of the city there were structures, with the north end having an amazing house made for Herod which juts out seemingly into the canyon itself. Jeff and I made the long and scary (at least I thought it was) climb down the stairs that lead to the lower part of the home. I cant even begin to describe how far up this thing was, and the beauty that lay before us. We could see miles and miles of the desert and the dead sea. It was amazing. Roman camp ruins surrounded the city on every side and a rampart lead up to the city which was used by the romans to overtake the city from the Rebels. There were Jewish kids everywhere and I found out that this is basically the Alamo of the Jewish people. From the fall of these rebels, until 1947 there was no Jewish power in the land.

Ein Gedi

We made a quick stop at Ein eg.jpgGedi, which was the wilderness oasis where David cut off the hem of Saul’s garment when he could have killed him. This place boasts a continuous waterfall coming out of the mountains and this area of green comes springing out of the desert. We even saw the Gazelles that are often spoke of in the song of solomon, and other places in the scriptures.

Qumran

qumran.jpgThis is community that produced the dead sea scrolls. The community was a group that felt that the cities and especially Jerusalem had become totally corrupted and so they retreated out to the desert. These folks were meticulous about cleanliness, there were ritual baths just before the dining hall. They bathed at least twice per day in these mitzvahs. They also spent there time copying scriptures, and they were the progenitors of the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found in the caves surrounding the community. One of the most interesting things was that cave 4 was very close to the community while the other caves were pretty far away. Cave 4 seems to have been a library of sorts and very close. There are some questionable arguments that John the Baptist may have been an Essene for a while. Also the upper room may have been in an Essene quarter of Jerusalem (not all of them left the cities) – Jesus says go and find a man carying water – when he is directing the disciples to the upper room….some suggest only an Essene man would carry water – traditionally a female role. We found pottery shards absolutely everywhere and Jeff went on a little hiking adventure down to a cave, I have started calling him Indiana Jeff and the Caves of Qumran!

The Dead Sea

This was mostly just fun, we went down to the dead sea and 6 of us jumped in. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced.deadsea.jpg In water up to my waist, I was floating as if i were sitting on the ground in shallow water. (The dead see is more than a thousand feet below sea level and is the saltiest sea in the world) In fact it was very hard to not float on your back. The mud was deep, and is used all over the world for spa treatments. So some of us decided to cover ourselves with the mud. It was wild. We finally showered and headed back to the bus for our drive home.

Day 4

Some Very Cool Places

Today we visited a number of central points in the life of Christ. We started at the Temple mount, then went over to Beth Lehem, and ended up back on Mt. Zion in the Upper Room. Needless to say it was a wild and profound day.

The Temple Mount:

While there is nothing left of the temple built by Herod (No Stone Remains upon another), what does remain is the old city walls, and the Temple Mount – which is the foundation Herod built for the Temple. As we entered the temple area we were once again taken aback by being so close to this place that represents the most holy sight on the planet. Abraham’s sacrifice (Almost) of Isaac happened here when it was called Mt. Moriah, Jesus preached some of his harshest sermons here and likely sealed is fate on the Temple steps, and Mohammed claims this spot as the place where he recieved the central tenants of Islam. As a result the three major world religions all converge in very unique ways in this holy place.

As we went up to the temple – amazing to say that given how often that term occurs in scripture – the first thing we noted was that you really have to go up to the temple. Its a bit of a hike even when your nice mercedes tour bus takes you most of the way. Given that the modern street level is 6 stories or so above the ancient street level, they really meant it when they said let us go up to the temple.

Getting In

As we arrived at the entrance we passed through the checkpoint. The security was evident but not overwhelming. We passeddsc03886.jpg through metal detectors and got the once over by the Israel army dudes but it was pretty standard stuff. We went up toward the temple mount. This area is not always open, especially during times of particular unrest so it was fortunate we were able to get up there. The temple mount is the sort of flat surface where the temple would have stood. Today it houses the Dome of the Rock, the place celebrated by Islam as Mohamed’s reception of the tenants of Islam. While beautiful and stunning, we learned that the temple would have been one and one half times larger than the mosque….amazing. On our way up a wobbly wooden boardwalk to the top, we looked over the wailing wall area and heard a Japanese group singing Hebrew songs and dancing Hebrew dances…it was surreal. I have some video of it I will post after returning home. There were also excavations going on around us, digs down toward the street level of Jesus’ time.

Temple Mount:

dsc03895.jpgOnce on top I snapped a picture of my foot as it fell on the temple courts for the first time. For some reason I thought that would be symbolic. The first thing we saw was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which once was a Christian church, and the ritual washing baths outside of it. These baths are used to clean yourself ceremonially before you go into the Mosque. Oh I forgot to mention we weren’t allowed to bring our bibles up top because they don’t allow any worship services up there. Also most Jewish folks don’t go up on the top because they fear accidentally standing where the Holy of Holies once was. I saw a few Muslim men praying toward Mecca and found out that the Christians had used this area as a garbage dump, and that it was the Muslims that actually rescued the area. One of the really interesting things was the text on the Dome of the Rock Mosque, it says that God is one, and that He has no son. Clearly anti-trinitarian language. They at least agree with the Jewish Rabbi’s on this point. At one point we looked out over a gate that opened toward the Mt. of Olives. I was able to watch pilgrims traverse the same path we did yesterday, down the hill just as Jesus diddsc03913.jpg on the triumphal entry. It was amazing. I began to think that three sacrifices were important here. First, Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son, then the sacrifices ongoing in the temple for the sins of the people, then the Sacrifice of Christ which tore the veil of the temple when “it was finished”. Also some of the tombs that opened might have been right across in the cemetery on the Mt. of Olives. Wild Wild Wild…..

Wailing Wall

After walking around the Temple Mount and looking at the Mosque we headed back down toward the wailing wall through dsc03941.jpgsome really cool tunnels in the old city, lots of shops and some guys hauling out dirt from a dig under the temple. There is no telling what they might find down there!! We came out and went down to the wailing wall. Hats are required, which was weird because I kept feeling I should take off my hat to show respect, but here it was the opposite. We went in an interior area that served as a library where you could check out all sorts of Hebrew commentaries to read in front of the wall. The wall has basically become a sort of synagog. The wall isn’t a part of the temple, rather it is a section of the wall of the temple mount. Its significance is mostly its proximity to the “holy of holies” up above. I prayed and put in several prayer requests on the wall and then spent some great time in prayer. All around me were the observant Jewish men in their prayer shawls with scriptures tied on their hands and on their heads moving back and forth as they prayed. This was a powerful time of prayer. Oh there was also a group of little kids singing traditional songs that was very cool.

Southern Wall/Steps

dsc03964.jpg

We then headed out and went to the southern section of the wall. We climbed up and eventually came to the southern steps. These steps would have been the way Jesus and the disciples entered and left the Temple. They were also the “teaching” steps and likely would have been a place that Jesus taught regularly, and that Paul would have learned from Gammile. Crazy to think really. As we ascended the steps we thought about the psalms of ascent again. “Lift up your head oh gates, who is this King of Glory…Enter his courts with thanksgiving and his gates with praise. You can also see the whitewashed tombs Jesus referred to in the Woe to you sermons, over on the Mt of Olives. The process for going up to the temple would have been 1. Mitzvah bath for purity, ascent into the triple gate, sacrifice offered, descent out single gate. The great thing here is just knowing for sure your standing within close proximity to where Jesus would have stood.

Our guide Hillel once again had to disenbark because we were going into the West Bank which is controlled by the Palestinian authority. Our driver took us through and then we picked up a Palestinian Christian guide who was outstanding. First we got one of the Nissan brothers, who owns a big resturant and shop in Bethlehem. The Palestinians in Bethlehem (Which means house of bread in hebrew – house of meat in Arabic) are around 40 percent Christians. This is down from nearly 90% just a few years ago, the drop is the result of economic hardships imposed by the border wall and the resulting immigration from unemployment and poverty. Its really sad to see the kids basically begging us to buy small items. These folks are not the terrorists in any sense of the word, but have suffered the Ghettoizing and poverty that come from being lumped in with others of their ethnicity. Oh also our Guide did the lords prayer in “Aramaic” which is their church language, but also would have been the language of Jesus – so that was very cool. I think i got it on video.

Shepherds Fields:
dsc04048.jpg After some time of shopping and eating we headed toward Manger Square. On the way we stopped and looked over the shepherds fields. At one point (I think this is before we got into the west bank actually) we saw an actual shepherd herding his sheep up the field and right by us. Anyway we looked over the shepherd fields, which are everywhere. Terraced landscapes with sheep, caves, rocks, everything a shepherd would need to keep his sheep in good shape.

Manger Square/Church of the Nativity/St Catherine

Legend has it that this Church survived the pre-Muslim persian conquest because the mosaics depicting the three wise men reminded the conquering army of their own kings. Every other church was totally destroyed during this time. The church was first purchased and built by St Catherine – Constantines mom, the current structure is from the 600’s or so. We entered the very old church, the timbers above were from one of the crusader kings, the sanctuary was decidedly Orthodox. Icons, beautiful lamps and lights, ornate alter area, etc. The priests didn’t look all that happy to see a large group, I think they were frustrated by having to wait a bit to perform their mass. (These were Orthodox Priests). We headed down into the grotto, and saw the place that is supposedly the exact place Jesus was born, and the place that is where the wise men came and presented their gifts. They have closed up the cave with this grotto so I was a little bummed just to see all this ornate religiosity. I really wanted to see the cave. After we came out we looked at some old mosaics from the original church that were inside of a trap door in the floor. Then the religious police (yes thats what they are called), told us to get out of the way – we were confused but obeyed. Then the Orthodox priests did what one of us called a little parade around the whole sanctuary, complete withdsc04033.jpg incense and candles….it was pretty wild and I have some video of this as well.

St Catherines

After all this we went into the Catholic area, I thought this would be a dissapointment because it wasnt the “main” area. In actuality this became the coolest part. The Catholics have dug out the “rest” of the cave. This is the area not enclosed in the grotto. This is what I wanted to see – the actual cave, which looked like a cave. This was awesome and felt like the place that the birth of the Saviour happened. Also in the cave was a series of catacombs supposedly of the slaughtered children. I have my doubts about that. But in a nearby room was St. Jerome’s tomb. St. Jerome lived here for 36 years as he translated the bible into Latin, which became the dominant translation for the next 1200 years. Both of these things were just amazing to me.

While we were here we heard every kind of language, Spanish, Korean, Japaneese, we also sang away in a manger in the grotto, and I sang O’ come all ye faithful in the catholic cave.

The Upper Room

dsc04076.jpgAfter exiting Bethlehem (we had to show our passports to some friendly yet heavily armed Israeli soldiers), we headed toward Mt. Zion to visit the Upper Room. I had low expectations for this place because our guide mentioned it had some non period architecture. Basically that means it has been rebuilt since Jesus’ time. However, there was an early church built on this site, and it likely is the site of the upper room, the more I learned the more I became convinced. It makes sense biblically because its close to the temple, yet outside the old city…and after the upper room prayer – Jesus goes through the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemany. This all makes sense geographically here. The room to me instantly felt like it was the right place, and I began to sense its significance. Here was the place of the last supper, the first communion. Here was the place that the disciples gathered after the death of Jesus and saw him after his resurrection. Here too was the place that the holy spirit descended with toungs of fire. This was a really powerful place and for me the most emotional…not sure why but it was.

Tommorow:

Masada, Qumran, Dead Sea – Another adventure awaits.

Day 3

Again, forgive the spelling/grammar – had to do this in a hurry. Also sorry for the late post, we didn’t have Internet access last night. It’s intermittent so i will post when I can.

Day 3 (Lots of Pictures, Coming soon! I ran out of time)

Beth Shan, Jerico, The Temple Mount, Church of all nations.

As you will read below this day was amazing. One place I had never heard of blew me away, and one place we unexpectedly visited had me weeping with Jesus.

Beth Shan

As we traveled to Beth Shan on our way out of the Galilee region towards Jerusalem, the seas on the lake were quite choppy.Bet Shan We traveled across the Jordon river at the baptismal sight, and headed towards an ancient city that is mentioned in the bible, but one I had never heard of. Beth Shan was a significant outpost just to the west of Gilboa, and was the place where the bodies of Saul and Jonathan were hung unceremoniously after their death in those mountains.

“O How The Mighty have Fallen” 2 Samuel 1

The excavated city is perfectly preserved because of an earthquake in the 700’s and a flood, which together protected the entire area from the elements for thousands of years. The lower city (down below the tell) is stereotypically roman. An bethshantheater.jpgAmphitheater has holes for humans and animals, and was the place of the gladiator contests, A theater seats 7,000 and is amazingly in tact today. Up on the tell was a glimpse into the period of the Kings. Boulders and foundation remained from the fortress that would have existed during the time of the Saul, David, and Solomon. An Egyptian temple and governors house from 1500 B.C. is immaculately preserved. Its hard to describe just how amazing this place is. The city would later become Christian, and there are mosaics and shops, and everything you would imagine from city life.

Trip down to Jerico

The trip through the Judaean desert was dramatic. The land went from Lush Vegetation – to spartan desolation in just an hour trip south along the Jordan river. For part of the trip we followed the old Jerico road – of Good Samaritan fame. Across the river was the country of Jordan, and we could see the patrols on both sides. We traversed the checkpoint at Jerico and headed into the West Bank. We raced around the city (Our Guide Hillel had to get off because Jews aren’t really allowed in the city). We were a bit like sheep without a shepherd though our driver was great and moved us around to the various places. From our bus we stopped and looked out at the mount of temptation. A huge monastery sits where the traditional spot of Jesus desert temptation occurred. We know it happened somewhere in these spartan hills. We stopped in the city itself at the Zacchias tree. This is the traditional spot from which Jesus called the tax collector down and demanded that he go with him to eat at his house. Yes the wee little man! It may or may not be THE tree but it is AN example of the kind of tree. We sort of blitzedmonastarytemptation.jpg passed the old tell, which was sad. It is an 8,000 year old city – and the oldest city continuously existing. Our new “Guide” was more interested in getting us to his shop. We ate swarmy’s ?sp? and I had my first diet coke since arriving. The Palestinians here are very poor, and they swarm around you like flies trying to sell you everything from postcards, to necklaces, to olive branches that you could just go pick yourself. We ate neapattree.jpgr a University and were seeing the young men and women come in and out, some dressed traditionally, others in jeans and “American” dress. It was quite fascinating. As we left, we went back through the checkpoint, soldiers from Israel standing post with huge guns signaled that we were leaving the occupied territories. Oh as a post note, i saw a Peace Kiss between two Arab men, and several political posters – one with Palestinian leaders and Che Guevara!!

Up to Jerusalem

As we travel Ascending to Jerusalem i was struck by how steep the climb was. Up Up Up, our bus struggled a bit even though its brand new and a Mercedes. I could only imagine Mary and Joseph, or Jesus, or the Good Samaritan traversing these dangerous paths. What a climb after having spent days in the desert wilderness. I cant imagine how a pregnant woman, on a donkey, ever did this. We passed by several Bedouin camps – these folks have changed little since Jesus time. Living in very crude huts, they graze sheep on the nearby hills. The sheep leave lines around the mountains as they graze. We also passed by “The Inn of the Good Samaritan” which is on the traditional spot of an inn on the Jerico road. As we moved upward we were reading anew the psalms of ascent….which are about going up to Jerusalem. “I lift my eyes to the hills, etc…”

Jerusalem

As we crested the driver turned on a song about Jerusalem, and the city began to come into view. First Bethany/bethpagejerusalem.jpg where Jesus disciples found the donkey for his triumphal entry. Then we made our way to the mount of olives. As we did the Temple mount came into view and it was breathtaking. The most holy place in the world lay before us, it was hard to take in without being overwhelmed. This is the place Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, where Solomon built the first temple, and Herod the second. It was the place Jesus would teach, and expel the money changers. It was the place from which his death would be plotted. The Dome of the Rock which is what you see on the temple mount, is apparently much smaller than the temple would have been. Almost 1 and 1.5 times higher the temple would have risen into the sky. Amazing!.

Mount of Olives. Top

The mount of olives was basically the place Jesus camped and hung out with the disciples during his time in Jerusalem. It is also the place he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the one with all the palm branches and stuff. Today the mount is still filled with olive trees, some as old as Jesus probably, but its also a HUGE Jewish cemetery with all of the above ground tombs facing the temple…pretty striking.

Mount of Olives: Jesus Wept Church
We walked down the traditional descent path of Jesus down the Mt of Olives for the triumphal entry. We sang songs as we walked, it was pretty powerful and I became emotional as I looked out over the city. It was overwhelming. I didn’t recall that this was the place with the famous “Jesus Wept” passage, so it was appropriate that i was weeping when we came to the church that commemorates the spot where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. I can understand why, coming down the hill its so powerful to see the sight of the Temple. And Jesus, knowing its potential that had gone unrealized must have been doubmountofolives.jpgly effected.

We read the passage from Matthew (I think, cant recall now) where Jesus predicts the fall of the temple (No stone will be left), and that the enemy’s of Israel will surround them on all sides. Almost as if on cue the call to prayer of the Muslim Mosques rang out – literally from every corner of the city. It was surreal. It surrounded us. Truly this prophecy had come true in more ways than one. Nothing of the temple was left, and a Mosque stands where it once was, and the temple is surrounded by the enemy of the Jewish people.

Mount of Olives: Garden of Gethsemany

We continued down the hill to the Garden of Gethsemany, the place where Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from him, but never the less thy will be done…… The this was the place of the olive presses on the mount of olives, appropriate for a man who was about to be pressed for the sins of the world. The Church of All Nations sits with the garden, and is made of alabaster. The effect is a pitch black church – like the night when Jesus prayed. Also there are parts of the bedrock that the disciples may have been sleeping upon in the church. In the Garden itself, there are olive trees that are thousands of years old, perhaps some as old as the Time of Christ himself. Its amazing to realize you are standing in a place Jesus would have seen almost exactly the same way.

IN the garden, we stopped to have some preaching from Jeff – it was tremendous to be here, hearing the word proclaimed with the temple mount in the background. We encountered Nigerians, Koreans, and Japanese Christians, all gathered in the garden in various places singing and worshipping and preaching. It truly had become a place of prayer for all the nations. Jeff preached from the parable of the Wicked tenants, which was delivered probably in the temple itself, or possible here. Its a parable of the rejection of Jesus and the prophets by the religious authorities. It was a bold, and courageous sermon that likely sealed his fate.

Tomorrow (Day 4). Not sure where were headed, schedule is pretty flexible, but maybe the wailing wall and the Temple steps. Depends on what is open for security reasons! They keep us safe here!