One of the things I love to do while traveling in Israel is to ask questions to Palestinians living and working in Israel and to the Israeli Jews themselves about how each of them looks at the situation here. Of course you will get wildly differing viewpoints. But what I want to hear is what THEY think, not what the news people tell you they think. Their coexistence on this small piece of real estate is a very complicated matter but for the most part the majority on both sides is trying to make it work. When you get one-on-one with both Palestinians and Jews they are very friendly and helpful people, not because they hope to get something from you but because friendliness and hospitality are a part of their culture. I think this is especially true with the Palestinians. The entire Arab culture has this built in tendency to be warm and friendly to strangers. I will miss all of these people and of course, being a Christian pastor and teacher, I will miss this land that just reeks of a history that really matters for the world.
Today was our last day in Jerusalem, and, for that matter, Israel. We’ll be heading home tomorrow at 12:15 Israeli time, Lord willing. We spent most of the day in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. It is almost a sacred place for the Israelis, as you could probably understand (they refer to the Holocaust as the “Shoah).” It is a massive construction involving varying aspects of the Holocaust and spread out over 45 acres. The main building, which presents the Holocaust from the viewpoint of the Jewish people, is a very thorough presentation which really takes about 3 hours or so to do it justice. It is presented in a chronological way, beginning with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. And not only do they present the political aspects, and the deteriorating culture that became so demeaning to German Jews, and the many acts of insult and persecution against the Jews, but they also do these presentations in a personal way by showing individual families by name and how they were affected by all that was happening. Pictures of individuals, letters they wrote to friends and family while all of this was going on, are all presented in such a way that just brings you into the story. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken inside the museum so I have few pictures of the place to show you.
We really enjoyed our stay here and all three of us still have something we would like to come back to see and experience and maybe that is the way it should be. In fact, in all the traveling we have done we have never had a “been there—done that” attitude. Thanks for following our travels.
Ever have one of those days on vacation when everything goes just right? Today was one of those days. We had several experiences in the Jewish part of Jerusalem but two of those were very impressive to me. The first experience had to do with Hezekiah’s Tunnel. If you haven’t heard the story yet, let me give you the cliff notes: When King Hezekiah was threatened with an invasion of Jerusalem (8th Century B. C.) he realized that he was vulnerable because their main source of water was the Gihon Spring, just outside the walls of the lower City of David (so called because this was the first part of the city of Jerusalem David built up). When an enemy invades they seek first to cut off the water supply to the city. So Hezekiah set to work to bring the water inside the city. To do this he first had to seal off any sign of an external water supply and then he put to work many diggers with iron picks to hack their way through solid bedrock until they had made a tunnel sloping slightly downward that ended in some kind of a receptacle inside the city. The receptacle was to be the Pool of Siloam (read the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John for more information about this pool in Jesus day). But what makes this project really interesting is that the workers started from both ends (some began digging from the Spring and some began digging from the Pool) and they met in the middle! Try doing this now with all the engineers and modern tools we possess today! They eventually made it work but they were slightly off and had to make corrections (we can tell by viewing the results). Well, the state of Israel lets you walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel today after paying an entrance fee—but it’s really worth it. I did this twice before and couldn’t wait to do it again with Kathy and Eric. It’s a totally painless experience. You only have to walk 1700 ft. or so through water that sometimes is thigh high but mostly is just about 12 inches high. The water still flows and it still empties into the Pool of Siloam. They do recommend that no one with claustrophobia should attempt this. If you will look at Kathy’s pictures you will understand why.
The weather was very nice today—only about 85 or so with a cool breeze--so we didn’t have to quit early. Thus, we went inside the city through the Dung Gate and into the Jewish Quarter. Kathy had found some information about visiting the “Burnt House.” That was the ruins of a house that had been torched by the Romans when they invaded and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. We bought one of those “compound tickets” where you pay a certain price and you get to see 4 of 5 different things. One of those several things we got to see were underground ruins in what they call the Herodian Quarter located in the Wohl Museum of Archaeology. It seems that during the 1967 (six day) War the Jordanians had destroyed so many Jewish houses in this one area that when the Jews won that war and took over that sector of Jerusalem, the archeologists took advantage of all that rubble and began to dig there. What they found were remains of the homes of the wealthy leaders and priests who lived in palatial surroundings during the time of King Herod (and also during the time of Jesus). I have never before seen a museum like this—the museum was one small room above ground and the gigantic areas of display were all underground, and the displays were amazing. This rediscovered Herodian Quarter now lies from 10 to 22 feet below present street level. The “burnt house” was among these remains. You could see colored wall frescoes with burn marks all over them and the remains of charred ceiling beams that collapsed onto the beautiful mosaic floors. You didn’t have to use your imagination to picture how the houses originally looked. You could see quite well the rooms, the doorways, the passageway, the streets, curbs, and so on. These palatial residences were for the rich and important only, but, alas, everything they had went up in (Roman) flames as well as the poorer homes down in the valleys. I’m sorry I can’t show you pictures of the best of the best because I found out partway through the tour that there was a sign saying “no cameras allowed.”
So these were the two experiences I had that made my day. And by the way, both Kathy and Eric enjoyed these two experiences as well as several others. We have one more day left in Jerusalem before we fly home on Wednesday, so hopefully, I will have one more blog to share with you.
Today is “Jerusalem Day” in town. That is comparable to our Independence Day and it celebrates their capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. We decided to go over into West Jerusalem to see what was going on over there. We have been living, eating and seeing the sights in East Jerusalem (the Palestine sector) for so many days we thought it best that we see the more modern side of (Jewish) Jerusalem. We heard of a free walking tour of West Jerusalem in English at 11:00 AM and showed up in time for it only to be told they had changed it to 1:00 PM. So we did the tour on our own. There is quite a difference between the two areas—East Jerusalem is crowded, dirty, and the buildings and housing are old and often run down. West Jerusalem is clean, modern, and very upscale. That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, but it is the first thing visitors see when they visit both sides. So West Jerusalem is very Jewish and East Jerusalem is very Palestinian (Christian and Muslim).
Since it was Jerusalem Day we found spontaneous celebrations breaking out in West Jerusalem. People wrapped themselves in the flag of Israel or waved it on a banner, marched, sang, and danced down the streets. Our tour of West Jerusalem took us to the turn-around point at the Market area. It reminded me of the market area in Tiberias only much larger and well equipped. You can find almost anything you want here—household items, tools, clothing, but mostly food—vegetables, sweets, spices, fruits, nuts, etc. If your thing is vegetables they have everything you can think of and some things you probably have never seen before. You could say that about many things there. I am an olive lover—especially Mediterranean olives--and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the olive tables. I never knew there were that many different kinds of olives. Well, you get the idea about the market. It is a delight to the eye and the senses and you want to stop and buy so many things they have on display. We found a nice café for lunch. We have been eating Palestinian food for lunch every day so we hung around West Jerusalem long enough to taste another variety of food. Their (Jewish) salads were wonderful—as tasty as what we have been eating in East Jerusalem, only different.
We went back into the old city long enough for Eric to find a place that sold the kinds of things he was looking for as gifts to bring back home. He has really learned the art of bargaining. He is better at it than either Kathy or myself. Bargaining is the way shopkeepers live here. You never pay the original price. They may say that X is what they will take for an item but it can always be bought cheaper if you know how to bargain. He finally found what he wanted and thought he had made a good deal, only to find it on sale for less in another place. Oh well, that is the risk you always take when shopping in the markets and bazaars.
One of the celebrations we decided to attend on Jerusalem Day was a free concert by a local orchestra held in the Tower of David, which is really a large citadel (fortress) built mostly by the Crusaders over Byzantine and Roman ruins. The concert was well attended and was held on the inside grounds of the fortress. They have nightly sound and light shows that tell the history of Jerusalem that are held here. The mayor of Jerusalem was in attendance at this event and the lines of people waiting to get in went by the mayor so he could shake the hands of the people attending. So the lines were backed up. Leave it to Eric—he found another way to avoid the backup and it took us up to another level of the fortress where no one had yet gone and it was a perfect place to see the concert because it served as a balcony. Once he made the move to find another quicker way to find seating many others followed him and we all had good “balcony” front row seats. The concert was composed of old Israeli “folk tunes” and, of course, all in Hebrew. Once the concert was over we explored the whole fortress, since we were already inside for the concert. The rampart walls served as a great place to get pictures looking out over the city. After the concert we went over to the Jaffa Gate to watch a parade that started at the Damascus Gate and ended at the Jaffa Gate. That ended at about 7:30 PM and since it was another day in the 90’s and hot, we decided to go back to our hotel and call it a day. Tomorrow we plan to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel which goes under the old City of David and deposits its water into the Pool of Siloam. I mentioned that yesterday, and I will tell you more about it tomorrow.
The National Hotel, where we are staying for our eight days in Jerusalem, is located in the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem, as I said earlier. It is run by Palestinians and specializes in Palestinian cuisine, which is awesome. We have had a great stay in this beautiful place and have been treated with much grace and friendliness by the staff as well as the residents of the area. The problem, however, is that vacationers have been scared off by the recent attacks against Israelis and foreign visitors. Since this city relies upon tourists and is usually filled with them, this year they seem to be staying home or vacationing elsewhere. We experienced the same thing in Egypt two years ago when the locals begged us to go home and tell our friends not to fear this place—we need tourism. And just as when we traveled in Egypt we have never felt unsafe here. We make it a point to move out among the people and get to know them as best we can in the hustle and bustle of this place.
This morning we decided to stay close to our home base and minimize the walking. Kathy wears a Fitbit and normally has been averaging five miles a day walking. But because it turned hot here (95 degrees today, with humidity) we decided not to go too far from home. So we went about two blocks away to the see Garden Tomb. This place rivals the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in that both claim to have the possible place where Jesus was crucified and buried. The tradition of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the time of Constantine (4th Century A. D.). Chapels and churches have been built one after another over the place since that time and it is a very old tradition. But it appears that the place was inside the walls during the first century (Jews would never allow a burial within their city). But the tradition of the Garden Tomb only goes back about 150 years. And yet it has several things that make it the possible place of crucifixion and burial. For one, it is located just outside the Damascus Gate of the city. The Romans always preferred to crucify people in plain view of everyone else to discourage insurrection. Also, the place was a garden (as Scripture indicates) and has a hill next to it that looks very much like a skull (it was called “the place of the skull” in Scripture). As they dug there they found a rock hewn tomb that was constructed for a family burial plot (Jesus’ tomb was donated by Joseph of Aramathea) and it had an inscription on the inside wall when they discovered it that was a cross with the Greek letters alpha and omega (what Jesus called himself in the book of Revelation). So it appears that someone in the distant past once thought this was Jesus’ burial place—perhaps Christians made this a holy place since the beginning. While we were there we realized that the students in the crowd of English speaking tourists were all from Pepperdine University—Eric’s alma mater. So we introduced ourselves and had a great conversation about mutual friends and interests. Somehow on these trips we always seem to run into someone who knows someone we know (!)
We then went a few blocks further and found the Rockafeller Museum, just across the street from Herod’s Gate (on the north wall of the city). It is a beautiful building containing items from every period of Jerusalem starting from pre-history to the modern day. The nice thing about it—it’s entry was free.
We concluded our activities today by having lunch in a small street shop across from the Damascus Gate and then went back to home base to cool off. We plan to go out later when it is cooler. Jerusalem sits on a mountain top 2,500 ft. above sea level. The breeze blows nicely at this altitude so it always cools off at night. We’ll be back later.
Since we are staying in the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem we decided today to take a journey southward through the Kedron Valley and see some sights along the way. The Kedron Valley separates the old city from the Mount of Olives. On the east side of the valley are some things connected with the ministry of Jesus. The Mount of Olives is found on the east hill just across from the Eastern Wall. At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night He was arrested. Some of those olive trees they show you today are supposed to be as old as 2,000 years. If so, they were a living witness to the prayers of Jesus on that night. Right next to the old trees is a more modern church called the Basilica of the Agony (of Jesus) and also referred to as the Church of All Nations. In the altar area is a large stone upon which it is believed that Jesus prayed in agony about his coming crucifixion: “Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Just above that church is another church called the Russian Church of St. Mary Magdalene, built with five brilliant golden onion dome spires with a Russian cross on each dome. There is no particular reason for the church to be built at this site except that Czar Alexander III decided to build it in 1885 in memory of his wife whose “patron saint” was “Mary Magdalene.” There are other lesser known churches on that hill but we decided to take the foot path that leads down to the lower city of David, southeast of the city wall. Here it is believed David built his first city after taking the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the 10th Century B. C. In walking down this path you can get the feeling of how steep these hills are and how deep these valleys are. We passed several monuments along the way—one of them being a monument that has been called Absolom’s tomb, about a 30 foot high monument bearing the name of King David’s son Absolom. Actually, it has nothing to do with Absolom but was called by that name in the Middle Ages. What makes the structure significant is that it has been there since before the time of Jesus and is in excellent shape. This city has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times over the centuries since the time of Jesus that it is rare to see anything still standing from Roman times or before.
Continuing down the valley we came upon the entrance to the Gihon Spring, the natural spring that brought water into the City of David in ancient times. The significance of the this spring is that it is connected to the Pool of Siloam by a hacked out tunnel constructed in King Hezekiah’s time to bring the water from that spring inside the city so that his enemies could not shut off their water supply during a siege. You might want to look that up in the Old Testament and I can tell you more about that when we walk through this 1,700 foot tunnel in a few days. The Pool of Siloam is also significant because when Jesus cured the blind man in the Gospel of John (chapter 9) he put mud on his eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. We also saw what is left of that pool further down the valley.
After climbing all the way up to the southern wall of the city from the lower city of David (Oh my aching legs!) we decided to stop at the traditional site of the last supper in the “upper room,” or what they point out as the place where the upper room was located. Right next to that is the tomb of King David, which we entered (men on one side of a barrier and women on the other side—according to Jewish tradition). We went back out and entered the Armenian Quarter of the old city through the Zion Gate and stopped for lunch (boy, it was hot!) at the Armenian Tavern. We had a great lunch of Greek salads—all three of us—and boy, do they pour on the Feta Cheese!!! (Yum).
By then, we were so tired and hot that we decided to work our way out of the old city through the Damascus Gate (our hotel is just north of there). But before we could make it out we chose to take a walking tour of the rooftops of Jerusalem. I know that sounds weird, but you can actually go up to the rooftops and walk above the bazaar areas and shops and restaurants and get a very different picture of the old city from there. The old city is like a maze of stairways and alleys and narrow streets and paths and (whatever word you want to use to describe this fascinating place). You could easily get lost in this place but we had Eric with us who NEVER gets lost. It’s amazing how he figures out where he is at any given time and how to get where you want to go just by briefly gazing at a map. Anyway, we found our way back to the Damascus Gate which is our way in and out of the old city, but before we exited the old city we just had to buy some of the Arab sweets that you see for sale everywhere in this place—wow! Are they good!
We had the intention of stopping by the Garden Tomb on our way to our hotel (since it is just about two blocks or so from where we are staying), but I suggested we do that later when we all have fresher legs. We’ll tell you about that then.
Today we decided to take in some of the Museums. Fortunately, there are several of them grouped in one area. Unfortunately, they weren’t near enough for us to walk there. When you look at a map of Jerusalem the old city is where everyone wants to go in order to see the most famous biblical sites. We chose our hotel for that very reason. We are only about an eight minute walk north of the Damascus Gate, the main entrance through the north wall of the old city. But the city has so spread out over the centuries so that many of the things you may want to see are a good cab ride away. So the girl at the hotel desk called us a cab which took us to a location that included the Holy Land Museum, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book all there together. And all of these are directly across the street from Israel’s Knesset building (their version of our capitol building in Washington D. C.).
We decided to tackle the Israel Museum first. It is a beautifully laid out structure with the history of the Land of Canaan from Pre-history (10,000 years B. C. or so) to the modern state of Israel—all that in one museum! But the flow from one era into the next was done so well that it keeps you interested in what’s coming up next. We got so interested in everything that we began to lose sight of how much time we had to spend there. So we grabbed a quick lunch and headed toward the Shrine of the Book Museum that was just next door. This Museum was built in 1965 to tell the story of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls—thought by many to be the most important archeological find of the 20th Century. In a small commune just east of Jerusalem and on the shore of the Dead Sea a group of Essenes (a strict Jewish religious sect) lived out their lives in seclusion during the days of Jesus. They occupied their time together in prayer and devotion and in preserving and copying religious texts, the Bible being chief among them. It seems that in about A. D. 66 when the Jewish nation revolted against Roman rule and decided to take on the Roman army these Essenes were caught in the middle. When they saw the war coming into their territory they decided to hide their precious scrolls in the caves that surrounded their commune so they wouldn’t be destroyed. Unfortunately, they were caught in the crossfire and were scattered, killed or sold into slavery. And for over 1,900 years those scrolls sat there in pottery jars mostly protected from the elements until a Bedouin boy accidently discovered some of them. The story gets complicated from there but eventually all of the scrolls were acquired by those who could read them and discover what they contained. For Bible students this is important because they contained passages or parts of passages from all of the books of the Old Testament except Esther. But the biggest prize was they now had two complete copies of the book of Isaiah—one of the most important books on messianic prophecy ever written. Bible scholars everywhere were thrilled to now possess manuscripts of the Bible that were at least 1,000 years older than the ones they had possessed up to that time. When they compared the accuracy of the newer ones with these much older ones they found to their amazement that they were almost completely the same texts. So to memorialize this event they constructed this museum—the Shrine of the Book-- to tell this story and completely unrolled one of the books of Isaiah and mounted it on a circular board for everyone to see, or read, the ancient Hebrew text for themselves.
Also, while we were here we saw, just between the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, a model of the city of Jerusalem that was constructed for everyone to get an idea of what the city looked like just before it was destroyed in A. D. 70. Not a little table model, mind you, but a model that is constructed on a large lot. It’s one thing to see piece by piece the places associated with the ministry of Jesus and his apostles when all of these sites have been built over many times by more modern structures; it’s quite another to see the city as it probably looked when all of those things were actually going on. So, to see these two museums and the model of Jerusalem in the same day, it really helps you to orient yourself to the old Jerusalem we identify with the New Testament.
Yesterday we left our apartment in Arad, in the mountainous area near the Dead Sea to travel north to Jerusalem. On the way we tried to find the Valley of Elah, just west of Bethlehem, where David fought the giant Goliath. We found the Valley of Elah but the two cities that help you pinpoint the exact spot of the battle no longer exist and they don’t seem to have any signs indicating the site. So we took some pictures and some video and headed north to Jerusalem. It was a good thing our GPS system was working, since Jerusalem is very large and the traffic was heavy by the time we arrived. The hotel we planned to stay in for the next seven days is located in East Jerusalem in the Palestinian area. It is a wonderful hotel run by Palestinians—nice room, very friendly and helpful staff, and excellent food.
This morning we started out by entering Herod’s Gate on the north side of the old city and attempted to follow all 14 stations of the cross. We realize all these “stations” are arbitrary and traditional locations of the path Jesus took from Pilate’s Judgment Hall to Calvary, but we found them all. Some of them are very interesting and perhaps authentic locations of his experience while others have nothing behind them but tradition, and some of it very thin and lacking in authenticity. Along the way we met some very interesting shop keepers—one by the name of Basmir, who formerly lived in Riverside, CA and has come back home to run his little shop in the old city. Right near him was another young Palestinian shop keeper who was born in Santa Monica, CA but has spent most of his life in Jerusalem. These people are easy to get to know. They love to talk to strangers and of course, as shop keepers, adhere to the old maxim of “get to know them before you sell to them.”
Our next stop was the “The Pavement” (as the King James Version puts it)—the Judgment Hall of Pontius Pilate, where Jesus was tried and sentenced to die. This was located in the old Tower of Antonia which overlooked the Northwestern corner of the temple area (so the Romans could keep an eye on what those “troublesome” Jews were doing in their sacred enclosure). Of course, the Tower of Antonia is long gone but the “Pavement” is still there. These were large marble stones cut and fitted as a floor for most of the old buildings that once stood there. Some of these still exist from the original buildings including Pilate’s Judgement Hall, and they even had some old Roman games inscribed upon them. The guides call these the Roman version of tic-tac-toe.
Eventually, we got to the Western Wall, what most of you know as the “Wailing Wall.” It was dubbed the “Wailing Wall” because this was the last original wall of their second temple, built by Herod the Great. They bemoaned the fact that their temple no longer existed (it was the centerpiece of the Jewish Faith). For centuries they used to come her and pray and insert prayers on paper pushed into the cracks in the wall. Today the Temple Mount contains two mosques (the Al Aksa Mosque and the Mosque of Omar—or Dome of the Rock as it is known today). In order to enter this sacred area, Eric and I had to put on Yarmulkas—the little circular skull caps worn by Jewish men. And then we had to enter the enclosure which is only for men. The enclosure walled off right next to it is for women—separate worship areas.
The next area we visited was in the Archeology Park just to the south of the Temple Mount and outside the walls that enclose it. This area has been known as the City of David. This has been under excavation for years and contains the place where David’s Palace must have stood. But the area that was of most interest to us was the Southern steps into what was Herod’s Temple in the days of Jesus. They have uncovered the original steps you had to climb to enter the Temple from the City of David. These were the same steps Jesus and His Apostles climbed when they entered the Temple. That’s why they are of so much importance to Christians.
The other day, we stopped at Qumran to see the caves where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tomorrow Kathy, Eric and I will go to the Scroll of the Book (museum) and see the original Dead Sea Scrolls. We’ll talk about them next time.
We found a place to stay in the wilderness. It’s an old biblical city called Arad and it’s surrounded by mountains and valleys so stark that you would think nothing could grow here, especially people. But people have lived in Arad for thousands of years and actually the modern town is quite pleasant. It’s greatest asset, for us, is that it is only 17 miles from Masada and the Dead Sea. We rented an apartment for two days that has all the amenities of home and even has a washing machine in the bathroom. For weary travelers living out of a suitcase that is a blessing. It is located just west of the bottom of the Dead Sea at 1600 ft. above sea level. By the time we get to Masada we are at 1400 ft. BELOW sea level, so as you can guess the road goes steeply downhill all the way. Eric says he would love to do this on his motorcycle.
We arrived at Masada, one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. The reason for that is as follows: The nation of Israel came to a halt about the year 72 A.D. Two years earlier, as a result of the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was in ruins. The Jewish people who weren’t killed by the Roman army were taken as slaves back to Italy or sold to others along the way….all except a group of about 900 or so Jewish Zealots (whole families) who managed to escape from Jerusalem and flee to the mountain fortress along the Dead Sea called Masada. This was one of Herod the Great’s retreats he had previously built for himself to protect him in case of an insurrection. It was built high up on a giant mesa with the approach so steep it appeared to be impregnable. The Romans understood that as long as these people remained in control of this fortress the nation was still alive and capable of starting another insurrection. So the mountain had to be taken. Their plan was to build a wall completely around the mountain and keep anyone from leaving and anyone else from supplying the Zealots with food or supplies. In other words, starve them out. It took nearly two years to do this while the Roman army built a rampart nearly up to the top where they could take their siege engines and break through the wall that encircled the mountain top. When they finally broke through the walls and invaded the Jewish retreat they found that everyone had committed suicide rather than be killed or taken prisoner by the Romans. That brought the official end to the Jewish nation….until 1948 when the modern nation of Israel came into being. That is why this place is so important to the Jewish people. Their slogan is “Never again!” meaning, “we will not fall again.”
Today, instead of having to climb up the “snake path” to the top they have installed a cable car for the tourists. Our son Eric said he wanted to climb the snake path—so we let him, while the “old folks” took the faster and easier route. The guide book says the climb usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour but Mr. America made it in 30 minutes, in the hot sun. Many of the finds on the top of Masada have been reconstructed somewhat. But what is left is spectacular. Herod’s Western Palace has three wonderful mosaic floors and his Northern Palace built on the very edge of the cliff still has some colored frescoes on its walls. It was a three hour experience for us and left us pretty much drained with all the up and down and the desert heat. So we decided, after we had seen it all, to take a trip down to the public beach and jump into the Dead Sea.
Believe it or not, there are about five or six luxury hotels built in this wilderness right next to the Dead Sea. I wondered how they could fill these expensive hotels with enough guests to make this a profitable enterprise. But I guess the answer is—this is the Dead Sea where you bob like a cork in this super salty body of water, and of course Masada is just down the road. Anyway, the tour buses keep pulling into their parking lots with a lot of people who really want to be here.
Tomorrow, we leave the desert and head for the capitol—Jerusalem, where we will stay for about eight days before returning home. There is so much to see in the “holy city.” And we’ll tell you about it later.
Kathy and I have a mutual friend who was reading our blog and asked if we wanted to visit an archeological excavation in progress. We both jumped at the chance, so he made the arrangements for us to visit the site today (Sunday). The site was right on our way south as we were leaving Tiberias. So we headed out on Route 90 eventually to end up at Masada on the Dead Sea. We found the location of the dig and were greeted by Dr. Jennie Ebeling, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville who is co-director with
Norma Franklin from the University of Haifa. Work had just begun on clearing a new site so we were able to see all the diggers in action. Dr. Ebeling took about two hours to show us around and give us a crash course in how to find a digging site that shows promise of producing something exceptional. What she and her helpers had already found was quite exceptional as this is their third year in this area. They are working in the Valley of Jezreel, an absolutely beautiful valley that is much talked about in the Old Testament. What they are looking for specifically is something that has to do with the kingship of Ahab (and his wicked wife Jezebel), in the ninth century B.C. While we were there I met one of her diggers who is a professor at Kentucky Christian University and who graduated from my alma mater in Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact, he teaches with my former college roommate. I had to come all the way to Israel to find someone who knows many of my own friends.
After our experience at Jezreel we continued down Route 90 until we came to Qumran on the Dead Sea. We visited here two years ago but wanted our son Eric to see where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Qumran community were made up of Essenes, the group who were very active during the ministry of Jesus but who were never mentioned in the Bible. That is because they were a monostic group who kept to themselves and had their own community apart from everyone else. They prayed, observed the law, and copied manuscripts in their Scriptorium. Among those manuscripts were copies of the Old Testament. The community was destroyed when the Romans came to wage war against the Jews in about 66 A.D. Fearing for the safety of their precious manuscripts they hid them in the many caves that surrounded them in the Judean wilderness. There they stayed until about 1952 when a Bedouin boy threw a stone into one of these caves and heard pottery breaking. He looked more closely and found what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include every book of the Old Testament except Esther. These manuscripts were examined and were dated about the 1st or 2nd Century B. C. Up until that time the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament we possessed are dated about a thousand years later than that. So you can understand why this find caused such a stir among theologians and Bible scholars. I had the opportunity, in 1966, to climb through some of these caves on my second visit to this place. But today they won’t let anyone near them—for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.
We completed our journey today be arriving at our rented apartment in Arad, Israel, about 15 miles beyond Masada. Tomorrow we plan to spend a lot of time exploring the top of that mountain before going on to Jerusalem where we will stay until we fly home. We’ll tell you more about Masada tomorrow
We are getting to know this Galilean seaside town fairly well. We have been here only five days but we feel very much at home. Each day we have taken in more and more of the unique sites that are associated with the Bible, most with the ministry of Jesus. This morning we drove to a small kibutz (communal settlement) located just where the Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee and begins its long journey to the Dead Sea. In fact, the Jordan River twists and turns its way south so greatly that the distance it travels, as the crow flies, is only some 65 miles. But the actual distance covered by its meandering course is over 200 miles. Within just a stone’s throw of where it leaves the Sea is the little community called Yardinet. Those who have been to Israel on tours will know this place as the location of the site for those who want to baptized in the Jordan River (as Jesus was baptized). It is not certain that Jesus was baptized here in this area but there are some who try to make a case for it. Either way, this place is in a beautiful location and has been constructed in such a way as to make public baptisms a very easy and sacred event. There are several small and personal meeting places where a group can gather, pray, sing and watch their members be baptized by their leader. Two years ago I was the only pastor on our tour group that came here, so I was appointed as the baptizer. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak to the group of about 35 people about the importance of identifying with Christ through the rite of baptism and assisting about a dozen or more of our group to accomplish their desire to be baptized in the manner and place of our Savior. There are changing rooms, video cameras that automatically record each baptism so that each participant can have a record of the event, a gift shop to browse in and everything to make this a pleasant and memorable occasion.
We then drove to the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee to visit the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. Obviously, with a name this long this was built to commemorate the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle of Jesus (besides the resurrection) that is found in all four of the gospels. The more modern church was built over a 5th Century Byzantine church with some beautiful mosaics that are in an amazing state of preservation. I think the feeding took place on the NE corner of the Sea as opposed to this location, according to the way the gospels describe it. But they try to make a case for that location by saying that there were two such miraculous feedings (that is true) but I think they still got it in the wrong place. Whatever…….!
The other church we visited is called the Church of the Beatitudes which sits high on a hill overlooking the Sea. It is so called because it is thought that in this spot Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount which begins with his blessings or “beatitudes.” Whether they got the right spot for this or not, I must say one thing—this place is one of the most beautiful spots in the world with its manicured gardens of flowers and plants, its walkways, its many types of trees and bushes—they must have a full time gardener taking care of this place. It is a delightful place and if you look around you will see that it is one of the most imposing spots on a high hill overlooking the sea, so it fits the description of the gospel narratives. The church is small but all around are quotes from the beatitudes. So it is a must visit for everyone who believes the Bible and wants a little inspiration to send him on his way.
Tomorrow we leave Tiberias and head south toward Masada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea. But before we get there we will visit an archaeological excavation taking place not far from here that is just on our way. Our visit is made possible by a friend who was reading our blog and offered us the opportunity to meet the director of the dig and get a tour around. I’ll tell you about that later.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.