I'm sorry about the long delay. More complications. I owe you one more blog (at least) about the Holy Land before we begin a new phase of our travels. The last three days of the tour were spent in Jerusalem and vicinity and were done mostly on foot in the old city. That’s really the only way to see the biblical parts. But I want to start with the Holocaust Museum which they call Yad Vashem. The entire building in which are housed all the pictures and paraphernalia of the Holocaust years is shaped by symbolism, from the size to the flow to the textures and colors. There has never been an event quite like this in all the tortured years of the Jewish people. And it is poignantly portrayed in every room. Our guide was an American Jew who was not born here but moved here because of her love for the Israeli people. She had a heart for what she was telling us, and her presentation lacked none of the drama and tragedy that needed to be told—in detail. Don’t miss this if you visit Israel sometime.
Before returning to Jerusalem I need to take you down to Bethlehem first. David’s city is only six miles south of Jerusalem, basically in the suburbs today. This is the place everyone loves to come to, even though it is in the West Bank and governed by the Palestine Authority. We had a special guide for this. His name was Ramsey, a young Palestinian Christian who was eager to give us the handshake of Christian fellowship—a wonderful young man with a love for the Lord and who spoke excellent English. He took us into Manger Square, the open space that exists just outside the Church of the Nativity—the oldest church building still standing in history. The original was built by the first “Christian” emperor Constantine in the early 4th century A.D. and then rebuilt by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Ramsey’s timing was perfect. He got us there just ahead of the large crown that always clogs the square. We had to get in line to see the traditional place where Jesus was born (marked by a silver star) in the cave beneath the church. Three Christian groups share access to this place: the Armenian Christians, the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox church. We were fortunate to get in and out of this place without too much trouble, especially since the Pope was coming the next day for a visit and was to hold mass in the Square. Security and preparations were everywhere. But we were able to see everything we were brought here to see. Following our visit to the church Ramsey took us to a Christian shop where they sold everything made out of olive wood (that’s what everyone comes here to buy, especially manger scenes, and they have them from the smallest to largest—some of them actually life sized!)
The last two places I want to share with you are back in Jerusalem. The first is the location and contents of the Garden of Gethsemane. Look closely at the old olive trees Kathy has included, because they tell us that at least seven of these old trees are more than 2,000 years old. So they would have been growing here while Jesus was praying in this garden. There would probably have been far more than seven, except when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD they pretty much destroyed everything they touched with their armies and siege machines in every direction of the old city. If you will recall, Jesus prophesied about that, saying that not one stone will be left standing on top of another when the opposing armies got through with their destruction.
The last visit—and the most memorable one—was to the place of Jesus crucifixion and burial. There are two traditional locations for this. The oldest and most ornate is the church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is a very beautiful church building supposedly holding the location of the crucifixion and burial. But there are problems about this location. One is, that it is located too far inside the walls of the old city. And Jewish law forbade the crucifixion of anyone inside the Holy City. The other location seems to fit the picture better but its tradition goes back only about 100 years or so. It’s referred to as “Gordon’s Calvary” because a first World War British General was the one who first proposed this location as fitting the Scriptural accounts better than the other tradition. Jesus was taken to a place called “Galgotha,” meaning, the place of a skull. That could mean it was a cemetery or that the rocky hillside looked like a skull (and it still does). The text also says, “And in that place was a garden with a new tomb that had never been used.” And here they found a “Garden tomb,” with a place where the stone could be rolled against the tomb, and there was only one burial place constructed. This is the “Garden Tomb” where many believe Jesus was buried. I had the opportunity to lead a communion service for all of our tour people following our visit to the tomb. This is always a moving experience to be in this place, and a visit few will ever forget.
SIDE NOTE: Our visit to the Garden Tomb was the very last thing we visited on our very last day of our tour. But when we got off the bus and were walking to the tomb we were overwhelmed by several “vendors” who were trying to sell us postcards and trinkets. They are found everywhere you go in the whole Middle East but this day they were very aggressive and ended up assaulting our tour party. One man was manhandled by a vendor whose hands were all over his body and he had to push him away. One of our young ladies had her cell phone stolen from her bag, and another man pushed his post cards into my face so I couldn’t see him unzip my bag and steal my video camera. So all my video for the entire tour is gone as well as my camera. The police were called by the Garden Tomb employees, and a report was made (this was the second time that day that an assault on a tour member was reported). So, even though I am insured for the loss, there can be no replacing all the video that is on those two memory cards in my HD Video camera. Oh well, at least I still have all the photos my trusty companion has been taking (about 5,000 in all).