Thursday, May 31, 2012

Holy Lands Day 21: May 30 Old pots and war ramps

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

"I'm not sure how I became the one doing the laundry," W says as he agitates the dry-bag full of soap, water, and soiled clothes.

"You volunteered," I reply. "You said, 'have anything you want washed?' and I handed things to you."

"You have a very good imagination," he laughs, going back to rinse the clothing and hang it up to dry. Hey, I'm not partial to who does the chores. They need doing and I hate doing them.

We have a relaxing breakfast since we don't have to be on the bus until 9am. I have time to copy part of yesterday's blog (too late last night to do it) before we head out the door.

The Psalm is #63, David in the wilderness of Judah. The tour leaders keep encouraging us to keep sharp but I feel like "something" is catching up with me as we start out. Perhaps the intense concentration on the lecture? The late night visit? Whatever, I feel completely "schlapp" or limp as far as absorbing new info. It's Wednesday, but I feel a Sabbath would be welcome!

Ilan points out a Jewish settlement in the West Bank (more checkpoints on the highway) in "the field of Boaz." Life here is complicated. Arabs, having taken over the site of the Jewish holy of holies, can hardly complain at Jews living near their towns in formerly uninhabited areas!

Across from the satellite center of Israel in the Ella Valley Ilan exclaims, "Oh look, dinner!" Lambs and sheet dot the hillside, their shepherd already on a cellphone. We pass the ruin of an ancient aqueduct of Benjamin. Ilan points out the line of stones that remain.

Our first destination is Bet Guvrin, where we meet Dr. Ian Stern, who has worked here for 26 years. The hill is riddled with hundreds of caves and open to study groups and archeaology buffs. This Hellenistic site is mentioned four times in the OT. Rehaboam fortified several sites, including Marishah here. After the sacking of the area by the Babylonians, Edomites moved into the vacuum. The Edomite (or Idumean) cosmopolitan city that resulted was the home of Herod the Great. 90% of the writing is Aramaic; the other 10% is Greek, with a smattering of Hebrew. In C2 BC, the enemy of Macabee won the battle nearby but not the city.

Josephus states that Idumeans were given a choice to convert or leave and that most inhabitants converted. Stern says it's probably that Edomites had much in common with Judaism and didn't have much trouble converting voluntarily. Strabo, the other contemporaneous historian, does not mention forced conversion. A marriage contract dated 176 BC (similar to Judaic tradition), many idols, and heaps of pottery have been found here. 

A curious find is that many vessels have a hole punctured in the base. Speculation is that they were ritually impure, but Dr. Stern wonders if they had been used for ceremonial purposes and so were set aside as sacred objects. To create a hole, the pottery has to be scraped and punctured carefully, so the holes are not incidental.

We get down and dirty. A 20-year veteran at the side, a wise-cracking, sarcastic staff member, takes us through a series of caves. We slither through narrow openings, drop through a manhole sized circle, and gaze at the openings chiseled for doves (eaten and sacrificed) throughout the cave systems. It's a challenging but not difficult scrabble through the caves, lit by candles. We emerge after 15 minutes, dusty and happy, only 30 meters from where we descended.

The next adventure is excavation of sorts. We're handed small picks, buckets, and a trowel to sift through the ground of a cave nearby. I dig against a wall, figuring that people would fling their garbage as far as possible and it would be stopped by a wall. All the artifacts are from C2 BC when the inhabitants fled with their wealth and ditched the rest down into the caves. I find about 15 pieces of pottery that haven't seen the light of day for 2200 years, including some pot rims, three pieces of a thin-walled vase and numerous other pieces of water jars and other pots. Those go in a bucket separate from all the rubble we are sifting.

It's back into daylight, a bucket-brigade handing up the pots full of debris to be sifted and checked before the dirt is dumped. We're creating a higher tel (mound) as we work. Well, actually W and I sit in the shade and watch the others hand buckets along the line. I think how clever and cool that we guests have a fun experience while these archaeologists don't have to sift through all the junk themselves. What a great way to excavate, using tourist enthusiasm to clear down the floor of the "Lumpy" cave.

After a final lecture from Dr. Stern we are sent to pick up 2200-year-old pottery shards from where the "not important" pieces are dumped. Kids, guess what we're bringing you!?

Our final stop, after an hour for lunch at a mall, is Lakhesh. Oh, W decided on McD's and I joined him. 45 minutes after giving our order, Avi (Blue tour guide) goes to the counter to demand our food. They have no pop for their "Big Meal Deal" so I get OJ; W gets grape drink. The fries are cold. The burgers indifferent. Live and learn. Thanks, Avi - we might still be waiting if not for you!

Ramp up to the city gates of Lakhesh
Lachish is important because it had good agriculture and was on Judah's East-WEst access from the coastal plain. Rehoboam started fortifications of several cities, but Judah was more isolated than Israel so less important politically and financially in international trade. Israel fell first because it was more connected. We talk about Hezekiah's attempts to align with Egypt and Isaiah's admonitions against it.

When Assyria did not conquer Jerusalem after laying siege to it, the city became arrogant and certain that God would not permit the temple to be conquered. A hundred years later, Jeremiah prophecies its demise due to the unfaithfulness of its inhabitants and was denounced as a traitor. In 597, Babylon deported leading figures, including Ezekiel. Not long after, Jerusalem was destroyed and its people exiled, ending the first temple period. Biblically speaking, Lachish is vital as it was one of the last cities in the shvila or lowlands to be destroyed.

Avi takes us to the top of the hill where walls lie in ruins. 5 year old Ellisheva Turnage runs up the hill with the front of the pack. All three Turnage kids are big and strong. They've outdone many of us in their stamina at the sites ... and from years of travel, they know the area better than some who have studied from afar. If we're stumped or miss a point, it's easy to lean over to ask one of them for info.

Avi points out the ramp built by Sennacharib to move his war machinery into position to batter the walls. Sennacharib commissioned a relief for the door of his palace in Ninevah about his victory. It's that important and was that difficult in conquering Judah. I barely have time to throw together a sketch of the city entrance before we hop on the busses again.

Mosaic floor border at the Hanot Ruin
Our last stop of the day is the Hanot Ruin, a Byzantine chapel with a beautiful mosaic floor, near the Roman road of ancient days and just off the highway for us. The busses pull up along a dusty gravel road and we pile up the little hill. The chapel is fenced off: vandals have recently defaced it with graffiti and have smashed the mosaic floor. I find a few stones in the parking lot on our way out. (Two days ago, ultra-Orthodox Jewish vandals likewise attacked a C2 synagogue in the north. They believe archaeologists are disturbing the land and hate the excavations.) I catch a piece of the pattern of the mosaic floor with its dusty reds, blacks, and white tiles. Beauty despoiled. Discouraging.

Shimon and Ilan chat in Hebrew as usual on the way back to the hotel. We pass through West Bank checkpoints, Israeli soldiers leaning casually against the booths, uniformed or in T-shirts with ammunition vests and machine guns relaxed in their hands.

We're weary after a day of physical movement, but back to the hotel by 6:15pm. W and I chat in German with Heinz, a Swiss visitor, in the dining hall about his home, job as chef, and love for Israel. This is his 14th visit, "mein Heim weg von Zuhause" (home away from home.) I miss the mandatory Q&A session at 8 to catch up on writing and clear my lungs of dust. Cough cough.

Day 20: May 29 Back in the classroom

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

Psalm of Ascent 133

We're on the bus by 7:20am. The lateness of a few puts us into rush hour traffic, where Shimon starts and stops the huge bus without incident. Jeff discusses questions about the Essenses and the Hebrew concept of Sheol (OT place of the dead). We talk about the development of the ideas of the afterlife, angelic beings, etc. during the Babylonian exile. 1 Enoch (apocryphal book) says the three places for the dead are for 1) the righteous, 2) the unrighteous, and 3) intermediary place for those between. (RC purgatory?)

We pick up Ilan and "Adolpho" at a bus stop. More on Dr. Adolpho Roitman later.

Ilan discusses the security fence (English title), also called the "Separation Fence" (Hebr.) By defining the separation between Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli ones, the minister in charge created a reality. The fence has been effective in stopping suicide bombings. However, it is hated by right-wingers who want all of biblical Palestine for the Jews, by left-wingers who think it violates human rights, and by Arabs who are inconvenienced and offended by it. (If your field in front of your house was cut off by the fence, you may have to drive 20 miles to get around the security wall to farm ... if it was not taken for fence easement.)

We drive parallel to Wadi Walt, the walk from Jericho to Jerusalem traditionally called "the valley of the shadow of death." Soon after, we dip below sea level on our way to the Dead Sea area and Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered by Bedouin shepherds.

Our privilege and highlight of the day (or perhaps of the trip) is our guest lecturer, Adolpho Roitman, curator of the Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book. He explains how archaeological findings, assumptions, and speculations are displayed and interpreted after we watch a video on Essenes (and John the Baptist who may have been influenced by or part of the Essenes.) "You will see the originals of these copies at the Israel Museum," he promises

Qumran cave
In 1946, 7 scrolls were found. A Syrian acquired 4 scrolls for $97.50 and took them to St. Markus Monastery; the other three were purchased by Israeli Eleazar L. Sukenik. After some time, the Syrian smuggled his 4 to New York and placed a "for sale" ad in the Wall Street Journal. Yegal Yadin, son of Sukenik, bought them for $200,000 and returned them to Israel.

More discoveries were made up to 1957, thousands of fragments resulting in hundred of documents. The oldest copy of Isaiah, relatively intact, was 1000 years older than previously found copies. 8% were in Aramaic, 1-2% in Greek, and the rest were written in Hebrew. Older (inherited) scrolls and ones scribed more recently have been found.

Qumran was destroyed by the Babylonians about C6 BC and abandoned for 500 years before repopulation in C2 AD. Essenes were a Judaic sect of men who eschewed wine, sex, and money and headed for "the wilderness" to become "a human sanctuary," a new idea beyond temple buildings as the sanctuary of God. They built a community with a scriptorium (Scribe's Room where 2 inkwells were found), possible library and reading rooms (a lot of oil lamps found here), a NW to SE channel for water, and a big refectory (dining room) for quiet, communal meals, according to Josephus' observations.

Josephus also mentions that Essenes prayed toward the rising sun in the morning, that would be east, similarly to the Qumran community, their backs to Jerusalem.

Te priest would pray before and after meals. "You know for Jews keeping quiet at meals is a miracle," jokes Dr. Roitman. He's funny, a wealth of information, and treats us like students in a masters program. (What an honor! Marc and Jeff studied with him.)

Vespasian the Roman general reached Jericho (10 miles north) in 68 AD before heading for Jerusalem. The community disappeared around that time. Did the Essenes live in Qumran or did it house Jerusalem rebels in hiding?

Only Jerusalem has more ritual baths and cisterns. If this was a religious community of Essenes, they would have bathed twice a day for purification purposes. They believed that the spirit needed purification before physical immersion, similarly to John the Baptist and his confession of sins and baptism. The desert is hot hot hot and dry - the water would have been collected in cisterns. (A reminder: this area gets 3-5 days of rain annually!)

Roitman talks about the importance of purity and perhaps a spiritual priesthood for those who had left behind the corruption of the late 2nd Temple Period (Herod's temple and Jesus' era). People were seeking a spiritual identity, whether they searched in wilderness communities or at the Jerusalem temple.

Most devout Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for sacrificial worship at the temple, but other argued against the corruption and political appointments of priests. David had not been permitted to build a temple for God (prophecy against by Nathan) 1 Sam 7. The ancient God of Israel was in nature until Solomon built the first temple. However, the temple became more central with Hezekiah's consolidation of power in Jerusalem and destruction of the high places used for sacrifice to JHWH and other gods.

When Cyrus gave Jews permission and backing to rebuild the temple (Temple 2, phase 1), some were not convinced that the time was right for rebuilding, even when the temple was dedicated in 515 BC (Haggai).

We walk over to a view of Cave 4, which has 2 sections and housed the best scrolls. Inhabitants had to go through the buildings to get to the cave, so it may have been an exclusive area with access only for full members. The Cave 4 scrolls were released with some controversy in 1990; these contained some new documents so it took great skill to puzzle them together, whether religious or biblical texts, pseudo graphical materia (15 copies), apocrypha, mystical instructions, pesharism - Habbukuk, Naham, etc.

The basic working hypothesis, says Dr. Roitman, is that Essenes are equivalent to the Qumran community though there is no unassailable proof. Oh the sun is hot and the air is dry! What would those monkish men have experienced here?

We're on the way to the Israel Museum and lunch in their cafe by noon. The enormous Dead Sea ripples below, the haze of evaporation blurring the Jordanian hills on the other shore.

Traditional "Tomb of David"
The scale model of Old Jerusalem in the 2nd Temple era is astonishing. A PhD student explains the model for about an hour. There were perhaps 80,000 people. In 586 BC, Babylonians destroyed the first temple. (David lived about 1000 BC.) C6 BC wa the beginning of the second temple period, and by C1 AD Jerusalem had grown north and expanded just before the temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. The scale model was constructed from 1962-66 because Jews couldn't get to the Western Wall. Within months of completion, the 1967 War gave them access again to the Temple area. The Western Wall is most dear because it is closest to where the Holy of Holies was located in temple days.

There are small inaccuracies, but by combining scriptural descriptions, similar edifices in other parts of Europe and the Near East, and descriptions by Josephus and other ancient scholars, Aviona the architect and archaeologist completed the model. The temple mount was the largest sacred site in the Roman Empire after Herod the Great (entered Jerusalem in 37 BC and ruled until 4 AD) built a huge retaining wall and filled in the temple mount area to make a huge plateau.

Scroll jar
In 2006, the Israel Museum opened the Shrine of the Book complex. The vision of the shrine is to explain the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in dramatic fashion. We begin with a 5 minute documentary summarizing the find. The second movie, "Human Sanctuary," explores the development of persons as the holy habitation of God in Qumran and the Essene theology of "sons of light" (themselves) and "sons of darkness" (everyone else). The architecture includes a black wall representing the darkness and a white dome shaped like a scroll jar lid representing the light.

The scrolls found included those made of animal skin (80%); nearly 20% of papyrus, and a few pottery pieces with back (or occasional red) lettering. The oldest copy of Isaiah, written about 2000 years ago, and other precious scriptures were among the finds.

One of the treasures in the shrine is the Aleppo Codex, a Masoretic text. It was smuggled from Jerusalem to Egypt in C11 AD. In C14, the Aleppo Codex was taken from Egypt to Aleppo, Syria, becoming the most important possession of the Jews in Syria, attributed with magical properties and locked in a box in "the cave of Elijah." It disappeared in 1948 when the synagogue was burned by Arabs.

Ten years later, it reemerged in 1958 with 200 pages missing. I think I overheard that it was smuggled back to Israel in a washing machine. (That's almost too bizarre to be untrue.) A new museum installation today is a fragment of the scroll that was used as a talisman by a Syrian family and only recently returned.

Central installation with
Dead Sea Scroll manuscript
in glass viewing case
Dr. Roitman explains parallels and differences between Essenes, John the Baptist, concurrent religious leaders, and Jesus. Avi, Blue Bus' Israeli tour guide, takes notes along with the rest of us. Most of us will never again hear this famous scholar or have access to the Israel Museum as we do today.

He speaks of the Dead Sea Scrolls as "the Mona Lisa" of Israel, the second-most visited site next to the Holocaust Museum. These scripts are part of human history. Like those in the crises of the 2nd Temple era, people still search for spiritual significance, spirituality, and meaning beyond self.

The central sculpture under the skylight in the "Jar Lid" dome is an enormous fixture of wood, stone, and glass. At eye height, an unrolled scroll is protected by a curved glass barrier. Photos are forbidden, but my sketchbook is at hand.

W and I share a carrot cake (4$) before we head off to the archaeology museum. Many of the things that we had heard about and see replicated elsewhere are ... here. W takes out his camera.

The we're off to fill my heart in the fine arts section. Wealthy donors have contributed their Picassos, Rodins, Henry Moore sculptures, Warhohls, Rubens, Pizarrios, Cezannes, Klees... and other treasures too numerous to mention. The colors and presentations are stunning. Everyone but we meets back at the bus 1 1/2 hours after the end of the lecture. I'm still enthralled by the artwork.

The president of the Museum is giving a private tour to two donors. We have a chance to thank him for the pleasure and treasures he's collected. Shofars are being blown (badly) and children sing nearby as we wait near the exit while a policeman calls us a taxi.

We get home just in time to eat supper before the dining hall closes. On our way up, someone mentions a visit to Nancy, a Kenmore native and nurse who's in hospital with an outbreak of skin welts. She's been in for two days and they cannot release her until her skin is clear, treating her with hydrocortisone. I get to join the visit; she's cheerful and encouraging about God's plans for her where she is (since she's not where she planned to be.) We pray for her healing and God's purposes and are home before 10pm. I fall into bed without copying the day's writing to the blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Holy Land Day 19: May 28, Temple Mount

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

We're on the busses at 7am. We read the Psalm of Ascent #132 this morning as we drive up to the Temple Mount. The instructions on the bus are "No paper" and "No bag" allowed into the Mount. There's security and a metal detector at the top of the ramp into the area.

I sweat into my jacket and carry my water bottle, but others take their bags and journals in without problems, including W who is usually Pharisaic about rules. So I have nothing to write except that I am happy to be back on the bus after seeing the Muslim desecration of the site, with five crescent-topped buildings to ensure Arab coverage and ownership. Oh - and only Muslims are welcome in those buildings. Go figure. A soldier patrols the roof of one of this "peaceful religion"'s shrines.

Our special treat of the day is a trip nearby to Zurim Valey National Park, where Dr. Gabriel Barkai has been sifting through rubble since 2004. Where is it from? Arabs took bulldozers and dumped 400 dump trucks of archaeological layers in the Kidron Valley across from the Temple Mount to tunnel out another mosque - this one underground to seat 10,000 people - on the sacred hilltop.

Dr. Barkai points out that the Temple Mount is neither the highest nor most central hill in Jerusalem. In fact, the ancient Old City is outside the city limits and south of Jerusalem today. The present "Old City" dates from C2 AD. Since the mount is mentioned over 20 times in the NT, Barkai says it should be sacred to Christians as well as Jews and Islamists. When Omar El Tab - heard the myths of the mountain from Israelis, Arabs began to identify Muhammad as going to heaven from there.

Israel has a legend that the earth taken from the mount was used to create Adam. The mount is called Mt. Moriah (Abraham and Isaac as sacrifice), and David's altar was built here to stop the blague against Israel. Here Solomon built "the altar of the Lord" which stood for 400 years. The temple was rebuilt in the C6 BC by diaspora Jews from Babylon. Since sacrifices were offered without interruption, Herod the Great's rebuilding of the temple is also called "The Second Temple." Herod, who liked to improve on nature with such projects as the port of Caesarea-Philippi where only a sandy shore existed, here built a wall around the top of a mountain and filled it to make it a plateau double the size it had been.

No excavation or archaeological survey of the Temple Mount had been done due to religious and political ownership. In the 1990s, Clinton's think tanks identified the mount as the crux of the Israeli-Arab problem and proposed a division of sovereignty. Catching wind of this, the Muslims asked for permission to clear 50 subterranean caverns (Solomon's stables?) and instead emptied ancient cisterns of artifacts in 1996, bulldozed a huge pit from the site, dumped the excavation, and in 1998 opened their huge underground mosque. Nervy ... and cunning. In 1999, the Wakf (Arab managers of the mount) asked for an "emergency exit" from the mosque, which they turned into the major entryway without permission. Barkai calls it "a barbaric act of destruction."

In 2000, Barkai's students emptied bags on his dining room table. He immediately identified C8 BC pottery, C1 BC artifacts, and Roman, Christian, and Muslim things. "Where did you get these from?" he asked the students. They had discovered the Muslim dumping ground. By 2004, Barkai began the project of sifting the soil.

Today we 75 students and faculty listened to a rare talk by Barkai and did "wet-sifting," supervised by his team. We find:
  • prehistoric flint (C15 BC)
  • blue glass mosaic pieces
  • pottery from Hezekiel and Isaiah's days (C9 BC)
  • shells and bones
  • lead drippings likely from the construction of the original Dome of the Rock roof in 691 AD
  • an early C20 shell casing ... among many other things. 
Everything is documented, catalogued, and counted. No archaeological record of 1 Kings 15's temple remains. They have found early Egyptian scarabs (seals) from C20 BC, animal statuettes and fertility goddess that have been smashed (perhaps by Hezekiah in his purge of idolatry), army arrowheads dating around 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, weights for measuring silver as were used in the first temple period, etc. Jeremiah mentions Pascher Immer the priest who arrested and tortured Jermiah. They've found 15 seals or bulk (clay lumps attached to knots around papyrus scrolls) with the name of another Immer family member on them.

We learn lots more. "What is your favorite thing so far?" a student asks Barkai.

"My favorite discovery has to be the people who work (and come like we have on a study date) here," he replies. "From school children of 4 and 5 years old, to older people in their 90s, we have students, doctors, retirees come. They all seem to enjoy the process of helping us."

For two hours, we sift buckets filled with rubble and water onto a tray, wash and spread the contents, and pick through for six kinds of "treasure:" glass, metal, pottery, bones, mosaics, and 'special rock' (= other stuff).
Retaining post in the Church of the Ascencion

We pass many churches on the hillsides. Ilan and Jeff point below the road and away from the City of David the Valley of Hinon (the route to Sheol) where Molech worshippers sacrificed their firstborns, "passing them through the fire" by throwing the child into the flaming mouth of a large idol. Hellish, for sure.

The busses park long enough to let us off. We eat lunch and walk through the Christian and Arab quarters of the Old City, stopping at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (otherwise known as the Church of the Ascension). I sketch a retaining post near the Armenian Chapel. Then it's back to the hotel. I have the sniffles from a few nights of no proper ventilation and stay in from the lecture. It's almost 10pm when we get to bed.

Holy Land Day 18: May 27 Hello to Samson, David, and Judas Maccabee

Psalm of Ascent #131.

My "Bedouin-crafted" quilt, purchased yesterday
in the Old City. Note the central bodice and the size
of the  flip-flop placed for scale. The colored
border is between lime and olive, to give you
an idea of the true colors.
Bright, wonderful, sparkly, and delightful.
When we leave the hotel at 8am, Jewish people are streaming from the synagogues after studying Torah overnight for Shavuot (Feast of Weeks, parallels the Christian Pentecost). Shavuot celebrates the giving of the oral and written Torah on Mt. Sinai. Speaking in tongues during Pentecost (Acts 2) has close parallels to the giving of the Torah, according to Ilan.

Jews celebrate three main feasts that are considered times for pilgrimage to Jerusalem: 1) Passover or Pesach; 2) The Feast of Weeks or Shavout - linked to OT agriculture, 50 days after Passover during the growing season of wheat or barley; 3) The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot in the fall. Jesus and his family proved their piety by traveling to Jerusalem annually for the feasts.

Shavout is a dairy-rich day where various cheeses and dairy products are highlights of the feast. Jews link many of their celebrations with food. The origin of this tradition is unclear. Other current traditions include the talit or prayer shawl with its four tassels that comes from the historical tunic with four fringes (which Jesus would have worn) and the yarmulke. (Since Medieval times, it was used to distinguish Orthodox Jews who kept the Sabbath from others).

We're in the shfelah today, the foothill buffer country between the interior Hill Country and the Coastal Plain. Travel was along ridge-routes, including the "Way of the Patriarchs" that passed near Rammoh, Bethel, Geva, Bethlehem, Hebron, etc. The ground is chalky Synonian stone.

To the west of our first stop, Bet Shemesh, lies the coastal plain. To the north is the shfelah of Judah since the Bronze or Iron I. Israelites lived in hill country to the east, while Philistines on the coast were stronger, more technologically advanced, and able to forge iron weapons.

We discuss three valleys that functioned as east-west travel routes: the Talon or northern valley, the Zorik in the middle, and the Ela in the south. Jerusalem was not on any main route and had little through-traffic before Roman roads. Ephraim (Samaria) lay to the north while Judah inherited the south. Benjamin's tribe in the central Benjamin saddle of hills and valley was noted for their prowess in using slings as weapons. Saul was a Benjaminite, as Marc points out.

We have only a biblical record for Bet Shemesh. Bet means house or temple; this was the "house of the Sun," perhaps a cultic site of Cannanite worship. The story of Samson happened here.

Zorath is Sampson's city. Tmnah lies just wet, lower toward the coast, Ashkelon and Gaza, Philistine country. Zoric is noted for its wine country, ironic that God would set apart Samson as a Nazarite here. The three prescriptions for Nazarites? 1. No wine. 2. No cutting of hair. 3. No touching dead things. Samson disregarded all three prohibitions. He was of the tribe of Dan, most of who settled further north later because they were unable to conquer the people of the hills.

We also presume Israel's King Jehoash fought Judah's King Amaziah nearby. Amaziah died at Lachish. In C8BC, the Philistines took the site. Hezekiah ruled here, creating many Lamelich seal impressions for jar handles (taxation stamp).

The oldest iron smelter found in the ancient Near East dates from Samuel's time. Israelites in Saul's time depended on Philistine iron technology and went to the Philistines to sharpen their farm tools; only Saul and Jonathan had iron weapons. It is speculated that David learned the technology during his time as a mercenary of the Philistines. During his kingdom, he had iron weapons at his disposal (Early Iron Age II).

In C19, Robinson identified the site of Bet Shemesh from the ARabic references to a nearby spring. We clamber into a huge cistern cave with three deep water vaults. There are tricky stairs and lots of spiders. Even a dead bird. It's enough to make the girls squeal. We roam the hilltop to find the location of the smelter.

We're off to Tel Azokah. On the bus we note that many Protestants skip over the names during OT readings, ignoring locations or mispronouncing them (even if they are pastors or Bible teachers.) Without knowing the geography and the land's significance as a character of the biblical story, it is easy to ignore locations as irrelevant.

Shimon negotiates our bus over a winding one-lane road with crumbling asphalt on the sides. He stops so cars can go around us; the bigger vehicle always wins.

Ela tree with berries; the yellow flowers come later.
It's a very steep climb up stairs and a hillside to the top. The vineyards lie below in the valley of Ela, named for the tree under which we find shade.

At the top of the ridge route is Bethlehem (1 Sam. 17). The Philistines are shooting for Bethlehem as they mass at Sechol and Ephistamin ("lit. no blood). They've probably come from Gath on the coast (Tel Saphe? today). Archaeology ties the Philistine culture to the Mycenaean Greek culture (c. 1900 BC to c. 1100 BC). The battles of the Iliad talk about champion fighting champion as Goliath challenged the Israelites. His bronze leg leggings were also found in Mycenaean armor.

David was already a na'ar or man of valor (late teens, early 20s) when his father sent him to check on his brothers and bring bread and cheese to them and their commanders. He was stuck at home as the youngest in 1 Sam. 16.

The story of David and Goliath story is in 1 Sam. 17. David's older brother Eliab disparaged David. Saul's armor was too tall for David. Interestingly, Judges tells that Benjaminites excelled with slingshots so Saul would have been a natural warrior here. Shepherds learned to wield the weapon with great accuracy to shoot tennis-ball-sized rocks up to 120 meters ... at 100 mph. The sling was an accurate and deadly weapon that crushed Goliath's forehead. David ran up and killed the giant with Goliath's own sword.

David fled from Saul and hid out in the caves of Adulam on the other side of Succoth, in eyesight of his greatest victory with Goliath. Marc encourages students to follow the call of God when they are wondering about life, wallowing in debt or in the middle of crises. "If you are patient and don't get ahead of God, he will lead you. What you think you'll be doing in ten years will likely not be what happens."

In C8 BC, King Hezekiah revolts against the Assyrians. He removes the altars and high places and centralizes worship in Jerusalem, thus elevating the importance of the city throughout Jewish and Christian history every since. He shores up Jerusalem, digging a water tunnel from the eastern side of the city to make water more accessible. He fortified several cities, caught between Egypt and Assyria during the time of the prophecies of Isaiah.

Assyrian records show that Sennacharaib overthrew and devastated Kakish and Azeka, though he did not conquer Jerusalem. Jews became convinced theologically and militarily in the next 100 years that God would not allow enemies to take Jerusalem, so Jeremiah was considered a traitor when he prophesied its demise. Though the cities ruined by the Assyrians were rebuilt, the Babylonians (Nebucadnezar) devastated the area and conquered Jerusalem.

We stop at the bottom of the hill at "David's" creek to gather round stones like David would have used. It's an odd site: two enormous tour busses at the side of the road with 75 people streaming across traffic to gather stones. Once we're on the bus, students begin to question the wisdom of their heavy choices in light of luggage restrictions back home. One gal picks enough stones for each of her youth pastor's kids.

Post along the Roman road
We stop again along the highway to climb a little hill where a section of Roman road remains. Roman roads were likely built on older foundations. Archaeological records of C2 AD are our earliest proofs of Roman engineering skills in road-building to move their armies. The roads facilitated travel, including the spread of the gospel. Acts 8:26ff tells of Philipp and the eunuch of Ethiopia along such a road between Jerusalem to Gaza. One option is the Ela Valley below.

Philip heard the eunuch reading  aloud, which was normal (no silent reading). We admire a mile marker. About 500,000 to one million people lived in C1 Israel. There may have been as many as one scroll per 20 people during the first century; many copies of ancient scrolls have been found.

At Tel Tsafit, we sit under carob trees, eating fresh rolls, peanut butter, jelly, and Israeli Elite (Nutella), Bamba (p-b cheeto snacks), chocolate wafers, and sesame and salty pretzels. Yum. We drink water.

As we get underway, Ilan mentions that the global press mentions Israel's main nuclear base nearby. "Of course, we don't have nuclear weapons," he laughs.

Our next excursion is up a 150 meter hill. The best thing Marc does is not tell us we're going to the top. We climb steps, slip over gravel and sand, and hike huffing and puffing to the peak. Every time we think we're almost there, we look ahead and others are climbing the next ridge. We're at the top of Tel Tsafit, overlooking the Philistine plains to the east with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza in view. Gath is partway up the hill, the home of Goliath. The plaques at the top of the hill point to landmark cities from the C12 BC and beyond.

Phallic symbols (worshipped) and pig bones have been found in the area; the last 10-11 years, archaeologists have been using diet to identify ethnic markers. Jews would not have eaten pork.

The area became the border of Crusaders and Muslims in 12 AD because of its strategic point of view and the fortress, Blanch Garde built on the upper plateau.

We descend on a steeper slope, past chalk caves carved with hieroglyphics and holes carved out for dovecotes. At 3:15 we stop for a potty break, my first since avoiding a smelly latrine with a long lineup at Bet Shemesh this morning. Several tour participants have learned to disappear behind shrubs and rocks on this trip. I have not yet mastered (or tried) that.

We pass Tel Mikre near Ekron. Near Gibeon, Joshua prayed for a longer darkness as he was sneaking his troops from the east to assist the Gibeonites (with whom he had made a treaty) - against 5 kings who were trying to dominate their east-west passage route. It was not a long day but a longer night that he needed for his strategy.  The sun was rising in the east in Gibeon and the moon was descending over the Valley of Ajalon. After using the cloak of darkness, Joshua pursues the five kings across the Ela Valley and kills them in the caves at Adulam. The sun would have been in enemy eyes as they fled.

Knowing the geography assists in correctly understanding the biblical record. "Biblical writers assumed their readers knew the territory," Marc and Ilan repeat to us.

We pass Modi'in, near where Matthias rebelled against forced idolatry imposed by the Greeks and where his son Judas Maccabee, a military genius, began to revolt against the Greek army. About 75,000 people live in the 15 year-old city of Modi'in, placed between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to allow commuters with young families a high standard of living and safety. Rooftop terraces dot the apartments, and the quality of schools is excellent.

We pass Bet Roh named in the Book of Maccabees. An important fight between the Macabee troops and the Greeks happened on Road 143 where we drive. We're reminded that Benjamin had a small area, but were located near this important junction. The area is now mostly Arabic with olive trees dotting the hills. Many olive presses have been found here.

Traditional terraces are cut into the mountains or held by stone walls. There are two kinds of agriculture in Israel, says Ilan. The first is irrigated, like these terraces, and called Shelach or "sent water." The other kind is non-irrigated, like grain fields and agriculture in the plains, called Baal irrigation to this day.

Continuing in the story of the Maccabean revolt, Ilan tells us that Greeks opened the oil jars in the temple, and only a one-day jar was found to light the temple lamp for the eight days until new olive oil was supplied. The feast of Hanukkah was thus instituted, with the eight-armed menorah and central shamash light.

It's been overcast today with temperature around 27-29oC (mid 89s F), very pleasant. On either side of the highway, the "big ugly wall" or razor wire surrounds West Bank (former Jordanian) territory, the capitol city of Ramallah rising on the nearby hillside. We pass through a checkpoint and are waved by.

Our final stop is Nabi Samuel, a historical marker for the tomb of Samuel, who is actually buried in the eastern crossroad town of Ramah where he lived. 1 Kings 15:16ff shows how people from Jerusalem had to cross the region. The Syrian king Ben Hadad was paid off to capture Judah's cities of Dan and their northern border.

A mosque is built on the site, with separate reading areas for men and women. I go into the women's area, where several mothers and a slough of children are quarantined from the men in the main area.

It's a short 300 meter walk past the mosque to the overlook of the hills and valleys below. Marc says 2/3 of the Old Testament took place within the 360o view. He points out the direction of the city of Jericho, a significant crossroad north and south as well as east and west. Tackling that city gave Israel control of traffic in the region.

Jewish families walk en masse as we head back to the hotel after 5, either coming or going to synagogue. Pentecost is nearly over. The sidewalks teem with black and white outfits, males in suits, women in dresses. We especially are fascinated by the huge fur "lampshade" hats worn by males of one Jerusalem sect.

After supper, both W and I retire. We're exhausted from poor ventilation in the hotel room the past two nights. They fixed it while we were gone today. I have the sniffles and W kept waking last night so we're anticipating a good night's sleep. 

What wakes me is the smell of poorly done laundry: it smells like our bedding was done in a front-loader that wasn't aired. Musty. Not clean. I've learned to go back to sleep but it isn't appealing, nose-wise. (The bedding is beautifully pressed and looks good.) We're up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to be on the bus before our departure at 7am. Whew. Jump into bed already!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Holy Land Day 17: Shabbat in Jerusalem, May 26

We sleep in until 10. A group catches taxis to Old Jerusalem. We change money at a shop where W talks cameras and takes pictures of the proprietor and his friend. The man sells us a "Jerusalem cross" necklace at cost (doubtful) and postal stamps. I finally mail the postcards written in Petra more than a week ago.

Bedouin needlework
I love the wall hanging "made by Bedouin women" that hangs over a street. W haggles and it's mine. It is patchwork made from pieces of worn clothing, including the bodice of a dress. Later, in the hotel, I unroll it. Yup, I really like it, Bedouin or not. (Our guide has warned us that many of the "genuine Israel" goods are made in China.) I wanted one "art piece" and here it is. From China, India, or Israel? It beautifully captures the colors and memories of this trip.

Spices in the Old Jerusalem bazaar
The bazaar is filled with bakers, women sorting leaves and parsley, spice shops, and other goods. "Sometimes it smells really good; other times not," says W. I don't notice any bad smells but find myself inhaling sharply at the spice stores. I could make great curry with some of the ingredients!

About 1pm, we stop for lamb chops advertised at a good price. Except they don't have lamb chops. "Sorry." So we opt for lamb shishlik (kabobs) with W's muddy coffee and my unimpressive Lipton teabag enlivened with mint leaves. The plate of pita bread arrives first. About 40 minutes later, the main dish, complete with cucumber, cabbage, and tomato "salad" and thick-cut fries arrives. The meat is salty but delicious. We spend more than an hour sitting and eating our meal. I wonder if the cook ran up the hill to the butcher after we ordered.

Baked goods in the Old Jerusalem Bazaar
Beside the oven in the kitchen, an elderly man steadily inhales fumes from a shisha (a hookah pipe). He periodically wipes down the glass and stainless steel counter around his smoker. The decor is a tacky pseudo-European Italianate. Dusty crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the tables are covered with white polyester lace over red cloths. Arabic music videos stream from the monitor near the door. We are the only clients until 2pm when a few tables fill. We know they're gong to have tasty food.

We trek around the Christian and Muslim market (the Jewish quarter is closed), bargaining for this and that (very little we want) and admiring the wares on both sides of the streets. Pilgrim groups walk up the steps of the Via Dolorosa, singing "The Old Rugged Cross" and other hymns, passing the shopkeepers who line the alley. The singing may not be great, but the believers are devout.

We take Josh and Mike home with our taxi and are ready for a quiet evening. The sun's still shining and we begin to feel rested and ready to tackle the final full week in Jerusalem.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Holy Land Day 16, May 25: Dead Sea fun and other stuff, Ps. #130 "of Ascent"

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the typos and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

I take the elevator from the dining room up to the fourth floor rather than climbing stairs last night and this morning to avoid stressing my muscles.

On the bus we read Psalm 130. If we are in distress, we can trust God. Some of the students face significant challenges, as do we. God is able to meet our needs with his abundance.

We drive over an hour from Jerusalem to Masada. The sun's shining on Jerusalem as we head out at 7am. 10% of Israelis live in Jerusalem. The Jordanian hills are visible eastward, less than 50 miles way. The "Big ugly wall" divides the West Bank that used to be Jordanian from Jewish neighborhoods. We pass the back of the Mount of Olives, goats grazing near their shepherds beside the highway.

Arab settlements have collections of black barrels for solar heating water on the roofs of apartments, adding more as families grow. Israel pushed Jordan back in the 1967 war. Jordan made peace in 1994 but did not ask for the West Bank back. Settlements have been established to buffer a potential Palestinian state from Jordan.

Ilan gives us a brief history of the Palestinian question and the PM Rabin's 1992 peace offer, including land for Palestinians, though Jordan (80% the same people as Palestinians) gave them nothing. Newspapers do not publish good news of Israeli-Palestinian relations, such as the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals, says Ilan. According to reporters, it is not the sensational news that readers want.

We learn about the West Bank's areas A, B, and C. In A, Palestinians control their security (police) and municipal affairs. Israelis are not welcome and it is considered a dangerous area. Tour drivers have a special permit to enter cities like Bethlehem. Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, is the biggest A city. In Area B, they control municipal affairs, but Israel maintains a security presence. In Area C, Israel has Jewish areas. Once Palestinians recognize Israel, they will likely have their Palestinian statehood. Recent leaders, President Abbas and PM Fayed have dealt with corruption to improve life for Palestinians. On the other hand, despite much international aid, the Gaza strip is badly administered by Hamas.

We drive through desert. Drip irrigation was invented here for agriculture, as were drip control valves. The annual WATECH water conference in Tel Aviv draws experts from the whole world. The water from drip irrigation leaches away the salts to permit date palms to grow on former sand and salt flats. A glass of water from the Dead Sea dries to 30% minerals, compared to 5% in the ocean.

The desert soil is full of clay. It rains for three hours a day, 3-5 days a year. Water flows on top and the approximate 150 mm. (about 6 inches) of water annually result in dangerous flash flooding. Boulders are swept down the mountainsides and creeks. 10% of evaporation from the Dead Sea is returned from the Israeli hill waters. 20% comes from Jordanian slopes. Psalm 126:4 speaks of God returning Israel as water in the Negev - those flash floods - re-water the lake.

The slow death of the Dead Sea is obvious in sinkholes where the dried out sand is collapsing downward. 60% of evaporation is lost without a good flow of water from the Jordan. Once desalinization plants are open in two years, the freshwater input from the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan is expected to rise. Hot water sulfur springs bubble near the highway, 100oF therapy pools. Cleopatra maintained her famous complexion by availing herself of Dead Sea minerals and baths.

We go through a border checkpoint on the former border between Israel and Jordan, a pre-1949 reminder of the "Green Line" drawn by the British between Israel and its neighbor Jordan. At En Gedi, an oasis 10 miles from Masada, David cuts off a piece of King Saul's robe to prove his good intentions toward the king.

At Masada, a mountain with three sheer sides and one drop-off where Romans built an enormous siege ramp to gain access, we take the cable car up the hill. First we pass "Opera City," a temporary installation at the bottom of the hill; this year's production is Aida!

Herod's Western Palace mosaic
Herod built a spectacular series of three palaces (one for his military administrator) at Masada. He married Miriam the Hasmonean, whose family discovered the plateau with 450 meter cliffs on three sides. Herod would leave his family at Masada and go alone to Rome on business. I sketch one of the Western Palace mosaics.

The walls, now bare limestone blocks, were plastered and colored, some to resemble the contemporary style of stone blocks.

After Herod falls, Romans used it as a fortress between the states of ARabia and Judea. The Sicarii, a murderous and zealous sect of Judaism, inhabited the fortress from 66 AD until three years after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 73 AD. They robbed and massacred wealthy Jews living in nearby En Gedi and robbed caravans traveling on either sides of the mountains. When Rome decided to crush the rebels, they had food stocked by Herod the Great decades earlier and plenty of water in cisterns filled by Herod's aqueduct collection system. Sicariis hung their laundry over the walls of the fortress to show Romans they had water - meanwhile the 4000 Roman troops of the Tenth Legion had to import their water from springs 10 km. away. The army camps are still visible from the top of the mountain.

When Romans built a 4-5' wall around the mountain to prevent escape, and erected an enormous siege ramp to raise their battering equipment, they succeeded in burning the Sicariis' wooden fortification of the wall they were breaching. The Sicarii, known mercenaries and hit men, decided to act. Their leader, Eleazar Ben Ya'ir, made two impassioned speeches (according to Josephus) and convinced his followers to kill their families and commit suicide. By lot, one man was chosen to kill the last nine men and then himself. Josephus reports that two women and five (or seven) children hid themselves from the slaughter and survived to report what had happened.

It's not known why suicide became an option, being strictly forbidden by the Law. Only three reasons are permissible for giving up of life: if one is 1) forced to commit adultery with one's mother or sister; 2) being forced to kill another person; or 3) being forced to worship an idol. None of these reasons applied at Masada.

However, the heart of Judaism had been ripped out by the destruction of the temple and the Sicarii may have felt their life purpose was ending. They burned the entire fortress, but left the storerooms stocked with oil, wine, and dates intact to show Rome that they had decided their fate and had not been starved out by the Roman army.

A tomb was found in a cave nearby, containing a young man and woman who might have been married, and a young boy too old to be their son. Considering that they might have been Jews from Masada, they received a full Israeli honor guard funeral as part of the building of Israeli moral and heroic myths that encouraged fighters of the C20.

Fragments of Ezekiel 37 and other scrolls were found near the synagogue. The former Israeli chief of staff, Yigael Yadin became an archaeologist after he left the army. He found the scrolls in 1964-5. Ilan says the scripture represented the Jewish return to Israel, a valley of dry bones coming to life. Twenty years after the end of the Holocaust and WWII, the scroll was taken as a symbol of God's intervention. His chosen people continue to live in prophetic fulfillment. "The treasure of Masada is not the horrible deaths but the scrolls," including the Apocrypha and Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice. (There was even a snippet from the Iliad, perhaps brought by Roman soldiers.)

Josephus describes two groups of Jews in the first century, those who thought they could move God's hand by rebellion and force, and the Peace Party who believed they served God best by loving and serving others and studying Torah. Jesus would have aligned with the latter.

Jeff talks about rabbinic and other literature of Christ's day that said someone's death could atone for their sins. The absolute most heinous sin was handing per a Jew to a foreigner for death. Judas, perhaps realizing that Jesus was going to be executed by Rome, repented and attempted to return the money. Failing that, he hanged himself, perhaps to atone for his sins.

The sandy salt flats lie below as the bus snakes through the hills toward the next stop. Ilan points out Wadi Darga, near where the Bar Kochba scrolls were found (at Wadi Muraba'at). We pass through the checkpoint again. The air is fresh, clean, an dry. A haze of evaporation hangs over the Dead Sea on the other side of the bus.

We get out at Ein Feshkha, a spring that formed part of a C1 agricultural farm. The farm had a connoting wall with Qumran. Jews could travel any distance in a walled city, so the farmers could have come and gone freely on the Sabbath. The tanning facility may have been used to make parchment like that used for the Dead Sea Scrolls found nearby. The Qumran community probably consisted of Essenes, perhaps an extreme version of the sect.

Rain on the west slopes has eroded the slopes down to the second layer, Synonian chalk. On the drier east side, water runs down between the upper layer of limestone and the chalk, creating "springs in the desert" on the east side. It takes three years for rain that falls in Jerusalem to reach the springs through the rock.

Pool of reeds and fish near the
Dead Sea
We settle down near a small pool, formed by the 100 springs that run through the area and wash away salt deposits in the soil so plants grow wildly. Fish have never been stocked in the pond, but scientists speculate that birds have brought fry on beak or claw - every native fish is present. Reeds and shrubs grow around the bank.

Ezekiel 47 talks about water flowing East (Kidron Valley). Isaiah 35 says the arid desert will blossom. Marc reminds us that for Israel, water is a powerful metaphor. The flowing (living) water from Jerusalem represents God, who gives life. For example, the Jericho rose looks gnarled and dead. The seed pods are released when it blossoms in the rain. It can wait for years. Our spiritual challenge is to look at the life that erupts when living water comes. Marc challenges us: 1. Wherever God puts you, be the vehicle of living water in dry places. 2. When you're in the desert, be willing to wait for the rain. Sit like the Jericho rose, knowing it is God's nature to send rain on his people.

We find private places nearby to pray and meditate. One of the lovely things planned on the tour is an almost-daily mediation time in the sites we visit. I've grown to look forward to them.

It's 37o as we walk through the nature reserve. We don't read about the hyenas and leopards inside until we're walking back to the bus. Israel is restoring animals and habitats we now associate with Africa that were cut off from migration by the building of the Suez Canal.

It's a five-minute bus ride to Kalia Beach. We mud each other, snap pictures of our pasty, alien black (and not brown!) selves, and float in the Dead sea. I'm normally buoyant but it feels different when feet, hands, and head are out of the water at the same time. When I turn on my stomach, my feet stick up from the knees. We rinse many times after we come out of the water, but my face and skin are parched. It takes three applications of skin cream on my neck and face and two on my arms and legs to take away the turkey wrinkles.

There's an accident in a Jerusalem highway tunnel, which means taking a detour. Shimon drops us back at the hotel after leaving Ilan at his bus stop to head home for Shabbat. Apparently most of Jerusalem will be closed tomorrow when we have our day off.

Supper is delicious. Again. Israelis know how to cook. We pass Jewish families entering the hotel synagogue, adorable girls is floating dresses and little boys in suits and kippahs (head coverings). Candles flicker in the hall outside the gathering place and a young woman chants prayers quietly in the soft light. I'm too tired for Vespers and read scripture as the start of my own Sabbath rest.

Holy Land Day 13: Steep climb - May 22

Disclaimer: this is my blog, with my personal observations. The guides and tour leaders know their stuff. I don't know the region, so mistakes in spelling and content are mine. :-)

Arbel has an ancient synagogue, but it's not the Matti one of 132 BC but C5AD. We meditate in prayer after saying the Lord's Prayer and Ilan reads the Hebrew text to us. Worry disrespects and dishonors God our Father, our tour leader Marc tells us.

We learn about abbreviated prayers. Rabbis would summarize the morning prayers for laborers; the first lines or summary would suffice instead of a complete 5-7 minute recitation. When Jesus' disciples ask how to pray, they may have been asking for his abbreviation on the ritual prayers. God as Father, (with the corresponding sanctifying of his name, acceptance of his reign, and obedience to his will) were common themes in Jewish prayer. The manna or daily bread of Jewish history came from God.

My wooden bench is high. My feet swing, relaxed and not touching the ground. The half hour of meditation is a wonderful reminder of God's care. I sketch Amy, the leader's wife, standing over us as we pray.

We're ready to clamber down a cliff face at Arbel, which luckily has metal handles inserted into the rock at the steepest places. "You cannot come if you are not physically able or don't have sturdy hiking shoes," we are warned. Several stay behind but W - who hates heights - and I - who love a challenge - join the younger, fitter students. It's a long way down. In places, the cliff drops hundred of feet and the rocks are worn and slippery.

Herod lowered his soldiers off the cliff tops with pulleys and crates to smoke, hook, and otherwise kill rebels hiding in the caves. He was horrified to see a father kill his family and hurl himself to death below.

The coastal highway is nearby. To avoid Gentile cities, Jews would have detoured through the hills. Perhaps Jesus did the same. The "Jesus Road" marked as likely travel places in Israel crosses here. Tiberias where we have stayed a week was built over a graveyard site, so it was unclean for Jews to enter.

My knee muscles almost buckle as we reach the final gate. Five years of academics are poor preparation for fitness and I am grateful for freshly prepared food, fresh vegetables and fruit, and strenuous exercise nearly every day. I look back up the hill and think my life would have to be in danger for me to make it back up.

Mosque at Wadi Hamam
The Bedouin village of Wadi Hamam (Kfar Hittim) lies at the base of the cliff. Their cattle and horses wander the hillsides. I paint the mosque from the bus window. We drive back to the hotel for "wet clothes" for those wanting to be rebaptized in the Jordan.

We stop near Capernaum for "St. Peter's fish," a fried white tilapia. I have to rip the head and spine out of the fish for my neighbor, who feels squeamish at the head, tail and fins on her plate. She covers the head with the napkin so it can't look at her.

I get motion sickness if my only view is out the side, so we've been sitting up front with a block of professors and guides. A few girls race to the bus, throw their gear onto our seat, and refuse to move back when W asks them to. I lean far into the aisle to see out the front.

When one of the professors stays back at the hotel with the virus that is sweeping the group, I move to the front row: Shimon wants me to make a larger sketch of him driving. I finish the pencil sketch before evening.

Marc and Ilan explain that ritual self-immersion was common and frequent in Jesus' day. It is unlikely that John would have immersed Jesus: touching someone during "baptism" would have interrupted the purification. Earliest depictions of Jesus' baptism show John helping him out of the water.

Jeeps (real jeeps driven by friends who've gone off-roading for the past 20 years) race through wheat fields, grind through streams, and bump past mango and grapefruit plantations. Our driver farmed at a kibbutz as part of his career. He stops to explain plants and clips a twig of Abraham's bush for us. "The five leaves in a group remind us of the angel who came to Abraham," he says.

Abraham's Bush
Our first stop is Avner (?), whose buildings belonged to the Ottomans. We're on what used to be an island. 250 meters below sea level, the lake has dropped significantly with irrigation and drought. When desalinization happens, the hope is that the level will rise again. Ottoman Turks joined the German alliance during WWI, so England and France parceled off their holdings in the Middle East after defeating them. In 1923, the Brits completed the division of the border, 10 meters from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the water level changed, so did the fluid borders! Syrians used to shoot civilians and fishermen who ventured near the eastern shoreline in their boats.

Bethsaida, Nain, and Capernaum on the western and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee were the focus of Jesus' ministry. The traditional site for Bethsaida is too far from the shore to work, either archaeologically or physically. Army helicopters and jets buzz overhead. The leaders speculate that Avner or somewhere still unfound may be a better site for Bethsaida.

Where did John the Baptist have his ministry? "The Midbar (pronounced meed-bar) where he would have been is an uninhabited pastureland or wilderness." Jesus fed the 5000 in the Bethsaida wilderness nearby. He went into wild places. Also, Jesus came to John in the Jordan. South of the Yarmouk fork, which is south of the lake, Jews consider the waters ritually unclean. Most likely, Jesus was baptized in the north where the Jordan feeds into the Sea of Galilee. Jesus also met Andrew coming from Bethsaida the day after his baptism, which would have been impossible had he been baptized in southern Israel.

Ritual immersion involved dipping the self three times and was done often - sometimes several times a week. We stay for the baptism and swimming (bummer - I didn't realize we'd be swimming!)

Primitive stone anchor and mooring rock
We head across the highway to climb a few foothills of the Golan in the jeeps. By 5:30pm, we're at the House of Anchors, a Sea of Galilee fishing museum. Curator Yoel tells us about the anchors, nets, and fish in the lake today as well as historically. He was part of the kibbutz at En Gev on the eastern shores of the Galilee. The Kibbutz was attacked in the 1948 war; they fought for three and survived, causing the withdrawal of Syrian troops back to their borders. In the 1967 war, Israel pushed Syrians 22 km. away.

Every 11 years the lake gains 4 meters before it begins to recede over years.

It's nice to get back to the hotel, though many are getting sick.

Holy Land Days 14-15: May 23-24, Ps of Ascent 128, 129

Many are ill. We're headed to sites formerly on tomorrow's schedule, swapping agendas so we can take most people to Capernaum tomorrow. About 20 stay behind at the hotel with some virus that hit our tour. "Drink water!" is the enduring refrain. The joke behind the seriousness is that we should drink water to avoid sprained ankles and other ailments as well.

Ilan explains the concept of Shalom, which is far beyond the English word, "Peace." Shalom includes the absence of conflict or war or brokenness. It is also an attitude of ease and wholeness that is only possible with God's help.

"There is a barrier between the translated scriptures and the meaning of the original text," he explains. Hebrew is an old language that has accumulated the "dust of meaning" of ancient times, already an established language by the time of the scriptures. "Israel's greatest achievement may have been reviving Hebrew from a dead to living language."

Ilan recommends the biography, "Jesus," by David Flusser. He talks about how Judaism reacted to Christian anti-semitism. They believed Jesus was a false teacher who brought a lot of trouble to Jews (and others) through his followers. Jeshua and others have earned the epithet "may his name be erased," which virtually guarantees that their names will represent ongoing dread (and never be forgotten).

We pass the Israeli invention of skiing year round in a warm climate: white astroturf that is sprayed with water, long slopes lining a hillside beside the highway.

Overlooking the Jezreel Valley - Tabor Mtns.
Tel Yisra'el (Jeszeel). We can see across the valley to Nain (where Jesus raises the widow's son) and was referenced to Elisha (who raised the Shunamite's son). "A great prophet has arisen in Israel." To the south are the Gilboa Mountains of 1 Samuel; Saul camped his forces at the spring of Jezreel at the base of where we stand, fighting the Philistines who were at Shunam.

"The Bible assumes people knew the geography and the implications of the story: 1) the Philistines were trying to cut Saul's kingdom in half; 2) they were expanding their territory along the Coastal Highway; and 3) the geography shows the decline of Saul's kingdom. Saul falls back to Gilboa, but he has laid the foundation for David's kingdom.

Benjamen straddled the Judae-Israel border. In the south, all kings were of the Davidic line. In the north, Israel controlled part of the International Highway so they were stronger politically and commercially. C9 BC Omri founded a dynasty and his son Ahab had his capitol in Samaria. Ahab built a winter palace  in Jezreel since it was warmer than Damascus. Jezreel was the location of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21).

We talk about the OT prophets. Who were they and what was their purpose? They were forth-tellers, not foretellers, tasked with returning people to a relationship with God, addressing political issues, and reminding them of social obligations, especially to the disenfranchised like widows, orphans, and foreigners.

We're off to the Megiddo compound. Megiddo controlled the central of the Jezreel Valley, the East-West passage through the hill country. Every culture had a base here, and archaeologists have identified over 20 layers of civilizations. Archaeologists up to the 1950s used to plow trenches to find informations. Since the 1950s, the Wheeler-Kenyon method peels away layers according to an earthen outline and grid, working in 4x4' squares.

Temperatures have been in the 90s and low 100s; we are grateful for a shaded seating area to hear about Megiddo at the top of the hill. We've passed through a bent access gate (from the middle Bronze Age) that exposed the sides of attackers. We talk about Armageddon, which was unknown to NT writers (it ceased to exist in C4BC.) The account in Revelation 16, 19 says forces gather at Ar Maggedon or - possbily an alternate Gk gamma (either Gimel or Ayin in Hebrew) would indicate "the mountain of the assembly" (Harmonas) =  Jerusalem.

Further up the hill is another gate attributed to Solomon (C10BC) or Ahab (C9) or Jeroboam (C8). The six-chambered gate with little "rooms" off the main passage is similar to Gezer on the coast or Hazor, which 1 Kings 9:15 says were built up by Solomon.

In the high places at the top of the mound, archaeologists find multiple layers of worship and cultic sites.

We look across the valleys - Megiddo had a 360o view which is lost in the haze of the day. To the south lies Samaritan hills and the Valley of Dothan (Joseph's brothers; Elisha prays for servant's eyes to be opened when enemies surround his town). To the East, scripture tells of Gideon, Elijah, Sal, and Naboth. North lie the hills of Moray, Nain, Shunam, Ein Dor (and the necromancer Saul consulted), Mount Tabor. Judges tells that the plain flooded near the Queshon (Kishon) brook - Deborah and Barak's story includes victory over Cisera, whose iron chariots blogged down in the swampy mud. Near Tabor, volcanic basalt and rain mix into a lethal mud. To the west are Nazareth and Mount Carmel.

The stories of Ahab and Elijah come alive (1 Kings 9) at this site. Marc reminds us of the law of the kings in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. Kings were forbidden to 1) acquire a lot of horses - Isaiah, Micah and other prophets accused the inhabitants of trusting in the strength of horses and chariots (top technology of military) rather than in God. 2) They were not to accumulate wives, or 3) silver, or 4) return to Egypt or ally with it. Solomon eventually trespassed against all four prohibitions. God's message to Israel was "You live here by obedience, at my pleasure."

Ahab built stables the crossroads of the world in Megiddo in the C9 BC. Megiddo was a defensible location (up high), in the middle of transportation (roads) and had a plentiful spring of water.

The prophets spoke to Ahab, and we talk about today's prophetic voice. Today we also ask, are the people of God trusting and obeying God? (at our crossroad of faith.) Ahab's prosperity did not indicate God's approval. Likewise, says Marc, just because we are seemingly successful doesn't mean we are obedient or living under God's blessings.

Marc reminds us again how Jesus said not to worry ... because worry is a pagan attitude. Overanxious? If so, why does Jesus matter? Here we see that horses and military strength cannot save a nation.

The stream below the hill is cool and would have refreshed the defenders of Megiddo. It's 183 steps down and 80 back up to the parking lot where the busses await. Marc points out where inhabitants would have built a platform from which they lowered containers, rather than going all the way down through the water tunnel.

On the right as we climb Mt. Carmel, there's a C1 burial site, a cave with a rolling stone set in a hillside. Joseph of Arimathea had planned for his wealthy family, so the burial site of Jesus would likely have been larger than the little one we pass.

Carmelite Monastery, Mt. Carmel
We visit the rooftop of the Carmelite Monastery where scholars posit that the Baal - JHWH confrontation took place. "This was Baal's territory near the Mediterranean, so if he could have triumphed, this would be the site!" Instead, the mute idol gives no response. Elijah kills the prophets of Baal near the winding green brook below. He outruns Ahab on the way back to the city. Ahab takes the muddy road with his chariot while Elijah likely ran on the edge of the rainy plain.

I sit on the last bench of the small chapel. A cantor begins to sing three recitations, his rich timbre and true pitch rolling around the white-washed walls, up into the double crossed arches in the ceiling and back down onto us. Another art moment of worship. This trip is confirming how God speaks to me through song and beauty. I am mostly unmoved by the sentimentalism of the sites but the art rips my heart wide open. Before I leave I light a candle and offer praise.

We drive the "road of salt": Wadi Milich. Ilan points out the hillside site of an 1880 settlement, the first Zionists, which has grown to a thriving community. The ruins of Herod's aquaduct are visible briefly from the highway. They run 20 km. from the mountains to supply the coastal port of Caesarea. Running water was one of the reasons why Herod could build the small Hellenist city of Strato Tower into the only year-round harbor and the second-most important port of the Mediterranean.

Capital of a column, Caesarea
We arrive in Caesarea or Qesarya. The harbor was sandy, but Herod lowered cases of rock and cement into the water to stabilize the foundations. The harbor faces west, showing that Herod remembers who put him in power. In the city, Herod built one of his three shrines to Caesar.

The palace of Herod and the theatre showcase his Greco-Roman sensibilities. The Jews appealed to have Herod the Great's son Archelaeus removed in 6AD after a brief rule. Judea came under direct Roman rule (hence the census of the government of Quirinius.) The palace became the home of the procurators, so Pontius Pilate lived in Herod's palace. Paul resided nearby for two years before setting sail to Rome from here.

We get more information from historical scholars on Pilate. He was an insecure ruler, evidenced by an inscription dedicating a small shrine to the emperor Tiberius. It was bad form for Romans to build a temple to a living emperor and ONLY Pilate does this. He's "over the top" in schmoozing. He was highly provocative to Jews, minting coins with pagan symbols and becoming known for executions without trials. He was a butcher with no conscience against killing Jews. Rome eventually removed him.

The Jews adhere to the Law after conversion to Christ. The Gentiles are required to leave idolatry, commit no incest, and not to murder (abstain from blood = shorthand for murder). In 1 Cor 7, Paul admonishes believers to "remain as you are," circumcised or not. Gentiles no longer have to become Jews; it is obedience that matters. This doesn't negate Judaism. The parting of the ways comes at the second revolt (132-35AD). However, in the C5 AD, Jewish Christians were still buried in Jewish cemeteries.

Gentiles came to church; some believers converted to Judaism (Aquila) - so Justin Martyr and Chrysostom try to define Christianity to prevent defections.

We talk about the law. Orthodox Jews delight in pleasing God by keeping the Law. It is not a burden to them.

Part of the Caesarean fortifications
Herod builds a palace on the lake with a swimming pool in front. He uses red, black and white mosaic tiles to line the floors. The hippodrome for foot, horse, and chariot races is just to the north, a wide-open space shaped like a J. Josephus tells of "places given" (awards?) by Herod in games. In this place, Titus celebrated his victory over the first revolt by pitting rebels, Jews and others against each other in the amphitheater. Such gladiator "sport" wiped out 2000 people.

Later, Eusebius became bishop of this area during the Byzantine period. St Jerome, Origine and others worked here at Caesarea, which began to shrink until the Crusader period. The crusaders built a fortress with a dry moat around it. We cross to the fort - again I am staggered by the work involved to engineer these sites. King Louis of France built the walls as penance for his defeat in Egypt. Muslims destroyed it and other ports to prevent Crusaders from returning to Palestine.

We walk along the sea wall, snapping photos and overlooking the swimming pool. The sand is filled with tiny shells, beautifully massaging to the feet. I kick off my flip-flops to restore my soles. I try to sketch. The floor mosaics are amazing art, 2000 years later. We're kept moving along so I can't finish the sketches. They're rough. So rough.

Herod the Great's Aqueduct at Caesarea
W buys me a mango and passion-flower gelato. Deeelicious in the hot sun! and wind. It's a jolt of reality to browse the shops thriving in the C9 fortress. We hop the busses and pause a few minutes at the aqueduct, such "impossible" feats of engineering, before we head back for supper at the hotel.

Our final excursion is from the Tiberias harbor. A Christian boat company steers us to the center of the Sea of Galilee. The pilot cuts the engines and begins a time of music worship. The music is soothing, on pitch, rhythmic ... good musicians (a relief always!) The students raise their hands, dance, and sing along. W snaps photos. I sit and take it in. We bank at 9:30 and walk the 500 ft. elevation rise (and approx 1 mile) to the hotel. "A ten-minute walk" according to Ilan, who wisely takes a taxi. The front of my thighs are cramping by the time I limp up the stairs to the lobby.

The bracing and braking down the incline of the steep hill yesterday, long walks today, and a general lack of physical conditioning have caught up with me. Argh. Time to get back in shape. But not before I head upstairs for a good night's sleep.

Day 15, May 24, Psalm of Ascent #129
Every country has its own normal. Here that includes a Shabbat elevator that stops on every floor on the Sabbath so Orthodox Jews don’t have to “Work” by pushing a floor button. It means living within a restricted walking distance of the synagogue so you don’t have to drive. Friday through sundown Saturday, cellphones and electronics – including TV – are turned off for 25 hours in Orthodox homes.

And toilet paper is tossed into the garbage rather than flushed. Toilets have a “small” and “large “ flush lever. Most places are on septic. Water is the national treasure that allows agriculture and sustains the population.

Al Nagor memorial - 20' high?
Our first stop is the Almagor Memorial, commemorating those who were killed by Syrians (1973). There's a great view of the valley below, the Jordan River, and the expanse of the Sea of Galilee.

C1  Judaism is not OT style.  A rabbi, Antiganus ? stated for the first time, “Serve God because he’s God alone, not for a reward.” Sadducees emerged from the idea of no reward. This was also the beginning of Judaic humanism.

Gen. 1:27 says that the image of God is in every human. Lev. 19:18  and the Genesis passage were the basis for a philosophy of love your neighbor who is like yourself. Humans have infinite value because they are made in the image of God.

Like the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes show mercy to receive mercy. Love God and love of neighbor are not prioritized. However, only Jesus taught to love enemies, saying God gives rain and sun to all. The three pillars of Jewish faith: 1. charity, 2. prayer, and 3. fasting (repentance.)

Marc asks us to consider two questions: 1. What would happen if Jesus’ followers cared for the needy and considered others? 2. What if we treated every person as stamped with God’s image rather than putrid sinners? We consider that Jesus talks about mercy rather than grace, which Paul emphasizes in the inclusion of the Gentiles.

One of the other things Marc talks about is the tension between John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. John’s baptism called groups to immerse and repent to bring about the Messiah and God’s reign. Josephus’s account gave John the Baptist a place as leader of a movement. Acts 2, in the vocabulary of the early Church (Peter) says, now that Christ has come, the collective repentance of Israel may result in God’s culmination of the age.

We’re off to Korazim National park and another long wait for the women’s WC line. We sit under the shade of an enormous spreading tree, the zizyphus spina christi, the traditional crown of Jesus. Few C1 sites remain, but one may be here, the black basalt foundation of the limestone synagogue in the center of the ruins of ancient  Capernaum.

Rock with carvings at Capernaum synagogue
The C4 Synagogue has unique features, including the Torah stone and the seat of Moses. The ones on site are copies of those in the Israel Museum. There were several versions of scripture in circulation: the Septuagint was Greek, written for Jews in the diaspora (especially in Alexandria); the Hebrew originals were read in Jewish synagogues. The Aramaic Targums probably helped Babylonian diaspora Jews understand. Jesus’ use of Aramaic usually related to healing.

At the Yigal Allon Center (“Man in the Galilee” Museum), we watch a video on the 10 meter first-century boat found by two fishermen. The wooden hull, carefully lifted from the water and soaked in a chemical brine for 15 years, is encased by metal bracing. The “water” under the exhibit is light-green glass shingles, layered. The boat was identified by its style of joins and by neighboring artifacts and dated approximately C1. It was found near Migdal, perhaps sunk by a storm or as part of the ships sunk during the rebellion. The room stinks of formaldehyde.  

“I believe in the driving force of man’s spirit and in his will power.” (Yigal Allon. Photos of hard work in the kibbutzes is hard to comprehend. The settlers suffered to make the land crop-ready and bring in harvests the first decades.

The museum contains records of the process of art, mosaics (still made as crafts in the courtyard), Mishnaic and Talmudic Jewish periods, and all kinds of art copies and originals. I love the photo gallery by Azaria Alon, a kibbutz member who started photographing the Kibbutz Beit-Hashita in 1934.

Orthodox church in Capernaum
I’m ready for Sabbath rest, but we’re off to the Orthodox Church of Kapernaum. It’s filled with icons I’ve only seen in pictures. Amy and I pause outside to sketch the domes before moving inside to marvel at the drawings. A college student remarks that he could spend a whole day inside – so could I. The icons bring me to tears.

We stop a few minutes away at a C1 cave with sarcophagi and openings for burying a family. While I’m waiting for others to climb down and back up, I sketch a banana tree in bloom. We have a 2-minute ride to St. Peters, a RC church.

Banana blossom and small fruit
The insula homes of Galilee contained a central courtyard with flour mills and other implements. Some have 100 rooms where expended family units would live. When a son would become betrothed, the family would add a room to the courtyard. Once the young man established himself financially, he could marry.

The Last Supper contains Jesus’ possible allusion to this Galilee home style. “In my father’s house are many rooms,” he said, referencing the image of family living together in community. This style of families living together is still common in Arabic countries.

The layers of archaeology:
·      C1 BC to C1 AD lie under St. Peter’s House.
·      Byzantine era – domus eclessia – walls were built around the ruins, and one room in the compound was highlighted by a wall marked with pilgrim graffiti in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic.
·      C5 – the Octagonal Church was built on the site. It is significant to date something before the Byzantine era, Marc notes. Pre-Byzantine traditions say that Jesus stated here.
·      The modern (1990) church is a “boat floating on the water.” Peter’s mother-in-law was thought to be healed here. Later in the day after Sabbath, the ill were brought to Jesus for healing.

Brass cross at the front of St. Peter's House
I sketch the brass cross at the front of St. Peters. The glass floor in the middle of the church exposes a view of the home of Peter. I look down on a possible C1 home with its circular rock wall.

In the church, eight wedge-shaped olive wood murals depict the life of Jesus and Peter. Despite “Silence Please” signs, we are a noisy group.

The Jewish synagogue was located near the octagonal church. There is a large black basalt monument inside. A hoard of coins from the C1 was found under the floor. In the “White Synagogue” (limestone from nearby), heart-shaped pillars define the corners. A “house of study” was found next to the synagogue where mothers would bring children for Torah instruction. That meant learning to read, separate from learning to write. The children would break at noon to go home for lunch. When they were older, they would study the Mishnah. Men often married in their early 20s, supporting themselves by income driven by the fishing industry.

The two pillars of village life, says Mark, were the study of the Torah and family village life and trade. Rabbis had to have another trade besides leading synagogue life, though sometimes wealthy families would hire them to train their children to read.

We discuss the tithe and corruption by chief priests in demanding the firstfruits from the threshing floor. Their greed left lesser priests starving.

We also discuss Jesus’ miracles, performed to punctuate a teaching (as in Luke 6) or to proclaim the dawning of God’s reign (esp. in exorcisms). Do current Jews expect miracles? Yes, especially those in folk religion traditions. Other expect that miracles occur all the time – not as much signs and wonders as God using people to perform his work.

We talk again about good works like visiting the sick, part of the command to do good deeds. Tracy leads us in prayer for the sick and those with needs. We gather around to pray in the shaded grove.

Then it’s onward to Jerusalem. We make a brief stop that stretches into a half hour and continue onward to the city. The hotel is like a nice hostel. We have ethernet in the room, greatly appreciated after the poor connections and limited bandwidth of Tiberias.