Monday, May 21, 2012

Holy Land Day 12: Monday, May 21, 2012

We read the psalm of ascent #126. Road 90 is the longest road in the country, crossing Israel's part of the Rift Valley. We pass Mt. Beatitude. It's very wind-ey as we go through the Qineret Valley. In Jesus' time, there were two lakes, one of which was dried by Israel in the 1950s to make room for more agriculture. Draining Lk. Chula created an ecological disaster for migrating birds and is gradually being restored by flooding nonagricultural parcels.

Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was near Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16). 

Capital (column top) ruin at Omrit
We're at Omrit, an archaeological site sponsored by Carthage and another college. I paint the fragment of a column. Herod the Great erected three shrines to honor the Caesar: one at Caesarea (coast), one in Samaria, and one near Pontius. Herod was the ideal client-king whose job was to keep the peace without too much help from Rome and keep taxes flowing. He backed Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, but was fighting elsewhere when Anthony was killed. He showed up dressed in royal robes for a speech of loyalty to Augustus.

The tumbled columns at Omrit are testimony to the violence of the ruins. We walk up 748 ft - 3.3 km to walk up and down. I paint the wildflowers in the fields nearby.

Q&A: What's the Talmud? It's the codified ongoing debates by rabbis, explaining the Torah for current-day Jews.

Tel Dan - the incline is not bad, but it's a 3.5 km walk with a 627 elevation (according to W's gps app). It holds the largest CO2 (karst) spring in the Middle East. Plant roots release CO2 so the water "melts" the rock away. 

We read Ps. 23 and are encouraged to still meditation for a few moments. We leave the trail to arrive at the cultic site where Jeroboam set up calf worship after the kingdom split. 1 Kings 12:32-33 - Ahab sacrificed here. I am creeped out. How easily we abandon the Living God for political or material gain. A 4-horned altar stands on the high place.

Wildflowers at Tel Dan: Nettles, Queen Anne's Lace,
and Honeysuckle
After Solomon's projects, Israel wanted relief. His son Rehaboam said he would not lighten the load, so the kingdom split and Jeroboam set up two northern high places, one here, and one in Bethel.

In the OT, Judah had a negative perspective on the northern tribes. Rebellion against Davide continued. The guides say the altars may have been used to worship JHWH initially. Solomon had tried to centralize worship in Jerusalem, but Israel often worshiped God before in various places. The northern site created a space for worship so people didn't have to go fourth.

The central grove trees were considered magic by Arabs. Some oaks are several centuries old. 

The second oldest gate in Israel dates back to 2000 BC, the era of the Patriarchs. It is now covered above so mud doesn't sluff off the Canaanite gate. We are in the Foothills of Mt. Hermon, 40 miles from Damascus. You can see Nimrod fortress across the fertile crescent valley on the top of the hill. Abraham would have known this city, 5 miles from current Lebanon.

The tribe of Dan could not defeat the Philistines near today's Tel Aviv, so they sent spies north to see where they could settle. They stole the priest and idol from a man named Micah (Judges 18) and landed in Laish. Tel Aviv's area is called Quash Dan, or the Dan metropolitan area, since Dan was supposed to settle there.

We walk through the dressed stone benches against the stone walls. The city gates have judges stones that may have held a a sheltering canopy. Tel Dan has an inscription about the "house of David," rare indeed. There is little evidence of David outside the scriptures. 

Liberal scholars are trying to read OT/Judges as heroic myths, so archaeologists' findings are important. If it's oral traditions, Jews continued to pass down the story with excellent details.

The guides speculate that the golden calf was not the deity, but where the deity rides. They have found 2 copper plates, a deity on a calf and someone giving and offering. The second shows Asherah and a bull with a deity - perhaps JHWH or Baal - on it. Perhaps Baal and God were used interchangeably sometimes: Baal is the storm god, and JHWH was pictured in psalms as riding on the clouds.

We skip the fabulous views of the valley below since other groups are on site. 

Some non-NU students are asserting themselves in small rebellions. One wears sandals against orders for sturdy shoes, and is left behind on the bus rather than climbing with us. Another squats in the aisle to ask questions rather than staying in her seat. Yet another crosses into a prohibited zone and is whistled and waved out. Ilan is strict and fair but gets frustrated by having to babysit.

Lunch is 5 minutes away. Ilan jokes that McD off limits but several go in and say it's American food, if indifferent tastes. Most people just want a W. C. Waldemar and I pick up baguettes and meat (variation on shwarma.) I've had more meat in the last two weeks than I've had for years. A missionary gal and I split a baguette... and I have leftovers from my half.

We skip the Banias Falls because there are too many school kids there. We're headed for the northern border of the Golan Heights, where the soil changes from brown basalt to yellow limestone. 

Nimrod Fortress lookout and window
The Nimrod Fortress is the strongest northern fortress built (arguably) by the Mamelukes (also written Mamluks). I sketch one of the walls while the lecturer talks. Traditionally, Byzantines thought the Transfiguration was on Mt. Tabor. It may have been where we are, on Mt. Hermon (Mtt. 17). Elijah and Moses are OT forerunners of the Messiah, not necessarily representatives of the law and prophets. A Hyrax (rock badger) runs along the rock face. We have 20 minutes to explore after a discussion about when the human Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah.

Danielle and I talk about life in ministry, planning family, home purchases, and other things that tie us down in the life of following Christ. We climb to the top of the fortress and back.

Druze national flag
Mas Adde is a Druze village (one of four in Israel. They consider themselves a religious nation. 1.5 million live in Lebanon and Syria, but 150,000 live inside Israel. They were driven out of Egypt after a "new prophecy" within Islam - since they don't believe Muhammed is the final prophet, they are considered infidels by their Islamic peers. They've become a secret religion and no one is allowed to join who is not born into the tradition. Anyone marrying an outsider is disowned by clan and religion.

We get to Mt. Bintal atop a volcanic rise - lava spewed sideways to create the flat Golan Heights plateau. Hills dot the felt area, where volcanic eruptions occur. The Syrian border is nearby. We're at 1000 feet above sea level.

The Ottoman rule ended after 400 years, in 1918. The Brits colonized (and the French took over Lebanon) until England de-colonized its territories. In 1946 India, Lebanon and Syria became countries. In 1948, Jordan and Israel got their freedom. Syrian snipers used to shoot school kids and civilians from the east 1967 border, so Israel needed a buffer to protect its people.

In 1967, 1901 years after the first revolt, Israel attacked (first time not merely defensive war.) They flew under the radar to demolish Egyptian forces and take over the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal. In the north, in response to a plea from settlers, they captured the Golan Heights. After the 1967 Six-Day War, the border was redrawn on "The Green Line." Currently the Syrians demand going back to the old border as a condition for peace.

Israel hoped the Arab nations would be completely defeated and sue for peace; they became complacent. Meanwhile, Egypt and Syria plotted an attack, while Egypt closed the Red sea access, putting Israel under virtual siege in international waters. On Yom Kippur, 1973, Egypt attacked from the south and Syria attacked from the north. Families were fasting phones and news, meeting in synagogues, and celebrating YK. Over three disastrous weeks, the will of Israel and heroism of its fighters prevailed. They pushed Egypt back and were 20 miles from Damascus when the USA intervened and asked them to withdraw.

Ilan is passionate as he tells his country's story. He served in the reserves and was activated in 2002 in the region. Our students have never heard this part of history before; most of them are astonished at the courage and determination of Israelis to survive and keep their land. I am thrilled to hear the stories my dad told me and that I read in my teens and early twenties of Jewish heroes and strategists.

We stand overlooking Syria to the north, 2 miles from our perch in the cold wind of the Golan Heights. It is very close. Our hotel is 40 km south; Damascus is 50 km to the north. 

We're relieved to get on the warm bus for the drive "home." After a great supper of salads, roasted potatoes, and meat, it's time to transfer the blog and get to bed. We have a huge whirlpool tub in our room. I may use that to warm my bones after the chill of the hill.

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