Friday, May 25, 2012

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.

1 comment:

  1. Rosemee, I am so appreciating the commentary...thank you for sharing your invites and your personal reactions!