Summing Up

March 18th, 2008

On the long flight back to the USA, I tried to encapsulate my thoughts and experiences of the remarkable two weeks we spent in the Holy Lands

Israel is exceptional. The country is modern and efficient, geared for tourists with excellent roads, facilities and hotels. The country works

The biggest change to my thinking is that the Israeli and the American Jew are not very similar – in their understanding and practice of religion, and, in their culture and way of life. I will never again think of the two synonymously. The Israeli is very aggressive, almost to the point of being uncivil. The people seem to have a siege mentality (with good reason) but the sight of young men and women, everywhere, with Uzi’s carried casually, was somewhat disconcerting. There is very tight security, everywhere, and one is never quite as ease. One characteristic common to both, is the concept of Ztdaka (s’daka), where the community looks after each other. The Mishna (holy book) prescribes the amount of grain that must be given to another – that which fills the bottom jaw of a ewe. The bible stipulates that a man must leave a quarter portion of his field unharvested, so that the poor can pick it. And other such examples are boundless. The family, community and religious culture focuses on helping the less fortunate and helping each other – each Jew is collateral to the other. I have always been very impressed with this culture – compassion and survival

Israel has an incredible biblical history and the country is dedicated to excavating and preserving it – probably its greatest achievement. The department of antiquity is paramount and no one can dig without their permission. And they have done and continue to do a magnificent job, to the benefit of the entire Christian world. I cannot think of another country where so much of the past has been excavated and explained, over so short a time – Israel is just 60 years

For the country to be appreciated and enjoyed, some judgment has to be suspended and faith must be dominant – not difficult to do, since there are so many ardent pilgrims who truly believe. Has this trip affected my relationship with the Divine. Not sure of this – certainly it gave me a better connection to my Christian heritage.

The Palestinian territories are so interwoven with Israel, that I cannot imagine how these can be separate countries. The Palestinians and the Arabs (Jordanians) hate the Israelis. I think it is not so much a religious difference, as a territorial issue – “they have stolen our land” said a Jordan to me. America is perceived as a stupid, but powerful force that is totally behind Israel, and responsible for Israel’s aggression.

My final thoughts on this country, and particularly the city Jerusalem, that has been the source of so much bloodshed and carnage, over the last 3000 years, are negative. I cannot imagine how Jerusalem and Israel can survive, given their size and that they are surrounded by huge numbers of enemies who hate them virulently. The approach of ‘taking ten eyes or more for one eye’ while temporarily successful, cannot seem to me to create long term stability or survival.

It is said that God is Love. This seems to have been lost sight off and that is the tragedy of these beautiful biblical lands.

Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Caesarea and Tel Aviv

March 18th, 2008

This is my penultimate blog and the last one about the tour sites (relief!). We start the day by visiting a 50AD sail boat that was buried under the sand on the Galilee shore and hence preserved. The excavation and preservation of the boat is a saga and a wonderful example of how Israel preserves the past

Galilee Ancient Boat 50AD.JPG                 Galilee_Ancient_boat_ 50AD

We then go on the Sea of Galilee in a fishing boat, a magical time – calm waters, flocks of sea gulls, the fisherman casting his net, and the serene shore. Difficult to image that Jesus had to rebuke the wind and scold his apostles, “Why are you so afraid” (Mark 34)

Sea of Galilee1.JPG                      Sea_of_Galilee

After a couple of hours we anchor at Tabgha and visit the Church of Saint Peter Primacy, where Peter declared his love for Jesus three time and was told each time “Feed my sheep” (John 21) A truly divine site

Galilee Saint Peter Primacy.JPG                    Church_of_Saint_Peter_Primacy

Down to Capernum the headquarters of Jesus during his ministry. There is a synagogue dating back to 40AD where Jesus taught and there are also many roman carvings and ruins.

Capernaum Synagogue 4 AD.JPG               Synagogue_4AD

We take a picture in front of Saint Peter,whose house was also on this site

Capernaum With St Peter.JPG                            With_Saint_Peter_Capernaum

We drive to Mount Carmel, which has much biblical signifcance and is associated with Jezebel, Ayhab’s wife/mistress, who was denounced by Elijah, as she reintroduced the worship of Bael (Bealzebub) around 9BC (Kings 18). There is a neat story of Elijah having a contest with King Ayhab that he could set fire to wood, and if he did, Ayhab would kill all the pagan priests. Elijah won. A prophet not to be trifiled with

Elijah on Mount Carmel.JPG                                        Elijah_Mount_Carmel

Today there is a discalced Cermelite order resident at the site

We motor down to Caesarea, a city built by Herrod the Great for Augustus Ceasar in 1BC. It is a grand site, right on the Mediterrean, and was a principal port in its time and the center for all the spice trade. It has a magnificent theate

Caesarea Stadium.JPG                     Caesarea_Theater

and an equally majestic Hippodrome, where the Romans raced their chariots (ala Ben Hur)

Caesarea Hippodrome.JPG                  Caesarea_Hippodrome

There are so many interesting artifacts, sculptures and with the backdrop of the Mediterrean it is a commanding site. As we leave we drive by a well preserved Roman Aqueduct, three tiers, bringing water from the North. I jump out, take a few pictures and share a Shwarma with some Arab boys who were barbequing near by

On to Tel Aviv, a very modern city, full of gleaming, high rises. As we enter the sun is setting and I am able to get a picture. We have seen the sun set on so many seas and continents –  Its nice to add Israel to this list

Tel Aviv Sunset over Mediterrean.JPG             Tel_Aviv_Sunset_Mediterrean

We have a last supper together. It has been an incredibly eventful tour, so much of our Christian education came back in the form of ‘ this is where it happened’. But I will leave these reflections for a final blog

Tomorrow we return to the US of A and it always so good to think of coming home





Galilee, Tel Dan and the Golan Heights

March 17th, 2008

Tiberias is one of the four holy cities in the Talmud, and had a hgh court or Sanhedrian. We motor around the sea to Magdalla and the 4 AD church of Mary, where the multiplication of loaves and fishes occured. It has some exquisite mosaics including the loaf and fishes.

Mosaic Loaves and Fishes.JPG Mosaic Loaves and Fishes

On to the Church of Hepapagon on the Mount of the Beatitudes a beautiful site overlooking the sea of Galilee. Incidentally over 80% of Jesus’ ministry was around the Sea of Galilee. I am asked to read the Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 1-16). It was a surreal experience – reading and hearing the idealism of the words at the site where they were initially spoken. Mount of Beatitudes1.JPG Mount of Beatitudes on Sea of Galilee

It appears that the Saducees believed in today and the Pharisees believed in tomorrow. The Pharisee tradition prevailed and the Beatitudes reflect this. And yet they seem to have been so bureaucratic

We drive up into the mountains to the river Dan main source of the river Jordan, and Tel Dan (Hill of the Judge) an ancient Canaanite and Israeli site 900BC, identified with city of Laish, and the tribe of Dan (one of the 12 tribes of Israel – Samson was of this tribe). Dan was the son of Jacob (Israel), who was the son of Issac, the son of Abraham. The river rushes through, on its way in and out of the sea of Galilee and on to the its final destination in the Dead Sea. An inference is that which allows anything to pass through is alive, but that which does not is dead! The gates of the site are where the expression ‘in the gate’ to mean committed to publicly, was used when Boaz pledged marriage to Ruth, the direct ancestors of David (Ruth 4).

Tel Dan Tel Dan ‘In the gate”

We enjoy a lunch at McDonalds – a refreshing change. Israel has a chain called MacDavid, but their big Mac not called Goliath (sorry). On to the Banias (Caesarea Phippi) where there was an ancient shrine, 50BC, to Pan (there is no P in arabic so Panias became Banias). There are some impressive Roman ruins, including a temple to Augustus 19BC. On this site Jesus asked, ‘And who do you say I am’ and Peter answered correctly and was designated the Rock of Christianity (Mathew 16-13).

Banias (Pan) site.JPG Caesarea Phillipi_Shrine_of_Pan_on_hill

We drive up to the Golan Heights (through Druze Arabs, whose main prophet is Jethro, and who maintained neutrality, with Syria and now with Israel) 3000 feet above sea level, captured by Israel in 1967 and established as a new border with Syria. One understands the stragegic and tactical value of these heights as they overlook the plains of Northern Israel. We see Syria a few miles away with a UN demilitarized zone between, and Damascus in the distance (wish I could have made a side trip, as Damascus is on my list of ‘must see’ cities – duh!)

Syria from Golan Heights.JPG Syria_from_Golan_Heights

On our return we stop of at Kinneret Kibbutz. All Kibbutz had three goals – Jews wanted to return to the land of their birth; they wanted to own land (not allowed for most of their history) and wanted to work as worship. We visit their beautiful cemetery on the banks of the sea of Galilee, and pause to read a poem at the grave of Rachael, one of Israel’s most famous poets – ‘ Spread out your hand look yonder, nothing comes’. There are many stones on the grave, a sign of respect. A fitting end to a remarkable day

Kenneret Cemetery Rachael Kinneret_Cemetery_Rachael

North to Bet She’an, Gideon Springs, Tel Megiddo and Nazareth

March 15th, 2008

We check out and leave early and go up to the Mount of Olives (where Jesus prayed and agonized before his trial and death) and had one last look at the old city, now with so many more memories

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives1.JPG Old_city_from_Mount of Olives

We motor up, through West bank Palestinian territory (the Israeli highway runs right through), to Bet She’an – Scythopolis- with the imposing Tel (hill) She’an) in the background, one of the oldest cities in recorded history dating back to 4000 BC. It was a Cannaanite city, taken by King David, conquered by Assryians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and finally the Turks. Most important cities in this country seem to have gone through a succession of rulers. The city has been extensively excavated and during the Roman era was grand – see the model. The Tel – hill is closest and we entered through the furtherest gates

Beth Shean model.JPG Beth_She’an_model

The ground excavated city is equally impressive – the hill is behind in this picture
Bet Sheramin.JPG Beth_She’an_site

Here is a closer look with Ellen on the main Pallidius or street

Ellen_Bet Shean_cardo.JPG Ellen_Bet_She’an_cardo

There is a well preserved theatre: hot and cold baths – unlike the English, the Romans loved to bathe in hot and cold water; and splendid stone carvings. In Roman times it was one of the decapolis (ten major cities) – the only one on the West Bank.

We continue up to the Gideon Springs (Judges Ch7) a beautiful spot nestled at the foot of Mount Bilboa, seat of Harod (1200BC)

Gideon Spring.JPG Gideon_Springs

We now go up to Tel Megiddo another city dating back to 5000 BC, with 25 stratas of excavation, and going beyond the Cananites (2500BC), with the remnant of a main gate still standing, to primitive neolithic cults. The city was rebuilt by Solomon in 950BC as one of his main administrative centers, covering the northern region of Judea. Among its highlights is an amazing water reservoir, that can be accessed through a series of deep tunnels within the city

Tel Megiddo reality.JPG Tel_Megiddo_ancient_gates

Tel Megiddo is reputed to be the cradle of all biblical archaeology, and the University of Chicago uncovered 30 settlements, from Neolithic times, thru the Persians. In the site there is a sacred stone circle, going back to 2500BC. I let the group move on and sit at the site for a few minutes, in absolute silence, trying to feel the prayers or incantations from many millenniums ago. Very strange experience

Tel Meggido1.JPG Sacred_Stone_circle_2500BC_Megiddo

We drive up to Nazareth where we overlook the whole city – the Muslims on the upper parts and the Christians on the lower parts. I am very disappointed – my first – in not being able to see the Church of the Ascension, where Mary ascended into heaven. Instead we peer at the city against the setting sun.

We end the day driving into Tiberias, on the sea of Galilee, where we will stay for the next three days. It is absolutely calm, without a ruffle – almost as though ordinary mortals can walk on it. From our hotel balcony we look out on this large sea, where so much of Jesus’ ministry is recorded

Sea of Galilee.JPG Sea_of_Galilee

Southern Israel

March 14th, 2008

We leave early and visit the Garden Tomb, a site that could have been the tomb where Jesus was buried, before His ascension. It has geographical and locational validity and is a quiet, serene garden

Garden Tomb         Garden_Tomb

We drive two hours south on excellent roads and reach Beth Shemesh (Place of the Sun) astride the road leading to Jerusalem and Judea, overlooking the entire southern plains of Israel (and Gaza in the distance). It has a riot of wild flowers and Ellen picks a few anemones, only to be told that in Israrel all flowers are protected property

Wild flowers at Beth Shemesh         Wild flowers at Beth Shemesh

We drive further south to the Valley of Elah where the Jews and the Philistines met in 990BC, and David slew Goliath (Kings 1:17). We stop at the side of the road and enact the biblical scene. I was nominated to be Goliath the Philistine! Ah well you cannot win them all.

It is up the valley to Bet Guvrin and see the astonishing Tel Bell caves. These caves were limestone quarries, dating back to the Byzantine (300AD) period, and were opened up by cutting the top hard layer to reach the limestone and then excavated downwards, in increasingly large circles, like a cone. The arcs of several caves join each other in an extraordinary profusion of fluted arches – reaching down about 80 feet. Amazing feat of excavation and daring

Bev Guvrin caves.JPG                                               The_Bell_Caves_Bet_Guvrin

Our final visit is to Tel Beer Sheva, an ancient site going back to 1800BC (archeologically dated), mentioned in the Book of Genesis, where Abraham and Issac made a pact with the Philistines (Genesis 21:31) and a city built by David and Solomon (900BC) with the remnants of an entrance from that time. Since its position is strategic, 300 feet high and overlooking the Negev desert on the East and the Mediterranean on the West, it was occupied by the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, and the Turks, who used it in the First World War, to breach the Suez Canal. Some city, almost as cosmopolitian as Jerusalem, with the advantage of having Abraham’s (the father of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims) presence too.

Tel_Beer_Sheva             Tel_Beer_Sheva

We motor back to our hotel in Jerusalem, after a long and historically significant day

A tired tourist                                     A_tired_tourist

Tomorrow we check out of Jerusalem and go North to Nazareth and Galilee


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