Jordan-Israel Adventure Part 3

Day 11— yet another hectic day. We started in the old city of Jerusalem, first visiting the pools of Bethesda, and then wandering through the via dolorosa, visiting the stations of the cross. Unfortunately, much of what we saw were just churches built over sites, or small patches of the real thing underground, and thus not realistic. After lunch, we proceeded first to the Herodian, a massive fortress like the Masada, built by Herod as an escape, and probably in view of Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem. We went to the shepherd’s fields, and then into Bethlehem itself. This was a massive zoo. We skipped the alleged manger site, and visited right next door the church holding the study room and grave of St. Jerome. I have a deep admiration for Jerome. We came home tired but with a rewarding day.
Garden of Gethsemane – old olive tree
Bethlehem from the Herodian
John in the Shepard’s cave – where the angels announced the birth of Christ
Tomb of Jerome
Day 12—More Jerusalem today. We started with the western wall, then took a walk underground where the western wall was being excavated.  We then went to a museum that had a large mock-up of the second temple. In that museum were pieces of the Dead Sea scrolls on display as well as the Aleppo book. The next stop was a holocaust museum, very moving but very Jewish in its sentimentality. The last stop was very notable in that our tour guide, Schlomo, took us to his brother-in-law, who is an orthodox Rabbi and scribe, who demonstrated how he would hand produce the Torah on parchment, which would take him over a year to accomplish. Everything had to be kosher, including the paper, the ink, the writing utensils,  no letter could touch another, and no letter could be either too tall or too short. We arrived back at the hotel happy from a full day.
More wailing
And more wailing
Tree at Holocaust museum dedicated to Corrie Ten Boom and family
The Scribe
The scribe scribing
Day 13— Our day started with a scheduled tour of the temple mount, only to discover that it was an unexpected Muslim holiday, and thus it was not open. We retreated, toured the old city of David, and watched a 3D movie which made it super-clear where David’s city sat. Over the years and many changes to the city walls, the terrain has become somewhat unrecognizable, and the old Canaanite city of David actually no longer sits in the city. We got to walk through hezekiah’s tunnel, and saw William’s shaft, which it perhaps how Joab’s army got into the city. Our focus then turned to the sewage system of the Tyropean Valley, over which Robinson’s arch stood and where merchants lined the paths. We looked at the southern walls, the stairs leading up to the entrance of the temple in Jesus’ time, and was how Jesus typically entered the temple. We made a mad dash to Gordon’s Golgotha, a convincing site, through Christ was probably crucified below the cliff, and not on the hill. The garden tomb also seemed convincing contrary to the official catholic site. The best archeological evidence still favors the Catholic site, according to Dr. John. We took it easy in the evening, preparing for one last day.
Descent into Hezekiah’s tunnel
Walking Hezekiah’s tunnel
The steps to the pool of Siloam
Bar Mitzvah family at Wailing Wall
The stairs to the southern Gate, where Christ probably entered the temple
A strange couple lurking in the Old City of Jerusalem
Day 14- This was a free day, and we spent our time wandering through the old city. We tried to walk the walls of Jerusalem, but it was off limits since it was Friday. We went up to the top of the Lutheran church (Kirche unser Erlöser) for a great view of the city. The remainder of the time was spent relaxing. That evening, I took a taxi with John and several other people up to the top of the Mount of Olives, and then we walked down, walking past the Eastern Wall and back to the hotel.
Tomb of Jehosaphat and Absalom
The Golden Gate, sealed by the Muslims to prevent the Messiah from entering
The Golden Walls of Jerusalem
Israeli police guarding the temple site from loonies
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I would have gathered your children together…and you were not willing. See, your house is left desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.
Day 15- It was a long flight home. Our plane out of Tel Aviv was a bit hurried when they learned that there was rockets coming in from Gaza. Since we were gaining 10 hours from the flight, it seemed to take forever to get back home. But, all went well and we were grateful to be back in our own comfortable surrounding.
Thoughts on the trip…
The trip was a perfect overview of the Holy Land. John was a super leader, and I would heartily recommend him to anybody considering a trip to Israel, Jordan, or elsewhere in the mideast.
Things that we would have liked on the trip include…
1. A little less busy pace. Some excursions could have been edited out. We barely had time to enjoy the situation. We usually arrived at the hotel after sundown, making enjoyable visits to the Dead Sea and other spots an impossibility. Also, I was interested in just seeing the lay of the land from the bus, but often the travel ended up at the end of the day in darkness, making it impossible to fully appreciate the land.
2. The Israel part of the trip was a little too heavy with the orientation around modern Jewish affairs. Some sites were nice, but there was perhaps too much, with visits to David Ben-Gurion’s grave, Rachel’s grave, the Holocaust museum, etc. Instead, many biblical sites were completely ommitted, including Beer-Sheva and Hebron, the Sheffela, Bethany, the Jericho Road, Shechem and Mt Gerizim/Ebal, etc. It was supposed to be a Bible lands tour, not a modern Israel tour.
3. Egypt. We initially signed up because the trip included Egypt. Then, the Muslim Brotherhood went on the rampage. Oh well. Maybe someday.
What we liked about the tour far exceeded any criticisms. These included…
1. John was very knowledgeable about the land, the archaeology, and the scriptural correlates to what we were seeing. He was a superb teacher. He watched his orientation so as to remain doctrinally neutral on some touchy subjects like eschatology.
2. The hotels and facilities, the bus, the meals, the guides were all first class. It could not have been better planned.
3. John was adept at bringing in biblical lessons to the places we visited. He had a heart for worship while on tour, being able to bring glory to God by pointing to us scriptural correlates in what we saw.
This trip gave me new insights in several ways…
1. It made historical reading of the narratives involving the land of Israel more clear. I could understand the idea of Jesus being led out of Nazareth to be thrown off a cliff. I could understand the sermon on the mount context, the sea of Galilee experiences, the wanderings of David while watching sheep in Bethlehem, the difficulty of Abraham chasing the four Mesopotamian kings from Beer-Sheva to Dan and beyond.
2. I used to read the Bible through every year, but haven’t for several years. This generated interest in again committing the Scriptures to a cover-to-cover read. Historical sections make more sense.
3. Learned more about the Arab-Israel conflict, much from an Israeli viewpoint. I’ll speak more about Jews vs. Arabs in another blog.
4. Insights into the spiritual condition of Israel.
a) Arabs – hard to judge. They have prayer towers virtually everywhere, including throughout the Jewish and Christian quarters of the old city of Jerusalem. You can’t go anywhere in Israel without seeing prayer towers. Having religious control of the temple mount (the Israelis have military control) leaves Arabs in control of the ultimate religious say in the country.
b) Jews – they continue in the sins of the time of Jesus. The reason they remain in their current state reflects their inability to acknowledge their Messiah. Perhaps their religious orientation is even more intense for ritual than ever. Their worship of the old temple wall is disgusting. They remain lost.
c) Christians, including all sects of Christians, pose a new form of idolatry, the idolatry of place. Is there not perhaps a reason why God allowed the sites in Israel where history occurred to be lost? Whether it’s identifying the cave of Machpelah to the site of the crucifiction, we really don’t know. Yet, so many sites are worshipped and venerated, like the “site” of the nativity, the “site” of the burial of Jesus, the “site” of the sermon on the mount, to name just a few. Protestants have the same failing, feeling that a baptism in the Jordan River confers something special. In the end, they make a mockery of the significance of baptism. So one “walked today where Jesus walked”, talked where Jesus talked,  fished today where Jesus fished, or ate today where Jesus ate. The importance is on the person and not the place.
5. Desire to pray for peace in Israel. Every solution proposed fails. Fund Israel more. Quit funding Israel. Exterminate the Palestinians (that’s right, I heard this solution offered by a member of our group). Send the Jews to Antartica. Get both sides talking. Be nice. Etc. Etc. Etc. Virtually every solution is a fantasy land of wishfulness, that everybody would just love each other. Make love, not war. It won’t happen until the prince of Peace returns in the clouds, where every eye will behold him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, AMEN! (Rev 1:7) For now, we pray for peace in Jerusalem, and that the tribes of Israel will acknowledge their Messiah, the Messiah of Jews, Muslims, Arabs, and even Germans.