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back home. final post to come this weekend…

May 13, 2010

i thought they would be wearing cowboy hats here… day thirteen

May 11, 2010

We’ve reached our final day in Jerusalem. We still have one more day to go, but it will be spent in outlying regions. So even though this isn’t the last day of the trip, it kind of feels like it. At least we used it to see some pretty amazing sites.

Though before any of that began, we had a worship service in the hotel. Oddly enough, this Sunday we were in our hotel’s bomb shelter. It made getting visitors difficult but the acoustics were unbelievable…

Ferrell gave the lesson this week, tying it into much of what we had seen over the previous two weeks, but focusing on the 24th chapter of the gospel of Matthew. The point made was that while we have seen much built – and much destroyed – over the millennia while in Israel, that Christ is the ultimate builder, and not of buildings, but of lives. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man speak about the Lord with more sincerity than brother Jenkins and it’s been something else to listen to him help the Bible become “colorized” over the last two weeks.

Once services were over, the group loaded up on the bus and we made our way to the pinnacle of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount.

The Muslims only allows infidels (that would be non-Muslims) to ascend the Temple Mount until 10am, so we were somewhat rushed to get everything in. Though as usual, Elie saw to it that we saw and learned about everything he wanted us to.

Just getting into the Temple Mount complex is an effort in itself. Aside from the extended march you have to take up a make-shift platform that runs alongside the Western Wall (affording a unique vantage of the Wall, itself)…

…you have to go through a security station and metal detector. There is definitely a noticeable military presence in this city. Guns have long freaked me out, but after a couple of days of seeing the tips of guns pointing in every which direction, I’m beginning to become numb to the sight of them.

But moving on to the Temple Mount, itself…

The complex is much bigger than you imagine it. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but I would say that the area is roughly the size of four football fields. Huge. And parked right in the middle of it all, the Dome of the Rock. (But we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.)

Located on Mount Moriah (where Abraham took his son Isaac to be sacrificed), the first temple was first built by King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, being completed in 966 BC after seven years of building. In 586, the Babylonians destroyed it and set into motion the ‘Babylonian Captivity’. The temple was rebuilt under the direction of Zerubbabel and dedicated in 515. As the centuries passed by, the temple fell into poor condition until the year 20 BC when Herod the Great, as part of his massive building projects in the Roman province of Judea, started work on a “refurbishment” of the temple complex, expanding its grounds significantly. Herod’s temple was destroyed – as clearly prophesied – in the year 70 AD. The site stood desolate until the 7th century AD when the Muslim Dome of the Rock was built atop Mount Moriah, and that gold-lined mosque has stood until today.

Any questions?

We began our walk around the complex in what was known as the Court of the Gentiles in Jesus’ day. The Temple Mount had, effectively, four tiers: the highest one contained the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter, the second was the Court of the Priests, the third the Court of the Israelites (obviously, you had to be an Israelite to enter that area), and the fourth was for gentiles – basically ancient tourists. (Not much has changed, has it?) I had always imagined the Court of the Gentiles as being a small, overlooked area pushed off to the side. Oh, no. Probably 2/3rds of the mount is taken up by the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this area where the Greek tourists desired to see Jesus and besought Philip for an introduction (John 12).

After some more time atop the complex we circled around to the highest level where the Dome of the Rock is located. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the Dome, but we were able to get as close to the exterior as we wanted. Muslims believe that Mount Moriah not only was the location of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, but also from where Mohammed ascended to Heaven. Interestingly enough, there is another spot, just some thirty yards from the Dome, called the Dome of the Spirit, where some scholars believe the Holy of Holies actually resided. This location gets its credence from the fact that it aligns perfectly with the eastern Beautiful Gate, which the High Priest was to be able to see from the Holy of Holies.

From there, we spent the rest of the morning in the Jewish corner. We saw some 1st century houses (much bigger than you would have thought) that have recently been excavated. They were interesting to see, but I’m not sure there’s much that I can say about them in a blog that would really make them sparkle.

But while in the Jewish quarter I did make a purchase. (It looks like Erin has already ridiculed me for it.) One of the few things that I knew I wanted to purchase while over here was a Hebrew Tanakh – the Old Testament to Christians. It took some doing, but I finally found a bookstore that sold them. They also had Hebrew/English Tanakhs, so I bought one of those, as well. It’s divided into three segments: the law, the writings, and the prophets. There are commentaries in this one in English, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to glean some additional insight into the original languages. So much of what was written in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible has to be ruined in order to get it into English, as the differences are just so great between the languages.

So get off my back with the lack of even a fundamental knowledge of Hebrew!

Our final action from within the Old City of Jerusalem was to have a proper visit to the Western Wall. As you know, Erin and I had come on our own to the Wall two nights ago to experience the beginning of Sabbath. But this time, there were only a few Jews praying at the Wall. The rest of the prayer plaza was filled with “white hats”. Men must have their head covered to enter the prayer area, so for those who don’t bring anything with them, white yarmulkes are supplied at the entrance. You can pretty much tell who isn’t actually a Jew by whether or not they’re wearing these small, round pieces of silk.

The Western Wall is the remaining portion of that expansion undertaken by Herod the Great. While Jews can go to the top of the Temple Mount, very few are willing to do so out of a fear that they might step on holy ground. Therefore, to most Jews the Western Wall is as close to where the Holy of Holies once stood as they can get. To them, it is the most sacred spot on earth.

The Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall. When European pilgrims visited the site in the last few centuries they observed the devout Jews praying at the Wall with a mannerism that resembled (and sometimes actually was) excessive sobbing, or… wailing. Though few Jews would, themselves, refer to it as the Wailing Wall. That would be a bit akin to Texans referring to “the Alamo” as “that place where the Mexicans whooped us”.

Just as a point of comparison so that you can see how many more Jews show up at the Wall on Sabbath as opposed to any of the other six nights of the week, I took this picture Of the Wall from the same location as the one Erin took on the Sabbath, only two nights later. Noticeable smaller crowd.

Once you get close to the wall you can see small pieces of paper shoved into the cracks between the stones. These are prayers that have been written down. It’s interesting that when these prayers are cleaned out that they aren’t thrown away. Since they’ve been incorporated into the wall, they are considered holy and therefore are buried in a cemetery.

I must say, the Western Wall is one of the more profound places I’ve ever been to. Sites of historical significance are a dime a dozen around the globe, but every do often you come across one that still manages to meet its weight with regard to modern relevance. The Western Wall is one of them.

Our next stop was just outside the southern end of the Temple Mount, to the steps that once led up into the Court of the Gentiles. It was from these steps that Jesus would have spent some time teaching in front of the Pharisees and other assorted listeners.

From the southwest corner of Herod’s wall, a right-hand turn to the north confronts one with significant ruins from the temple’s destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. The indention in the ground level is from where a giant arch fell to the ground.

To round out the day we stopped by the Shrine of the Book museum and its scale of model of 1st century Jerusalem.

The Shrine of the Book museum contains actual fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls, along with the Aleppo codex. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the museum so I don’t have any pictures to show you. But suffice it say that laying eyes directly on some of the most important manuscripts of all-time was really something.

The outdoor model was also something to behold. Spanning some 20 yards square, it is a massive and extremely detailed recreation of what the city of Jerusalem would have looked like during the reign of Herod the Great. Here is the view of Jerusalem facing west:

And with that, it was back to the hotel and the conclusion of our final full day in Israel. Tomorrow evening we leave for the States. It’s definitely coming as a shock how quickly we went from thinking how great it was to have so many days left on the trip to now realizing that they’ve all come and gone somehow without anyone apparently realizing it.

zechariah 9:9… day twelve

May 9, 2010

With three days remaining until we leave for home, we’re clearly starting to run up the “name brand sites” tally. There have been quite a few times over the last two weeks when we’ve stopped somewhere and, while unloading from the bus, there has been more than one person asking just where it was we were going. Generally, a brief mention of some well-known story from the Bible will bring to mind the location we’re at. Well, that’s not the case here in Jerusalem. Everyone knows what “Garden of Gethsemane” means. And most people also seem to know what “Bethlehem” means.

We started the day off from the top of the Mount of Olives. All of Ferrell’s trips have a group photo taken with Jerusalem in the background from this spot, and this one was no exception. The only problem is the fact that, since it’s 9:30 in the morning and we’re facing east, the sun is shining right down on us, searing our retinas into oblivion. And since Ferrell won’t let anyone wear sunglasses or a hat for the photo, this proved to be a problem. Erin bought one of the pictures and I think two out of every three people’s eyes are closed. That’s what we call a “mantle piece”.

But in all seriousness, the group has been great. I haven’t had a chance to get to know everyone overly well, but I definitely feel as if I’ve clicked with a couple of handfuls of them. Who knows, perhaps I’ll run into some of them in, say, early 2011??? But it’s nice to have a keepsake that will remind me of the people I spent two great weeks with. Even if most of them will have no eyes.

Anyway, the Mount of Olives… The best thing about standing atop this mountain is the view that it affords, specifically with regard to the events leading up to the conclusion of Christ’s final week. For the first time in my life, the geography and topography of eastern Jerusalem have come alive. To be able to – from one spot – trace the line of all of the back and forth traveling by Jesus and his disciples during the last week is rather cool. From this peak, one can see the Kidron Valley, the Garden of Gethsemane, the proposed Upper Room and house of the Caiaphas, Bethany, and the Temple Mount. And when you realize that they each can be reached by foot in less than an hour, you really begin to understand not just how certain events transpired, but also of why they did and in the order in which they did.

This is the view that Jesus had of Jerusalem as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Granted, he wasn’t looking at the Muslim Dome of the Rock.

After some time at the top of the Mount of Olives, we made our way to the bottom of it, to the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, I’m not sure what this place looked like 2,000 years ago, but today it’s best described as “sparse”. It’s also not quite as big as I would have thought it would be. Though the trees are certainly big. Olive Trees (the tree found in Gethsemane) can grow for more than 1,000 years. Beside the Garden is the Church of All Nations, where one can see the traditional (there’s that word again) Rock of Agony, where Jesus prayed that the cup might pass from him.

As we continued to descend the Mount of Olives we boarded our bus when we got to street level and set up for Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Elie is not allowed to travel into Bethlehem because it resides within the boundaries (literally, there’s a giant metal fence) the Palestinian Authority. So we exchanged him for a guy who – I think – thought he was working at a carnival instead of guiding “pilgrims”. I’m not kidding, all this guy needed was a megaphone and a dull-tipped dart. I kid, I kid. He was actually somewhat decent, but still a far cry from Elie. Elie, so I tell myself, happens to be the greatest guide in all the land and to compare anyone to him is to do the new guy a disservice.

I guess, then, that I shouldn’t have written the above paragraph comparing the two to each other…

Moving on. Bethlehem was a bit on the dull side. We did go to the Church of the Nativity, but the line to get into the “manger” area was over an hour long, and since no one in the group really cared to see it we went and saw the cave where Jerome is said to have lived while he translated the Bible into Latin. Not a bad little place, really…

While in Bethlehem, we also saw the shepherd’s fields. Which look absolutely nothing like fields. They look more like “insta-death realms as the result of copious amounts of rocks for sheep to die on fields”.

One interesting thing about Bethlehem is that you can see the Herodium in the distance, just some three miles away. You might recall that Herod the Great had all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two put to death out of fear that the prophesied one might usurp his power one day. (Remember, Herod was one paranoid dude.) It’s somewhat chilling to stand in Bethlehem and see one of Herod’s famed fortresses peering over the horizon, as if to cast a watchful eye.

After leaving Bethlehem we stopped by the family store of Kando Antiquities. The Kando name is world-famous, as it was the grandfather of the store’s current owners who originally procured the Dead Sea scrolls. In fact, they have one of the original clay jars which housed some of the scrolls.

I looked into buying a Widow’s Mite, but they were $1,900. So instead I got a Jerusalem Cross (which apparently is supposed to be symbolic and means something to somebody) made out of olive wood. Apparently, Bethlehem is famous for its olive wood carvings. Well, that, and it was the only other thing in the store that cost less than $1,900. (It was $8. I think we know which object is going to hold its value over time.)

Our final stop of the day (well, final stop that I’m telling you about. You’d be amazed if you knew how much stuff we’d done that has never made it into this blog) was to the Garden Tomb and Calvary.

Now at this point, you might be thinking back to yesterday’s post and asking yourself, “Isn’t that what the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was for?” And… that’s the point. Tradition only gets you so far. At some point, “historical reality” and “probability” have to play a role somewhere. Though with that said, it’s doubtful that these locations are all that accurate, either. But either way, here’s a picture of the Place of a (the) Skull. You see the eyes?

Me neither.

I included the lovely parking lot in this shot because if this was where the crucifixion did take place, it would have been in front of the rock face, along the ancient Roman road. Also, in case you were curious, “Calvary” and “Golgotha” mean the same thing, just in two different languages. (Latin and Hebrew, respectively)

The Garden Tomb is fine for what it is – an illustration as to what a rock-hewn tomb would have looked like in the 1st century AD. This area is filled with similar locations that could just as easily have been Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. But hey, if you want to be certain that this is the spot where Jesus was laid, then be my guest.

And with that, back to the hotel – where something magical has happened. As if this post wasn’t already long enough, Erin has managed to stay awake past 10:00. So here’s another 1,000 words to read!

Well, I’m sorry to say I’m a little disappointed. After James invited everyone to send me text message incentives to blog, alas, I only received one. So for all of my FAN out there (Hi, Uncle David!), here is the next volume in The Adventures of Erin!

To begin: Petra. I realize that James already touched on this subject, but it bears mentioning again. The site in and of itself is well worth the four-hour drive to the middle of Nowhere, Jordan. One could be fully satisfied simply walking through the siq and snapping photos. James and I, however, jumped at the opportunity to hike to the top of the High Place, which enhances the experience. The trail begins in simple stair steps carved into the rock, and gets increasingly more difficult and dangerous as you near the peak. By the time we finally reached the top, we were literally crab-crawling up the boulders. And what a view it offered! And what a great memory.

Fast forward – we have now spent three days in Jerusalem. In the interest of time, I will limit most of my commentary to the Old City. It is divided into several sections, including the Jewish Quarter and the Moslem Quarter.

Our first taste of the Old City was in the Moslem Quarter during day one of Jerusalem. I initially found it to be a dirty, crowded place… smelling of trash in the streets and full of store owners desperate to sell you something, anything. What blows my mind is that the shopkeepers (who make their living this way, mind you) can’t seem to come up with merchandise any different from the place next door… which just happens to be selling the exact same stuff. (How many hookahs can one need, anyway?) Or how about an opening line more original than, “You want to look at my shop?” We were warned before entering the quarter to watch our bags closely. Beware of pickpockets. Don’t make eye-contact with the peddlers. Once acclimated to the Moslem Quarter I didn’t mind it so much. I wouldn’t hang out there alone on a Saturday night, by any means, but I can appreciate it for what it is.

Much of today was spent in the Jewish Quarter, which was, in a word, lovely. I’m sure that James will tell you all about the really, really interesting political dynamics going on in this region during the Turkish-Byzantine period, but I’ll just quickly give you the straight dope.

The differences here from the Moslem Quarter are, as Cole Porter would say, like night and day. A pristine neighborhood with clean streets and neatly organized shops where shopkeepers go out of their way to be helpful regardless of whether you’re even buying anything! (One man even gave James a free poster tube to transport that blasted painting of his around in.) After touring the Jewish Quarter for a while today, we broke for lunch. Every other day so far we’ve been herded into a buffet-style restaurant with an assortment of chicken, lamb, rice, and potatoes, so I welcomed the chance for some different lunch choices. The group divided into smaller sub-groups/couples and went their own ways. I had my heart set on pizza; James had his heart set on a bookshop. So we split up and went our separate ways. I ventured through the roads and past a synagogue (which is nestled in the center of the quarter) searching for the recommended pizza restaurant. As I turned a corner, I approached a friendly-looking man standing outside one of the unlabeled restaurants and asked if he knew where Rami’s Pizza was. “Me! I am Rami!” he cheerfully replied in his Hebrew accent. Never would I have thought that I would not only survive a solo lunch in Jerusalem, but even enjoy it! How liberating. I like to think of myself as a Jason Bourne of sorts. Here is the tiny, charming little pizza shop (and Rami is on the right).

While I reveled in my independence, James was buying a few… you guessed it… books. In case any of you are wondering, he did bring exactly 11 books on this trip, and here is the proof.

Now he can add to these his purchases from today: an Old Testament in Hebrew and a three-volume set of the Old Testament in parallel Hebrew and English. Of course, lest we forget, HE CAN’T EVEN READ HEBREW!

After the lunch break, everyone met up in our designated area to continue our walk through the city. As James’ brain began to catch up with his actions, he realized that carrying the books around all day would become quite inconvenient. His solution? To put them in my backpack. Sure, James… I don’t mind toting 35 extra pounds of book. Don’t mind at all! As it turned out, he managed to somehow make the books fit and we traded bags. He carried my pack, I carried the camera bag. As we all stood there, waiting to get rolling again, I darted into the closest store in search of a scarf (which I’ve been wanting to buy throughout the trip).

Sidenote: I can’t mention a scarf without saying a word in the defense of my own scarves. As a matter of fact, they’re lightweight, springy scarves and serve multiple functions/purposes. They are: 1) cute 2) essential in soaking up neck sweat, and 3) helpful in covering the blistery sunburn right at the top of my shirt collar. (James’ note: “I don’t think numbers two and three were even remotely taken into consideration prior to boarding the plane to come over here. So pretty much we’re left with ‘cute’. Uh huh.)

Now that the issue is settled, I’ll continue. I entered the store and quickly found a scarf I liked. It wasn’t until I was at the counter paying that I realized all of my money was with James in the backpack. All I had with me in the camera bag was his debit card. Cha-ching! Also, the store owner required a 25-shekel minimum in order to pay with a card. So I had no choice but to pick out another scarf. Double cha-ching! I paid, signed, and left to rejoin my group, only to find our area completely deserted. Not a familiar face in sight. Fortunately, I didn’t panic. I instantly went into my Jason Bourne detective mode and began making my survival plan for the next 48 hours. Also, I walked around for about 20 minutes until I ran into James and another man from our group who were both looking for me. The real moment came when I arrived into the recessed cove where the group was seated stadium-style, and they all erupted into cheers and clapping. They must’ve been really impressed with my survival skills.

And with that, we’re going to walk back to our hotel. We’re just about on a first-name basis with the night staff at the Olive Tree Hotel.

Also, due to this blog being one day behind, tomorrow’s post will be somewhat difficult to get on here seeing as how we leave for the airport tomorrow afternoon. So while it might not be on here at the time you’re used to seeing it (early evening for you, I believe), it will be on here by the time you go to sleep. I hope.

right, the jerusalem. from the ‘jerusales tulipesias’ genus… day eleven

May 8, 2010

Yeah, so… nevermind on that whole ‘let’s try and get caught up by putting two days into one’ thing. An evening stroll through a neighborhood bazaar ended any chance of that happening. So instead, we’ll just continue to roll with the ‘one day behind’ format. Doesn’t really change things for you, does it?

Two evenings ago we arrived safely in Jerusalem after a long drive in from Jordan. Our hotel is quite nice (aside from the Internet). Actually, it seems like every successive hotel on this trip has been nicer than the one that preceded it. And to think that we get FOUR CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS in the same hotel… ah, so nice. Needless to say, my clothes are strung out all over the floor in my hotel room.

But moving on to things that actually pertain to the trip…

Yesterday morning we started at the beginning, in that we made our way to the City of David; that is, the Jerusalem that King David occupied after defeating the Jebusites in the 11th century BC. Located just outside the SW corner of the Old City walls, much has been uncovered that shows what the city looked like at its earliest. Actually, our guide, Elie, worked on this site in the 1980’s and even uncovered an ancient toilet seat! Obviously, a fair amount of imagination has to be used when looking at ruins of this nature, but it was still nice to get a feel of where the “Jerusalem” that we all see on the map in the backs of our Bibles emanated from. Most of the view of these remains comes from walking above them on a suspended metal bridge, the kind with all the slats(?) in it. Because of that, most of my pictures make it look like the City of David is doing hard time.

While in the same vicinity, we made our way to Hezekiah’s tunnel. One of the great feats of ancient engineering, King Hezekiah (ruled from 716-687 BC) set about to strengthen the fortifications of Jerusalem by expanding on an existing Canaanite tunnel that brought water from the Gihon Spring into the city (II Kings 20:20). Impressively, the engineers elected to begin digging at opposite ends and meet in the middle. This tunnel is just over 1,700 feet long. While you can walk it (flashlight and clothes you don’t mind getting wet are required), our group wasn’t able to (I guess due to there being so many of us). That’s just one more reason to make a return trip. The first picture below is from within the tunnel where Hezekiah elected to deviate from the existing tunnel. You can see the change in rock type drawing a horizontal line through the middle of the frame; the lower portion is where Hezekiah elected to keep going down. The second picture below is of the entrance into the tunnel that can be walked. The water can get fairly high, easily as much as a couple of feet. That’s what you’ve got to walk through for 1,700 feet if you want to make it to the reservoir. Oh, and all in a space that, aside from being pitch black (hence the flashlight), is generally no more than two feet wide.

Once having taken in the tunnel, we saw one of the pools that got its water from the Gihon Spring: the Pool of Siloam. It was here where Jesus told the blind man to go and wash in order to receive his sight. Probably some 85% of the pool is covered by overgrowth, but the other 15% can be seen in this picture:

The next stop on the day’s itinerary was to go within the walls of the Old City. We entered through the newly restored Jaffa Gate.

Once inside the Old City, you are inundated with a barrage of individuals trying to sell you something. Anything. Just about the worst thing you can do is show the faintest bit of interest, as you now have a travel buddy for the next 50 yards. The old city is a mixture of old and older. The Turkish additions that were built in the 16th century are considered modern.

We did walk the Via Dolorosa (Latin for ‘Way of Suffering’), which is just about the most crooked street I’ve ever been on. (Yes, the street is actually called the Via Dolorosa.) Granted, the Stations of the Cross aren’t necessarily historically accurate as only eight of the 14 actually appear in the gospel accounts (some of the stations, in fact, have been altered on numerous occasions over the centuries), but it was still cool to walk a path that has, culturally, become so ingrained into one’s visit to Jerusalem.

The Via Dolorosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s here where tradition says that Christ was crucified, buried, and rose. Historically and archaeologically, it’s doubtful that any of those events happened here. But as Elie says, “We’re not here to challenge anyone’s tradition, just to give it a firmer foundation to rest on.” Most of the countless traditional “holy sites” don’t exist until after 325AD, when the Roman emperor Constantine (and to a larger extent, his mother Helena) begin searching for locations and relics that have Christian significance after declaring Christianity the new state religion of Rome. Take into consideration the fact that by then nearly 300 years have elapsed since the death of Christ, and you can see how some “room for error” might find its way into the picture. But then you add some 1,700 years of tradition on top of those sites, and what you’re left with is a rigid belief that is hard to sway. We see it in Chicago all the time as people come from all over the Unites States to see the hallowed walls of… Wrigley Field. (And it’s not even 100 years old.)

Traditional Stations of the Cross located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre include the rock where the cross stood (which can be touched via a hole in the ground if one chooses to wait in line to do so) and the tomb itself. (I’ll have more to say about those locations in tomorrow’s post when we look at the Garden Tomb and the Place of a Skull.)

To close out the day, we saw the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. It is here where some scholars believe that the house of the High Priest Caiaphas was located, which therefore would make it the place where Jesus was questioned on the night of his betrayal. From this location, one has a sweeping view of the Kidron Valley, flanked by the Temple Mount on the left and the Mount of Olives on the right.

Once our group had made their way back to our hotel, Erin and I decided that we wanted to head back out on our own. And since sundown was just a half hour away (thereby bringing in the Sabbath), we decided that the Western Wall was the place to be.

We weren’t really sure how to get to the Old City on our own, let alone the Western Wall, but after about 100 yards it became quite obvious where we needed to be going. All we had to do was follow the sea of fast-moving Jews who were anxiously coming from all over the city to pray at the Wall at the onset of Sabbath.

We entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate on the north and were herded past men and women (mostly men) of all ages. Orthodox Jews, with their big fuzzy hats (called ‘shtreimals’), seemed to comprise most of those who quickly jostled past us. Once at the edge of the Wall complex, we had to pass through a security checkpoint. We finally made it into the courtyard. Turning the corner and seeing the Western Wall in front of me is probably one of the most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed. The swelling surge of Jews made the moment that much more intense. Photography of any kind is forbidden at the Wall on Sabbath. Long-time readers of this blog know that can only mean one thing: Erin took a photo.  I might as well not let it go to waste…

After a few minutes of waiting outside the prayer area and just watching, Erin and I decided that we would enter the prayer area for a closer experience. Men and women are not allowed to approach the wall together and are kept apart by a dividing wall, so she went her way and me mine. Once inside the prayer area and closer to the wall, I felt like a pebble among boulders. The swirling sounds of song, chants, prayer, reading, and laughter brought about near sensory overload. After some time, I decided that I would go up to the wall and pray. Not because I felt that doing so *at the Western Wall* would make any more of a difference, but because it just felt appropriate. I know it’s just a wall. (I’m not sure the people next to me did.) But watching the actions of those around me so fervently directing their thoughts makes it nearly impossible to not want to do the same. I don’t think being at that place at that time was very conducive to just being an innocent bystander. Interestingly enough, I stood between two Israeli soldiers, guns and all. Joshua’s Israelites are still here.

It really was a pretty surreal experience for both Erin and me. We eventually just stood there, watching the sun inch its way down and the darkness take its place, surrounded by a level of devotion that is exceedingly admirable. Lessons can always be learned.

I’ll have more to say about the Western Wall in a day or two.

And so that’s where we’re at. Erin is asleep on the lobby couch next to me. For those of you who want to hear more from her, text her and tell her that all she needs to do is stay awake past 10:00.

psalm 59:16… day ten

May 7, 2010

Well I’ve run across blazing upload speeds for the Internet. And I’m sure you’re wondering where these mystical upload speeds have come from. I’ll tell you. It’s not a secret. From ANOTHER HOTEL, that’s where! That’s right, I’m currently sitting in the lobby of the Olive Tree Hotel, which is down the road from the Grand Court where I’m staying. I decided that it would be worth a whirl to see if I could get Internet access over here, and aside from the awkwardness of my response to the front desk agent’s question of, “What room are you staying in?”, it’s been a worthwhile purchase. But I’ve only got three hours until my time runs out, so I bettr start tyeing fast if i wan too get this all in,

So let’s start with me bringing you up to speed on yesterday’s events.

On Thursday we saw three sites: Masada, Qumran, and Jericho. Here are my thoughts on each…

Every trip has that one site that everyone you know who has been to the location you’re going to before tells you is just amazing and then you see it for yourself and it’s a dud. Well, Masada was that place for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t boring or anything; it just wasn’t as enticing as you would think a stronghold built high atop a natural defensive fortification could be. The story behind its final days was pretty worthwhile, but the place itself… not so much.

For those not familiar with this place, the end of the story is that Masada was a stronghold on the western edge of the Dead Sea and was built by Herod the Great to serve as a place of refuge. Blah, blah, blah – the guy had plenty of them, as he was one paranoid dude. But where the story of Masada takes a turn for the interesting is when we look at what happened there in 73AD, just three years after Jerusalem had fallen at the hands of the Romans. Led by  Eleazor, a number of Jewish extremists had been holding out against the impending Roman destruction. The Romans finally determined that building a siege ramp out of the rubble would be their best option for the completion of their efforts to destroy the Jewish state.

Rather than succumb to slavery, Eleazor convinced his comrades that suicide was a better option. So after killing the women and children, the extremists of Masada took their own lives. The rousing speech that Eleazor delivered to his men is captured for us by Josephus in his Wars of the Jews, though it is debated how accurate Josephus is with regard to this episode. (I would argue “not very”. Though with that said, I think that Josephus’ account may simply be an embellishment of what might have happened, perhaps as a bit of an apology for bailing on his countrymen.) Anyway, in the last few decades the story of Masada has served as a motivator and symbol for the young of Israel. (Nevermind the fact that Eleazor and his men actually pillaged from and killed most of the people in surrounding villages while trying to outwait the Romans). Today, it’s the most visited tourist site in all of Israel. And I still found it lacking. At the end of the day, there really aren’t that many ruins at the top of this 1,400 foot high mountain and it feels like it’s 109 degrees when you’re up there.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the siege ramp that the Romans built out of debris and rocks which allowed them to finally take Masada (ramp is in the middle). It’s pretty cool that it’s still there:

From Masada, our next stop was at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. And the way the scrolls were found is actually a pretty interesting story. They weren’t so much as “found by a shepherd” as they were “illegally sold on the Black Market”. But nonetheless, these documents serve as the find of the 20th century. Pictured below is Cave 4, where the clear majority of the scrolls have – to date – been found.

The theory goes that the Essenes buried the scrolls in clay pots and jars in an attempt to preserve their writings (largely instructions on their way of life) as they were quickly being expelled by the Romans in 68AD. Unfortunately, it appears as if the Romans tore much of the writings up, thinking that they were junk as they rooted the caves in search of usable materials. But after what was probably at least a handful of rolls of Scotch tape, most of the 900+ documents have been restored, providing us with the oldest known copies of what was of far more value than how the Essenes bathed – the Biblical texts.

Our final stop for the day was one that I’m sure was circled on most everyone’s itineraries – Jericho.

Today, Jericho is a thriving area. It seems that it’s one of the first considerations for those ready to leave Jerusalem. What really came to life for me was how obvious it is as to why this would have been the first city that Joshua and his men would have conquered during the conquest. When standing atop Mount Nebo, the city looks like it’s just a skip away from the Jordan River, near where it meets the Dead Sea.

But that’s not to say that the Jericho of the Old Testament just jumps right out at you, as you really have no idea what you’re even looking at. Jericho is, it seems, about as poorly dug of an archaeological site as you’re going to run into. It pretty much just looks like a big grey mound. You can see the revetment (outer) wall from Joshua’s day still standing, but other than that it’s mostly just a lot of pot shards and weeds. In the picture below you can see the shadow of Jericho in the foreground, with the famed palm trees in the middle, and the Plain of Moab in the background.

As I’ve already mentioned, Jericho had two walls – an outer (revetment) wall and an inner wall (probably 25′-50′ higher up the hill from the outer wall). This was a common technique in antiquity. If your opponent made it through one wall (a generally time consuming affair) then he still had to make it through another one. It’s the inner, higher wall that would have fallen to the ground for the benefit of the Israelites, at which point they would have scaled the lower wall with ladders and other such paraphernalia. While there is evidence of the inner wall having actually fallen, I don’t have any pictures of that. But the whole structure would have looked something like this:

Here’s a video that shows you the still-standing outer wall:

So while it might not be much to look at, it’s still the site of one of the most well-known stories in the Bible and it’s a testament to how – once again – the Biblical accounts can be verified as long as you’re willing to allow enough time to pass for new discoveries to be made. Because time is one of the biggest allies the Bible has.

We spent all of today in Jerusalem, and so I plan to fit both Friday and Saturday’s events into an All-Jerusalem-All-The-Time post tomorrow in an effort to get us caught up after The Great Internet Debacle of Oh-10. But I will tell you one thing about today’s events that was just wonderful…

You see, we’ve been changing hotels quite frequently while on this excursion. Checking in at 6:00 in the evening and checking out at 8:00 the next morning is fairly common on this trip. But we have four days in the same hotel (well, unless, of course, you feel the need to walk to a different hotel for some random reason) to close the trip out. As a result, it meant that this morning Erin and I only had to carry two small backpacks onto the bus instead of our usual of two large suitcases, three backpacks, a camera bag, and about half a dozen giant bottles of water. As a result of that usual routine, our area tends to look like a landfill by the end of the day. I’m not kidding, the only thing keeping us and our 6 square feet area from joining the hobo consortium is a stick and a bandana. But not today. Today our feet actually touched the floor.

Oh, and because someone asked…. Of course we hummed the Indiana Jones theme while riding our horses into the siq in Petra at the majestic speed of ‘walking’.

Two for the price of one tomorrow!

to the valley of the crescent moon… day nine

May 6, 2010

Annnndd… let’s try this again.

I seem to now have a dedicated Internet connection, though I’m still lacking significantly in the speed department.

Oh. And we made it to Jerusalem.

We checked into the Garden Court hotel a few hours ago. Being the final hotel we’ll stay in (and the first for more than two nights), it’s odd realizing that our trip has quickly neared its conclusion. We’ll spend the next four days here in Jerusalem, and then we’ll head back to the States. It’s part disappointing, part frustrating, and part excitement. Often, we, as tourists, hit the big city first and then slowly work our way away from it. By saving the most prominent city in Israel until last, it feels like there is so much to look forward to at a time in the trip when we would normally be itching to get home.

But enough about the next four days, how about the last two?

In a word: wejustspentthelast48hoursseeingsomeoftheworldsmostimportantsites.

Don’t bother looking that up in a dictionary. It’s a word, okay?

(Though since the Internet connection here is so slow – 2KB/s upload speeds; meaning pictures take 20 minutes to upload and 30-second videos, hours – I’m only going to post Wednesday’s activity here. From here on out, what you read will probably be a day behind when it actually took place. It’s not preferred, but forced.)

Yesterday morning began fairly early for me; in fact, I was probably the first person awake in the hotel. We were in Petra and the night before I decided that I wanted to watch the sunrise over the rock-strewn valley. I asked the front desk clerk what time the sun rose and he responded with, “5:00.” Excuse me?

But there I was at 5:09 that morning – sitting outside, shivering, watching the sky turn from black to blue, with reds and golds splashed across the face of the mountains. I recorded nearly an hour and a half of the sunrise with my Flip and plan to turn it into a 60-second time lapse video. Hopefully I’ll have that ready within a day or two (but with the turn the technology portion of this trip has taken the last couple of days, don’t count on it). Eventually I went back to the room to get ready for the day. When I came back down to the lobby, the area where I had been was swarming with people. It was kind of nice to know that dozens of people were now elbowing for camera room from an area that I had had all to myself just a short time earlier – and with a better show! I’ve watched the sun rise from some pretty unique places before (including from above the clouds) but that one probably beats them all.

Once we had made it into the actual canyon, things only progressed. We began with a horse ride down to where the siq (shaft, or narrow pass) begins. And from there, you’re on foot through alternating stretches of sand, rock, and ancient Roman road for a couple of miles, culminating in a view that is arguably the most famous the world has to offer. After all, you don’t earn the coveted World Heritage Site designation by being unrecognizable to the world.

Only-imagined vistas such as this…

Lead you to well-known ones such as this…

Once you’ve walked another 50 yards or so, the siq opens up into a wide area allowing for a full view of the treasury (or temple or housing or storage facility depending on when in Petra’s history you find yourself) as well as many other structures that the Nabateans built a handful of centuries before Christ. The only disappointing aspect of this moment is that there are so many people. It’s like Six Flags on the 4th of July, but only on steroids. It really distracts from the experience as you’re more concerned with not getting swallowed up in the sea of people than you are anything else. Fortunately there is an opportunity to ascend to the High Place. You have to take a steep staircase carved into the side of the rock to make it there, but once you’re at the top, the panoramic views afforded are well worth the effort. Not to mention that you find yourself with more Bedouins (two) than other tourists.

The trek back to the tour bus was a difficult one, as both Erin and I were so tired from walking up to the High Place and back that our legs were shaking with each step. But once back on the bus we left for our hotel on the Dead Sea, which was another four-hour drive from one country (Jordan) to another (Israel) but afforded an opportunity to catch up on some much needed rest.

Once arriving at our hotel on the Dead Sea, a handful of the tour members quickly made their way into the water. Swimming in the Dead Sea is one of those experiences that no doubt etches itself into the cavities of your mind. The best way I can think to describe it is to say that it’s pretty much like swimming in liquid jelly. Of course, you do float. The one downside that no one tells you about beforehand (and no one really thinks to consider on their own) is the fact that you’re in salt… and thus every cut, knick, scrape, etc on your body feels like it’s on fire when you get out. But, hey, I’m told that all that salt does wonders for wounds.

And with that, our day had come to its end.

I know that to you this likely sounds like a short, uneventful day with nothing much besides a really long bus ride to occupy our time with. But that’s not the case. Petra, where we spent a number of hours, is hands-down one of the most memorable places I’ve ever seen. On a typical day on this trip, I’ve been taking about 80 photos – and that’s spread out over three or four locations. I took nearly 200 photos while in Petra. It seemed as if there was something worth focusing on (literally) every few steps.

And since I fell asleep for 20 minutes waiting for the last photo to upload, I’m going to bed. Though for the greatest comment in the history of this blog, check out my man Josh Kirby’s “interpretation” of why there really was no post yesterday. Look under the comments in ‘Day Seven’.

no post today…

May 5, 2010

I’m sorry to announce that there will be no post today. While there is an Internet connection at our new hotel, it’s too slow and inconsistent for me to fight through. Had I not gotten just two hours of sleep last night I might be more inclined to tough it out, but it’s 11:20 at night here right now and I can barely keep my eyes open.

But on the bright side, perhaps you’ll be treated to another 2,000 word discourse tomorrow evening. A girl can dream, right?