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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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg permalink
    May 9, 2010 5:08 pm

    Great writings . . . great pictures and videos. . . and really GREAT posts from Erin. Perhaps this was “the trip of a lifetime”. Have a safe journey home!

  2. Don and Terri permalink
    May 9, 2010 8:07 pm

    Bwahahahahahahahahahaha bwahahahahahahahhah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so glad I didn’t know about the crab-crawling or the Jason Bourne activities ahead of time. But I’m not surprised you got lost.

  3. Jeff permalink
    May 9, 2010 9:05 pm

    You know, when I think of Erin I do generally think of Jason Bourne… How weird is that?

  4. Aaron Gann permalink
    May 10, 2010 12:45 am

    Question: Why does one need both an Old Testament in Hebrew and a 3-volume set of the Old Testament in Hebrew and English side-by-side? Are you planning to give one to a friend? Also how is your mom doing? If it might be possible she could give yet a 3rd viewpoint…just a suggestion…

  5. Helen Carr permalink
    May 10, 2010 5:19 pm

    Love your blog! I hope to see all of the pictures! Have a good flight home.

  6. May 11, 2010 1:44 pm

    Had I seen James’ message in time to text you, Erin, you would have had 2 fanS.

    ps. I see the skull. What a weird place to have a crucifixion. I guess there wasn’t a road there, then…

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