Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jerusalem - Our Last Day

We visited two alternate sites for the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial: the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site for the past 1700 years, and the Garden Tomb, a site discovered in the late 1880s that better matches the geography of the bible narratives. In 300 AD, Constantine built a church here, and several other churches were built here since, some on top of the previous, some next to adjacent churches. Hence, the mismatch group of walls you see in pictures of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Sandy is standing in the photo.

A group of archaeologists discovered another area near the Damascus gate on the north side, that also may be the site of Jesus’ death and burial. This place has had a garden, an underwater cistern for the garden, markings in the rocks that look like a skull, a tomb with the burial slab on the right side, etc. Whichever site is correct doesn’t really matter. What matters is the truth of the events and the resurrection that occurred 3 days later!

We also visited many excavations. Here is a sample where Sandy is standing next to a spot where they found a wall from the 8th century BC, corresponding to when Solomon built the first temple, and another wall that dates to the 1st century BC, corresponding to the time under Hasmonean control. We also visited the tunnel excavations along the western wall of the temple mount. This tunnel exposes the extension of the western wall everyone is familiar with as the Wailing Wall. These are the original walls of the temple mount Herod the Great built when he rebuilt the temple for the Jews.

We have seen so much in these past 7 or 8 days that we will never read the bible the same way. We have seen physical evidence of where so many Old Testament and New Testament people lived and what they built. Not that we needed any affirmation, but we have a better understanding of what took place and how people lived. We are changed!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jerusalem – In and Around the Temple Mount

Today we visited several areas in the Old City of Jerusalem, mostly in and around the Temple Mount. We started in the southwest part of the city. None of the temple built by Solomon still remains, but parts of the Herodian temple are still accessible (built by Herod the Great). We visited one of the streets near an entrance to the temple where the street is 2000 years old – from the time of Jesus. We saw some of the chambers that would have held shops and money changers. We saw many of the stones that fell when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (see the picture: "not one stone here will be left upon another"). We saw how the road had buckled when Robinson’s Arch fell on it. Amazing!

We walked around the corner to the southern steps leading up to the temple mount. Many of these steps are also 2000 years old and are where the Pharisees would often gather to discuss matters of the Law (Jesus could have also discussed issues with the Pharisees from these steps!). We saw some of the original gates, although they are now sealed, that people would have used to enter and exit the temple mount area.

We went up to the platform of the Temple Mount itself which is also 2000 years old, built by Herod the Great. Although he was a Jew, he had done so much to please Rome at the expense of the Jews, he built this temple to somewhat appease the Jews. None of the buildings from the original temple are here, including the various courts for Gentiles, women, or the Holy of Holies. Because of that, and because there are several Muslim mosques here now, most Jews don’t bother coming here to visit, preferring to spend their time at the western wall. We were standing on the same stones Jesus walked on!

We next walked over to the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man who had been lame for 38 years. See John 5:1-15 for the story. Imagine: we were able to visit the pools where Jesus healed the man AND the temple where scripture says Jesus later saw him (verse 14). We are so thankful to have an opportunity to explore and visit these sites – we will never read these passages without remembering this visit!

After this, we had lunch in a nearby shopping mall and went to the Holocaust Museum. It was an emotional experience to say the least. This evening, we had the opportunity to listen to a Messianic Jewish pastor / rabbi talk about what it is like to be a Messianic Jew in Israel and some of the problems they face. Tomorrow will be our last day. Sad to leave, but forever the richer for it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gethsemene and Bethlehem

This morning we took in one of the most popular views of the Old City – from the Mount of Olives. From here you can see where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover (the Last Supper), walked through the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemene, Caiaphas’ house where Jesus was held overnight, and the courtyard where Peter denied our Lord! We will never read that part of the gospels the same way again!

From this view point, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemene. Some of these olive trees are old enough to have been here 2000 years ago… what a story they could tell! Of course, there are several churches here to commemorate the site.

From Gethsemene, we drove to the Israel museum where we walked around a model of what Jerusalem looked like in 66 AD. Our guide pointed out the different areas of the city, where the different classes of people lived, the Temple Mount area, and where the original walls from Solomon would have been, where they were after Herod rebuilt the Temple, and where they are today. Inside the museum, we were able to see fragments from the Dead Sea scrolls, including a facsimile of the 24 foot long Isaiah scroll. As an added bonus, they had a display featuring the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible in the world. It was copied by the Masoretes in about 1000 AD. Some of the Dead Sea scrolls date back to 200 BC, allowing anyone that knows Hebrew to compare writings that are separated by 1200 years of time, were made by very different groups of people, yet agree exactly! How can anyone be aware of documents like this and not believe?!?

We next drove to Bethlehem. Since that is now under Palestinian control, our Israeli guide and bus driver could not go with us. At the checkpoint, we transferred to a Palestinian bus and made our way into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Although our guide and bus driver were Arab Christians, it was still eerie having to leave an Israeli-controlled area. All was fine and we were able to view where Jesus was born and the Shepherd’s Fields area, fields that have been used for grazing in the past and were representative of where the shepherd’s would have been watching their flocks by night!

We are excited that we have two more days in Jerusalem, but sad knowing there is much we will not be able to see!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

From the Dead Sea to Jerusalem...

As we left the Dead Sea this morning, we stopped again at En Gedi to visit one of the waterfalls which provides water for this area. From 1 Samuel 24:1-4 - Now when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, "Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi." Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. The men of David said to him, "Behold, this is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'" Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly.

We then drove to Masada where the Jewish zealots made their last stand against Rome during the 68-72 AD revolt. Masada, which means fortress, was built by Herod the great to be used as a refuge should he get in trouble (he was VERY paranoid). He had it stocked with grain, dried meat, and water so he could stay for years at a time. When the Roman soldiers, using Israel slaves, built a mountain-sized ramp up the side of this fortress and broke through the walls, the 906 Jewish holdouts committed suicide, rather than becoming Roman slaves.

From there we went to a place called “Genesis Land”, or Abraham’s Tent. We were met by costumed men and were transported back in time 3800 years and feasted on an old Jewish meal. Oh yeah, transport from the bus through time to meet Abraham, was via camel!

Tomorrow morning we are scheduled to go to Gethsemene, the Mount of Olives, the Israel museum and Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is under Palestinian control, we must leave our bus, driver and guide, and be transported via a Palestinian bus, driver, and guide. We have been told they will be Arab Christians, but a special prayer for safety might be appropriate! Thanks!

From Galilee to the Dead Sea...

We started this morning with several people getting baptized on the Jordan River, as it leaves the Sea of Galilee. We then drove to Beit Shean, an ancient settlement that has been rebuilt several times and existed even before the Hebrews came. It was here that King Saul fought his last battle and killed himself rather than be taken captive. Most recently it was rebuilt as Scythopolis, one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis (although it is not mentioned by name in the New Testament). Our guide reminded us of the story of the prodigal son and how he squandered his money… this has all the makings of a city that would allow someone to squander all their money! The earthquake of 749 AD destroyed the city, actually preserving it for all to see.

We next drove a little over an hour to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. This settlement was active before and after Jesus’ lifetime, and may have had John the Baptist as one of its members. Portions from almost all of the books of the Old Testament were found here (all except Esther) and ALL of Isaiah was intact. When compared with the Masoretic text, the previously known oldest copy of the Jewish Old Testament from the 10th century, it was nearly an identical match!

Just past Qumran, we visited En Gedi, a natural spring in the mountain range west of the Dead Sea. This was one of the places David ran to while trying to keep away from King Saul. There is an inscription in the floor of this synagogue stating that God would curse anyone who told the secret of this place. To this day, no one knows what that secret was! How to use plants from here, how to use the minerals for cosmetics, something else?

Finally we arrived at our hotel near the Dead Sea, where we took a swim in the VERY salty water and caught up on the latest events from the newspaper. There are about 7 hotels here and it is a very popular resort destination for local Israelis.
Tomorrow… Masada and on to Jerusalem!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The journey continues...

This morning we traveled up the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, through territory that Israel claimed from Syria in the six-day war in 1967. During the first century AD (Jesus’ time), this area was Gentile and known as the Decapolis, or ten-cities. Remember the miracle of Jesus casting out demons into pigs that ran off a cliff? We drove past the tombs where the demon-possessed man lived and saw some nearby cliffs!

We continued on to Capernaum and our guide gave an excellent background and history of why Jesus grew up in Capernaum: the prophecy in Isaiah; being along the trade route between the Mediterranean and Arabia; having close proximity of Jews, Romans, Gentiles, Samaritans, etc. We were able to TOUCH the stones from the synagogue in Capernaum that dates to the 1st century, WALK THROUGH the same synagogue (partially reconstructed), VIEW Peter’s house, and we took time to PRAY and thank God for all He has done!

Leaving Capernaum, we observed many hills and valleys in the area that could have been suitable grounds for teaching (the sermon on the mount at the Mount of Beatitudes, feeding of the 5,000+ at Tabgha), and more.

We drove to the northern border of Israel, where the tribe of Dan moved to, and saw many of the ruins that have been discovered there: the city gate, the courtyard, the altar and standing stones, etc. This made parts of the bible about Dan and Jeroboam and sitting at the gate and high places and idol worship come alive!

We next drove to Caesarea Philippi (Banias) referred to in Matthew 16:13-19 and had a short, but powerful, bible study on the passage. We were able to walk around the headwaters of the Jordan River at see where statues of the pagan idols were placed for worship, including one, I kid you not, for the “dancing goats!”

We visited a town along the western shore and viewed the “Jesus boat” that was discovered in the late 1980’s – a wooden fishing boat that dates to the first century AD.

One of the most moving things was our boat ride on a wooden boat from that town to Tiberias… an hour long boat ride, with some and praise and worship songs, some wind and minor waves, across the same body of water that the disciples fished from, that Jesus and the disciples travelled across, and that JESUS AND PETER WALKED ON!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our first full day in Israel…

We arrived last night, had some dinner, met our tour group, and wandered around the “boardwalk” of Tel Aviv (aka Joppa or Jaffa).

This morning we had a 6:00 AM wakeup call to get breakfast and head out for our first day of touring the Holy Land. We started at Caesarea, built by Herod the Great for Rome. By embracing pagan gods, he won the support and confidence of Rome Much of the city has disappeared, but you can still see the palace, the coliseum and the theater (that’s Sandy standing near the front of the theater where Herod Agrippa made a speech and was struck dead – see Acts 12:19-22). We then made a quick stop to see the aqueduct that carried water for 10 miles from springs by Mt Carmel to Caesarea.

We drove to the top of Mt Carmel where Elijah had it out with the 850 prophets of Baal (see the statue!). Our guide is doing a great job of “putting the text into context” as he describes the biblical setting before, during and after viewing each site. This mountaintop also provides a great view of the Jezreel Valley, long thought to be the site where Armageddon will occur.

We next drove to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up; the town is NOTHING like it was in His day. Now, it has a population of about 100,000; a combination of Arab Muslims and Arab Christians. Most of the Jews have move to Nazareth Illite, a small city of very nice condominiums on a hill just outside Nazareth. While here, we visited a recreation of what Nazareth might have looked like when Jesus was growing up, to include dwellings (two houses and a synagogue), crafts (a weaver and a carpenter) and some agriculture (wine and olive presses).

Finally we drove into Tiberias, on the south shore of the Sea of Galilee where we had dinner and spent some time along the shore realizing “this is the same sea where Jesus was!”