Blogging Israel


Wednesday-Thursday, June 15-16, 2005: Picturing Jesus’ Ministry

After our first night in Tel Aviv last Tuesday (June 14, 2005), we left for Galilee on Wednesday (June 15). We went up through Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, the Jezreel Valley, to the spring where Gideon narrowed down his fighting men, and eventually to a lovely kibbutz on the south of Galilee at a place called Maagan. There we swam in the Sea of Galilee (Clint Ussher, Ian Swyers, and Danielle Evans swam way out to a buoy in a "Hey, I could actually die doing this" kind of way). We noticed a sign forbidding swimming in the sea at our location after we all got out.

Then on Thursday we sailed on the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to the boat museum, then to the Beatitudes, Feeding of the 5000, and Feed my sheep sites. Finally we came to Capernaum to the site where Peter and Jesus may actually have lived. I enjoyed the ride on the sea very much and the Capernaum site was very meaningful to me, although I was a bit out of it from jet lag and there was the monstrous spider church over it and things were much too hurried for me there. I would have rather meditated there than at some of the other churches.

Then we went to Cana where two of our company, Ben Last and Emily Harle, began their wedding on videotape. They'll finish it in about 8 weeks. I don't know how many times Wilbur emphasized that they weren't married yet. It was a "you can't have sex" reminder he made about ten times. Cana was our first primarily Palestinian city (at least formerly primarily Palestinian Christian).

Nazareth followed and I, being paranoid, was a little uneasy walking through the markets to the church of Joseph and another big church the Roman Catholic church has built. These are located over caves where Jesus may have lived and Joseph may have had a "carpentry" or stone work shop.

Finally, we came back to the Jordan River where I baptized, rededicated, and helped rededicate several people. That was a neat experience.  I have supply pastored, but never baptized, so Emily Harle soon to be Last was the first person I’ve ever baptized.

None of that, however, is what I started out to write. I started to write my impressions of Jesus ministry in the light of these forays.

The first thing that struck me is that the Sea of Galilee isn't as big as I had pictured it. In fact the distances in general are nothing like I pictured them. Perhaps in terms of how the distances seemed to them they were similar. We Americans travel so much and so far that the distances of the ancients seem puny. Yet in Jesus' day I'm sure these "small" distances to me were much bigger.

The Sea of Galilee is only 13 miles across. You can actually see the other side and the Golan Heights from the southernmost tip of it (and of course you can bomb the other side as well, as has been done in the past). I had pictured something much more along the lines of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

Also my reading indicates that the villages would have been very small. Nazareth might have had 500 people and Capernaum 1000. You can still get a little feel for Capernaum because it is a ruin but Nazareth is hopeless. I hardly gained any feel for Jesus from going there personally.

The plain at the edge of the Sea of Galilee yields to the rather high hills of Upper Galilee. Unless you found a good path, travelling from Nazareth to Cana some five or six miles north would be a chore. Jesus stayed away from the large Greek cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias.

In my devotional Thursday night I remarked on how insignificant a place Jesus came to. What a small group of people he ministered to in a backwater part of Antipas' peculiarly divided domain. It was like he gave us a little snippet of what ministering is all about. Before he died for the world, he ministered to a little group of peasant villagers trying to survive the building programs and thus taxation of Herod Antipas. They farmed enough to live on, but he demanded much more. These were the poor to whom Jesus spoke good news.



Friday-Saturday, June 17-18, 2005: Muslim Holy Day

This hotel has wireless, so I thought I would share a few quick thoughts on Israel (I wrote this Saturday night, the 18th).

I tend to be paranoid (which doesn’t necessary mean that people aren’t out to get me), so I’ve been a little tense these last couple of days. Yesterday we went through the West Bank quite a bit: Jericho and down along the Jordan river (these pictures are linked below). We swam in the Dead Sea and stayed in Bedouin country in the south (Arad). Then today we lunched, shopped and toured in Bethlehem, which is Palestinian controlled.

I feel like the situation here politically has come into even better focus, and I’ll share sometime. I know it’s not spiritual, but the main thing I was thinking in the Church of the Nativity was, “Just think, there were Palestinians holed up in here in a standoff with the Israelis just a couple years ago.” “Just think, there are bullet holes in the side of this church.”

It was just bizzare as we rode down along the Jordan River. I kept thinking as we went. Just think, Janin is just a few miles to the west of us. The Israelis mowed down houses there a couple years ago. Okay, just think, Nablus (Shechem) is just a few miles to the west of us now. That's where they mowed down a bunch of stuff. Or just think, now we're passing Ramallah where Arafat was holed up for so long.

It was just bizarre. The walk from here to there is no big deal--it's just space. But the significance of the space from here to there is unbelievable and sometimes deadly.

Well time for supper. More later…


Filling in Gaps

Friday we left Galilee for the south, traveling along the Jordan River to a large extent in West Bank territory, as I've mentioned. Our first main stop of the day was at Jericho, almost to the Dead Sea. This is a Palestinian city. My initial impressions were that this was a tourism starved city, although it does have a rather large new casino.

Jericho is not a big tourist stop unless you're an Old Testament or Hebrew Bible professor, I suspect. We took a picture of an old sycamore tree (think Zacchaeus), and someone phoned ahead to warn the shops at our next stop. The beginning of approaching ware salesmen commenced, often difficult for Americans when things are being shoved in their faces by adults and children for the sympathy vote.

High on the hill is the "traditional site" of Jesus' wilderness temptation, a Greek Orthodox controlled place with cable cars to boot.

Then we arrived to camel rides and overpriced shopping, but there was also some very nice fruit.

The archaeological site of Jericho itself was irritating, almost a waste of time if it weren't for sentimental reasons. Here were some of the notorious failures of early archaeology. The science was infantile at the time, and Garstang blew through massive layers of stuff, discarding everything as he went until he could find the Jericho of Joshua's day. When he thought he had finally found it, he was at about 2000 BC. He had removed the Joshua time layer way above it in the process. So the Tel as it now stands is about twenty feet lower than it was a hundred years ago.

Kathleen Kenyon continued the dig in the 50's I think and did much to improve the way archeology is done. The current majority view is that there was no city there at the time of Joshua, but you couldn't prove or disprove it because cursed Garstang threw away the evidence a century ago (maybe a little less). !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (P.S. there is a tower there that dates to about 7000 BC from Kenyon’s digs.  I think it sometimes pops up as support for the Joshua story, but it is not from the time of Joshua.)

Well, I'll continue with Qumran later. Got to go.



More Gaps

I left off I think in terms of continuity with Qumran on Friday. It was truly great for me to be there since I have delivered a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls and twice taught a course on the intertestament. Let me say how incredibly helpful it is for me to remember things when I can picture it. I now know where at least some of the caves are in relation to Qumran (and can now dismiss out of hand the fanciful theories that suggest the scrolls might have nothing to do with the site).

I've seen the graves running north and south now, to the east of the site. I've seen the miqvaoth (baptismal pools), the tower, the so called "scriptorium" (bad choice of words for extraneous meaning imported in) and the refractory. These are great things. I had a novelistic picture of it (yes, I did once start a novel with Judas starting in the Qumran community) that was quite wrong.

Then we swam in the Dead Sea, which was great. I wish we could have swam all the way across to Jordan. I already mentioned that Ian Swyers, Clint Ussher and I climbed up Masada. That was a highpoint for sure.

Then we made our way to a hotel in Arad.

The Sabbath was soon approaching at the hotel there, and Jewish women could be seen scurrying to the elevator. The elevators here on the Sabbath run on their own so that no one has to push a button and thus "light a fire." They won't turn on coffee pots on Saturday or do any of these mundane things. Wilbur told a story of how he actually had to turn on the oven for a hotel back in 58 I think it was, with a rabbi standing guard over the kitchen to make sure no Jew did.

I'm too tired to pontificate, but I think some of the legalistic practices of my own Wesleyan background approach such silliness.

I'll just mention the problem Jews have with having meat and dairy products together. It goes back to a verse that appears in three different places in the Pentateuch about boiling the kid in its mother's milk. So they won't serve meat (the kid, I presume) with any milk. Of course discoveries at Ugarit show, as usual, that this is in part a reaction to Canaanite practice and thus that the Jews are making a big hullaballo about a verse that has nothing to do with them or having butter with supper.

I'm too tired to pontificate, but Wesleyan buns and not letting guys have goatees measure about the same on the "I don't have a clue what the words of the Bible were really about" scale.

On Saturday morning we went to Arad, Israel's defense from the southeast, and Beer Sheva (the picture is a reconstructed horned altar at Beer Sheba—I thought you would be bored with a set of towers that basically look like the ones at Arad), Israel's defense from the southwest. This was in Rehoboam's time.

Very interesting to me in Arad was the fact that Rehoboam had set up a three part temple in the fortress. I think Hezekiah may have dismantled it in his attempt to make Jerusalem the only legitimate place to worship Yahweh.

Then we stopped at Lachish for a few. Then we came up to the Valley of Elah where the Philistines and the Israelites met and traditionally David killed Goliath. Then we came to Bethlehem.

It was crowded with Palestinian police all around. We went into the church where Palestinians just a couple years ago walled themselves up and where there were bullet holes (I didn't personally see any). The church is Greek Orthodox again and the traditional site is in a cave under the church. There is as usual a place to touch or kiss, and a place to the side where the baby Jesus traditionally was laid.

You come up to a Franciscan church right next to it. As usual it's hard for me to know what to make of it, since I have no confidence that any of these spots are the right spots.

I thought I’d add pictures I took of an Israeli checkpoint going in to Bethlehem—very humiliating and infuriating to the Palestinians as they enter their own space to be shaken down.  Also infuriating is the wall the Israelis are building to keep suicide bombers from easy access to Jerusalem.  Here is the beautiful Israeli expansion from Jerusalem overlooking Bethlehem.  I’ll call it “Ha-In Your Face.”

Then we came here to Jerusalem, and I discovered wireless in the rooms.



Sunday, June 19, 2005: My Modernist, Protestant Biases Come Out

Fifteen minutes till departure on Father's Day for the Jerusalem museum. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the presence of Franciscan and Greek Orthodox churches here.

First of all, copious, copious kudos to the Franciscans and Greek Orthodox who bought up the land where holy sites are so many years ago. They have preserved them when they might otherwise have been destroyed. For this I am eternally grateful.

Now for venting… Given the mindset of these groups, they just have to built these churches on the sites. I suppose the reasoning is once a holy site always a holy site; once a church always a church. The result is that modernist Protestants like me, who want to see and get the feel for what it was really like, have to struggle to look around all the "stuff" the Catholics have piled on.

Of course I don't mind half of it. The church of the Beatitudes or where the 5000 were fed or where Jesus told John to feed his sheep are unlikely the real spots, despite good attempts by the early Christians to identify prominent rocks. Hey look, there's a good rock, let's build a church here. So I don't mind those. They give concreteness to important memories and have been some of the best places for meditation.

On the other hand, the Franciscans just had to build this monstrous, spider like looking church on top of the site where Peter and Jesus may have lived. I want to see the real deal, not have to peer from afar under this big metal thing to see the site. It was better before they venerated the site, from pre 1990 pictures.

Frankly, hurray for the Old Testament sites and the Roman ruins. The church has left them alone so you can picture what things were really like without the monstrosities. Of course, they're not the sites I'm really interested in.

I close with the church of the nativity, although I hear the Holy Sepulcher will win the prize for competing churches. You know, Greek Orthodox squeezed next to Roman Catholic. Add the Armenians at the Sepulcher and we're ready to lose all site of reality.

Hurray for the imagination; laments for reality.

Ken Schenck, reporting from Jerusalem



Sunday, Part 2: It was on a Sunday in Jerusalem

It's heading toward the end of Sunday here, our third holy day in a row. Friday we went through the West Bank along the Jordan river on the Muslim holy day (the Palestinians there didn't seem too bothered--I've only heard prayer chants here in Jerusalem even though Nazareth, Cana, Bethlehem are all Palestinian cities).

Saturday was Shavat, and I may vent later on the stupidity of fundamentalisms in all three faiths--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Just a few simple lessons on hermeneutics explode a ridiculous way of life for the orthodox Jews here.

Then today is the Christian Sabbath. The juxtaposition of faiths in these ways gives us pause. Do I look as silly to them as they do to me? Maybe I don't, but I bet the ones kissing the rock in the church where Jesus was allegedly tempted do. By the way, I actually almost kissed it myself, so I don't mean any of my comments personally.

Today was a great day--immensely helpful in getting a perspective on things. I'll list our pilgrimage today:

1. Mount of Olives--panoramic view of the Temple Mount

2. Church of Tears (whatever it's really called), where Jesus is said to have wept for Jerusalem. It's right across from the Eastern Gate and quite a good place to do that.

3. Garden of Gethsemane, including cave where they may have hid out from authorities.

All the above are in primarily Palestinian occupied areas and are on the east side of the temple mount. Below the Mount of Olives are cemeteries and the Kidron Valley.  The Kidron valley runs south into the Valley of Hinnom or the Valley ge Hinnom in Aramaic.  This is the place of origin for the idea of Gehenna.  The image starts here because it is where the trash of Jerusalem was burned.  You would walk out the “dung” gate and take your trash there, I believe.  Isaiah 66 talks about it as a place where the bodies of the enemies of Israel would be burned in the restoration of Israel to her glory.  From this image of the worm not dying and the fire never going out was built the image of Gehenna, hell.

I should clarify that the current gates are not the gates that were in existence at the time of Jesus.  The current wall around the city was built by Saladin in the 1500’s and is a Muslim foundation.  At the time of Jesus, the eastern and part of the western wall (to about the Jaffa Gate) probably stood in about the same place, perhaps even the northern wall if I remember correctly.  However, the southern wall extended down toward the Valley of Hinnom around the old city of David and around the Pool of Siloam at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel.  If you look at the pictures from Tuesday below, you will see pictures of the oldest part of Jerusalem where the Jebusite city David conquered was located.

4. We went to the traditional site of the upper room, next to the Church of the Assumption of Mary.

5. We went through the Zion Gate and looked at a road Hadrian made through the city when he conquered and rebuilt it as Aelia Capitolina in 135 after the Bar Kochba revolt.

6. We shopped in the Jewish quarter.

7. We ate in the Jewish quarter.

8. We visited the wailing wall, men on the left, women on the right. Men can only go down with a cap of some kind. Some of the men went into a chamber with the psycho-orthodox praying like crazy and saw a vaulted ceiling I think Herod had built.

I felt bad and angry for the women of our group. I'll save my finger pointing at Christians who divide life between men and women for another blog. Prepare to be compared to the Orthodox Jews still waiting for the Messiah and the fundamentalist Muslims here. You're not much better, just as ignorant and displeasing to God.

9. We went to the temple mount. We had to surrender all our "holy items": prayer shalls, mezuzoth, etc... so the Muslims wouldn't be angry to find foreign holy things on their mount. At least that's the way I understood it.  Also, the chief rabbinate of Israel was kind enough to notify us that we were going to fry if we went up on the forbidden holy site.

10. We went to the spot Wilbur wonders if the temple had stood (this cupola is called the Dome of the Spirits).  He is following a Jewish writer by the name of Asher Kaufman in this analysis.  Wilbur thinks the ark of the covenant is buried underneath. The Muslims stopped a dig he was on once. They refuse to believe that any temple ever stood there before the Dome of the Rock. Of course no one who knows anything about anything could make such a claim of utter stupidity.  I suspect that if you hold the mirror up to many Christians and say, we're not really much smarter with the way we sometimes manipulate evidence and truth. I'm sure this is true of me as well.


But with regard to the cupola, Kaufman is not really a professional archaeologist.  He’s actually a physicist by background.  He admits up front that some of his theory is based on “inspiration.”  His theory is heavily dismissed by Leen Ritmeyer in a Catholic Biblical Quarterly review 67 (2005): 321-23.  For example, Leen cites as an example of Kaufman’s mistakes the fact that “the slab under the cupola of the Dome of the Spirits, which he claims is the foundation stone that protruded into the holy of holies but is clearly a Herodian paving-slab.”  I am not an expert on these issues, but in retrospect I would agree that the rock under the cupola was pretty much identical to the paving slab we saw outside the location of the Fortress Antonia.


I don’t feel qualified to decide who’s right, although my knee jerk reaction is to follow Ritmeyer.


11. We went back to get our holy items.

12. We went out the Dung Gate (what does that make us?) and rode the bus to the burial site of Sanhedrin members. We were all very tired by now.

13. But it continues, we drove out north to the traditional burial site of Samuel, which is next to Gibeon where Joshua is said to have conquered some Canaanites and Gibeah, of Saul fame, and of course, Solomon sacrificed a bunch of animals at the Samuel site as well to dedicate the temple.

Did I mention that this was north of Jerusalem, in the West Bank? One of the benefits of going with Wilbur is all these incursions into the West Bank (no pun intended). I asked Wilbur to point out where Ramallah was in relation to the Samuel site (we were way up on top of the building, surveying the kingdoms of the world). It was just over the hill a bit, a little more than five miles according to my map.


By the way, in the picture of Gibeah above you can see the remains of a crusader fort where Richard the Lionhearted had a camp.  Ramallah is in the direction of the picture of Gibeon above (northeast-ish).

Well, that's enough for now. I need a nap...



Monday, June 20, 2005

Now the day is over, at least the touring day.

We first went to the church of Gallicantu, the rooster crowing church. A jail like underbelly makes us wonder if this was the house of Annas that John says Jesus went to on Thursday evening. The dungeon-like atmosphere of the one part, with a hole in the top that gives you a picture of them lowering Jesus down by rope, brought powerful emotions.

The signs around the place indicate, however, that that particular hole as well as the dungeon like aspect of the place probably date to the Byzantine era, if I understand things correctly. It seems more likely to me, therefore, that Jesus would have been chained to the walls in the adjoining rooms. Of course it is not certain that this was Annas' house, although it fits the part of what we're looking for. It is probably not the house of Caiaphas, which would have been further up the hill.

Outside, however, is a walkway that Jesus probably was brought up the night of his betrayal. Wilbur suggested it was the most certain site of all the sites in Jerusalem relating to Jesus.

We then went to a museum where they had a model city of Jerusalem. That was helpful in locating everything in relation to everything else.

We went to the Qumran museum. This was particularly enjoyable to me, although I didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked.

Then we went to the Jerusalem museum. Wilbur was like a cannon, boom, boom, boom, he moved from one thing to another with lightning speed. He'd been on this dig, then that one. Particularly memorable to me was his explanation of the Assyrian relief of the seige of Lachish. He was animated, a scholar comparable to any. This is a Wilbur to see. If you want to know what a scholar looks like, watch him when he goes into this mode. He becomes like a machine gun: tat a tat tat, tat a tat tat.

Particularly memorable to me there were some things I knew about but actually had in front of me: the Gezer calendar, Caiaphas' ossuary, photos of Egyptian steles that mention Israel in the 12th century, mention of David in the ninth...

We had lunch, went to Bethany (Palestinian city), crawled into Lazarus' tomb--quite a crawl at one point.

We came back and went to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. To get there we entered the Damascus Gate and walked through a narrow passage of Arab shops, like a flea market. The church itself has chapels of Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. There are probably more but those are the ones we saw (that is, those of us who ran off after we'd seen the main sites, Charlie Alcock and son, the Bignells, and Clint Ussher).

What we saw of the traditional site of Golgotha was again a rock surrounded by holy trappings. We could reach in and touch the rock. I remember the History Channel expressing some doubts about this rock (In the Footsteps of Jesus). In its current form it is too small to fit three crosses on and it would have been hard for soldiers to hoist people up onto it.  But the rock could have been bigger at the time since the whole area was apparently a stone quarry at the time of Jesus. 


A few think that Golgotha may refer to the entire rock quarry place in general (why?  Because of tombs nearby?).  And a particular female scholar on the program plausibly suggests that they would have crucified people just outside a nearby gate (Haditha Gate?  I can’t remember) where everyone could see them.  This would place the actual site of crucifixion around the current David Street.

I had imagined the church to be divided into three parts, but it really is more like a Greek Orthodox base with several side chapels. As far as I could tell, the only Roman Catholic chapel was next to Golgotha, which was upstairs. The Turks laid out the current divisions of “territory” in the church in the 1800’s.

Then we went to the traditional site of the burial, which the surrounding rock apparently taken away. There was also a tomb attributed to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus nearby.

Although some have argued for evidence of earlier Christian veneration in sites that were digs under the Armenian quarter, apparently the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, is responsible for the current site of the church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Local Christians at that time located the original burial of Jesus under what was then a Temple of Aphrodite, which Helena had destroyed.  Tombs were found underneath and a basilica church was erected in 335 with a site for Golgotha (the current one) and the area around the tomb was cut away to leave the site of the tomb itself.  But this site was destroyed by marauders in the 1000’s, leaving little if anything of the original burial rock of Jesus’ tomb.  The Crusaders rebuilt the church in 1099. 


So the current church has pretty much nothing original of the traditional burial tomb of Jesus—unless of course it turns out that the traditional tombs of Joseph and Nicodemus are in fact the original tombs!  But I presume the traditional one was chosen because it originally fit the description best.  Too bad.

We ended at the Garden Tomb, where we had communion. I think everyone in the group agrees that the feel of it is closest to what the original tomb would have been like. Nevertheless, few if any scholars think it was the original site. The tomb is apparently a first temple bench tomb that would pre-date Jesus by over six hundred years.

That concludes today.



Monday, Part 2: Israelis and Palestinians

As I write an Islamic chant is blaring outside my window. I imagine a few years ago I might have found that pretty innocuous. But after the two intifadas of Hamas and friends and after 9-11, I find it irritating, almost offensive.
Mind you, I'm willing to give any individual of any race or religion an opportunity to prove themselves profitable members of the human race. And Christ bids me to love them, to grieve for them. But I'll admit that my trip here to Israel has generally increased my irritation with the ignorance that is so prevalent in all three of the "great" monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I'm sure this applies to non-monotheistic religions as well, but that will have to wait some future trip to India or somewhere.

I feel like I have a better sense of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis after being here. Frankly I feel sympathy to both sides. Before WW1, this territory was under Turkish control. Since they aligned with the Germans, it came under British management after WW1. I'm fuzzy on some of the details, but in 1948 the United Nations had a two state solution that Israel accepted but the Palestinians and their friends (Egypt, Jordan, Syria) rejected.

When Israel came into the land, some Arabs stayed and became incorporated into Israel, these are the Arabs of Nazareth, Cana, etc... Others fled on the advice of Egypt and Jordan.

For the next almost 30 years, the West Bank was a part of the country of Jordan (a backwards B with its center point in Jerusalem. The coast and Galilee were under Israeli control.

Then in the 6 day war of 1967, Israel took Jerusalem and a lot of other West Bank territory. Jordan abandoned any claim to the area west of the Jordan River. Since then, Israel has been expanding and expanding.

Now we have the current situation. The Israeli settlements are slowly but surely taking over the land. Palestinian territory has basically been reduced to individual cities, with the Israelis for all intents and purposes controlling everything around them.

From Israel’s perspective, it makes sense to stall peace negotiations as long as possible. The more time passes, the more the land has Israelis everywhere. Forget Gaza--it's off on its own anyway. Let it become the center for the Palestinian state. As for the West Bank, it is isolated from the other territory and has no where to go.

But from the Palestinian perspective, who told this foreign group called the Israelis that they could move in and take over? Wouldn't you want to have all the space you had before? Lacking the power to fight directly, they turned to terrorism. Some don't like the analogy, but there is some similarity to the Native Americans. The Palestinians were faced with a more powerful invader of the land they used to roam. Power wins. I am not justifying terrorist actions. I just think this is the oldest story in the book, a variation on the take over of space from a less powerful group by a more powerful group.

But reality is reality. They will never have it all back, and they have rejected some very generous offers in the process. Frankly, the best thing for them would be to swallow their pride and become incorporated as citizens of Israel like the citizens of Nazareth and Cana. Then they could enjoy prosperity like the rest of Israel. But of course this is not a possible solution either.

Complicating matters is the expansion of Islam among the Arab peoples here. In earlier days, many of these Arabs were Christians. Even today, there are far more Christian Palestinians than Christian Jews. But the support of American Christians for secular Israel along with Bush's actions in Iraq have only pushed Arabs away from Christianity and toward Islam.

So here are my political indictments of American Christianity. First, as Christians we should have been supporting the Christians of the Middle East--whether Jewish or Arab--rather than political entities like the pagan Israel of today. It is not the Israel of promise for it has not accepted Christ.

The orthodox Jews here are not Christian and are not appropriate objects of our support. They are just as divisive as the fundamentalist Muslims. They do not believe the messiah has come and have views that we as Christians (and scholars) consider patently false. Indeed, I have heard that many orthodox Jews speak of Jesus with contempt.  The ridiculousness of orthodox Jewish practices will have to wait for another day. They'll work for pay on the Sabbath but won't flip a switch on a coffee pot. They'll serve butter for breakfast but not for supper, only margarine--all on the basis of a ridiculous interpretation of a statement in the Pentateuch.

Meanwhile, we abandon the Syrian Christians, the Iraqi Christians, the Palestinian Christians. Bethlehem used to be a heavily Christian Arab town, but Saudi Arabia is pouring money into it to make it Muslim. No one visits the tomb of Lazarus even though it is a Christian site with a Russian Orthodox church next door. But on the other side is a brand spanking mosque renovation going on. I am not anti-Israel--there's no question about where I feel safest and most at home. But it is not Christian and must behave morally like any nation.

My second indictment is one I can do nothing about, the milk is spilt. But I stand by my earlier indictments of the war in Iraq. Toppling Hussein was a good goal, as was the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East.

But the recent British documents that have surfaced are nothing more than what I said back during the election. Ho hum, who is surprised by any of these things? It's exactly what I said and I'm stupid nobody from Marion, Indiana.

Bush and his cabinet had a plan for the Middle East--not a bad plan in theory. But they took a leap into Iraq to get the plan started without sufficient cause and without real understanding or foresight. Doesn't everyone want democracy--we're Americans, everyone loves us. They jumped the gun because of a two-dimensional view of the world--one I dare say dominates dreamy eyed but oh so shallow conservative American Christianity. They closed their eyes and jumped with visions of hot dogs and apple pie in their heads. Bush had never been a trip like this one to have any real sense of how people think outside America. The whole thing was an enterprise in giving power to people who only know their own way of thinking.

Now consider that after 9-11 we had the sympathy of the whole world, even the lip service of the Arab nations. There was nothing wrong with going into Afghanistan given their direct connections to bin Laden. But with Iraq we managed to polarize the entire Arab world against us in a way it had not been before, even among our long term allies like Egypt and Turkey. Because of Bush, fundamentalist Islam has advanced in places where we could have made strides for Christ if we hadn't been sleeping.

And now, the prize for single handedly doing the most to promote fundamentalist Islam around the world goes to.... envelope please.... George W. Bush, yes, for advancing the idea that Islam is the religion of Arabs and Palestinians, while Christianity is the religion of the West.

I know most American Christians thought that all the Palestinians were Muslims anyway. Guess what? We were ignorant to think that. But don't worry. They are now.



Monday, Part 3: Balancing Out the Last Post with Faint Praise

I will say that I think Bush has grown up a bit while he's been in office. I completely approve of what Condoleeza Rice did here over the weekend in pushing for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

But most nations in this part of the world do not view her or Bush as having moral authority. The Iraq war has castrated them. They must be received because America has power, and for this reason they must be heard as well. But the climate of a good nation with the moral high ground, the friend you want to do favors for--this is not the aura we bring to this part of the world.

We have become like any other powerful nation to the world. We are a force with which they must deal. But we come without any aura of moral integrity in their eyes. They will view any pontification on what is "moral" as hypocrisy.

I believe that the difficulty Bush is having with his appointments and things like Social Security are revealing examples that deep down on a subconscious level, even those who voted for Bush do not really trust his judgment.

He's a good guy, but a eunuch in my estimation. May the points of my ignorance not sway you and feel free to post dissenting positions.

I end with another story of the craziness here. This morning's paper tells of a college woman who tried to blow herself up at a Beersheba hospital. She came from Gaza. She wanted to blow up 40-50 people, primarily children. Remember we were just at Beersheba on Saturday.

The average Palestinian on the street doesn't agree with any of that stuff, I don't think. But those talking about Israelis loosening check points and stuff like that or taking down this offensive wall--the crazies leave them no room for argument. The Israelis are doing what they need to do to be safe and it has worked.

I'll try to steer back away from politics next entry. We're off...



Tuesday, June 21, 2005

And now today to end things. I may reflect on a deeper level after I get back, but here's today.

We started at St. Stephen's gate also called the Lion's Gate on the East side not far from the Eastern Gate. We entered to visit the Pool of Bethesda and the Fortress Antonia where Pilate would have sentenced Jesus.

This is all in the Muslim Quarter. The ordinary person here is eager to sell to you, but it also seems to be parking for the Temple Mount and one person in a car with a smile on his face made his finger like a gun while they drove by. I felt a little tense today since Sharon and Abbas are meeting today.

The Pool of Bethesda was a real serendipity as I had no expectations of it at all. Yet you could clearly see a first century cistern and several grottos where people could have bathed. Also there was a Crusader church to the parents of Mary (Anna in particular). Wilbur said it was the only Crusader church in the city Saladin did not destroy when he came in the 1500's I think.

Then down to the church where traditionally Jesus was sentenced and Barabbas freed. This is the first station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Then down to the church where traditionally Jesus was given his cross. This is the second station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Then Wilbur took us to the church of Notre Dame which has archaeological remains underneath it, including a large cistern from the time of Hadrian. This is where the Fortress Antonia stood.  Now we were talking, as far as I'm concerned. Here was Roman pavement from the time of Hadrian and thus likely from the time of Pilate. Here was a Roman road with striations from carts. I am quite comfortable with saying that this was the true beginning of the Via Dolorosa, thankfully off the beaten path of the throngs carrying crosses from station to station.

At this point our group retraced our steps back out St. Stephen's gate. But I went back later to finish the Via Dolorosa and this seems the appropriate place to continue that part of my day.

When I went later I went by myself so I didn't have a really good sense of where I was going and I did not find the Israeli soldiers, who were stationed at strategic points, particularly helpful.

First I passed the Ecce Homo arch, which is now universally agreed to come from Hadrian's time. It was not there in Jesus' day. A man claiming to be Armenian tried to become my tour guide at station 3, the first time Jesus stumbled. I somehow missed station 4, as the shops began and I became a little concerned about where I was and where I was going.

Basically, from the Damascus Gate into the Muslim quarter is one long continuous corridor with continuous booth-like shops all along it. But there are crossroads and side paths in the part I was in that make it a little labyrinthine. I found station 5, where Simon takes the cross, and someone helpfully told me to take a right.

I found 6, where Veronica wipes sweat from Jesus' face, so I knew I was on the right path. This path then dead ended at station 7. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the path that comes from the Damascus Gate. If I had turned right, I would have come out in the direction of my hotel. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, however, was to the left and with the barest nod from an Israeli solidier, I was on my way again.

I missed stations 8-10, but I was soon back in the Holy Sepulchre, which I have already described. I revisited Golgotha, the Armenian part of the church on the lower level, and the tomb. There weren't as many groups around so it was quite nice. With a little assistance I traced my way back and I was out.

Back to earlier in the morning.

We went from St. Stephen's Gate down to the old city of David on the south side of the now walled city from Saladin's time. We saw a wall from the pre-Davidic time of Jebusite occupation as well as ruins of houses from David's time. I might add that a few days earlier, the upper room day, we had seen recently uncovered remains of the wall from David’s time, on the south end of the old city.

We went through the Warren Shaft, which is where the Jebusites got their water. It is a shaft that ends with a cistern that goes down to the Gihon Spring. Joab climbed up this shaft when David was taking the city and then sneaked in here.

Then we went through Hezekiah's tunnel, knee deep in water. We had only one flashlight between about twenty of us, so it could have been real dark if my camera didn't have a pre-flash light I could use. It was a lot of fun, although shock therapy for the claustrophobic. This ended at the pool of Siloam.

Then the trip was over.

Some of us then went to lunch with Wilbur. Our normal fare has been shawarimas and falafels. Then six of us walked around the top of Saladin's wall from the Jaffa gate on the west to the Dung Gate on the South. We had to walk around to start as the other parts aren't open as starting places. After we found out we couldn't start at the Damascus Gate on the north side, we walked west to the New Gate, also on the north side of the old city. We went in there. I was a little nervous, not having a map. But it turned out to be the Christian quarter and there was basically only one way to go.

We finally started the Wall at the Jaffa Gate on the West and walked south till the corner, where we turned east. We passed first the area of the upper room, then the area of Peter's denial at Anna's house as we passed Zion's Gate. These sites are outside the current wall that dates from the 1500's and the time of Saladin, but the wall we were on was not there at that point in Jesus' day.

The city started with the Jebusite city south of the current Temple Mount. The city of David was in the same place. David then purchased the land of the current Temple Mount from Amunah the Hittite after the plague punishment for numbering the children of Israel. Solomon built the first temple there. Hezekiah then expanded the city to the west of David's city and Herod the Great expanded it even further to the north and built a palace where the current Jaffa Gate is. In other words, Saladin's eastern, western to Herod’s palace, and perhaps some of the northern walls are where the walls were at the time of Jesus, but the southern wall wasn't there at all. It extended down along the Kidron valley almost to the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna).

Anyway, we finally we arrived along the wall at the Dung Gate within sight of the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, etc..

At this point Charlie and son Nathaniel, Greg Mervine and son Trent, and Clint took a taxi back. I continued walking east passed the steps by which Jesus would have entered the temple mount. I turned to the north and saw Absalom's grave until I reached St. Stephen's gate and the Via Dolorosa as I've mentioned.

That's it. Whew. The trip is over.

Maybe I'll reflect a little on the more important significance of the trip for me later. But from a shallow perspective, here are the top three non-significant things from the trip:

1. Climbing up Masada
2. Swimming in the Dead Sea
3. Walking through Hezekiah's tunnel

Thank you Wilbur Williams! And thank God for all the great opportunities He has given to me!



Postlude: June 23, 2005, Marion, Indiana

I now sit at home. Here's a final entry relating to the spiritual significance of the trip to me.

When Jesus Walked the Earth: The Model Practicum

I often tell my New Testament Survey classes that John gives us Jesus as he relates to us, while the first three gospels give us as much of Jesus as he related to them, the lost sheep of Israel. John tells us what we need to know about Jesus, but Matthew tells us that Jesus ministry while he was on earth was not focused on everyone.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on non-Jews while he was on earth, that he did not primarily minister to Gentiles while he was on earth. Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on all Israel while he was on earth, that he ministered primarily to the lost sheep of Israel. But Matthew reveals that Jesus' earthly minstry focused on the peasant population of Galilee while he was on earth.

Jesus did not primarily minister to the wealthy, although there were a few. Jesus did not primarily minister to Samaritans or the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jesus did not primarily even minister to those in Nazareth. Jesus ministry focused mostly on a few villages on the north side of the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin.

I can see the Headline now: the day God came to Chorazin. Where? I bet a lot of people even in Jerusalem had never even heard of the place. These were villages of 300-1000 in backwater Galilee--nowhere, in other words. The idea that God focused His ministry here is almost unfathomable, from a strategic planning perspective. What was He thinking?

As I have reflected on these things, I have become attracted to the idea that in his three years of ministry, Jesus was showing us one way that we are to do ministry. College and seminary minstry students often have to do something called a "practicum." They take what they've learned in the classroom and they go do it. The places they do them are more varied than they are. I did some in local churches; I did one in a nursing home. Some do them in conjunction with hospitals or prisons.

After my trip to Israel, I have increasingly come to think of Jesus' earthly ministry as a brief example of how ministry is done, a model practicum that we can follow.

What did Jesus do for his practicum?

1. He started with where he was. And where he was wasn't anywhere special.
2. But every individual is special to God. And Jesus' ministered to the "nobodys" of Galilee as if they were the most important people in the history of the world.
3. Jesus ministered to their needs on every level.

He dealt with their physical needs by healing them.

He dealt with their spiritual needs by freeing them from demonic oppression and giving them an eternal hope.

He dealt with their economic needs when they were oppressed by the taxation of Herod Antipas, the one who beheaded John the Baptist. In the time of Jesus, this Herod only had control of Galilee and Perea--not prosperous places to raise money for his massive building projects in Sepphoris and Tiberias.

These were farming villages who usually just produced enough for them to survive--they didn't usually even produce enough extra to trade for other things. They mostly did it all themselves for themselves. Times must have been tough when this ruler not only notices them, but tries to squeeze everything he can get from them.

Jesus' earthly ministry in Galilee shows us what ministry should look like. The place and the people change: Marion, Lapel, Plevna, New York City. But the ministry is always to real people and real situations, and everyone counts.