Friday, June 24, 2011

Wow! and Aaugh!

We have had 3 full days on our course now; it's called "The Bible and Its Setting."  On Wednesday we went to Hebron in the West Bank, site of the tombs of the patriarchs (the Cave of Machpelah is under a mosque-synagogue complex in Hebron)
The cover over the opening to the cave of Machpelah under the mosque.  My classmate is wearing the brown robe that we women had to wear in the mosque.  Notice the rectangles in the rug--each is a place for one person to fit during prayer.  The call to prayer is sounded 5 times a day and we hear it clearly here in Jerusalem.

and the Oak of Mamre where Abraham entertained the Three Angels. We had lunch under the oaks and saw the remnants of the tree purported to be THE oak of Mamre.  We traveled south to Be'er Sheva (in Bible it's Be'er Sheba) which the site of a well dug by Abraham as well as a town that the Israelites under Moses passed by on their way to the Promised Land.  Although it's not the southern point in modern Israel, it's considered Biblical south.

As we stood in the oaks of Mamre near Hebron we read the Genesis story of Abraham entertaining the angels by his tent.  Midway in the story the mosques around us began their calls to prayer, broadcast through very strong loudspeakers.  How amazing:  a Christian group in Israeli-occupied territory reading the Hebrew Scriptures to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer.  And the story was about our common Father in Faith, Abraham.  Gave me the chills.

Worst part:  the checkpoint we had to pass through in order to go from the West Bank back into Israel.  Everyone had to get out of the bus and we were told to go through the security line (like worst airport check station you can imagine).  Security personnel with uzis shouting at us and being very rude, making us take off everything metal and surrender passports for a while.  Dog brought out to sniff around our van for explosives.  Now, it shook me up, the shouting and the confusion and the loaded guns.  But the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and work in Jerusalem have to pass through this every day ...  to be fair, it was the only time we've been treated like this--we've been through about 3 or 4 checkpoints.

Best part of Wednesday:  the Bedouin style camp we stayed in that night, located west of the Dead Sea and east of the city of Arad in the south.  The camp was called Hanokdim.  Big tent with flaps up and the desert breeze blowing through the whole time, all night long.
Class members sitting outside the tent we slept in.
This is in the Negev Desert.

And the CAMEL RIDE which was a hoot.
This is a close up of our lovely and talented camel.
Maybe the most fun is getting up and going back down to
the ground while seated on the camel...

Great Bedouin food and coffee with cardamom.  I love this food and will miss it!  Nearest thing is the food at that nice little place in Danbury--Sesame Seed.

Thursday we celebrated Eucharist at 7 am in the Bedouin camp and then headed to Masada--a terrific National Park -- you take a cable car up to the top of the mesa (or walk if it's early enough).  Built by Herod the Great--he loved to build stuff.  Apparently he liked the location because he could come to be treated in the Dead Sea--apparently he had some kind of skin disease associated with syphilis, probably, and the waters of the Dead Sea are therapeutic.  The top of the mountain is the ancient fort, under seige by the Romans for 3 years before they breached the wall.  Mass suicide of the residents in order to escape slow death by crucifixion at hands of the Romans.  The ingenuity of these people in providing a water supply for themselves is absolutely awesome.
Walls at Masada.  Under the black line are original
stones; over the lines are reconstructed stones.

Caves in the ridge behind Qumran.  These caves
held the Dead Sea Scrolls for almost 2000 years before their
discovery by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947.

On to Qumran, home of the Essenes, a sect of Judaism at time of Jesus and John the Baptist; many people see some limited influence of the Qumran community in the New Testament.  They had ruins there and an identified scriptorium, where Scriptures were copied.  This is the group that fled at 67 AD before the advance of the Romans, but before they fled they buried 700 parchments in amphorae (clay jars) in 40 caves up in the hill above.  These are the Dead Sea Scrolls.  All books of the Hebrew Bible are represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls except for Esther (written in Babylonia and the name of God is not mentioned in that book).

Best part of the day:  the float in the Dead Sea.  It was really fun, and I was the last one out ... very refreshing in the desert heat.

Today, on to Shechem in Samaria to visit the Greek Orthodox Church built over Jacob's Well.  The Well is in the crypt and you can go down there--it's very deep.  We got to drink from the well.  This is the well (our guide Najati is "120% sure of it") where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman in John 4.  It is amazing to be where He was, yet no matter where we are, we breathe him in with every breath; we drink him in with every sip of water.  Disturbing thing about the church:  in 1979 an Orthodox priest was murdered by axe by a settler from a nearby settlement in the West Bank ... his head was chopped into 5 pieces by this guy ... there is an icon of the priest being murdered, hanging in the church behind the sarcophagus of the priest.  The settler was later determined to be mentally ill.
Unforgettable modern icon of Greek Orthodox priest
being axed in the Church above Jacob's well in Shechem
 by settler--1979

On to the Tel of Shechem where Joshua spoke to the people about blessings (Mount Gerazim to the left side--it is verdant with springs) and curses (Mount Ebal to the right--it is desolate, dry and barren).  Joshua 24 gives his speech to the people, telling them to choose blessings--choose life.  And in this context choosing life means choosing God.
This is the rock associated with Joshua's address to the
Israelites--see Joshua 24

Ended with a blazing hot walk through dust, dust, and more dust and through an olive orchard through the ruins of the settlement at Sebastia, built by Herod the Great.  This is a large town complete with amphitheater, forum, and Temple of Augustus.  

I love this picture.  The Roman forum at Sebastia, built under Herod the Great.
Note the plastic chairs within.  Modernity strikes!

We are being stretched mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Thank heavens our compound in Jerusalem is air conditioned and we are being well cared for!  Thank God for water bottles and sunscreen, too.  I don't know how people did it back in the day.  One thing I think of now and then is that in the NT it never says that Jesus was complaining about the heat.  I suppose it was such a novelty for him to be in a body and in a physical environment that he never griped.  So I am trying not to gripe, either.  On to Nazareth and Bethlehem tomorrow.

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