Monday, February 28, 2011

Project Israel- Jerash

Unfortunately, our meeting with Jordanian Christians did't work out, so we ended up spending most of the day exploring Jerash (or Gerasa, depending on how you choose to anglicise the word). Jerash is an ancient Roman city that was forgotten for centuries, but has been excavated in recent years. Most Westerners don't know about it, probably because it's not in a Western country. We were told that it's better preserved than Pompeii, a claim of which we were all skeptical, until we saw it. Wow! It's incredible how much of this has been excavated just as it was with no need for restoration!

Among the amazing thing we saw were Hadrian's Triumphal Arch, the Hippodrome (an ovular track where chariot races would be held, like the Circus Maximus in Rome), temples to Artemus and Zeus, two outdoor ampitheaters (the smaller one possibly being the meeting place for the city's parliament), a very ornate marketplace, and the town centre where the north-south and east-west main streets meet (think Monument Circle in Indianapolis).

While Jerash never shows up explicitly in the New Testament, there may be some tangental references. The Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5) may have been from here, and after Jesus walked on water, he and the disciples may have headed to this region (Matthew 14:34). Also, according to Paul's letters (but not Acts), he went through the Decapolis (Greek for "ten cities" of which Gerasa was one) region/Arabia on his way from Damascus to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:17).

Pics w/ occasional comments are below.

The ancient Roman manhole cover.

Part of the edifice of the Temple of Artemis. If you climbed up the steps, walked back across the wall and down a very narrow set of steps, you would reach...

This particular opening, which would have been a display stand for statues. Not the smartest thing I've ever done, but it was cool!

The "inner sanctum" of the Temple of Artemus. The layout is pretty much identical to the Second Temple in Jerusalem built by Herod the Great, so this is like the view out from the Holy of Holies.

Of course, I had someone take a picture of me speaking on the stage of the ampitheatre. Anyone who knows me will not be shocked by this at all.

Yes, this is a band of Arabs that includes bagpipes. No, I don't know why.

Me at the top of the other ampitheater, overlooking the city center.

An ancient bridge, still in use in the modern city of Jerash. Notice the minaret in the background.

Amazing chicken schwarma sandwiches/rollups that hit the spot after walking over four miles and lots of steep steps through the ancient city.

That's all for today. Tomorrow brings trips to Mt. Nebo, Qumeran, the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John, and crossing the border from Jordan back into the West Bank, which will likely be eventful. Until then, take care!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Project Israel- Galilee 2

We spent the night in the town of Tiberius, so we woke up to this beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Tiberius) from our hotel room.

Our planned boat ride on the Sea of Galilee was pushed back a few hours, so we went to a place called the Wadi Hamman. "Wadi" is the Arabic word for "valley", and in this part of the world it refers specifically to a narrow, steep rift valley between two mountains. Wadi Hamman has long been the most accessible path between Nazareth and Galilee, with a flat, easy path and a stream. So we can be pretty sure that Jesus and the Disciples took this path back and forth many times!

We had planned to have our worship on the boat, but because of the delay we found a quiet spot in the Wadi by the stream. Most of my fellow travelers are clergy, so we all played different parts. I preached, and pastors representing three different traditions: Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist, presided at the Communion Table, which was actually a boulder that we could imagine Jesus himself having rested on on his way between the towns. I'm rarely able to truly worship when I'm involved in leading the service, but this turned out to be one of the most meaningful worship experiences I've had in a very long time. Look for a post in the coming weeks on this, once I finish piecing my thoughts together.

We spent some time climbing the hillside and taking in the beauty of the place. All the churches and holy sites have been wonderful, but somehow God's presence has been most real to me on this trip in this quiet, serene place with no markers or shrines of any sort.

Afterward we went on a boat ride around the Sea of Galilee, and our captain gave us a demonstration of the way fishing worked back in the first century, casting a weighted net (although in the first century there wouldn't have been synthetic fibers!).

Next we took a walk in the hills of the Tabgha- a region on the North-West shore of the Sea of Galilee where there are several spots that claim to be the Mount of the Beatitudes- in other words, the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We stopped on the spot of the original Church of the Beatitudes (only foundation stones left) and passed around a Bible, reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) aloud.
Quick aside- the Sermon on the Mount is probably not a historical event as such, but rather a collection of Jesus' ethical teachings complied into one discourse by the writer of Matthew, similar to Luke's Sermon on the Plain. Like most of the sites commemorating biblical events, it's impossible to know where they actually happened there. But these sites are important because they have been where these stories have come alive for people for centuries. Historicity isn't everything.

At the bottom of the hill we came to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, the spot where Jesus is said to have told Peter that he would be the "rock on which I (Jesus) will build my church" (Matthew 16:13-20). Our Roman Catholic friends consider this to be Jesus' endorsement of Peter's leadership, and that his successor, the Pope, is the chief pastor for all Christians. This church is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and several of my fellow travelers decided to bottle some of the water as a momento.

Finally, we were on to Capernaum, the town where Jesus may have had a home, or at the very least a home that he stayed in on a regular basis (it may have belong to Peter or his mother-in-law). There is a site that has been venerated as "Peter's House" since the mid-first century, and is encircled by several other ancient churches. There is a modern chapel built over it now, with glass in the middle of the floor looking down into "Peter's House". There is also a fourth century synagogue right across the street that is remarkably well preserved.

Then we cross the border into Jordan, which was quite easy, but I understand this will not be the case crossing back from Jordan into the West Bank. We're spending the next two nights in Amman and exploring the Christian origins in Jordan, as well as spending time with Jordanian Christians. Look for reports on this tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy the Oscars and be well!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Project Israel- Galilee

We left Bethlehem this morning (we'll return in a few days), heading north to see some really cool things.

Our first stop was Ceaserea Maratima- a spectacular city with a large artificial harbor built by Herod the Great, added on to by the Crusaders, and then the Muslims after running the Crusaders off.

Next we went to Tel-Megiddo, a place that has seen many cities over the past few thousand years and is still an active excavation site. The "Plain of Armageddon" (the Hebrew translation of Megiddo) is mentioned in Revelation 16:16 as a place where kings meet, and is interpreted to be the site of the great apocalyptic battle. This is strange, because it's such a peaceful place! The city also has an impressive tunnel to the nearby spring in the event of a siege, which turned out to be counter-productive, as a besieging army was able to sneak through it for a surprise attack.

Then we were of to a Kibbutz called Mishmar ha Emek, an Israeli commune (they're not Communists, however) were everyone shares their property in common and works in agriculture and light industry to support the Kibbutz. While the community is not religious at all, there are elements of their life together that resemble monastic communities. They are Zionists, but understand that in a very different way that what we usually think of when we hear that word. More on this later.

Finally we traveled to Nazareth. We visited the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, which sits over a number of Koch Tombs- graves hewn out of rock with stones rolled in front of them. These are very much like the tomb the gospels say Jesus was laid in. We also visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is built over an ancient well where tradition says Mary received a visit from the angel Gabriel, telling her she would be the mother of the Messiah.

(As you can probably tell by now, we're having some amazing encounters with people who live in the Holy Land, and I'm having to process what I'm learning about the current situation from these encounters. I probably won't be able to put them all together until I get back, so while I'm here these posts will just be short daily reports and photos, but look for more in depth analysis during the first few weeks of March.)

Tomorrow will include a boat ride and worship on the Sea of Galilee, Capernum, and the trip across the Jordanian border into Amman. Until then, be well!