The good Samaritans
Trip Start May 07, 2012
25Trip End Jun 03, 2012
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Good start to another beautiful day. The sun is shining, it is cool, and the birds are singing. We have an OK breakfast at the hotel before taking off in the van. Today is our last full day of tour in the Holy Land. Tomorrow there is an optional tour but I don't think that we will go.
Our first stop is Nablus, known in the bible as the city of Shechem, where Abraham stopped on his way to Canaan. Modern day Shechem is the home of the Good Samaritan—really. I had heard about them from the bible stories, but thought that they were extinct—but no, they have a temple here in Shechem and another south of Jerusalem. But I am getting ahead of the tour.
So, our first stop is a Greek Orthodox Church that houses Jacob’s well. Jacob's Well is located a few meters from Tell Balata in the eastern part of the city of Nablus within the grounds of the Bir Ya'qub monastery. The well is accessed by entering the church on the monastery grounds, and descending the stairs to a crypt where the well still stands, along with a small winch, a bucket, ex-voto icons and lots of lit candles. According to the scriptures Jacob bought land outside of Shechem and put in a well. Later, the well was preserved by building the church over it. We go down into the crypt and sure enough there is a well with a bucket and some small tins from which they drink the water. I decide to pass on the water, just in case there are some little bacterias lurking inside.
The church itself is beautiful and, like most of the orthodox churches, it is filled with icons. AB explained that the icons were important to explain the stories in the bible to the people of the time—who were mostly illiterate. While explaining some of the icons, AB started to tell us about the relationship between Jesus and the prostitute—Mary Magdalene. I stopped him to explain that it is a common misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but in fact, that information is not in the bible. He told me that she certainly was a prostitute, which is erroneous. He was not to be convinced, so I just let it go. Then he mentioned the story in John where AB says that a prostitute was dragged to Jesus by the locals saying that she should be stoned to death. Well, I am beginning to wonder which version of the bible his information is coming from since every bible that I have read says that the woman was an adulterer.
Leaving the well behind we drive up Mt. Gerizim, a steep mountain where each year the Samaritans come to make an annual Passover sacrifice. The mountain top is full of ruins and has a large rock where AB says that the Samaritans make their annual sacrifice. He explains that this is the Holy Mountain of the Israelites, who decided that the Judeans were wrong to build the Temple in Jerusalem that it really should have been built on Mt. Gerizim. We spend nearly an hour walking around the windy site while he tells us stories out of the bible. He really does not explain the ruins, instead of archeology; he gives us theology (which he has already shown that he is not qualified to give).
Back at the bottom of the hill we enter the Samaritan Museum and meet the curator and priest, Husney Cohen. Priest Cohen can trace his ancestry from the line of King David and therefore in line for the Priesthood of his temple. Furthermore (and I am not making this up) he claims to be 163 generations removed from Adam (no last name--as in Genesis 1).
Priest Cohen is such a nice, likeable man yet he is telling us things that are so crazy that it is hard not to laugh. So, with a straight face I asked him in what year was Adam born. With an equally straight face he told us that Adam was born in the year 4,445 BCE and that is the date that the planet earth began—I guess that makes him a creationist. He also shows us the picture of their oldest and most holy bible, which he claims is 3,637 years old. So, their bible, which consists of only the first 5 books of the Old Testament, actually predates the earliest know written version of those books (scholars say that the first 5 books of the bible were completed around 450 BCE—which is 1,100 years after his bible). Frankly I think that Priest Cohen has his dates mixed up—but I could be wrong.
By the way, these people, who are more Jewish than Muslim, speak the ancient version of Hebrew—which is the language that their bible is written in. They do not accept any teachings except the 5 books of Moses—which they try to follow 100%. They claim to be the only true Jews. He stated that they no longer carry out "stoning" for certain religious sins (but only because they could be prosecuted criminally), they simply ban the person from their community. AB later explains that both the Jews and the Muslims now try to be tolerant of the small cult which only number around 700 persons—in earlier times they were persecuted by both religions and killed by the thousands. Personally I try to keep an open mind and not label the priest as a nutcase—but only because he is so pleasant to listen to.
After this interesting talk we stop for lunch at a local restaurant. After the obligatory salad course we are served musakhan, an incredibly delicious local Palestinian dish. The Musakhan arrives at the table and I can best describe it as a stack of 6 large pitas that have been treated with olive oil, sumac, allspice, saffron, and fried pine nuts, and topped with roasted chicken. It is a dish best eaten with your fingers and has a wonderful taste.
Although we are stuffed from the meal, AB entreats us to walk up the adjoining hill, in the hot midday sun. On this hill is located the former city of Sabastia. The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years. The Canaanites, Israelites, Greek, Herodian, Roman and Turks all took turns occupying this spot. The surrounding countryside is now filled with olive trees and citrus groves. Down at the bottom of the hill we see the town of Nablus spread out over the lower hills. In the far distance we see the mountains that are just inside Jordan.
Climbing back down the mountain and into the van we head back to Jericho. Passing thru Nablus we stop at a “Sweet Shop” where we sample the various honey soaked cakes (as though we needed more calories) These sweets are sort of like the Greek baklava, but even better.
Back at the hotel we rest for half an hour before heading to the feeding room. I am not very hungry but have to eat a little because the chef has made for me a special hot sauce. He had heard from the waiter that I did not think that his hot salsa was very hot. Insulted, he made me his super hot chile sauce and served it with a “take this, white boy”. He was disappointed when I ate a spoonful in front of him and did not blink. Of course it was hot but not like our hot salsa in Oaxaca.
Finished with the meal I work on my blog for a while before going to bed. Hasta maņana.
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