My Feet in High Places
Trip Start May 19, 2012
79Trip End Ongoing
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Started the morning by bolting awake at about 4:30 for no apparent reason and finding myself unable to do more than doze until about 5:45, when I rolled out of bed for a brief work out. Had to be on the bus by 7:00, so whatcha gonna do. First stop was some tombs on the top of the Mount of Olives "again, henceforward Olivet" for a stellar overview of the city approximately as Jesus would have seen it on his triumphal entry. From there we bussed it over to an overlook where we could see the Herodion "more on that in a bit", and the main travel arteries in central Israel. Hey, I found it interesting. Then we started hoofing it down hill to Dominus Flavet, or "God Wept", a reference to when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The precise site isn't really all that important, but what did matter was the message conveyed, which was still a powerful one these 2000 years later
From there we moved down to the Church of All Nations, at the bottom of Olivet. Anyone who has made the hike from the top to the bottom down the extremely steep path knows that getting all the way down is an interesting trek in itself. The Church of All Nations sits on a traditional site for the Garden of Gethsemane, and, given what we know about Olivet and 1st century Judaism, actually makes sense. The southern slopes of Olivet are covered in graves, which would have made any observant Jews ritually impure, something especially to be avoided in Passover week. The church is built over a destroyed 4th century Byzantine site a few hundred yards to the north of where olive groves began. All that to say, in spite of the gaudy architecture I was able to connect with the events of the passion week in this location better than some other places; Psalm 64 and 70 made good reading, for what it's worth. It was refreshing, given the divisions in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to see a very wide body of Christians "I saw Christians from Israel, India, Russia, Spain, and France in the 30 minutes I was in the sanctuary" taking mass together.
After the Holy Sepulcher we bussed out to the Herodion. So Herod the Great, king of Israel starting in 34 BC, was kind of a crazy. He decided there wasn't a hill grand enough in the Judean wilderness to the east to serve adequately as a pedestal for his 7 story luxury palace/lookout tower/mausoleum, so he ordered one hill cut in half and stacked on top of its neighbor. Now as a history major I can appreciate a feat of monumental architecture when I see it, but c'mon man. That's just obscene. From the top of what is mostly ruined basement suites and cisterns to fill his swimming pool with island, we could see all the way to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Jordan, and, most importantly for the rhetorical arrangement of this narrative, Bethlehem. Imagine the Judean shepherds we love so much in the Christmas story, those poor marginal folks scratching a living in one room huts, grazing sheep around the base of an artificial mountain palace. Easy to see how the Jews could become slightly peeved at that type of excess.
Immediately after the Herodion we went to Bethlehem. I'll come back to the Church of the Nativity, passing on to our lecture at Bethlehem Bible College. I should mention, in passing for those who don't know, that Bethlehem is located in the West Bank, a region under the military domination of Israel but the rule of Palestinian government. The Palestinians face severely restricted travel, must pass through checkpoints, and have a significantly lower standard of living than their Israeli counterparts. Just google it. Anyway, one of the main grievances talked about by our professor was the Israeli settlements, islands of Jewish citizens that must be protected by the state of Israel, thus extending the checkpoints and walls deeper into West Bank territory. These settlements get more water rations and stand out like a sore thumb on the landscape, with their carefully planned apartment complexes. I couldn't help but draw the parallel between the Jews of Herod's time and the modern day Palestinians, both resenting the islands of extreme disparity in wealth and political domination; if we don't judge the ancients for their rebellion, we can't judge the modern folks living in literally the same cities facing a comparable situation.
I'm really fading as I write this, so I'm going to wrap this up. Went for a run up Olivet "Scotty, you'll appreciate the feat this is" and my legs are pretty smoked. We then went into the modern city to get Gelato and do some homework, and get me a scarf for our wilderness hiking tomorrow. That's what my pic is going to be of, because frankly I'm too tired to upload all my photos. Plus this way you get to see the inside of the JUC cafeteria where I'm writing this. Congrats, peace, and blessings y'all.