We got to spend a part of the night in the Holy Sepulcher by special invitation from Father Samuel who, I think, is the head of the Armenian church in Jerusalem. He is the man with the large beard and black cassock in the photos. This was my second time in the Holy sepulcher, and it being night and empty was a fascinating experience. It was so quiet.
We were given a special tour and allowed to see many of the portions of the Sepulcher that are normally closed off to tourists. An ancient Rock quarry, the crypt of Christ (how this is different from the tomb…I don’t know). But Father Samuel thought it was very special.
It was amazing to be in the Sepulcher and to have one of the Priests showing us around. Every inch of that place has been claimed or is “owned” by one segment of the church or another. He talked about how he traded a cupboard to the Catholics in order to gain three arches. Or, how the Armenian church helped the Coptics out one time with their taxes in exchange for a lamp. This is the product of the edict that was passed a long time ago which said that nothing in the Holy Sepulcher could be moved. Therefore, every bit of wall and every lamp must stay in its place unto perpetuity. Hence the different sects within the church exchange objects and places in order to gain more power. It was a very sad realization to have that the church here in Jerusalem is so divided.
While at the Holy Sepulcher we witnessed three priests from three of the different sects going around with their incense burners paying their respect to the different holy sites. They were all rather pushy and not even very cordial to one another. One walked with a special ferocity around each place, shaking his bells and swinging his incense burner to the point I was afraid he was going to throw the coals out or knock someone out. Father Samuel told us about how at night he used to come in and pour concrete on the floor (it was very bumpy) without the Catholics knowing. But when they found out they called the police in. Father Samuel chuckled at this and said that the police couldn’t do a thing. He also told us how he almost called the police on the Catholics when they tried to use a sledge hammer to break the concrete he had poured. He is planning on making some more midnight concrete pours in the future once the Catholics have calmed down (his words, not mine).
Here I am at Caesarea Maritima. This was one of the summer palaces of Herod the Great. Seriously, this guy was absolutely ridiculous. He taxed 50% of his people’s income to make these ridiculously ornate palaces. In this place he took a naturally treacherous bay and reconstructed its entire flow system through concrete and wood, forcing his workers to construct an entirely different ocean base without the benefit of a scuba system. He is Crazy! I would’ve loathed this man. Not to mention what he did at the Herodium wherein he decided to remove the top of one Mountain and put it on top of another just so he could place his palace on tallest hill. This area was complete with a pool, a hippodrome, a theatre or two, public baths, etc.
Then we went to Megiddo where the battle of Armageddon is “supposed” to happen. Depends on your reading of the Bible.
At Megiddo a friend, Mel, and I walked down into a cistern. At the end of the cistern we were greeted by a sign that offered us two options. A. Go back the way we came and climb 183 steps. B. climb 80 steps and walk 600m back to the site. Not really knowing how long a meter was, we chose option B. We came out onto this back country road and were cracking up as we walked along it. We just couldn’t believe how podunk the whole path was. There was only one block of wood with an arrow about halfway down the path that gave us any indication we were going the right way.
Then we went to Nazareth. Well technically we drove through Nazareth and went to “Jumping Mountain” adjacent to the city. This is the site where scholars suppose the people of Nazareth tried to throw Christ from the mountain. I loved looking out over the fertile expanse of the land. It was like candy for the eyes after all of the arid destinations we had traveled to in the South.
Then we went to the Sea of Galilee and stayed near Aphek (red dot on the shore) at En-Gev a Kibbutz with some of the most DELICIOUS kosher food I have ever tasted. We ate so well there. The Sea was gorgeous, turning the surrounding ridges purple as the sun set every evening. My room was right near the water. It was a wonderful experience.
The next day we went to Gamala and saw the ruins of the oldest known Synagogue in the country. Gamala has a sad story. Vespagian, a roman general, laid siege to Gamala for a very long time, yet the people there held strong. He was highly embarrassed when his soldiers broke through the city walls only too find themselves cast out again because of the complex road structure of the city. It was this structure which allowed for the people to trap the soldiers in narrow ways and to push some city walls on top of them crushing them with their weight. Vespagian withdrew from the city and was forced to recalibrate his forces. When they finally conquered the city they found that, according to Josephus, about 5,000 of the people there had committed suicide off of the crest of the hill on which the city was positioned. Josephus says that 1,000 of the people escaped and took over Masada which some say explains why Vespagian seemed to be especially passionate about capturing the fortress due to his embarrassment at Gamala. I can hardly imagine such religious fervor as to commit suicide en masse as a group in order to avoid being subject to the forced worship cult of the emperor all subjects of Rome had to participate in.
The people that ran the boat on the Sea of Galilee began to play Christian music for us. I am talking about Middle School praise band worship songs here, replete with Molly doing some of the hand motions we learned in those gathering halls. I think we all got a kick out of the music that we heard. even some Rich Mullins was played.
Also, Sam (the picture below) forgot that it was a modesty day which meant that his shorts were much too immodest for him to enter the monastery. Hence, he borrowed a scarf and made a skirt of his own. Doesn’t he just look so nice?
Next we went to Mt. Arbel which our teacher believed to be the place of Christ’s sermon on the Beatitudes. It was a beautiful vista to look out from. And a very long hike back down. Some of the portions were steep enough that it was actually easier to skip down rather than walk. It was so much fun! There was a point where some of our group coincided with what I think was a Jewish day camp group where the guides carried handguns and one of them even had an M16. I felt a little cautious passing them on the way down. But they were walking so SLOW!
Then we went to Sephoris Diocaesarea which was interesting mainly for its mosaics. Immediately below is the Mona Lisa of Galilee. Further on you’ll see a (jaguar, lion, cheetah?) hunting and also a prostitute who looks less than amused. And lastly, an image of Beau covering his ears due to the loud blast from the iron figure. Thankfully, on this huge site, the heads of the sites decided to place 3-4 poorly made iron figures doing random things (drinking, blowing a trumpet, eating a grape) to give us a better mental image of what life must have been like. They were very helpful…
At Jezreel we saw the sad remains of the spring of Gideon where he cut more than half of his army off his roster because the Lord wanted him to separate the people that drank from a cup and those that lapped the water from their hands. The spring had since given its last sprung and now was a nasty pool of gross smelling water with thousands of visible bugs, tadpoles, and unidentifiable slimy bits moving around in its pool.
We then ended our trip at the Decapolis where we saw ancient ruins of a theatre, road ways and toilets. Nasty thing I learned is that the romans, in lieu of toilet paper, had two different streams flowing for the public toilets. One below the seat for human refuse, and one in front where they placed sponges on a stick. You would dip your sponge in the water in front of you, clean yourself, and put it back in the stream so you neighbor could use it. They definitely had some problems with the transmission of STDs via toilet brush.