Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Holy Land Pilgrimage

UgggHHH.  I'm not going to be able to upload pictures from this location.  We are in Tiberius.  The photo below of Pilate's tribute to Tiberius took forever to download.  I can't get but a few minutes of internet time.  I'll try to work something else out to send images.  But this has been a nightmare (at 11 at night).  Sorry. (I've got some great pictures to send.  I'll work at getting this fixed, if I can.)

Monday & Tuesday, March 8 & 9


After a snag at XNA when they couldn't print our boarding passes, we made our flight to Atlanta and then to Paris.  On the Paris to Tel Aviv leg they showed the movie "The Blind Side," featuring a true story located in Memphis and Oxford, Kathy and my home towns respectively.  That was fun.  We got to our hotel not long before dinner time, and were glad to get to bed early.

Our guide subtly welcomed us to "the land of Palestine, the country of Israel – the Holy Land.  For all Abrahamic faiths, this is home.  Welcome home."

Our first stop was at Caesarea, a port built by Herod the Great.  Herod gets bad press.  He ruled for about three decades and built many major structures and cities that we will see.  He was a powerful and effective ruler, for the most part.  (Though he was progressively crazier and paranoid in his final decade, and died to the great relief of many.) 

Herod built a wall into the Mediterranean to create an artificial port for the nation.  It worked beautifully.  His engineers created an underground sewage drainage system that worked with the tides to carry the city's waste out to the sea. 

Herod and his successors spent most of their time at the palace and governor's office in Caesarea.  The ruins are evocative.  You can see where Herod's swimming pool was, and the lovely courtyard.  It may be that Paul's interviews with King Agrippa and Festus (Acts 24) happened in the administrative offices in the palace.  We stood there and read the story. 

We saw a stone (replica) I've seen pictured many times, with Pontius Pilate's name carved into an acknowledgment of Tiberius here in Caesarea.  I took a picture.  We hope to see the real one in a museum in Jerusalem. 

To make Caesarea habitable, Herod had to build an aqueduct to bring water 17 miles.  Incredible engineering.  Straight as an arrow, slow drop for miles.  Emperor Hadrian built an adjacent aqueduct to double the capacity, and they sit side by side, perfect arches for miles.

We drove north along one of the great highways of history.  The Via Maris, the Way of the Sea, was a major north-south connection between Egypt and, ...well everywhere.  The Costal Plain is wonderfully fertile.  A beautiful drive along the Mediterranean.  Most of today's population in Israel lives on the coast.  We drove to the promontory of Megiddo, a high tell that dominates one the major junctures of history. 

As the Via Maris is a major interstate N-S four-lane, the East-West highway runs through the Jezreel Valley.  They meet the sea at Megiddo.  "Whoever controls Megiddo controls the world," said one of the Pharaohs.  Between 20 and 30 cities and fortifications have been build in this place, and countless battles.  It has been settled since before 3000 BCE.  In 1468 one of the Pharaohs (Tutmosh #?) conquered Megiddo and described how he did it with hieroglyphics discovered millennia later.  In World War I an Allied General used the same strategy to capture this critical location.  The conquest of Joshua failed to capture this fortification.  Later David was able to solidify his kingdom with the successful campaign for Megiddo, where Solomon built a major city-fort, finding it so important that he conscripted Jewish slave labor, a policy that fostered great complaint. 

We looked at holy sites that have successively occupied this site for centuries.  A compelling looking oval platform built of rocks was a sacrificial worship site for Canaanites dating from 2500 BCE.  Immediately adjacent is a holy site dating to 3000.  It is not unusual for succeeding religions to adopt the holy places of the native occupants and build their worship site in the same location. 

Two other notable attractions of Megiddo: A grain silo built in the time of Jeroboam II (that would be two kings after Solomon, I think).  Wide and deep, with steps going down – it would store abundant grain in the case of siege.  And a water tunnel constructed under King Ahab's direction.  Amazing.  It was dug from both directions at the same time, and the two groups met at almost the exact same place and angle.  Then Ahab disguised the entrance to the spring that fed the tunnel which brought water to the city.  We walked through the tunnel, going down and up the deep steps to its place. 

We then went to Zippori (Sepphoris).  A highlight.  During Jesus' childhood, Herod Antipas was rebuilding Sepphoris to be the capital city of Galilee.  Scholars believe that Joseph and Jesus were stone masons (wrongly translated "carpenter" by Tyndale in the early English Bible) who walked from Nazareth to build the great city. 

As we talked about the life of Jesus and his family, we learned what scholars tell us about life at that time.  Mary was probably married at age 12 or 13, and would have borne Jesus not long afterward.  One in four pregnancies ended in death for the mother.  The average life span for a woman was 18 years old.  Infant mortality was 33 percent.  Talking with our guide, here's his perspective on Jesus' life. 

Jesus probably joined his father Joseph, carrying tools and learning the stone mason craft, beginning as early as he could help carry things, maybe around age five.  They would have walked from Nazareth to Zeppori each day to start work by sunrise.  Four miles, some elevations.  An hour and a half's brisk walk.  Work day was sunrise until sunset.  No breaks.  Walk back home.  Note this pattern when you think about Jesus' teaching and preaching.  It was heard by people living the same way.

Jesus probably married at age 12 or 13.  He would have been responsible for his family until his youngest daughter were married.  If he had a son, he would have had to provide a home for the son and his family within his own domicile.  Our guide's guess – Jesus had daughters who all married; he was widowed; his mother was provided for.  Only under those circumstances could he have been free at age 30 (or s0) to leave home and to take on the ministry he accomplished.

At Zippori is a remarkable mosaic.  It was probably from a Jewish home, a wealthy home.  It would have been below a triclineum table, a U-shaped table where diners reclined to eat.  (There are dynamics about the Last Supper when you think about a U-shaped table with traditional placement for guests of honor.  I'll think we'll get back to this, but some of the punch line, is that John was seated at Jesus' breast – to his right.  And Judas was in position to dip the bread morsel, the place of honor to Jesus' left.)  In this mosaic is a captivating face called "The Mona Lisa of Galilee."  Most of the mosaic depicts a drinking bout between Dionysus and Hercules, won by Dionysus. 

The street outline of Zeppori is classic Roman design.  The Cardo runs North-South, and it hosts the shops.  The Decomanus runs East-West and is the street of privilege.  Honor comes with dwelling near to the Decomanus. 

We finished in Nazareth, the town Jesus grew up in.  It would have been a village of maybe 100 people in Jesus day.  The whole village could have been encompassed beneath today's Church of the Annunciation.  According to one theory, the residents of Nazareth were an extended family descended from the family of David (which is a large line, considering the number of Solomon's wives).  The word "netzor" means "a shoot."  Ancient messianic prophesy speaks of a shoot coming from Jesse's stem.  It may be that the residents of Nazareth were descendants of David who expected the Messiah to come from among them.  Scholars speculate that they were much like the Hasidim, isolationist, marrying within the clan, believing they alone had the true truth, keeping an exclusive genealogy and expecting the Messiah to be raised up from among them. 

We looked at some of the caves that might have been below the homes in Nazareth of Jesus' day, storage for grain, oil, and wine.  We visited a cave that has been venerated as the home of Mary since the mid-second century.  The Church of the Annunciation covers the area, with architecture and art from the 1960's, possibly a low-point the human history of architecture.  The compelling part: people have been coming here for 1900 years.  The disappointing part: the Roman Catholic piety, art and design for this shrine is pretty awful.  Nearly any other Christian tradition at nearly any other time of history would be an improvement. 

One last bit of translation trivia.  The word that Tyndale translated "inn" – as in "no room left in the inn" at Bethlehem, is the same word translated during Passion Week as "upper room."  There were probably no inns or innkeepers in Bethlehem, but there was, rather, no space in the upper room, so the holy family found a safe and comfortable cave where animals may have been kept adjacent to a home.  These home-cave residences seem ubiquitous in the area where we have been visiting.



At 3:03 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Wow, is all I can say. I look forward to hearing of the rest of your trip! I think many of us will be living vicariously with you over the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to the pictures if you can get them uploaded. Safe travels and a wonderful time!

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Janet said...

It must be incredibly poignant to stand on a site and read the corresponding biblical story. In thinking about Jesus teaching - if his trade were as a stone mason wouldn't some of his parables/stories/teachings reflect that - all I can think of are the fishing and growing parables.. may look up the cornerstone of the temple saying. I guess I don't even know what a stone mason would do. Thanks for taking your time to post. Great thoughts to ponder over.


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