Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010;Masada,DeadSea,Eliat

Monday, March 15, 2010

Last night a lot of us went to the premier of a documentary called "With God on our Side."  It was a film made by evangelical Christians for other evangelical Christians challenging the Christian Zionist movement.  There was a lot of commentary from John Hagee, who became a lightening rod during the previous presidential election.  Hagee and others believe that Israel is God's chosen people, and that God intends to widen Israel's borders from Egypt through much of Syria, all of Jordan, and most of Iraq.  Anyone who has ever lived on that land other than Jews, including the Palestinians who have been here for about 2000 years, have no claim or right to the land, and are to be disenfranchised, according to Hagee.

There is another movement of dispensationalist Christians who believe a scheme created by John Nelson Darby in the 1800's that maps out the end times in anticipation of God's destruction of the earth, with the salvation of the few who have been saved in a particular way.  For them, the founding of the modern state of Israel is a marker of the end time, and they look forward to the fire, brimstone, judgement and blood of the final battle.

These Christian groups, mostly from America, are underwriting many of Israel's most aggressive policies toward Christians and others who live in the land, and they are providing significant political support for many American politicians to create a strong pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian American policy.

The video contrasted the Christian Zionist movement with the stories and witness of Christians living in the Holy Land today, all of whom are Arab Christians.  We heard stories of the ethnic cleansing that happened in the 1948 war when Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes and lands, becoming refugees scattered throughout the Middle East.  We heard stories about the ongoing establishment of illegal settlements, which take land from Palestinians in violation of International Law and create Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, now 121 settlements housing 500,000 persons.

Palestinians live under military law.  They describe the two systems, one for Jewish citizens and a parallel apartheid system for Palestinians.  Walls and checkpoints divide Palestinians from their health care, jobs, schools and families.  We heard stories about ambulances being fatally delayed by checkpoints.  We heard about the government's intentional strategy to minimize tourists' experience with Palestinians.  That's something we've experienced for ourselves.  One of our guides told us that for a balanced approach to the news, he usually goes to Al Haritz for the most trustworthy news reports for the Middle East, better to his mind than western or Israeli papers. 

Sharon was so taken by a line of graffiti on the Wall that she ordered a ring with the inscription in Arabic, "Imagine if we were loved."  She laughed on the bus, because of the hesitation of the man taking her order.  "It'll probably read 'Don't worry.  Be happy!' and I won't know the difference."  Walking through the Muslim quarter of Old Town Jerusalem yesterday, a man touched Sharon's sleeve and said, "Don't worry.  Be happy!"

Charlie has remarked that the Palestinians he has talked to are so forgiving.  He said he didn't think he could have experienced such prejudice and oppression and be so willing to forgive.  Our guide, without speaking about this to Charlie, said pretty much the same thing.  He's been coming here a long time, and he is humbled when he sees the forgiveness of those who are so oppressed.

Yesterday we saw a prayer in the baptismal area of St. George's Anglican Cathedral:

Pray not for Arab or Jew,
for Palestinian or Israeli.
But pray rather for ourselves
That we may not divide them in our prayers,
But keep them both together in our hearts.
(Based on a prayer of a Palestinian Christian.)

One more piece of graffiti before we leave the West Bank.  A paraphrase (practically a translation) of Ephesians 2:14 – "For he himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

We left Bethlehem, after a soldier walked through the bus, and headed south.  Not far into the wilderness we stopped at a place where we could look out over the Wadi Qelt, the ancient road between Jericho and Jerusalem.  Amazing wilderness.  In places the narrow passage is the width of a man's shoulder.  With tight turns and narrow passages, it was easy to imagine Jesus' story about a man on this road who was set upon by robbers, stripped, beaten and left for dead. 

This is also the road that many priests would take between their homes in Jericho and their assignments in the Temple.  Anyone listening to Jesus' story would have believed that the priest and others did the right thing by passing the unconscious man at some distance.  It would leave a person ritually unclean to touch a corpse or a naked person.  If one were going to serve in the Temple, it would mean lost time in the purification rites; if one were going home, helping the stranger would mean becoming unclean and having to return to Jerusalem to go through the rites.  Everyone listening to Jesus' story would have understood that it would be inappropriate by their customs to help the injured man.

Jesus told this story as an answer to a question.  The questioner probably was just checking out this Rabbi – does Jesus know the correct answer to the question: "Who is my neighbor?"  The right answer is, "Anyone who is a member of your family."  But Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan instead.  The hatred between Samaritan and Jew was vile and intense.  Listeners would have been shocked that a Samaritan would take this man to a Jewish Inn – like an Indian taking a scalped man into a town in the Wild West.  The Samaritan took a chance with his own life by aiding the injured man. 

When Jesus asked the punch line, "Who was neighbor to this man?" it had a deeper meaning in this culture.  "Who made this man his family?"  The hated Samaritan did.  For Jesus, all humanity is family.  This was radical teaching. 

We went to Qumran, the separatist community of Jewish believers who left Jerusalem when the Hasmoneans discontinued the tradition of appointing the High Priest from the family of Zadok, appointed their own family.  The Essene community decided that God's Glory had left Jerusalem because of the apostasy of the rulers and the illegitimate High Priest.  They found their way to the desert, to wait for the immanent return of God's Glory.  There were three possible routs for God's return to Jerusalem: either from the Jordan near where the Israelites first came into the country, or from the Kidron Valley, or from Mount Nebo where Moses was buried.  The desert location of Qumran was situated in a position for them to join the triumphant procession when God's glory returned. 

They saw themselves as God's righteous People of the Light, in battle with the People of Darkness, now, at the end of time.  The community developed a complicated rule of life, with strict rules for sustained righteous perfection.  To allow the community to remain pure, the latrine was 2000 cubits from the city, and everyone returning went through the miqvah bath before entering the community.  One the Sabbath, no one allowed any discharge or flux from their bodies until the end of the observance.

The Qumran community worked hard on their documents – making copies of the scriptures, the rule, and the teaching of the community's leader, and other writings..  It was these documents that were discovered in the 20th century, preserved hidden in jars in caves around the community.  The texts from the Hebrew Scripture were nearly 1000 years older than the earliest texts that translators had at their command. 

When an earthquake destroyed Qumran in the early first century, BCE, Herod gave them some prime property in the Old Town of Jerusalem.  Later when Rome appointed the High Priest, a group of Essenes left again to reorganize the community in the desert. 

On the road south from Qumran, we passed the En Gedi oasis, where David hid in a cave and cut the tallit off of King Saul's prayer shawl while the king was relieving himself. 

We also passed the Kidron Wadi which stretches from the desert into Jerusalem itself. 

Finally we arrived at Masada, the mountain fortress built by Herod the Great to protect him, probably from threat from Cleopatra, who wanted Marc Anthony to give her Judea as a present.  It is unknown whether Herod ever went to Masada, but he sent his family there for protection when he visited Octavius Caesar. 

During the Jewish Rebellion of the 60's CE, a group of rebels escaped from the Roman invasion and secured themselves on Herod's former fortress.  Masada had huge storehouses for food and an elaborate and brilliant process for collecting and storing water.  A Roman army of 8000 surrounded the mountain (their camps are visible from the peak), and made siege on the compound for three years.  Every attempt to overcome the city failed, until the Romans built a rampart from the desert floor all the way to the city wall, providing a path for a siege machine to approach the wall.  At one point the siege machine caught fire and appeared to be threatened, when the desert wind reversed and blew the flames into the city wall, allowing the battering ram to reach its target.  When the wall had been breached, the Romans retired for the evening, certain of the victory on the morrow.

That evening, the remaining Jewish defenders decided to take their own lives rather than to be killed by Romans or live in slavery.  They burned everything so that the Romans would not take it, except they left a supply of food as a message that they were not defeated by starvation.  They then cast lots, and ten of the men oversaw the systematic deaths of the residents, men, women and children.  When the last ten were left, one was assigned to kill the other nine, and then to thrust himself upon his own sword.  When the Romans entered the silent city the next day, only five women and two children who had hid themselves were alive to tell the story.  Masada is now a symbol of Jewish independence and resistance, and many soldiers take their oath of office in this place. 

The park was covered with hundreds of school children who come here as part of their civics education.  It also was incredibly hot, well over 100 degrees, and a hot south wind blew oppressively upon us.  The visit was physically miserable. 

We proceeded to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, some 1300 feet below sea level.  After lunch, we waded into the sea, walking through the salt piles on the beach, and feeling the oily, mineral waters.  South of town we drove by a few mountains of salt and other minerals being harvested from the sea to make various products.

The Dead Sea is deeply endangered because the waters of Lake Galilee and the Jordan River which feed it are being used so much.  There are several potential schemes for restoring water to the Dead Sea, but something needs to be done soon, within our lifetimes.  We passed a resort-spa that used to be on the shore and now uses carts to take vacationers to the water some 100 yards from the spa. 

As we drive through the desert, the scenery changed dramatically.  Great cliffs and mountains gave way to broken, windswept brown sculptures that look like another planet.  Eventually we moved into the Negev and the flat, empty plains.  For a while the desert winds whipped up such dust that the sunset was filtered and almost disappeared.  Then the purple-black mountains appeared behind the flat expanse..  Occasionally trees from an oasis popped up out of the wasteland. 

We've been finding passages from the scripture, especially the psalms, that speak of mountains, desert. water and other images that explode with new vividness.  None of us will ever read the scripture in the same way again. 

Tomorrow is a free day in Eliat, a Red Sea resort town in Israel.  Many of us have signed on for an extra trip tomorrow to see Petra.  That's our plan, so I'll report back to you about one of the wonders of the world.



At 2:02 AM, Blogger GeekGoddess said...

Father Grisham

Is Qumran near the place John the Baptist lived and belonged to the Nazarite Brotherhood? Or would this be a different area? Some of the names sound familiar.


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