Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Today was a painful day, mostly because I just didn't feel well when I got up - stiff, sore, lethargic - I suppose a day in the desert really does "take it out of you."  So today's walking and another dry lecture didn't really help the cause.  Conversations with my pilgrim friends about iced tea, massages, pedicures, and other comforts of home became signs that we're beginning to long for home.

While I have taken with a grain of salt much of the lore that has been shared with us at each of the sites we have visited, today required more salt than usual, as we visited two different locations of the Upper Room, the site of The Last Supper.   Our first stop was at St. Mark's - a Syrian Orthodox convent, claiming to be the first Christian church.  We listened to a VERY animated nun named Justina, who told fascinating tales and even sang to us in various languages.  Their version of the upper room was actually a "lower" one - below ground as if in a basement, underneath their small sanctuary.  As with many ancient/archaeological sites, later generations have built on top of older remains, so to get to the "upper" room we had to go down.  We weren't allowed to use our cameras inside, so here are a couple pics from the outside...

We then visited a second possible location of the Last Supper - which felt almost like a walk way/pass thru.  Here's one of the two identical doors through which we passed:

Views inside the room:
After lunch at another monastery/hostel type place (sorry - I'm not on my A game today - didn't write down the name and didn't take any photos, but I recall there being a Lutheran connection...), we visited St. Peter in Gallicantu, the location of Caiaphus' house, where Christ was imprisoned. 
Actually, this was a pretty powerful site to behold.  In the photo above you can see how the church is built on top of the ruins, and on the back side are ruins of the steps leading down into the prison cells, as you can see in these photos:
We spent some time in quiet reflection at this location, walking through the ruins.  I'm sure it's by design that there was an actual rooster crowing close by, but powerful nonetheless.  Some of the places we have visited required much imagination to picture the events claimed to have happened, but not so here.  There were many spots here where Peter could have been warming himself by a fire, and the rocky ruins were unmistakably those of a prison.

We were back at the college by 3:30, and Caitlin and I crashed, taking long, dream-laden naps until dinner time.  Tonight's lecture was given by Xavier, a Communications Advisor for the PLO.  Our lecture was nearly an hour late getting started because of the hold up at a check point... a typical event for most Palestinians.

Xavier gave a well organized power point presentation, outlining the Palestinian requirements for negotiations:
1.  Statehood with control of their own borders and air space.
2.  Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem - no solution that deprives them of Jerusalem will be accepted.
3.  Rights for refugees - rights of return, restitution, and compensation.

He also gave us some basic statistics:
*There are 1.5 million refugees living in Gaza, 90% of them living on international aid.
*The Palestinian Authority controls less than 3% of the land.
*There are over 120 settlements in Palestinian areas.  And it's not just about houses - also the infrastructure that consolidates them into the Israeli structure.
*86% of the wall being built is built on Palestinian land, almost double of what the Green line designates.
*Roads built, connecting settlements to Israel are built on Palestinian lands, but Palestinians are not allowed to use them.
*The Israeli government gives financial incentives to motivate people to move to settlements, and the current Israeli Foreign Minister is a settler in Bethlehem.

It is not a stretch for me to believe the things he told us about the impact of the Wall and checkpoints on the Palestinian economy, since I've seen the difficulties of movement with my own eyes.  35% of their economy is tourism - Christians coming to the Holy Land for pilgrimage - but with over 600 checkpoints, it's nearly impossible for Palestinians to move goods or provide services.  He said that Israel even controls what kind of food aid can be transported into Gaza - like allowing rice to be brought in but not pasta - which increases the feelings of oppression.  Xavier also told us heart wrenching stories about couples living in different towns wanting to get married, but can't live together because neither can get a permit to live in the other's town.  

The state of Israel is indeed complicated, but I agree that building in settlements must stop so that conditions for establishing trust and resuming negotiations can emerge.  Balance of political realities and international law is certainly needed...

After Xavier's presentation, a group of us went over to the cathedral's pilgrim guesthouse for drinks and conversation - it was a very cool evening, requiring a sweater to sit outside.  Blessed relief from the heat, especially since the air conditioning at the college quit working.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Masada, Qumran, and The Dead Sea

We were up early and on the bus at 8am for the trek to the Dead Sea area.  Our first stop was at Masada, a fortress built by Herod the Great as a place of protection for his family.  On his way to Rome, Herod left his family there.  After he defeated his enemies and was declared king with Roman support, he returned to Masada with Roman soldiers to retrieve his family.  They were still living, in spite of the lack of supplies, so Herod saw this as a good place of protection and built one of his seven fortresses here between 37 and 31 BC.  

In the first Jewish War against the Roman Empire, Jewish extremists called the Sicarii overtook the fortress at Masada, and after the destruction of the Temple, many Jewish rebels fled to Masada.  Josephus recorded a famous account of the siege against Masada by the Romans, where the Romans surrounded Masada below with multiple camps and built a rampart up to the wall of the fortress.   They finished the rampart in 73, but when they breached the wall, they discovered that the Jewish community there had set the store rooms ablaze and committed mass suicide, rather than be taken prisoner or killed by Roman hands. This story was told to Josephus by two women who hid with their children in a cistern and escaped after the siege.  Every man killed his own family, then the men made a lottery, selecting 10 to kill all the men, and then 1 to kill the remaining 9 and then himself.

I hope these photos give some idea of the harshness of this landscape.  Not only is it steep and rocky, but the temperatures here are oppressive - 42 degrees today, and I don't mean Fahrenheit!  
The snake path - the winding path for walking up the mountain to Masada at the top:

Ruins at the top:

There is nothing like being in the desert to remind you how important water is.  Nassir, our guide says that when Jerusalem receives flash floods, the water rushes down through the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea.  You can see the effects of these flash floods, with all the gorges cut out in the land by rushing water.  I bet these floods are a sight to behold, and of course very dangerous.  But the inhabitants of Masada took advantage of these floods by carving small aqueducts in the mountain rock leading to cisterns to collect this rushing water for later use.
View from the top:

Our next stop was Qumran, the site of approximately 300 caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  The combination of the dry weather and the jars in which they were stored is what helped preserve these fragile documents.  These scrolls contained books of the Bible as well as texts describing their traditions on how the Essenes lived together.
After lunch in Jericho, we made the short drive to a swimming area along the Dead Sea.  It's best only to swim in designated areas because sink holes are prevalent and very dangerous.  We even experienced a small taste of them in the swimming area, sometimes sinking into the mud up to our knees!
Views of the Sea:  
Here's the Ahava facility we passed along the way - great Dead Sea skin care products! 
Me - floating in the Dead Sea.  Did you know that the Dead Sea is 35% salt, as compared with other oceans/seas that average only 3%???  Now that's salty!!  The Dead Sea is also below "sea level" and is the lowest place on earth...
Here's Justin doing a little light reading...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shrine of the Book, Chagall Windows

Thank goodness for Tuesday morning off.  This gave me a little time for catching up on my blog and typing up my lecture notes while I can still decipher them!

In the afternoon we visited a synagogue inside a hospital which contains famous Chagall stained glass windows.  What amazing stories told in pictures and colors.  There are twelve of them - one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Below are snapshots of a few, and then a video clip of all of them...

Reflection of the windows 

Ever have occasions where you feel like you're passing through alternate universes?  The trip to this synagogue was a bit like that - we boarded the bus, drove from East Jerusalem to West, were dropped off at a shopping mall, which we walked through to get to the hospital that's connected to it (very strange to see patients in wheelchairs and hospital gowns in the mall!), down a winding hospital hallway, then up the elevator to a reception area outside the synagogue, and then finally inside.  And we left the way we came in...what a surreal hour and a half!

Our next stop was to the Shrine of the Book, a museum dedicated to articles found at Qumran. Outside the museum was a large scale model of the ancient city of Jerusalem, including a rendering of the Temple.  
We weren't allowed to take photos inside, but I cheated and sneaked a couple pics without flash...
This is looking up at a display of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.
The Aleppo Codex, written in Tiberias, 10th c.

Tonight we had a Jewish speaker who discussed with us Jewish perspectives on Jerusalem and the state of Israel.  Of course the level of complexity is high, and he was quite fascinating to hear.  Our speaker was adamant that Israel is not in religious conflict, but that the conflict is a national one with strong religious overtones.  Yet the view of many is that the project of Israel is to be a Jewish state, so incorporating Palestinians (in their view) defeats the purpose of the Jewish state.  He also said, though, that occupying another people (the Palestinians) is good for neither party, corroding the moral fiber of society.  

Whatever the views or goals, I personally have struggled with the things I have seen and learned about how the Muslims and Christians are treated -  containment via concrete walls topped with razor wire and electric fences (which our speaker preferred to call a "separation barrier"), restricting water supply to Gaza and the West Bank, denying passage in and/or out of Gaza, controlling even what kinds of food and humanitarian aid can be transported in... isolation and oppression... calling this difficult circumstances is an understatement!  

One comment from our speaker continues to stick in my mind:  "bad peace is better than a good war."  Maybe we should be careful what we label as peace.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hiphop in Jerusalem

After a shower, nap, and dinner,  we met up with Justin's seminary friend Carmen (who's working on an archaeological dig), and attended a hip hop concert across the street at King's Cave.  Hip hop in arabic - fascinating!  

Pre-concert, with the moon above
Patrick and Caitlin to my left:
Justin and Carmen to my right:

Since the concert was only about an hour long, we walked down the hill to the American Colony Hotel for drinks.  And afterwards, we finished the night at our favorite spot - the rooftop...

Back in the Old City

On Monday morning we were back in the Old City - this time visiting the Temple Mount. Unfortunately because of past controversies and violence, we weren't allowed to wear any religious insignia like crosses or carry in our Bibles, and we were not allowed to go inside.  This is the first time in my life I was restricted from expressing my faith  - not that I've been prone to preaching on hostile street corners, but I'll have to say it bristled this freedom-loving American girl to be told that she couldn't go in if I had a cross or Bible in my possession.  And on the other side of the coin, this caused me to wonder just how much I would risk for the sake of my beliefs.  Would I have been as courageous as the early Christians who were persecuted and martyred because of their belief in Christ?  Probably not.  How blessed I am that I have not been put to that kind of test...

While we couldn't go inside, I did try taking some photos through the crack in the door!
This dome was built by the Muslims in 691 and was gold plated in the 1990s by Kind Hussein of Jordan as a gift.  Walking around here sparks my imagination to think about how grand the Temple Mount must have been in the time of Jesus.
Unfortunately, an ugly part of our Christian history is when the Crusaders  in 1099 tried to take back the Temple Mount and murdered everyone there - Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike - because they couldn't tell anyone apart...
We then walked through the Muslim Quarter to St. Stephen's Gate (Lions Gate) and then to St. Ann's Church.  In addition to the tradition of Mary being born here, Bethsaida - the pool for healing  - where Jesus healed the lame man - is located here.
The Gate
Outside the church

Inside the church - which had great acoustics.  Caitlin, Maida, and I sang a few stanzas of Jesus I Adore Thee for the group.

The Front Door
Ruins of the baths and a byzantine church
We had lunch at Ecce Homo monastery, which had great views of the Old City from their rooftop.  

In the afternoon we went to the Western Wall and the Southern Steps - seeing the ruins of the old Roman road along the wall, and where stones were thrown down from the wall gave me some idea of what the destruction of the Temple must have been like.  These stones are huge!

On our walk back to St. George's, we stopped half way for minty lemonade (of course!)