We rose early on day 4 of our trip, Wednesday, January 25th, 2017. We were only on the bus for less than an hour before arriving at first of many stops. The place we stopped on a secondary channel of the Jordan River was beautiful and peaceful. There was a place where several people were baptizing and being baptized, and there were swimmers. Ann and I went further downstream and had some lovely quiet moments. It was not the place where Jesus was baptized, which is much further south from where we stopped, but it was a beautiful place. The water has a green tint similar to the Lakes in Glacier National Park, Montana, where, as a young man, I experienced spiritual awakening. In Glacier, the green tint is from mineral runoff from the glacial melt. I don’t know why the Jordan water is green, and the tint is not exactly the same, but I like the connection to one of my favorite places in the world.
This picture is of Many Glacier Lake, and I took it about 15 years ago when I brought my son, Steven, to Glacier on a backpacking trip.
|January 2017 Israel Trip|
|Click on the date to see the post|
Beit She’an is a city originally built by the Canaanites where the fertile Jordan River valley and Jezreel valleys meet. Egyptians took it in the 15th century BCE, It expanded in the Roman period, then again during the Byzantine period. Apparently, much of the excavation work was performed by Russian Jews soon after they returned to the Holy Land.
Just a word about the map: the dotted line marks the Palestinian territories of the West Bank of the Jordan River or simply the West Bank, and further south on the Mediterranean, Gaza. The Oslo II Accord identified Areas A, B and C administered respectively by the Palestinian Authority, both, and Israel. This is not the most hospitable agreement, and both groups still feel threatened by the other. There are many places in the West Bank, particularly Area A, where Mika, our Israeli tour guide is not permitted to bring tours, including Bethlehem. So another guide brought us there in the afternoon.
The name of the city means House of Rest or House of Tranquility. This reconstruction of ancient Beit She’an shows the same public places we saw in Caesarea: The Amphitheater (in Roman construction that was a full oval) in the center left, the theater or stadium beyond that with the cardo, or central boulevard leading to the hill on which a Temple was erected by the Greeks and later used by Romans.
This picture (below) shows the pillars that lined the cardo that leads to the Tel on which the Greek Temple stood. Mika told us that the archaeologists found a market to the right of the cardo and a bordello to its left.
The thing I found amazing was the reconstruction of the theater (below). Mika had us stand on the stage and sing and the sound carried really well. I guess amplification without electronics may be a lost art, but they sure understood it a couple thousand years ago.
An earthquake hit the region in 749 CE. As the archaeologists did not find many human remains, they suggest that tremors warned the people and they left the city before it was destroyed: all except for one guy who was found near a large stash of gold. Ouch. I suppose this is a cautionary tale: “Leave the gold behind if you want to save your own” (behind). I also found it amazing that many of the ruins we saw on the sea coast (not Beit She’an) had columns imported from Europe. That’s a lot of effort to move heavy objects long distances. The exact opposite of my philosophy of “carry-on luggage only”. Here is a video I took from the highest point:
After touring the ruins, we headed south again toward Jericho then on to our hotel in Jerusalem. Along the way we had a lunch and camel ride stop. The camel was quite determined to get a profile shot so she could both smile and show off her lovely long eyelashes. Here again, we had falafel and shawarma and french fried potatoes. We usually drank orange or apple juice or bottled water. We didn’t stop at Jericho but Mika told us the story of its conquest, with special emphasis on the role of Rahab, the harlot.
After arriving in Jerusalem, unloading our luggage and checking into our hotel rooms, we got back on the bus and our faithful driver, David, brought us to Bethlehem. In some respects, Bethlehem is like many other towns we’ve seen on the Mediterranean coast, but it has a thriving tourist industry around the Church of the Nativity.
The place where the exact location of Jesus’ birth is memorialized is shown in the picture at right. Apparently there have been some miraculous healings at this place which indicates to many that this is indeed the place. It was interesting for us to tour this place, but for me, the best place for Jesus is in the heart of His disciples, of whom I am striving to become one.
Again the artwork and iconography of the orthodox tradition are amazing, and for me, well worth the time and effort we spent getting there. Once again, even as we traveled in Palestinian territories, we never felt any sense of danger or threat from anyone.
Some of the history we learned and the artifacts we saw pointed directly to the Crusades, none more so than this statue of a Crusader attempting to slay a dragon, or perhaps “THE DRAGON” – old Lucifer himself. This reminded me of a statue I saw of Louis the Fourteenth at the palace at Versailles or the Louvre in which he was all armored up and had his foot on his enemy’s neck.
Having been a soldier who never saw conflict directly, I have studied war and fighting, and frankly, I think it is really unpleasant, and should be avoided whenever possible. This glorification of doing violence for duty, honor and country seems overblown to me, and I think the Crusades were a classic example of unjustified fighting. Of course, looking back at the history of this area, it was pretty much a story of thousands of years of conflict interspersed with brief periods of peace. And even the peaceful periods, like right now, for example, are not entirely free of fear.
I can’t imagine living in a place where some of my neighbors have made declarations of public policy to require my country’s complete destruction. I think Israelis have a right to a homeland, as do the Palestinians, and I hope they can eventually work it out amicably. Please forgive my pessimism on this matter, but I don’t see the resolution happening any time soon. Both parties to the conflict seem rather intransigent, and, unfortunately, both have strong allies that are willing to arm them.
I noticed, at several of the places we went, the motif of paired pillars . In some cases this may be for architectural strength to increase the load-bearing capacity. This explanation lacks poetic imagination. I have heard that the pairing of pillars can represent the two trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Ying and Yang of the two trees theory is very appealing to me. I am also intrigued by the contrast between the peace and paradise of the garden, and the constant struggle of living in the lone and dreary world.
The conflict between good and evil and all the other opposites are a common theme in everything I see, and in many things I can’t see. The idea that there is an unseen being advocating for good, Jesus, and one tempting toward evil, Lucifer, has a certain appeal, and even if it’s just mythology, I think it makes great poetry. I personally feel very strongly that it’s not mythology, and that both God and the Adversary are real, and play important parts in the drama of life.
There I go getting all philosophical again. Please forgive me, and please stay tuned for the next installment.