June 23, 2010

Trip to the Holy Land - Day 2

First Day of the Tour – Thursday 15th April

We woke up in the morning not knowing exactly when the tour bus would arrive to collect us due to an admin mistake by the tour company. I rang them and was told that it would be there in 30 minutes! We rushed downstairs for breakfast, and Doron Hoffman the tour guide eventually found us and we jumped aboard! We joined a tour group that had already been together since the previous Monday. After picking up a few more people, we drove up to the summit of the Mount of Olives for a postcard perfect view of the Old City. If you ever see a photo of Jerusalem, it is most likely from this spot, showing the Temple Mount area from the eastern side. Doron gave us an overview of the rich history of the city up until the present time. The most memorable point for me was when he explained the topography of the city and described how it was always from the northern side that the city was ever taken as the other sides had a great height advantage for defense. He then described how the Jews took the city from the eastern side during the 1967 war. We took some photos and all packed into the bus again. The next stop was the Church of All Nations located next to the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. (Note the “tradition” word, as this was mentioned throughout the rest of the day!) I must say Gethsemane was not like I imagined, of course Jerusalem looks little like it did back in Jesus’ time. I had imagined taller trees but Olive trees are not that big. I don’t mind being corrected there, but the whole valley and mountain would have had olive trees according to Doron, and they have no idea where the garden was! The church which was only built in the 1950’s had a large flat stone near the altar and when we went inside there was a bunch of people kneeling down before it and kissing it. This was supposedly the place where Jesus knelt to pray “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” in Matthew 26. Does God want us to kiss this stone??
From there, we went on to a place called King David’s tomb, and again, it was admitted not where King David’s bones are kept. We were told that that place was kept secret so that the bones weren’t stolen. Besides that, the room was not anything special. In the same area was a place they called the Upper Room, even though it was again admitted it wasn’t the real site and was hopefully close by. I agree that how is anyone supposed to know really, but why call this place the Upper Room and bring us there then!! (tourism of course!) If there is anything I was glad for, it was that I’m glad I have the 100% true and accurate word of God to trust in! Going to Jerusalem was an experience of a lifetime, but if you “only” have your bible to picture these places, you have more than enough! (Matthew 24:35)
We entered the old city through the Zion gate which is still riddled with bullet holes from the 1967 Six Day War and perhaps some others. We passed a group of people celebrating a boy’s bar mitzvah. Four people held a small canopy emblazened with the star of David over his head. Another two people were playing what I’d describe as djembe drums and everyone was singing this tribal like song and clapping to the beat! They were on their way to the Western Wall perhaps to read the torah and pray. Doron took the opportunity to describe the bar mitzvah a little and we walked down into the Jewish Quarter of the old city. There was some excavations of a Roman street called a cardo that dated back to the Byzantine period (324-638). This would have been the main street in the city where business was conducted. We also saw the local synagogue, and some old pavement that dated back to the time of Jesus. At a certain vantage point, we stopped to view the Western Wall from a distance and Doron talked about it from there before we actually went down to it.
Nearby, there was a massive gold Menorah (seven-branched Jewish candlestick) and I went over to have a look. Funnily enough, this hassidic Jewish guy came up to me and put out his hand and said Shalom emphatically! I smiled and shook his hand, but suddenly as he shook my hand he bowed his head and started to pray in Hebrew. I could only laugh, and after a while he looked up at me and asked my parent’s names (he is still shaking my hand at this point!). He repeated the question so I went ahead and told him and he continued to pray and then stopped, looked at me, and put out his hand gesturing for money! I said that I had no change and he quickly retorted saying, I can give change! Ha, I just said sorry and he walked off coldly. However, I still enjoyed his swindling attempt :-) For about the 4th time, we saw the Western Wall and I think everytime I went to see it something different was happening. Today, there were a lot of boys, perhaps all having their bar mitzvah like the other one we see earlier. They were all reading the torah, and we saw so many people coming and going with a little procession of sorts from the large wardrobe sized ornate wooden containers that stored the scriptures (called Torah Arks I think), either putting back, or taking out the massive scrolls (approx. 3ft tall) encased in beautiful metal containers.
To be honest, I got a little bored for the next hour as we walked along the Via Dolorosa, said to be the route Jesus took to Calvary, and is marked by the Catholic stations of the cross, well, at least the old ones as Pope Benedict apparently adjusted them when he came into power, removing Veronica and something else I think. It’s true this route would have looked much different back in Jesus’ time as Jerusalem was smaller, the Bible says He “suffered without the gate” in Hebrews 13:12. But now everything is within the newer walls which are only 500 years old. The other thing I don’t like about the stations of the cross is they say Jesus fell three times, but I can’t find so much as a stumble my Bible! Anyways, we ended up in a church called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which contains the hole in the ground which Jesus’ cross was put into, the slab on stone His body was laid on when He was taken down off the cross, and a nice wooden sepulchre where Jesus body was laid, all according to tradition of course! The wooden sepulchre was falling apart with age, so there was a steel structure erected around it to clamp it in place and keep it standing. Perhaps they should just stick with the “sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” (Luke 23:53). Notwithstanding, I still appreciate going there: the pictures of the people kissing the slab of stone where Jesus' body was laid, and rubbing their garments on it so that the garments would somehow become holy stay clear in my mind. How sad this was.
Next, we walked through the Muslim quarter and enjoyed a nice middle eastern schawarma for lunch. This was a tortilla wrap with shaved meat (who knows what kind!) and salad. We might call it a döner kebab from any Turkish fast food place in Europe. From there, we walked out of the Old City north through the Damascus gate. The final port of call for our whistle stop tour of the Old City was the Garden Tomb (the other place in town that has Calvary and the tomb of Jesus!). That being said, I agreed more with their hypothesis for the location of the tomb as it was based heavily on Bible evidence. They argued the evidence that it was indeed Joseph of Arimathaea’s. The site is owned and maintained by the Anglican community, and they were sure also to give the gospel in their presentation so I got to throw in a few amens while salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was preached. If you aren’t saved yet, the Bible says in John 14:6, Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. And again in Acts 4:12, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Confess and forsake your sin and call upon Jesus and ask Him to apply the blood of His finished work on the cross to your heart! For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:13
It was late in the afternoon when we got back to the hotel, so we went for a quick swim, and looked around the hotel a bit. But we weren’t going to stay put in the hotel when there was still so much to see and so much of the day still left! They say that you should definitely go visit the Holy Land when you are younger and it can be quite physical walking around everywhere in the heat of the day, and I agree! The whole trip we went non-stop and I barely had time to write my journal at night we were so busy! We headed out to see Absalom’s Pillar in the Kidron Valley. This is on the eastern side of the Temple Mount very near the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. It was fun to explore it, although it turns out that according to scholars it is not actually from David’s time (approx. 1000BC) but around Jesus’ time! I read that people would throw stones at it because it represented Absalom and his rebellion, and parents also were said to have brought their naughty children there and taught them what happened to Absalom!! Right next to the Pillar is a place I originally thought was called the Tomb of the Prophets. But researching it later, I found that it is the tomb of a priestly family called Bnei Hazir, and next to those tombs is a monument called the Tomb of Zechariah (from 2Chr. 24:20-21). Although, again, this is a traditional presumption, with no evidence to suggest it to be true. As we finished exploring the area it began to be dusk, and an adhan, or Islamic call to prayer began to be broadcast from a nearby mosque in the Siloam area and it echoed hauntingly throughout the valley mixing with another adhan coming somewhere from the Old City, perhaps the Al Aqsa mosque. We walked up towards the Old City and tried to go see Omar Schindler’s grave nearby but the cemetery was closed. From there, we entered the Old City through the Zion gate and headed down into the Jewish quarter for some kosher food. From there, we went into a nearby shop, and Noel and I were talking to the shopkeeper for a good while, asking him all sorts of questions. He was quite the character, saying he was a Levite with an extra gene than others normally have, and he talked about standing up as a Jew against their enemies and talked about how Arabs would be scared of him when he was working out in the fields where he was from! As I said, quite an interesting guy, Noel and I would have stayed talking to him for ages but the shop got busy so we took our leave. From there, we got a few more photos of the Western Wall and then took a cab over to the viewing point on the Mount of Olives for a night shot of Jerusalem before we headed home. The cab driver was Arab and he spoke honestly about his struggles to understand the Jewish people from his Islamic point of view. We got back to the hotel absolutely wrecked, we laughed a little together about the day and then got some much needed rest. Check out the pics here

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