Days Four and Five of Holy Land Adventure
It has been a long couple of days. I think that, so far, yesterday was my favorite day. We left the Sea of Galilee area and headed south into the wilderness. We rode parallel to Jordan to the Dead Sea on the way to the sites of Qumran and Jericho. We ended the day by floating in the Dead Sea. Driving from the lush area of Galilee into the desolation of the wilderness gave me a sense of how drastically this land can change. In fact, such radical changes in the landscape only reflect the propensity of change and diversity found in many facets of this region. In just a few miles, for instance, there are villages who live completely different than their neighbors down the street. They have a different religion, and a different language. Like distance, through time this area has changed socially and politically, radically and immediately, so many times in its history. There are so many peoples here, and so many peoples’ people here. Moreover, from one square to the next you move from modern amenities to feeling like its America in 1980 something. Walls, fences, and checkpoints are not unlike the mountains, rivers, and wildernesses, that create the uncomfortable, yet inescapable, barriers among peoples and areas. In the wilderness we visitd Qumran. It is here that the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, without which we would not have the better translations of the Old Testament that we have today. I stood several yards from the very cave where the oldest scroll for Isaiah was found! The landscape was terrifying and beautiful. As the desert sun beat down, we stood atop cliffs and plateaus and gazed out across the barrenness at caves located in the area where the Essenes once lived and meticulously copied the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible. I loved this site! There was a view of the Dead Sea from this location as well. It helped me understand the beautiful solitude that Jesus experienced for 40 days after his baptism. It was also uber cool to be where those scrolls were found.
Jericho was great, but also disappointing. Disappointing because the archaelogy being done in that area has come to a stop due to political upheaval. Entering the area, a sign warning that Israelites were not welcome there, was a reminder of where I am right now.The view from the top of the archaelogical site was stunning. Also, seeing where the dig had gotten to, including a large tower that would have been used to fortify a city, was really cool. We ate there and the food was really good, and the store sold lots of mineral products from the Dead Sea, which we went to next.
The Dead Sea was quite an experience! It is true, you cannot sink, you float. The water is real bitter. And if you get it in your eyes, it burns. The mud there is good for the skin, and some of the group chose to cover themselves in it. I, however, did not.
Today was fast paced and we visited churches built on the traditionals sites of the Ascension, Nativity, and Gethsemane. The scenes of Jerusalem were, again, surreal. Seeing the walls, and standing on the Mount of Olives and seeing the view that Jesus had when he wept was a sobering experience. Then, walking the road down to the Garden of Gethsemane, and seeing the olive grove there, gave me a perspective one can only have after doing it. This day: the views, the city, the people, has also introduced more conflct to my thoughts about the Israel-Palestinian/Jewish-Muslim relationship(s) in the land. I have been able to spend time talking with several Palestinians, since our hotel this week is in Palestine. Everyone of them live in refugee camps/settlements, and have little hope for their futures. There are no clean hands here.
Honestly, it was so much, I do not know how to process it all yet. This is true with much of the trip. This has been great, but there is so much to take in that one trip cannot touch it. I look forward to the possibility of returning one day, and visiting only a few sites that I find the most interesting. But, make no mistake, this has been a chance to see as much as possible and get my bearings about me regarding the layout, topography, and culture. Tonight, I hope to rest well and wake up for a FULL day in old Jerusalem.