Israel Day 6: Into the Wilderness

Tonight’s blog will be pretty short. If I get more time later I may come and fill in more details, but I have to be up early tomorrow morning to leave our hotel in Jerusalem and travel to Galilee. I’ve enjoyed Jerusalem and will be a little sad to be leaving so soon.

We started out by traveling out to Bethany in Palestine, to the tomb of Lazarus. This is where Jesus resurrects Lazarus. We had mass in a chapel a few feet from the burial cave. We had a small group of pilgrims from Zimbabwe join us for mass and they were so beautiful and friendly. It was one of the highlights of our day. In fact, they met up with us at lunch as well so it was a joy to see them again. We’ve exchanged email addresses to swap some pictures with each other.

After mass, we took turns climbing down deep into a cave to get to Lazarus’ burial site. Pretty interesting and a little tough for some of the pilgrims to climb up and down the steep and slick stairs. Some of us joked that the reason Jesus called out to Lazarus is because He didn’t want to climb down in person.

Next stop was the ancient town of Jericho. Among all of the desert nearby, you can see why Jericho was overrun by 25 different factions over the years. It is an oasis of green lush vegetation surrounded by desert wilderness.

Below is a sycamore tree like the one that Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.

We arrived in Jericho and stopped by the Elisha fountain which he gave to them. We went up on the “tel” – which is the name given to an archaeological dig. Several things impressed me about this site.

It was really interesting to see how small the biblical Jericho was. I’ve seen bigger yards back home in Lexington Kentucky than the footprint of the archeology space. I’d guess we were talking about 4-5 acres at most. I had in my mind that it was a decent sized city. It does have walls around it that have been revealed in the excavations.

It is, however, the oldest known city at this time. It is the first place where an organized set of roads and a protective wall have been found. There is also a tower that has been unearthed in the rubble that was built 10,000 years ago. The tower was used for their protection – they’d climb into the top and close the top. You can see the tower here in the middle right of the picture. The top has a grate put over it.

It may not look like much of a tower, but it was built 10,000 years ago without any tools but stone. Also, you have to look at it from ground level below. The current ground level I’m standing on is from 25 different rebuilding efforts of Jericho from when it has been conquered in the past.

Another interesting thing you can see in Jericho: the Mountain of Temptation. This is where Jesus is taken and tempted by Satan with power over all the earth. It is amazing how desolate this mountain area is.

We ate lunch at a little place in Jericho. Outside, most of us took a turn riding a camel around the parking lot. Yup, that’s me on a camel.

Our next stop was the Qumran community. I’d love to write a very long blog about this … but I need to get some sleep. Perhaps more later. This is the area where the Essenes lived. These were a sect of Jews who lived a very monastic-like life. Part of their life was to copy the ancient scriptures onto new scrolls. Near the end of their time in Qumran, with the Romans pressing in, they took many of their scrolls and put them into jars in the nearby caves in which many of them lived. They likely expected to return and have the scrolls available to them. They never returned, and the scrolls were found in 1947. Below is a picture of “cave 4” where the first important discovery of scrolls was found.

In the next picture, you can see the hillside with its many caves all over it. It was a very beautiful wilderness place.

Next, we took a short drive down to the Dead Sea. Again, I’d love to write more about it, but time is short tonight. The salt content in the water right now is about 30%. You can literally sit on the water and float. It was pretty fun. Lots of garbage along the shores, though.

The Dead Sea is decreasing at an alarming rate. It has dropped many hundreds of feet since the time of Christ. It looks like at least 100 feet of its drop has happened in the last 40 years. The sea is fed by the Jordan River. But the Jordan is now tapped for water by all of the communities in the area for irrigation and drinking water. So the Jordan is now only a small trickle by the time it gets to the Dead Sea.

This is a picture of my mom and I outside the tomb of Lazarus. I like this one because in this picture, she looks just like her brother, Bill, whom she loves dearly. Bill died a few years ago. May God grant him eternal rest. Very fitting place to recall his life as we all anticipate “the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come! Amen.”

More tomorrow!

Peace,

Deacon Matt

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