Last evening thousands of Jews gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem at the historic Western Wall (aka “The Wailing Wall”)  to pray that God would preserve Israel now seen by many there as threatened by American middle eastern policy. They view current US policy with alarm and as counter to the interests of the State of Israel.

The echoing sounds of  trumpets rang out across the crowded square as bearded rabbis prayed fervently to “Adonai” and “Elohim”, Biblical names for G-d (Jews so respect the name of God that they will not fully spell it out).

They prayed that “G-d would cancel the decrees” of John Kerry, that Israel would “stand firm against the difficult pressures coming from the other side of the ocean” and that their leaders would resist American pressure and that G-d would give them “fear and great awe of You that they will fear greatly to harm our holy land”.


The Obama Administration, in ways both subtle and open, has made it quite evident that they have chosen sides in the ongoing competing interests of the Arabs and the Jews. This tilting of American foreign policy away from US long standing support of the State of Israel to a not always veiled belligerence towards the Jewish State, has marked the Obama Administration since day one.

In spite of that fact American Jews have remarkably  remained firm supporters of this president.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been quietly pressuring the European powers to tighten the pressure on Israel in regards to the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in favor of the goal of declaring Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian State.

Orthodox Jews gather at the waiing wall for prayers on a regular basis

Orthodox Jews gather at the waiing wall for prayers on a regular basis

The plaza where this mass prayer meeting took place is quite significant and historic. The huge stones at the base of the wall were placed there at the time of Jesus by King Herod the Great and are all that remains of the Temple structure from that time. This is the western wall of the huge plateau on top of which then stood the 2nd Temple of Israel and where now stands two important Muslim buildings, the El Aksa Mosque and the gold covered Dome of the Rock built over what many believe to be the place of Old Testament sacrifice going all the way back to Abraham 2100 years before Jesus. The Muslims believe that it was from this spot Mohammed ascended into heaven on the back of a white stallion. These competing traditions about this site come laden with deep emotion and remain a tinder box that could easily ignite a new war.

In 1967 when, during the 6 day war, Israel took Jerusalem, this made it possible for Jews to again visit this wall, their most treasured site. They had been forbidden to go there when it was in Jordan. Its capture was greeted by great joy and celebration

I have stood there many times on our many Holy Land tours, first in 1967 just 6 weeks before the 6 day war and as recently as last February. We will go there again next December and January.

When I first went to the Holy Land  in 1967  the location of this huge prayer meeting appeared quite differently than it does today. There was no wide open plaza then that we now see. Then the area was a mass of slummy homes that crowded up against the base of the wall. It was not until, after weaving about through these dwellings  you suddenly rounded a corner and you could actually see where you were. And your eyes involuntarily turned up

One of the first things Israel did in 1967 was to clear away these modest Arab  dwellings, open the area up as we see it today and pave the filled in Tyropaean Valley from the time of Jesus (aka valley of the Cheesemakers) to accommodate the thousands that appeared there last evening.

There is great apprehension in Israel over the stance of the present US Administration and with good cause due to President Obama’s positive predisposition towards Islam due to fond memories of his childhood in Muslim countries.

One of the great values of travel to that part of the world is the  gaining of an understanding of the real politic issues that abound there and also a deepened understanding of the Biblical background and significance of the site

Dr. Robert Grant has been traveling to the Middle East for 46 years going there about 125 times and so has a unique understanding of the places important to Bible students and also what is reported on the evening news. Each year he takes Christian pastors and their church members on journeys there. His new book can be downloaded FREE at


Biblical Characters – Holy Land South Paws



The Sea of Galilee to the North of ancient Moab

The Sea of Galilee to the North of ancient Moab

A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review by 2 distinguished scholars * triggered some  thoughts and brought to mind a story that could have been lifted right out of a tabloid like National Inquirer. It is a story of murder and deceit and international affairs  and Biblical characters  from the book of Numbers (3:12-29) and is about  how God used a south paw to deliver the death blow to one of Israel’s bitter political enemies.  But why a south paw? And was this a common trait?

As recounted in the New Living Translation of the Bible this story reads like today’s newspaper, and why not. People of the Holy Bible were no different at the time of the Judges 3100 years ago than they are today. Same lusts and drives just different toys and devices to act out on those human flaws.

Because of its frequent spiritual lapses, Israel was again under the domination of the king of Moab.  Follow the story line: Ehud, a judge of Israel during the time preceding the establishment of the monarchy under King Saul et al, was selected for a special assassination mission specifically  because he was a south paw. This particular trait gave him a tactical advantage in conflict as few south paws were encountered in battle and their protagonists would seldom be expecting the actions of a left handed opponent.

(Side Note: Think the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the East side of the Jordan River South of the Sea of Galilee. When we go on our Holy Land Tours it is easy to visualize this scene as often we find ourselves on both sides of that border. It is so very interesting because the terrain is the same as it was then. Nothing much has changed. And this is the value of travel to the Holy Land for Bible teachers and pastors and why I continue to offer to take them there on our annual Holy Land Tours)

Jordan River

Jordan River

 Biblical Characters:  South Paws From The One Tribe?

Apparently the south paws all came from one particular tribe of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin. How weird is that? The other player in the list of biblical characters in this drama is Eglon, the King of Moab who was a grossly overweight man with rings of fat amidst his belly. Seems Ehud came across the Jordan River heading East bearing the demanded tribute but with a foot long dagger strapped to his right leg where a lefty would easily reach for it but where those searching him would be least likely to discover it.

The dirty act took place in the air conditioned (Don’t believe me? read the text) upstairs of Eglon’s house/palace with the door locked and with the dagger buried deep in the guts of Eglon and with Ehud making a safe retreat back West across the Jordan to safe territory, while Eglon’s confused servants searched for a key to open the door where they found their fat king dead. The Bible contains a graphic description of his death and body state.

The follow up scene was that of a decisive battle that resulted in the overthrowing of the kingdom of Moab and in 80 years of peace between Israel and Moab. Again I encourage you to read the account in the New Living Translation of the Bible. The designation of a person as being left handed is found in 3 places in the Bible and they are all from the tribe of Benjamin.  In Numbers 20:16 the account speaks of 700 left handed warriors of whom it was said that they could “sling a rock and hit a target within a hairsbreadth without missing”. They were the Special Forces of their day.

Later in 1 Chronicles 12:2 we are told that among David’s supporters, while he was still in Hebron before he took the hill side Jebusite city that became his capital Jerusalem, were a couple of dozen ambidextrous warriors who were not only adept with the sword but also with the sling and  left handed. The article in Biblical Archaeology Review offers interesting additional information as to why left handedness would be more seen in the tribe of Benjamin and not in all 12 tribes. Was it genetics at work? Apparently, they note,  studies of twins indicate that genetics could account for about 25% of the handedness issue. The remaining 75% being environmentally influenced.

Is it possible that the tribe of Benjamin actually encouraged left handedness?  The authors  observe that “The Hebrew term for ‘left hand’ …..literally means to “restricted (itter) in his right hand” and that raises the issue of child abuse.

Question: Did the Benjaminites bind the right arms of their kids in order to encourage this behavior? The name Benjamin actually means “son of my right hand”..

Just another example of why reading the Bible is so true to life and so beneficial to those of us who are living in today’s world. And no I am not advocating crippling your kids by binding their right arms to their bodies. A friend reminded me of an Italian custom of tightly binding an infant so that his feet always face perfectly straight-forward so they would not grow up with splayed feet. Similarly they would strike a child’s wrist with a ruler if they tried to use their left hand so as to discourage left handedness. In fact the Italian word for left is “sinestra” or sinister. Seems little has changed.

It is my intention to address a wide variety of issues related to the Holy Land. We cover the gamut of history, theology, current events, archaeology and the current political tides. As such we welcome and encourage your comments and healthy interchange as we continue to learn together. Consider coming along with us as we go to the Holy Land.

*Dr. Boyd Seevers , prof of Old Testament and Dr. Joanne Klein, associate prof of Biology, both from Northwestern College in St Paul Minnesota.


The Old City of Jerusalem as seen today

The Old City of Jerusalem as seen today



If you lived in Estonia that could very well be a choice you would make. Estonian families often go to a sauna on Christmas eve where the entire family strips off and soaks aux natural to welcome in Christmas day. If you lived in Norway you would probably find yourself hiding your brooms on Christmas eve lest the wicked witch who roams about on Christmas eve might find yours and proceed to ride it. If you lived in Caracas Venezuela you would probably get out your roller skates and make your way down roads temporarily deserted of cars to celebrate midnight mass..


In a moment I will tell you about yet other strange encumbrances that have attached themselves like barnacles to the bottom of a boat, to the simple story of the birth of the Savior. One of the highlights of our holy land tours is our visit to the Church of the Holy Nativity in the heart of Bethlehem. Local tradition pointed to this location when Helena the mother of the “Christian” emperor Constantine first came here in the 4th century AD and caused this church to be built. Under its present structure (been destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times) and under the alter is a cave where most agree that this is where Jesus was born.


Most people who have not traveled abroad are under the mis-impression that the way they celebrate events is the way everyone does so. That is clearly not so. Local culture and traditions often get all tangled up in the fabric of the historic event. We can see how that happened to our own celebration of Christmas as pagan symbols from Europe like mistletoe and Christmas trees and Easter bunnies and eggs all attached themselves to the celebration of important days in the life of Jesus.

Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine

Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine


In the Holy Land where we take holy land tours annually, Christmas in Bethlehem is a grand celebration that begins with a crowded manger square lined with restaurants and peddlers selling their goods, and a procession with Arabian horses followed by a single horseman riding a coal black horse and carrying a cross, followed by a host of dignitaries who proceed into the Church of the Holy Nativity where mass is celebrated.


But if you were to poke your head inside that church it would not much resemble your church at home. No seats. Huge rough textured chandeliers festooned year long with round colored Christmas glass globes. You would also notice that the local Christian Arab homes (of which there are fewer each year as the Muslims continue driving the Christian families out) have a cross painted on their doors and often a nativity scene outside. Local craftsmen carve such from local olive wood and many who travel with us on our holy land tours buy such to display at home. On our Holy Land tours we go into the church and are able to go below the alter where the cave is located that is reputed to be where “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. So to their credit the Orthodox and Catholic denominations that predominate there make the important connection between the birth and the death/resurrection of Jesus.



So what other strange customs have been added to the Christmas story around the world? Here are a few, perhaps bizarre details. I am moved to ask the rhetorical question: What on earth do these have to do with the simple yet profound story of the incarnation? In Japan on Christmas eve you would probably celebrate by getting a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I kid you not.


In Greenland you would probably “enjoy” a delicacy that has been in the preparation since the past summer called kiviak. It is made by killing about 500 birds, sewing them up whole complete with entrails and beaks, in a seal skin, placing a heavy rock on top to squeeze out the air and allow it to ferment for 6 months. Said to smell like cheese.


In Catalonia Spain you would see statues called “caganers” of famous politicians and personalities shown defecating. Families hide these graphic statues in their nativity scenes and invite their guests to discover them. These cagners are thought to attract prosperity. Also they have what they call a “Christmas crapper” which is a piece of a tree trunk with 4 stick legs and with a face painted on it and a hole cut out into which the kids stuff candy over the days leading up to Christmas and then on Christmas day the small section of log is placed in the fireplace and the kids are instructed to beat it until it “poops candy” all the while singing Christmas carols. You can’t make this stuff up now can you.


In the Ukraine you would find the Christmas trees decorated with artificial spider webs remembering the local legend of a poor family who could not afford to decorate their tree and so the spiders did it for them and those webs later turned into gold and silver threads. In La Befana Italy, instead of awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus you would be waiting for the arrival of a witch who flies into town on a broom stick and gives out candy to the kids.


In Bangladesh you would see the villagers cutting down banana trees, tying them together in pairs and replanting them alongside the path they take from their home to church. The huge leaves are bent over to make an archway. Pieces of bamboo have holes drilled in them and candles inserted and provide light for the journey to church for the late night service Christmas eve.


In Turkey, an officially Muslim country which tolerates a degree of freedom of religion (unfortunately this appears to be diminishing under the current regime), the birth place of Saint Nicholas in Patara is celebrated in the nearby town of Demre with a 3 day festival in early December.
In Viet Nam a strongly Buddhist/Confucian country, the influence of the French occupation there is to be seen in the large number of Roman Catholics who, following midnight mass on Christmas eve go home to a huge meal of chicken soup, if you are poor, or of turkey with all of the trimmings if you are wealthy. And the kids do not hang up stockings but place their shoes outside in the hope of finding gifts there in the morning.


In Labrador the kids are given turnips saved from the previous summer harvest. A hole is drilled in the turnip and a lighted candle inserted.
In Iceland a central character in the celebration of Christmas is a scary cat like figure that eats children who have been lazy and not studied hard enough. If you have performed well in your studies you get new clothes to wear on Christmas. That is to protect you as the hungry cat is said to only eat people with old clothing on.


In parts of Mexico like Oaxaca you would find locals making and buying nativity scenes carved out of huge radishes and sold in local stores.
In Sweden you would probably share a bowl of rice pudding in which a peeled almond has been placed knowing that the one who finds the almond is assured of good fortune and of getting married in the following year.


If you were a Christian living in Iraq (yes a few still survive there) you would probably make a fire outside your house from thorns. Tradition says that the way your fire burns will determine your future prospects. If the thorns turn to ash then the future will be good for you and then everyone jumps over the ashes 3 times. Why 3?

holy land tours

Dr Robert Grant the Holy Land Guru


Such is the interesting variety to the human experience. One does wonder how the story of Christmas gets so interwoven with such often bizarre customs and practices.


Question: Should you be considering coming with us when we next return to the Holy Land in December 2014 (11 days to Israel, Jordan and Turkey) or in January 2015 for 10 marvelous days in Israel? Special arrangements are provided for pastors and Bible teachers to underwrite most if not all of their cost.


For 46 years now I have been going to the lands of the Bible (over 120 times) and in the process taking thousands of friends with me and I am committed to helping pastors to have this inspiring experience that will transform their preaching and teaching ministries. I can be reached at (386) 447 9473. 

Egypt: Political Schizophrenia
Unthinking people glibly say that Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Iraq should hold democratic elections as though that is the end all be all solution.
Is that really the answer? Replace the current autocracies with democratically held elections?
But what if those countries have no traditions of democratic values ie freedom of the press, freedom of religion, open elections, freedom of speech and of assembly , separation of powers, civilian control of the military, independent courts? What then?
Egypt! That is what you get.
A year ago Egypt held democratic elections. They elected Mohammad Morsi President and put the radical Muslim Brotherhood into power.
Fools in the West watching this process cheered along. “Democracy may be messy” they argued “but it works”.
So how did that democratic election work out?
Not so good most would agree. Most especially the Egyptians
And so the crowds, now many millions strong, are back in Tahrir Square in Central Cairo and the military has overthrown this democratically elected government and the Obama administration now has egg all over its face and banners are everywhere condemning Obama and his ambassador for his support of this, to be sure, duly elected, radical Islamist government.
The military has long been the real power in Egypt going back to the time of Gamel Abdel Nasser in the 1950s when he, a colonel in the Egyptian army, led a coup that overthrew the regime of King Farouk.
And so the military has now taken over in Egypt and installed Adly Mansour, the Chief Justice of what is their Supreme Court, as the interim President. Free elections have been promised but no word as to when.
So Egypt experienced a year of a democratically elected government and what did it get them?
Chaos prompted by the religiously motivated policies of their president who put a radical theology ahead of economics and basic human rights.
Included in the leadership of that Morsi government were those who advocated cleansing Egypt of all semblances of idolatry such as the sphinx and traces of the Pharaohs.
Blow them up just as like minded radical Islamists did in Afghanistan in 2001 when they dynamited two 1700 year old Bamiyan statues of the Buddha and tried to do again in 2007 in a remote village in Pakistan where they tried to dynamite a carving of the Buddha on a mountainside. In this act they were unsuccessful.
So it is not far fetched to believe that the Morsi government might have given the go ahead to radicals in their party for the blowing up of the sphinx? There was actually serious talk of this. And what would that have done to the local economy that employs thousands when the tourists no longer came?
Luxor is another Egyptian tourist mecca. I have been there. A radical group called Gamas Islamiya launched an attack there that resulted in the deaths of 58 tourists in the grand temple of Queen Hatshepsut in 1997.
President Morsi recently appointed as governor over Luxor, a man connected to that same group. This new governor to be of Luxor was going to implement policies that would have killed the tourist economy there such as strict adherence to Islamic dress codes for women, no alcohol, no mixing of the sexes. The locals, fearing the repercussion from the tourist trade , objected and the man dropped out.
And what of the Coptic Christians of Egypt?
They have lived under a cloud of fear for the past year, experiencing brutal oppression under the democratically elected Morsi government. A headline in the Los Angeles Times reads (4/12/13) “Egypt’s Coptic Christians Live in Fear of Islamic Extremists”.
Samir, an Egyptian Coptic High School Philosophy teacher was interviewed for this article while praying in a significant little Coptic Church, north of Cairo on the banks of the Nile. He said. “I feel unsafe ….they set a Christian man on fire the other day…seven Copts and one Muslim have died in clashes in recent days.”
(An aside: What of that church? I have actually visited there. Local tradition claims that the Holy Family stayed there during their flight from Herod into Egypt following the birth of Jesus. In fact locals will show you a very old tree that they claim provided shelter from the sun for the Holy Family. Interesting tradition.)
The Times further reports that “Scores of Copts have been killed in sectarian violence since early 2011 including 24 worshipers who died in a church bombing. Another Copt reported that “Copts are facing organized oppression and forced immigration ………..Islamist radicals want to get rid of Christians across the Middle East”.
So what are America’s interests in this situation? I would remind you that countries do not have friends. They have interests.
I refer you back to an article I wrote several days ago, the Ugly face of Radical Islam. that you can find in this blogs at www.holylandguru.com in which I argued that countries do not have friends. They have interests. Those forces that contribute to stability in Egypt are in our interests.
Written by Dr. Robert Grant 7/4/13

Dr Grant has been traveling to the lands of the Middle East for about 46 years and has been there over 125 times hosting holy land tours for his friends. As a result he has been designated the holy land guru by some.

On Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru

It is well to remember that in the world of real politique countries do not have “friends”. They have “interests”.
So where do America’s “interests” lie in the ongoing Syrian conflict? Not an easy question to answer.
We have an interest in maintaining stability in the region and anything or anyone that threatens that stability is an American concern. The Arab Spring has undermined that stability as the autocrats that were our “friends” have been replaced by revolutionaries of the Muslim Brotherhood stripe.
We have an interest in the unimpeded flow of oil . Ours and the world economies depend on this.
We have an interest in stemming the spread of radical Islamist influence in the region.
We have an unusual relationship with Israel that benefits both nations and we bristle at anything that threatens that alliance or the Jewish state.
Clearly these are American “interests and the disintegration of Syria into virtual chaos and civil war does not serve our “interests”.
An example of the law of unintended consequences at work.
During the Russian war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Mujahedeen were our “friends” and, as the President then of the American Freedom Coalition, I was actively involved in their political support in DC. We lobbied and organized rallies to help their cause.
I remember one young Afghan boy of about 12 who was there at one of the DC demonstrations. He was a beautiful child with a handsome face but I also remember how rough his hands were from the life he had to live in that hell hole. These were tough and brave people we admired and, most important, they were the enemies of our then enemy, the Soviet Union. That was America’s interest then.
The US Government gave them stinger missiles then that they used with great effect against the Russian helicopters and ultimately the Russians recognized the inevitable and packed their bags and went home licking their wounds. I wonder about that young boy. He would now be in his late 30s or early 40s. Many of those young fighters that I saw in DC then are now adults and may now be our enemies And what of those stingers?? Where are they?
When you strip away all of the extraneous noise, the Syrian conflict is really the latest chapter in a sectarian war that began in the 7th century when, following the death of Mohammed. Islam split into 2 warring factions over the question of how to select his successors.
The Sunni branch makes up about 85% of the Muslim world. The Shiites make up the balance of about 15%.
And they hate each other. Almost as much as many of them hate us.
Good current example of this at work. The Washington Times 6/25/13 reports that an Egyptian mob of 3000 Sunnis in the Giza district recently burned the houses of and murdered 4 Shiite Muslims..
According to these Egyptian Sunnis, their victims deserved what happened to them for being heretics. One Sunni is reported to have said “We’re happy about what happened. It should have happened long ago. Shiites are infidels”
Please understand: In this modern context the Shiites are Iran, and the majority population of Iraq (now ruled by a Shiite president) and the Alawites ( a branch of Shia Islam) of the Assad regime in Syria. Most of the rest of the Muslim world including the radical Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, are Sunni.
The Sunni Saudis are no fans of the Alawite/Shia Syrian regime and have been actively trying to undercut Assad there..
In this context, the cruel nature of some of the Saudi religious leaders is seen for the EVIL system that it is. (emphasis intentional)
In January 2013, Newsmax reported the following story. “A Saudi Wahhabi preacher’s religious decree reveals barbaric justification emanating from the kingdom’s clerics. Saudi preacher……….issued a fatwa that allows jihadi fighters to rape Syrian women”. The stated justification for this decree? Because they have “not been with a woman for two years and” (according to this cleric, he) “is allowing them to engage in ‘intercourse marriage’ that lasts for a few hours ‘in order to give each fighter a turn’. It is the women’s duty” (according to this Muslim Imam…. Imagine if an American pastor made the same argument?) “ to acquiesce in this arrangement in order to reach paradise because it ‘boosts the determination of the Mujahideen in Syria’ as long as they” (the female victims) “are at least 14 years old, widowed or

Such is the religious mind set of Saudi Sunnis involved in this war to topple Assad.
Assad is a clearly a bad dude but it is hard to get into bed with the Saudis
So it is difficult to pick the “good guys” out in this Syrian civil war. And the longer this conflict continues the more difficult it will be to choose sides. The reason is that Islamists are now apparently flooding into Syria on the side of the rebels against the Assad government and they are the same crowd that wants us all dead.
However this all ends up, America’s interests will not be served well.
But clearly no American blood should be shed in this conflict. None. Regardless of what politicians may say, safely ensconced behind wooden desks in Washington DC.
And I welcome your opinion.
Dr. Bob Grant

Dr Robert Grant has been traveling to the Middle East for more than 46 years and has gone there over 125 times hosting groups of friends on holy land tours. As a result he hs been dubbed the holy land guru by some.

BTW I am new and trying to get established and would really appreciate it if you would ‘Like” my Facebook page at Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru