Garden Tomb

 

It was April 1967 when I gathered at New York’s JFK International Airport with my 47 friends. This was to be my first journey abroad.If you have already  been to the Holy Land, you will be able to identify with my feelings on my first journey. I was flying before the plane left the gate in New York.I was actually going to the Holy Land!    Me!      Actually!    Seemed incredible.Our group was quite eclectic in its make up. There were young couples and a few kids but they were mostly older retired people. This is still the profile of most groups.   And most groups today are not as large as was mine. They usually number 12 to 15 and share the services of guides and drivers on a bus

To me the unique experience of being a minority in a majority Muslim world, was quite disturbing at first.

one of the largest mosques in the worold

one of the largest mosques in the world

 It was a rude awakening to learn that the world did not mirror my limited life experience in Southern California. I remember awakening in Beirut Lebanon the first morning to the Muslim call to prayer and finding that so wild  and pagan sounding.

One of our 1967 side trips was impossible this year as we went through the Bekka Valley to Damascus to visit the traditional Street called “Straight” and the largely fictional places that memorialized the story of Paul in the book of Acts.

I remember the huge monolith there, destined to be an obelisk but broken in the process of its removal from the quarry, jutting out of the quarry as a silent memory of when this area was dominated by Rome. So big you could actually drive a car on it.

Beirut was known then as the Switzerland of the Middle East as it was the place the wealthy of the Muslim world went to play and experience the vices they were denied back home in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.It was fortunate that we went there in 1967 because, not too many years later, war would break out between the Maronite Christians and the Syrian backed Muslim fundamentalists and later Hamas. Beirut became a war zone. Hamra Street, with all of its French designer shops, was right in the middle of that conflict and was destroyed in the process.

When we were there, all of the world’s top designers  had their beautiful stores on Hamra Street where they catered to the wealthy of the Arab world. Beirut was then a beautiful city and even had a Las Vegas style casino, Casino du liban, complete with elephants and water falls on stage that out did the Nevada scene by far

One of the marvelous buildings cared out of the rock in Petra

One of the marvelous buildings cared out of the rock in Petra

Going to Petra the first time was a thrilling experience even before I understood its fascinating probable connection with the Apostle Paul and with the development of our Christian theology. (See chapter 19 ).

The Rose red city of Petra

The Rose red city of Petra 

Up there, above our heads, was the tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses.

Petra was on the track followed by the Jews during their 40 year trek through the wilderness.

It was also  from here that the mother of Herod the Great came .

The Idumaeans who built Petra were a gifted people with their city carved out of the red sandstone cliffs described now as one of the wonders of the world.

It took another 30+ years for Hollywood to discover this exotic site and feature it in the epic film, Indiana Jones and Last Crusade.

Not far from Amman, the famous mountain called Nebo towers over the Jordan Valley.It was from this vantage point that Moses viewed the promised land that he was forbidden to enter and it was near here that he was buried in a yet to be discovered tomb. Somewhere below where we stood on Nebo, Uriah the Hittite fell in battle so that David could claim his wife Bathsheba for his own. Down the distant mountain pass to the West, Naomi  and her 2 sons and their wives, traveled in search of food and it was back up that same pass, across the Jordan River  that the 2 now destitute widows returned to Bethlehem, as recorded in the Book of Ruth. As we stood on Mount Nebo we were able to let our eyes sweep the panorama below us as we looked to the left and saw the Dead Sea and the cliffs where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, Qumran, where we would later visit.

Sweeping to the North our gaze took us past ancient Jericho and the mountain of temptation where Jesus is said to have had his encounter with Satan, and, with the Jordan River snaking its path from the Sea of Galilee in the North to its terminus in the Dead Sea, it was all there  at our feet. Awesome!

Further to the North, if we could have seen that far, we would have seen the Sea of Galilee.

Standing there on Nebo we realized the fact that the land promised by God to Israel was located on both sides of the Jordan River. That became more significant later when the border dramatically moved in June of 1967, 6 short weeks after my visit there. We ventured onto the West Bank by crossing the King Hussein bridge over the Jordan River near where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

You  are beginning to see how close we are to the Bible events? They are everywhere.

Visiting Jericho we looked in vain for the fallen walls and then proceeded up the modern/old Jericho road and were reminded of the story of the good Samaritan. The ruins of an old Turkish fort are found at the mid point and are often mistakenly called the inn of the Good Samaritan.  I learned early on to try to distinguish between the fanciful and the real. A lot of what we were shown as fact just was not so. Our Jerusalem hotel was an Arab hotel called the St George and it was located quite near the Old City of Jerusalem. Next door to the hotel was the shop of Mr. Kando.

He was an interesting character and played an important role in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Small of stature and always wearing a dirty ankle length robe with a fez hat and always in need of a shave and shower, his main employment was as a shoe repair cobbler. He also dabbled in antiquities and that is how he at one time had the famous Dead Sea Scrolls in his possession. I bought some ancient lamps from him to bring home with me. The famous one eyed  Israeli general Moishe Dyan was a regular customer of Kando in later years.

While in Jordan/Jerusalem we had a fascinating time visiting so many sites of importance to the faith. 

A cave is located under the alter in the church in Bethehem where Jesus was born

A cave is located under the alter in the church in Bethlehem where Jesus was born

We went to the birthplace of the Savior in Bethlehem,  to Mount Moriah with its 4000 year old history at the heart of the Old Testament  sacrificial system and  its connection to one of the 2 possible sites for the crucifixion and resurrection. (See chapter 19.) We visited both traditional places identified as Calvary.

The authentic pools of Siloam and Bethesda central to 2 of Jesus’ miracles, and the 2800 year old tunnel of Hezekiah were on our itinerary.   

the retaining wall of the temple of Herid

the retaining wall of the temple of Herod

A wandering walk through the Old City is an experience unto itself.   And of course the “wailing wall” or western wall of the temple plateau built by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus, looms large in my memory of that first trip.

The high point emotionally for us then and now, was the communion service experienced at the Garden Tomb, one of the 2 locations thought to be where Jesus died and was raised from the dead.

The wine/grape juice is served there in a small carved olive wood cup that is then taken home as a treasure to remember an extraordinary experience and spiritual high.

 

communion service at the garden tomb

communion service at the garden tomb

During the intervening years since 1967 the borders between Israel and her Arab neighbors have changed in remarkable ways.

On the first trip, all of the West Bank of the Jordan River including the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Jericho and the Dead Sea, were ruled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under the Western oriented King Hussein. His son Abdullah now reigns in his place. Israel’s piece of the pie was tiny and indefensible

There were then and are still, 2 cities of Jerusalem.There is the “Old City” everyone recognizes. But there is also New Jerusalem built by generations of Zionist Jews who have immigrated from Europe over the past 150 years.

In April 1967, the border between Jordan and Israel, and Old and New Jerusalem,  was a “no mans land” strip of dirt that traced along  outside the walls of the Old City and continued to the North.  Across the valley to the West were Israeli snipers who tried to kill the Arab snipers who were shooting at them from behind the walls of the Old City.  Everyone was a target and fair game in this struggle, regardless of which side of “no mans’ land” you stood on. Keep your head down or else..

If you were foolish enough to become exposed to either side you could become dead quickly and so, when touring the Old City then, we were very careful to not stick our heads up anywhere along the Western side of the city.

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

In early 1967 while the Old City was still in the hands of Jordan, Jews were forbidden to visit what is now Israel’s most sacred location the so called wailing wall or Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Now there is a wide open plaza there that allows you to walk in great numbers right up to the wall. Then that entire area was covered by slummy little houses that crowded right up to the wall itself. I remember threading my way through this tumbledown mess and suddenly abruptly finding myself at the base of the wall looking up. The time of greatest celebration for Israel was when the Jews took the Old City and especially the area of the Western wall. Almost immediately they cleared away the slum dwellings and the result is the wide plaza over the now filled in Tyropean Valley of Jesus’ day.

Israel was so small and virtually indefensible then within the borders defined by the UN mandate and then subsequently  fought over in the 1948 war of Independence.

Israel’s  continued existence as a nation was not all  that certain in 1967

At one point Israel was only about 8 to 10 miles wide between the border with Jordan to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. This narrow portion was in the area of Biblical Samaria.  The Arab world at large has never accepted the existence of the State of Israel and still does not do so. So Israel can never enjoy the luxury of letting its guard down.

In order to enter Israel in April 1967  it was necessary to cross over “no mans’ land”.The entry point to Israel from Jordan was through the remains of a home formerly owned by a Jewish family called Mandelbaum. Their ruined home was in fact the famous so called Mandelbaum Gate. When we crossed over into Israel, leaving our Jordanian bus and driver and guide behind , we personally hauled our baggage across the strip of dirt plaza where it was then  reloaded  onto the awaiting Eged  Israeli bus and  where we met our Jewish Israeli guide and, unexpectedly,  our Christian Arab driver.An  Arab driver for our Israeli bus in Israel?    We did not expect that.             How can this be?

At that time many of the sites of interest to Christians were in Jordan. But there was still much for us to see on the Israeli side including Nazareth, Cana and Megiddo and Caesarea and Capernaum. In traditional Cana I purchased a small bottle of wine (remember that famous wedding Jesus participated in?) that now, some 46 years later, resides yet unopened in my home office.

local wine in the city made famous by Jesus' first miracles

local wine in the city made famous by Jesus’ first miracles

A mystery. This corked and still sealed bottle has seen its fluid level drop about an inch over the past 46 years. How is that possible?     Bottom Line: It is my hope is that this summary from memory of my first journey to the lands of Bible will whet your appetite to share my experience

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