jerusalem

A friend recently asked me if I get upset by proclamations issued  by secular archaeologists that challenge the claims of the Bible and my answer is always the same.

In a word No.

But why you might ask?

I remind them that archaeology is an important but an inexact science and falls into the category of detective work with a shovel and a spade.

In the virtuous pursuit of knowledge, the archaeologist assembles the fragments of the past and tries to draw some conclusions as to what they mean. His conclusions are colored by certain presuppositions and assumptions  that he brings to the table.

Also the game includes vigorous 0ne-up-manship.

Announcements  are often made breathlessly and with a eye to attracting headlines. Headlines attract attention and can result in funding for future digs by the now newly distinguished archaeologist who has successfully challenged another’s conclusions.

Bill's corrected Holy Land Pics 305

 

Such is illustrated by the discovery of the long sought tomb of King Herod the Great of Jesus’ fame.

In an earlier posting I described the announced discovery on the Herodium near Bethlehem,  of the fragmentary remains of a tomb identified by the eminent archaeologist Ehud Netzer as being that of Herod.

Now one of his students has challenged his discovery.

The interesting give and take of this so typical debate is described in the attached posting by Leen Ritmeyer based upon a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (the land) Archaeology is an inexact science at best.

The author of this blog Dr Robert Grant (aka The Holy land Guru) has been traveling to the Holy Land for 46 years and annually schedules departures and invites pastors and others to accompany him there.

Herod’s Tomb at Herodium

Haaretz newspaper carried an article today by Nir Hasson, reporting on the seventh annual conference, “Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area”. During that conference, two archaeologists, Joseph Patrich and Benny Arubas challenged Ehud Netzer’s identification of Herod’s Tomb that was found at Herodium near Bethlehem. Herod’s tomb  was discovered by Ehud Netzer in 2007, next to a large stairway that gave access to the Upper Palace.
 On the other side, the remains of a theater was found. They argued that the tomb was too small for the larger than life personality of Herod the Great and that the monument was not in keeping with the size of other Herodian constructions. They also found the sarcophagus, which was made of beautiful red limestone, to be of inferior quality for the king and had expected either a marble or golden one. They also said that the plaza near the tomb was too small to accommodate the many people that accompanied the sarcophagus of Herod the Great. Patrich emphasizes that he was a student of Ehud Netzer, but that he couldn’t agree with him on the identification of the tomb. The rebuttal delivered by Roi Porat, who succeeded Netzer as the head of the Herodium excavations, was more positive and convincing. Porat pointed out that there was a very large plaza at the foot of the artificial man-made hill that could easily accommodate the funeral procession. He also noted that the tomb stood on natural ground:

“This whole big mass has one place that was not covered in earth, and that is the site of the tomb,” Porat says. He claims that Herod conceived of the entire tel as an enormous and unique burial mound, symbolizing the idea that life at its top would go on even after the king was buried.”

Porat doesn’t rule out the possibility of finding other tombs, but this one appears from an architectural perspective more than qualify to be the tomb in which Herod the Great was buried. Porat rightly observed:

“We believe we have a decent picture of what is going on there and it is convincing. We have sufficient data. He [Patrich] deals with what is not, and we with what is”.

That would fit in with my personal experience. Patrich may be proud to have been one of Netzer’s students, but having worked with him on several projects in the past, I must say that I am not too impressed with Patrich’s knowledge of ancient architecture. Patrich may have expected Herod’s tomb to have been a much larger and more impressive monument, but this exquisitively designed tomb was built for Herod himself and a few close family members only. Patrich and Arubas must have forgotten that a very large funerary monument for Herod’s wider family had already been identified by Ehud Netzer north of Jerusalem: To the north of the Old City of Jerusalem, the remains of a circular building have been discovered and identified with the Monument of King Herod the Great, which served as his family tomb. Herod was buried in his private tomb in Herodium, both other members of his family were probably buried in this structure. This mausoleum is mentioned twice by Josephus, in War 5.108 and 5.507. Haaretz may have called the observations of Patrich and Arubas an “archaeological stunner”, but I am not convinced by them. See also Todd Bolen’s blog. HT: Joseph Lauer

MASSIVE PRAYER MEETING AT THE WAILING WALL

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

http://www.holylandguru.com/ebook-for-you/

STRANGE BED FELLOWS: JORDAN AND ISRAEL

Get your FREE copy of my new book A HOLY LAND ROMANCE here. http://www.holylandguru.com/ebook-for-you/

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                   Breaking news.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU, HOLY LAND GURU

In a surprise development, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah, met together last week in Amman Jordan to discuss their shared concerns: Muslim radicalism and national defense.

One could say that this is a demonstration of the maxim:  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. But that would be overly simplified.

The two leaders met to discuss shared concerns about the current increase in the level of Arab radicalism that threatens both countries, the conflict in Syria, and the continuing  fallout from the  so called “Arab Spring”.

Built in historic tension between Jordan and her Arab neighbors, results from the fact that  Jordan, is a Sunni Muslim State, that borders Shiite Iran and Shiite dominated Iraq and Iran-allied Syria.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 https://maps.google.com/maps?q=map+of+jordan&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x15006f476664de99:0x8d285b0751264e99,Jordan&gl=us&ei=fs3aUs6GLuzMsQTyiIGIDg&ved=0CC0Q8gEwAA

A fragile existence at best for Jordan.

Jordan is clearly a target of the Muslim radicals. With this very public meeting, that target just got a whole lot bigger.

Those above stated long standing inter Muslim tensions have been exacerbated by the current  flow of refugees from the turmoil in Syria now spilling over the borders into both Turkey and Jordan.

A Complicated History

It is important to understand that Israel has, since 1967, been maintaining a military presence along its Jordan River border with Jordan.

On our holy land tours we have often driven alongside the plowed strip of land with its wire  fence that has provided this necessary barrier. Fences really do work. We in the US have yet to understand that fact.

Jordan fears  that negotiations being pushed by the present  US Administration in its quest to fulfill an Obama  campaign promise, could result in the establishment of  an untenable  Palestinian State ( with borders agreeable to both the Palestinians and the US but not to other parties), that could result in a compromise of Israel’s stabilizing influence along the border with Jordan. Not good for either side.

Jordan river border,

Jordan river border,

Jordan wants the Israelis to maintain a presence there and is fearful that Israel could cave in to American demands. Such a compromise would not serve the interests of either country.

Hence this historic meeting.

What makes this meeting so significant is not that it was held but that it was held openly and in Amman. Clearly Jordan has chosen sides.

It is important to understand that Israel and Jordan have a complicated history.

When the UN declared the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 , the combined forces of all of her Arab neighbors, including Jordan, ganged up on the fledgling  Jewish state.

Israel more than survived that 1948 “War of Independence”.

It was victorious and extended its borders beyond those designated only days earlier by the UN. She was then in a stronger but not yet secure position.

Again in June 1967, 19 years later, under the prodding of then Arab nationalist Egyptian President Abdul Nasser, conflict broke out with the 6 day war.

Nasser was a client of the then Soviet Union and his motivations were clearly at the behest of the Soviet Union in its contest with the US to dominate the region.

Under the guise of spurring  nationalism Nassser orchestrated a combined attack on Israel from the South (Egypt) East (Jordan) and North East (Syria).

Jordan was a reluctant participant.

Again Israel survived and even prospered, primarily at the expense of Jordan which lost all of the West Bank of the Jordan River including the Old City of Jerusalem and including the valued Muslim holy place, the golden Dome of the Rock.

dome of the rock

dome of the rock

Israel gained its most precious site, the “Wailing wall” or Western Wall of the Temple Mount that goes back to the time of Jesus and is nearest to the location of the destroyed temple that Jesus frequented.

Wailing wall/Wetern Wall

Wailing wall/Western Wall

Then King Hussein (married to an American girl and father of the current King Abdullah, also western educated and an Oxford grad) was a pragmatist and had his own real politic problems to deal with including an unsuccessful attempt by Yasser Arafat and his PLO forces to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy.This failed coupe led to the expulsion of Arafat and  the PLO from Jordan and into Lebanon, where they remain.

King Hussein long rued the day he got sucked into the 1967 conflict. It cost him dearly.

Behind the scenes discussions have been ongoing between Israel and Jordan for a long time. Those meetings seldom appear in the press. (Can you spell clandestine?)

This inter country communication goes back as far as 1963 but in particular to the days leading  up to the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Six years after the disastrous Arab losses of 1967, the Egyptians and Syrians were  plotting  to retake land lost to Israel.  They wanted Hussein to join them in this plan and fight Israel with an Eastern front.

Rather than support them, King Hussein actually tipped off then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (an American from Milwaukee who had emigrated to Israel)  that this was a foot.

Jordan  remained out of that conflict.

Israel and Jordan  have shared interests and shared concerns over the shape of and the terms of the establishment of any proposed Palestinian state.

The openness of this  meeting between Abdullah and Netanyahu on Arab soil is quite significant in what it says as to the cooperation between the two countries.

It also ramps up the enmity of the Muslim radicals against Jordan and their desire to unseat King Abdullah. Oh and by the way American forces are now quietly on the ground in Jordan to undergird the stability of the region.

My personal perspective

I first went to Jordan in early 1967 on my very first Holy Land tour and  returned as recently as our holy land tour in February 2013.

Petra where Paul may have stayed

Petra where Paul may have stayed

Jordan is a beautiful country with strong Bible roots of interest to Christians who visit there.                                                       Among those roots are:  the place where the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan River to conquer the promised land, the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the place where St Paul spent time preparing for his world changing ministry (Petra), Pella where the early Christians sought refuge as the Roman armies approached to sack Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the places where both Moses and Aaron are buried, to name just a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another original contribution by Dr. Robert Grant aka The holy land Guru to help his  friends keep up to speed on all things holy land related and is based upon the perspective he has derived from 125 journeys to that part of the world during the past 46 years.    Each year he plans to take friends to the holy land.

His next  departures are December 1, 2014 and January 12, 2015. If interested please go to the website or call Dr. Grant at 386 447 9473.

Biblical Characters – Holy Land South Paws

THOSE STRANGE BIBLICAL CHARACTERS AND PEOPLE OF THE HOLY BIBLE?

 

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.

 

Reflections on Holy Land Tour #125: February 2013 

Group with Dr Robert Grant on Temple Mount 2013

Group with Dr Robert Grant on Temple Mount 2013

In February 2013 we returned home from visiting the Middle East for well over the 125th time in our 46 year period of conducting Holy Land tours. We spent time in Istanbul, Jordan and Israel. Accompanying me was a group of 43 American Christians varying in age from 17 to 84.

Istanbul mosque

Istanbul mosque

 

 

 

 

 

Our journey had a serious purpose, a deeply spiritual one I might add, for which I had endeavored to prepare our group through a 6 month long series of voluntary seminars and intensive study.  I was personally committed to making this a transformational experience for them that would hopefully bring them into intimate touch with Jesus and the world in which he lived, in a dynamic way.  I was glad to note that the personal testimonies offered by the group members when we returned home, indicate that we achieved that goal. You can actually hear those comments from them on the  www.holylandguru.com/testimonials link.

 

As indicated in a previous article related my debut visit in 1967, just 19 years after the tremulous  establishment of the modern State of Israel and only 6 weeks before the crucial  1967,  6 Day War, the little Israeli State, though impossibly outnumbered and simultaneously attacked on all sides by numerically superior forces from Jordan, Egypt and Syria, won this test of survival and expanded its borders in all directions. The very survival of the Jewish state was at stake during that historic week, 46 years ago. From being, in the spring of 1967, a tiny indefensible fragment of land that measured maybe 8 to 10 miles across at one point, Israel, emerged from that conflict with greatly expanded, defend-able borders with the Jordan River as its new boundary to the East, the Suez Canal to the South and the backside of the Golan Heights to the North East.

 

But that now greatly expanded set of borders established in 1967, also set in motion conflicts and tensions that exist to this very day, a fact of which we were very much aware during our recent visit. That whole part of the world we call the Middle East has been transformed during the 46 years that have intervened between my first and my most recent journeys and, while much remains the same,  some of the area now would have been unrecognizable to me in 1967.  It must be noted that most of that vivid physical transformation has occurred on the Israeli side of the map.  Not so much on the Arab side.

Our Holy Land Visit: First Stop – Turkey

First up -Turkey: My impression of Istanbul in 1967 was less than positive. I remember it as somewhat primitive and Istanbul then as an unattractive city with little beauty. I especially remembered the squat type toilets that featured caste metal feet on which you were expected to squat in order to do your business into a hole in the ground.   And, of course, when shaking hands I remembered that you were to never offer your left hand as that was the one you used to complete your business.  Most of the men I remember seeing in 1967 wore the strange looking shapeless black trousers that featured their crotch universally drooping to the knee. I was not impressed with Turkey in 1967.   I remember musing then that Turkey was a beautiful country …but.

 

Those many years ago I also visited other Turkish cities like the sea ports of  Kusadasi, Mersin and Dikili which were then nothing more than primitive populated dirt paths often bordered by gold shops.  Then, the locals in Kusadasi  looked forward to the soon arrival of Club Med.  Now they are modern and functioning cities of commerce.

Istanbul street scene in 2013 on holy land tour

Istanbul street scene in 2013 on Holy Land tour 

 

Not backward anymore, Istanbul is as modern as any Middle Eastern metropolis and is now filled with prosperous, stylish people. It is a truly beautiful place to visit.  My wife remarked repeatedly on the many stunningly beautiful, fashionably dressed young girls in their high heel boots, that seemed to be everywhere. 

 

One thing continues there; the competing clash of cultures, with modern woman aplenty, and also many women wearing the hijab and covered all in black but for a slit for their eyes.  One group of about 40 pasty white middle aged men appeared suddenly in front of us in the Istanbul International airport, hurrying along in  single file in bare feet and swathed only in white bath towels.  They were moving with dispatch but it was not clear where they were going. But they were indeed going there, wherever there was  it seemed.

 

There I also observed the obviously  wealthy, spotlessly white robe clad, young Saudi sheikh, with his presumably  beautiful but fully covered up wife in tow, disembarking from their Paris  flight, clutching shopping bags from exclusive shops like Hermes and Ives St Laurent.  She dutifully walked behind him. The international airport in Istanbul is a people-watchers paradise.

 

When the father of the modern nation of Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk formed this state from the ashes of the former Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One, he envisioned a country that would be officially Muslim in religion, but tolerant of other religions. And until recently Turkey has remained true to that ideal.  But now as the infection called the “Arab Spring” continues to spread across the region there are hints that this time of accommodating other faiths may be coming to an end.   There is a growing radical-Islamist influence in the country.

Istanbul mosque from 2013 holy land tour

Istanbul mosque from 2013 Holy Land  tour 

 

Hagia Sophia, at one time the most important church in all of Christendom, was captured by the Muslims in 1453 and is preserved to this day as a Muslim museum.  Rumor has it that it is now being reconsidered to be converted into a functioning mosque. This won’t change much in the real world but it does indicate a change of heart and a hardening of the Islamic point of view there.  We entered this enormous, formerly Christian church, Hagia Sophia,(means holy wisdom)  built by the Emperor Justinian in the 500s AD shortly before the onslaught of Islam across the Mediterranean world.

Interior of the huge Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Interior of the huge Hagia Sophia in Istanbul 

 

Like St. Peters in Rome, built some 1000 years later, it is awe inspiring and breathtaking in its enormity as it stands side by side with the huge competing Blue Mosque, built to compete for attention by the Muslims.

 

Change is afoot in Turkey and it yet remains to be seen as to what that change will be.  One thing notable was the unexpected, greatly increased security we experienced in Turkey, complete with shoe removal at the airport.  They are clearly aware of new forces at work and seem determined to protect the integrity of the Turkish State.

 

Their security regime is similar to what we would later experience when entering Israel and is not unlike the US system. We enjoyed our Turkish visit free from any tension or danger and would love to return for a longer visit.

 

Holy Land Tour: On to Jordan

We traveled on to the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan where we spent 2 pleasant evenings and days. It took some getting used to having an unobtrusive yet armed guard travel with us on the bus during our stay in this Sunni Muslim country that is a friend of the United States. King Abdullah has his challenges with the radical Islamists as well.

LYLANDGURU.COM-PETRA

The treasury in Petra 

 

While there we visited the unbelievable ruins of ancient Petra, built some 200 years before the time of Jesus by the Nabataeans to defend the nearby historic spice trade route. route.

 

Petra is one of those places that must be seen and cannot be adequately described.  It is an entire city carved out of red sandstone cliffs, secreted away in a hidden valley that is inaccessible except by way of a treacherous walk along a mile like, boulder strewn wadi between towering cliffs that then opens up into a spectacular valley so appealing to Hollywood that they selected it as the location for shooting the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

 

 

In addition to being one of the great historical sites of the world, we went there with a serious purpose based upon the speculation that St. Paul who wrote much of the New Testament part of the Bible is thought to have spent time there studying and preparing for his life work of establishing Christianity, the faith he had earlier striven to destroy, into the force that 2 centuries later swept across the world.  The entire Roman Empire including what is now Turkey became officially Christian during those early centuries. The Bible record indicates (Galatians 1) that after his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul went into “Arabia” (Petra??) for a couple of years, and it was only after that respite, that he officially began his ministry.

holy land tour vistis Petra

Herod’s mother was an Idumean and came from Petra

 

 

What would Paul have done during those years in Petra?  Among other things he probably engaged in his trade of tent making. After all he needed to feed himself. But his time there must have also served a far greater purpose. While we were  in Petra, I mused, to myself and with my fellow travelers, about the remarkable transformation that had occurred inside this formerly fanatical young rabbi. Here was a 30s something young Paul, a graduate of the Harvard of his day in rabbinical studies, the school of the great rabbi Gamaliel.

 

He was a fully committed, Hebrew true believer. He knew the Jewish law and the temple traditions. He was committed to their preservation against any threat that might dilute their holy meaning. He was a member of the strictest sect of Judaism.

 

Paul then met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and, as a result of that experience, was forced to  reassess everything that he had been taught and come to believe about Judaism, about the coming Messiah theology and God’s plan for the world. That internal transformation process probably took place gradually over time during Paul’s sojourn in this historic location. He saw everything with new insight and his world was upended. He must have spent many hours and days in prayer seeking guidance.

 

As that process worked its way internally, he would have bursts of insight and see the pieces of the Christian faith come together in his mind with growing absolute certainty.  Through that process Paul became so convinced that his was God’s voice, that he came to view his own writings found in the New Testament part of the Bible, as on a par with those of the Old Testament prophets.

 

And so now you see why Petra was an important stop on our journey.  Also of interest was the fact that the mother of King Herod the Great was a Nabataean hailed from Petra, and Herod, when on the run from foreign invaders when he was the puppet ruler of Galilee, holed up in Petra for a time after which he went to Rome and was reappointed the new King, this time, of Judea and that is where his life intersected with that of Jesus. But that is later in our story.

 

Again let me stress to any who are planning to travel to Jordan that we were safe and felt no danger during our days there. Continue with your plans. From Jordan we crossed into Israel, this time at the South end of the Sea of Galilee over the King Hussein Bridge.  My fellow 2013 travelers were quite surprised to see the actual size of the Jordan River below the bridge. Clearly, all of us travel to the Bible Lands with our preconceptions and mental images that are often fostered by the hymns we have sung perhaps since childhood.  The mighty Jordan River?? Our people discovered that it was Not the mighty Mississippi-like river they had envisioned but was rather an unimpressive muddy creek.

 

There it was as it flowed below our feet.  “Roll Jordan roll” go the words of the old Negro Spiritual. But the Jordan is not so much they discovered. Its flow, beginning with  the melting snows of Mount Hermon in the North, to its enlargement into what we call the Sea of Galilee midway, is now controlled by a series of dams and much of the water is diverted for irrigation purposes rather than be allowed to trickle down to its ultimate destination, the Dead Sea and evaporation there, 1300+ ft. below sea level.

Holy Land: Israel

As the “Holy Land Guru”, I well  remember 46 years earlier when I first crossed into Israel from the Kingdom of  Jordan but then it was at a very different point and place about 80 miles to the south.  

mandalbaum gateThe Mandelbaum Gate is no more in Jerusalem, and the clearly defined border is generally the Jordan River.  In 1967 the crossing between Israel and Jordan was just outside the North side of the Old City of Jerusalem where that historic city was then still a part of the Kingdom of Jordan, at least then, as it turned out, for another 6 weeks.  Jordanian snipers then occupied the Old City of Jerusalem and Jewish snipers occupied the land  across the valley to the West in Israeli territory. Both shot at anyone who would venture out into “no man’s land”, the  strip of land that then separated Jordan from Israel.

 

In 1967,  the border crossing point from Jordan to Israel passed through the former home of a Jewish family named Mandelbaum. Then you left your Jordanian bus behind and, lugging your baggage, crossed over “no man’s land”, and boarded your Israeli bus, but only after rigorous inspection and intense questioning. Today the crossing is no less tense and demanding although we did not have to haul our luggage quite so far. Israel is a safe place to visit because they take security very seriously. Not the farce that we call “Homeland Security” here in the US. The questioning is probing and in depth and penetrating and you are confident that these young interrogators know what they are looking for.

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Lush cultivation in Israel 

 

When crossing from Jordan to Israel one is also instantly struck by a radical contrasting change. And it is change that is everywhere to be seen.   It is indeed a study in contrasts. Jordan still suffers from the ill devised tax policy of the Ottoman Empire of 100 years ago that taxed people based upon the number of trees that they had on their land which of course resulted in the wholesale cutting down of all of the trees with resultant serious erosion and blight.

 

Israel also occupies the very same once-despoiled land that was formerly part of the Ottoman Empire but has, since day one, planted hundreds of millions of trees and launched a serious program of land reclamation that has transformed the Israeli side of the border into a garden while the Jordanian side remains apparently largely as it was.   One cannot overstate this observation. Israel is green, lush and fertile.  Jordan is shades of brown.

 

It must be remembered that this now lush fertile land was once junk land that nobody wanted and that the Zionist Jews, 100 years ago, purchased at fire sale prices from Arab absentee landlords in Lebanon and Damascus who gladly sold to them and thought them fools for buying such unproductive land. Our home in the Galilee area was a hotel in the ancient city of Tiberius, established by the Romans at the time of Jesus because of the natural hot water springs still found there. The Romans did like their thermal baths, as witnessed by their frequency all across the Roman Empire.

 

To a student of the Bible, Old and New Testament alike, the Galilee is a treasure trove whose richness can scarcely be scratched in the 3 days allotted to our visit there but we did our best with the time we had.  The locale is Jesus rich. To the North West is the city of Nazareth where Jesus spent most of His life growing into manhood. Sadly nothing much remains to be connected to Him there today. Not far away is the traditional town of Cana where the New Testament notes the beginning of Jesus’ miracle ministry. It was a wedding there that prompted this first miracle when they ran out of wine.  Many Christian groups use this location as a teaching moment to not only read the story of Jesus there, but to challenge couples to rededicate their marriage vows. Judy and I joined the rest of our group in this very meaningful brief service of re-commitment led by Greg Peters a local minister and member of the group.

 

To the West, across from Nazareth and the broad Plain of Esdraelon (Valley of Megiddo),  stands the most famous tel in the world, tel Megiddo. From before the time when Solomon housed his garrisons there 3000 years ago, Megiddo  has guarded the strategic East West pass (the Via Maris trade route) through the mountains of  Carmel where the prophet Elijah fought his famous battle with the prophets of Baal.  The valley below Megiddo’s walls is the most blood soaked piece of land in the world. Armies came there and died throughout history until as recently as World War One. The Bible speaks of the battle of Armageddon as the last great battle to be fought in world history and it is predicted that it would occur in this same locale.

 

It was to Capernaum on the Northern side of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus went after he was turned upon by the people of Nazareth who could not quite reconcile the young man whom they had watched grow up along with his family, with the staggering claims he then made concerning Himself.

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On the Sea of Galilee 

 

From the vantage point of a large wooden boat captained by a Messianic Jew, we departed Tiberius and quietly floated in the midst of the now tranquil 12 mile by 8 mile, fresh water lake called Lake Tiberius, or the Sea of Galilee.   We let our eyes sweep the horizon and in so doing, landed them upon one Biblical site after another as events from the New Testament came to mind, and to life, as we were told where they occurred.  Our Jewish, Christ-follower Captain, sang Christian worship songs for us there in the midst of the Sea.  This unexpected experience  moved this group of believers, some to tears. He is a Messianic Jew, of which there are many in Israel. He  has come to believe that Jesus is the long awaited Jewish Messiah.

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US flag flown on the Sea of Galilee 

 

In an appeal to our natural American patriotism, this cruise began with the hoisting, by the Captain, of the Stars and Stripes, and the singing of the US National Anthem. A nice touch appreciated by all with hands over heart enthusiasm.

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View of the Valley of the Pigeons from the boat ride

From the midst of the Sea it was not that difficult for one to look to the North East under the Golan Heights, near shore of Gadara, where 2000 years ago,  a herd of wild pigs, seized by cast out demons, had fled into the sea. We could even imagine the distant outline of a small wooden fishing boat and then visualize the  figure of a man walking on the water towards it. Not difficult to imagine this at all while there.

 

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Historic synagogue built over the synagogue Jesus used

Among the places we viewed from the vantage point of the boat, was Capernaum, which we then later visited directly and where we read the account of Jesus as we sat in the ruins of a synagogue built over the foundations of the earlier synagogue that Jesus taught in 2000 years ago.  How cool was that?

 

When studying the New Testament it becomes apparent that Jesus’ move to Capernaum signaled the beginning of His miraculous ministry with many of the events of healing taking place there in and around  Capernaum. It is as though a flood gate of miraculous experiences broke out there.

 

One of the distractions that often bothers first time visitors to the Holy Land is the proliferation of churches everywhere and especially over places thought to be important Biblical sites.  On more serious consideration however, is the fact that these churches in reality serve an important function. They serve to identify and preserve important historical sites.  At some time in the past, pious believers sought out sites of importance in the Bible record and, in order to honor those events, built places of worship, often over them. These endeavors ended up preserving those precious sites so we can visit them today. So though they may be obtrusive at times, they still serve an important purpose.

 

I had often heard of the famous Golan Heights captured by the Israelis in 1967 from the Syrians but had not ventured there.  I had been told that they were strategically important to the survival of Israel.  I believed that to be true but had never really fully understood just how important that 1967 seizure of land was to the security of the Israeli nation.

 

This time before we left the Galilee we traveled up to the very top of the Golan Heights and were able to see the entire Sea of Galilee laid out at our feet like a carpet with all of the cities that ring it well within Syrian gun range, and we existentially understood just how important that real estate is to Israel’s survival. But what impressed us even more was the transformation of this, until recently junk land,  during the past 46 years. It clearly was not loved by Syria. 

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View from the Golan Heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee

 

The Golan was not cultivated or valued by Syria except as a military asset. Again, true to form, the Israelis have transformed the Golan into an incredibly rich agricultural area that blooms like the rest of Israel before it. It is breathtaking to see what has happened to this throwaway land that now yields rich crops. Are the Israelis likely to give it back to Syria?  Not a snowball’s chance, nor should they. Nor should they yield to pressure to do so from ignorant misguided political leaders from abroad including the US.

 

Our journey from the Galilee took us down the West side of the Jordan River near the fence that marks the current border between Israel and Jordan. The Israeli side is regularly plowed to reveal if anyone has illegally crossed over and left foot prints.  Footprints are carefully watched for. It is patrolled regularly and remains peaceful.  Years long tension has been greatly reduced of late so that we were now able to travel through the PLO controlled city of Jericho in our Israeli bus; quite an important development.

 

Jericho is the oldest city on earth with ruins going back well before the time of Joshua and the falling walls of the conquest by Israel 3400+ years ago. Traveling up the modern 4 lane road from Jerusalem to Jericho reminiscent of the story of the “Good Samaritan”, we by passed Jerusalem for the time being and made our way to Bethlehem the scene of recent upset that resulted in the Israelis building a very high and ugly wall. This wall worked as walls usually do when built (hint to the US Government) and the violence stopped but so did the important access to jobs in Israel that so many Arab families from Bethlehem and other towns have come to depend upon.  Many of the old shops that I knew like my long time friend Nicola Canavati’s famous Three Arches, are either smaller in size or  no longer there. Things are tough in Bethlehem and, as always, it is the little people who suffer the most.

 

Another old friend of 46 years ago, George Nissan has prospered in the meantime and greatly expanded his operation in Bethlehem with a huge buffet restaurant complex built where large groups can be fed reasonably and quickly.  I first met George when he was struggling to get started in 1967 and now he is a force to be reckoned with in Bethlehem, with many families dependent upon him for their livelihood.  He is a good man and I spent a pleasant evening meal with him and his large family in their  Bethlehem home.

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The hills of Jordan across the Dead Sea 

 

No visit to this part of the world would be complete without a visit to the Dead Sea where intrepid visitors put on their swim suits and experience what it is like to bath in kerosene.  Woe betide the lady who had the temerity to shave her legs or elsewhere before venturing in, as every wound will suddenly scream out loud. It is an experience to be had once and probably once only in my opinion.

 

Across the Dead Sea is the peaceful shoreline of the Kingdom of Jordan and the mountains from which we viewed this same area earlier in our journey.  Along the edge of the Dead Sea we visited Qumran, the location of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the most important archaeological find of the late 20th century.

cable car ride to top of Masada with the Holy Land guru

cable car ride to top of Masada with the Holy Land guru

 

On we went to reach the heights, by modern cable car, of the Herodian fortress of Masada  where some 950 Jewish survivors of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, held out against all odds only to finally  commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves. This ancient fortress is a source of inspiration and dedication to young Israeli soldiers who climb it now, using the narrow snake path, and vow that “Masada will never fall again.”

 

Finally, off we went to Jerusalem, a city of which I still had a vivid vestigial  memory from 46 years ago and also from even more recent journeys of 20 years ago.  Looking at it afresh I was unprepared for what I saw.  I could not believe the changes that had occurred there.  It was as though modern Jewish Jerusalem (the built up area  outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem) had exploded in every direction. The Old City was largely the same except for radical changes to the entrance at the Jaffa Gate but the modern City had become massive and all encompassing.  Wisely, architectural change, is prohibited within the walls of the Old City.

 

To the East across the Kedron Valley and elsewhere, the so called “settlements” that have been made much of, have proliferated and are now established neighborhoods on land claimed by the PLO and Arab nationalists.  The reality is that this cat is already out of that bag and it is not going to be forced back in again.  Any thought that Israel would willingly give up this land is a fool’s notion. Forgive me for going political and mark it up to my impatience, but many American political leaders  don’t know what the H…. they are talking about when they insist that Israel give up the land captured in 1967.  How could they know?

 

Many of them, before making such preposterous demands, had never been to Israel, to Jerusalem, and viewed what is reality. When they make their first trip there, suddenly reality strikes. President Obama had such an epiphany experience in 2013. Anyone who thinks that by the stroke of a pen he can force a national people to commit voluntary suicide is either a fool or a rogue. Take your pick.

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The huge Herodion Stones in the Western Wall

 

Our time in Jerusalem took us to the Western Wall,( or Wailing Wall as it is called,)  with its huge Herodiun stones from 2000 years ago and its daily array of Jews of all stripes engaged in enthusiastic prayer some in full Hassidic dress. I met there and engaged in conversation with followers of the late charismatic Rabbi, Menachim Schneerson of Brooklyn. He recently died. Many of his devotees think of him as the Messiah and still hope for his second coming. Across the US, centers called Chabob, have been established by his followers as a way to call secular Jews back to the practice of the faith.  One such center has recently opened in Palm Coast, my hometown.

 

I discovered that our esteemed guide Menachem had been a follower of Schneerson when, in his personal quest for religious authenticity.  I learned that his brother remains a devotee of the Rebbe, as he is affectionately called by his followers.  During Schneerson’s life his followers built an exact replica of his Brooklyn house in Jerusalem in anticipation of the day when he would actually move there as the revealed Jewish Messiah. Now some of them long for what they hope will be his second coming, much as Christians look forward to the 2nd coming of Jesus.

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On Temple Mount with the Holy Land Guru

 

Up on Temple Mount we went. This is where the famous golden covered Dome of the Rock Muslim building stands. No longer open to non Muslims it is considered to be the prior location of the Temple of Herod and the earlier Temple of Solomon and the place where the Old Testament sacrificial system was centered on Mount Moriah. Later that day we ended our journey with a communion service at the Garden Tomb that many believe to be the authentic place where Jesus was slain, laid to rest and raised from the dead.

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

   

For Christians this is often the spiritual and emotional high point of such a journey, as we contemplated how “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’ to die for the sins of the world. This is the heart of the Christian message and was a fitting place to end to our journey of faith.

 

 

 

Inside the Garden Tomb with the Holy Land Guru

Inside the Garden Tomb with the Holy Land Guru

 

Another observation: We have found that the Arabs are wonderful loving and compassionate people. They are people who value hospitality and friendship. They work hard to provide for their families often at great odds. If you are considered to be a friend you are such for life. Unfortunately it seems to me that they are also the victims of their own leaders like the late Yasser Arafat who actually preferred  a continued state of tension with Israel rather than  a genuine settlement of differences, as he banked hundreds of millions of dollars in the Swiss bank accounts now enjoyed by his wealthy widow.

 

Having  said that, it appears to me that there is a distinct cultural difference between the Arabs and the Israelis that is difficult to define but is clearly to be seen.  It is apparent in the conditions of their private properties and their care of and commitment to their land.  In Jordan gorgeous mansions can be seen next to lingering garbage dumps and nobody seems to care or make an attempt to pick the garbage up.  What happens outside the house seems not to matter. Why is a mystery to me.

 

Politics aside, one cannot avoid admiration for the Jewish transformation of former Ottoman junk land into the modern blossoming and fertile and exciting place we call Israel.  It seems that there is something about the character of the Jews who have settled there that is often missing from the character of their neighbor Arabs who populate the rest of the Middle East.  Both sides occupy land that was largely abandoned as worthless after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  Why does some of that land blossom and bloom while the rest remains barren and depleted?

 

My wife asked our Israeli bus driver to explain why there was such a contrast between the 2 parts of the Middle East and his take was interesting. He said that the other side would rather spend their money trying to destroy Israel rather than improve their own lot in the world. I do not know the ultimate answer to that question but for now perhaps that is worth considering. 

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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.