A Visit to Israel with PBC


"Money, Cameras, and All Are Invited"

by Kevin J. Coughlin

To those from Peninsula Bible Church Palo Alto and our friends who went to Israel this past October, this slogan has a familiar ring. It is the "exit the bus" cry from our indefatigable and irrepressible guide, Edna (with the emphasis on the last syllable, a rule for the Hebrew language). She met us at the Tel Aviv airport, which is not in Tel Aviv. Actually, it is the Ben Gurion airport, named after David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel in 1948. It is located about 20 miles South of the stunningly beautiful modern city of Tel Aviv, and North of ancient Jaffa (Joppa) where Peter visited as recorded in the book of Acts. She was accompanied by our bus driver, Youssef, whose smile and twinkling eyes will light up a dark room the size of a football field. They are employees of Mt. of Olives tours, and were, as Edna put it, "everything including your grandmother" for the next ten days. We board the "Blue Bus that is named White", and off we go.

We had just completed an arduous journey which began at San Francisco Airport at 8:00 AM Monday. It was now 11:30 AM Tuesday, with a 9 hour time zone difference added in. We were past exhaustion. The changeover in New York at JFK was a real push, involving a switch from United to El Al, which included a 10 minute bus ride, and only one piece of luggage was lost (later recovered). There was some comic relief as Frank brought his laptop 200 Mhz Pentium with phenomenal graphics which contained a rather excellent pin-ball game simulation. There was also a sobering moment, when an orthodox Jew in the midst of his prayer, complete with shawl and other necessary ritually prescribed articles, refused to stop praying in order to be seated during turbulent weather. A real faith testimony.

We had previously been cautioned not to get friendly with, smart off to, or otherwise annoy the security staff at El Al in New York City. They take their security very seriously! The questions we were asked were rather amazing. "Why are you going to Israel?" "How long have you been a member of this church?" "Why did you join the church?" "Do you know all the members of your group?" "Why do you have so many rolls of film?" We decided that the security team was not as concerned with the answers as they were with our demeanor under their grilling.

Upon settling into the bus at Ben Gurion, we were driven to Caesarea for lunch. Lunches were not included in the tour package, so we got some real variety from the hotel food. Lunch was bountiful and ran about $6.00 (for salad and soup) to $20.00 for a full entree. The shekel runs from 3.00 to 3.30 to the dollar.

Herod the Great built Caesarea some 40-60 years BC. Most of the amphitheater still stands today, and is used for concerts by world-class musicians. The aqueduct he built in 40 BC which is 4 miles long still stands today. He built piers out into the ocean to create a port. White sand in the tops of African mountains would wash down into the Nile, then North to the Mediterranean, then North to the beaches of Caesarea. The sand had completely covered the arena. The method the archaeologists used to uncover it was to simply hose the sand off! The Southern piers, which had abated the sand, had long since been eroded by the sea.

Pontius Pilot's visit here was recorded in a stone tablet found in 1981. Up until then, the Bible was the only record. The tablet is a real find. It substantiates that he was here during the time of Jesus' trial, in much the same manner as any senior police official overseeing the migration of about 1/4 million folk. In this instance it was for the Jewish Passover Feast celebration.

Cornelius was here and was the first Gentile convert, recorded in Acts 10. He was baptized by Peter, after Peter had the vision where it was revealed to him that Gentiles were God's children also. This has special significance to me, because Steve Zeisler quoted this at our family Baptism as a Biblical precedent for my family being baptized where all had faith but few had knowledge. He compared it to the Jews who had knowledge of the Old Testament, whereas Cornelius and his family did not.

Doug read chapters 25 and 26 of Acts, Paul's defense of his belief in Christ to Herod Antipas and Agrippa. The sun chose this moment to break through some towering cumulus clouds! It was magnificent! Then on to Tiberius, 2 hours North, for dinner and collapse at the Caesar Hotel on the Sea of Galilee.

Israel is a nation of approximately 5 million, some 3.5 million of which are Jewish, 1.5 are Arab and 2% are Christian. This curious land is very small, less than 200 miles long, and approximately 60 miles at its widest. There is severe taxation (100%) in order to pay for their mandatory education and military. In addition, there is foreign aid which amounts to something in the neighborhood of $4,000 per person per year. Their primary national product is Tourism.

This land is Holy to three major religions of the world, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem. They all believe that there is One God, the God of Abraham and Moses. They all venerate the rock where Abraham was to have sacrificed his son Isaac, before being restrained by an angel of the Lord. They each have their differences with each other.

Water is always at a premium. The rain season lasts 4 months. Collection, storage, and treatment of water is a full time job.

There is a coal-fired power plant nearby. It is currently 50% completed, with two towers producing 30% of the need, and a third, larger tower slated to produce another 30% by the end of next year.

Long about now, I feel that the information is pouring in so fast, it is like taking a drink from a fire-hose. The sponge is already full, and they are continuing to drench it!

The hot, dry, dusty winds (hamseen in Arabic) just ended yesterday! What a treat for us. I recall them from my days in Saudi Arabia. They are definitely not fun. The tour bus has an oddity. Freezing in the rear means it's OK in the front. OK in the rear means it is sweltering in the front. Edna is quite knowledgeable, funny, and suggest that we voluntarily rotate seating assignments in order to spread the discomfort around.

I phoned home, and got a lecture from Melissa (my youngest daughter at 24) on how I spend my money! I love it!

Wednesday 23rd:

We had a HUGE breakfast in the hotel dining room, then walked down to the waters edge for a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee, AKA Sea of Tiberius, AKA Sea of Nazareth, AKA Sea of Kinneret, AKA Sea of Chinneroth. This is a large lake, shaped like a harp, 12 miles long and 7 miles wide at it's widest. It is approx. 64 sq. miles. The maximum depth is 150' while the average is 50'. The Golan Heights at 1500' are to the South.

When the Arabs occupied the Heights, Israel feared for its water supply. Water is pumped from here to Jerusalem and to the Negev Desert for irrigation. Israel is easy to spot from 30,000 feet up. It is the green spot in the middle of the desert. All due to hard work and God's blessing. "The Haj" by Leon Uris contains a vivid description of the toils that went into making this arid land produce.

The guide of the blue-bus-named-beige, Mr. Elisar ("It's a good name! It is found in Matthew Chapter 3!") Goldman gives the remarks. The lake is 720 feet below Sea level, in the cup of an ancient volcano. The Jordan River runs through it. We stop in the middle, and Ron reads Mark 1, where Jesus told Simon Peter and the others, "leave your boats and nets and follow me". Dennis leads us in singing, "I Will Make You Fishers of Men", a song that was new to me, but not to the old-timers, and "Amazing Grace". This could also have been very close to where Jesus walked on water, and where He calmed the sudden storm. We were shown how the winds come up suddenly from the South in the afternoon, due to the temperature loss differential between land and sea.

We cross over to Beth Yigal Allon, between Kibbutz Ginosar and the ancient town of Migdal (Magdal, home of Mary Magdelene) where we get to view a boat from the time of Christ. It is being carefully restored. It was discovered in 1987, after two years of severe drought lowered the sea level. Members of the Kibbutz found it. Excavation took 11 frantic days, working feverishly against the knowledge that the tide was rising. The boat was coated in urethane foam and wire. The wood was like wet cardboard. The boat measures 8.2 x 2.3 meters (26' x 7'). Flavius Josephus, the Jewish General and historian, records a sea battle between the inhabitants of Migdal and the Roman Legions in 67 AD in which the Jews were crushed, and "the beaches were littered with wrecks, and the sea choked with the bodies of men". Today the boat is slowly drying in a climate controlled room. This process will take an additional 2 years, following the last 9 years of impregnation with a liquid waxy substance to fortify the cells of the wood.

By now our bus has arrived from around the lake, and takes us to the mountain where Jesus gave his famous, "Sermon on the Mount", including what is known as "The Lord's Prayer", recorded in Matthew 5 through 7, and excerpted and explained by countless others since then. The mountain top is actually below sea level. There is a church on top, built by Barlotti, of basalt, the local rock, in the form of an octagon, recalling the eight Beatitudes in Jesus' Sermon. There is a Catholic group celebrating Mass in the church. There are incredible mosaics, done by Egyptians in the Byzantine Era. The church was destroyed by Moslems in the 6th century and rebuilt by Germans in the 12th, after the Crusaders recaptured the land in the 10th.

In one of the gardens of the church, Kim Fennig gave us a short history lesson, and then read Matthew 5,6,7. In that sermon, Jesus makes mention of "a city which cannot be hidden". Sephas, one of the Jews four Holy cities, is in direct sight from here. The other three cities are Hebron, where many patriarchs, including Abraham and Moses are buried, Jerusalem, and Tiberius, where the Talmud and Mishra were codified, after the city was "ritually cleansed" by a Rabbi in the 2nd Century AD.

We bus on, past the signs to Qazrin (Chorazin) and Bethsaida which are mentioned in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13. Jesus cursed the towns for their behavior and compared it unfavorably with Tyre and Sidon. We arrive at another church commemorating the Beatitudes. The buses create a minor miracle in their jockeying in the limited space available. We buy potable water for $1.00 per liter, as opposed to the Hotel price of $3.00 for 1/2 liter. We hear that St. Peter fish, a form of trout, go down the Jordan, metamorphosing to Mackerel when they reach the salty part of the river. The river is salty in the South, because the Government pumps the salts out of the bottom of the lake as they come out of mineral springs, and ship the water South via an Aqueduct.

We pass Migdal (Watch Tower) and enter the "valley of the doves", so named because the Southern winds across the lake make noises similar to flocks of doves. We have lunch at Blue Beach, then down the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) where Jesus appeared in Capernaum, (which is the Romanized version of Kafir Nahum. Kafir means "city" and Nahum is a man's name), after his Resurrection. There we see grindstones for Olives and Wheat. Bob Fennig reads Mark 1:14-38, which includes the description of Jesus healing Simon Peter's mother on the Sabbath. The crowd waits until evening (when Sabbath is over) to bring all their afflicted to him.

There is a VERY bizarre Catholic church built above Simon Peter's mothers house. Israeli law prohibits building over ruins, so the Catholics have adhered to the letter of the law, if not the spirit, by building "above" the ruins. The ruins are still accessible under the church, due to the unique support architecture which resembles a cross between a spider on acid and a space-ship. One can make a reservation to celebrate mass in that church. Otherwise it is closed. Very strange. Sarcophagi in the gardens depict all sorts of ancient hieroglyphs.

Down the road to the church (Byzantine and open) which celebrates the confirmation of Peter by Jesus as his continuity on earth as head of the church. Doug reads John 21, and brings out the point that Jesus asks if Peter loves him 3 times -- just as many times as Peter had previously denied Him in Herod's Courtyard. His directive; "Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep". There were oriental nuns singing in the background, "Appalachian ...?? (Mennonite Prayer)", and "Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation" in their own tongue. We sing "I Love you Lord".

Back in the bus, across the Jordan (very narrow here) to Beit Saida "House of Food". Very fertile valley. Probable site of second feeding of masses by Jesus. Nine of our folk and one stray that was placed in our path (Daniel) were baptized in the Jordan by Doug and Ron. This is not Jesus' baptismal site. That is further South, near Hebron, the burial site of many patriarchs, which is currently disputed territory in the hands of Arabs, so there are other baptismal sites further North for pilgrims to use.

Thursday 24th:

We meet folks at breakfast from Ohio who are on the "Blue Bus Named Beige". We climb out of the valley (700 ft. below Sea Level) up to Galilee, passing wheat fields. In Isaiah these grain fields are mentioned. These are also the vast fields the Moslems under Emperor Saladin used to defeat the Crusaders on July 4, 1187 in the Battle of the Horn of Hittim (Hittim is Hebrew plural for Wheat and Barley), after 200 years of occupation. They leaked a rumor that there was strife in Nazareth. When the Crusaders came galloping down to crush the unrest, the Moslems set fire to the grain. Ouch!

Because the Crusaders had been essentially a "church army", they had no settlements, no investment in the community, no relationships. After 200 years! Yet another reason why we should not be surprised at remarks like those of Mohandas Gandhi who said, "Ah, your Christians....they are so unlike your Christ!"

Into Cana for a visit to the Franciscan church which commemorates Jesus' miracle of water to wine at the Wedding Feast (John 2:4-11) . Eleven PBC couples renewed their vows. The six water jugs Jesus would have used contained about 25 gallons each. This must have been a large feast!

Through Quazrin and Bethsaida which are desolate. The few buildings look ramshackle and are made of bare concrete circa late 1800's. On to Nazareth. At the time of Jesus' birth, Nazareth was a village of about 11 families. No wonder the expression, "What good can come from Nazareth? (John 1:46)" There is a Franciscan church on top of the Byzantine church which is on top of the traditional site of Joseph's home. There is a large Ficus tree outside, the bole of which is about 3 feet in diameter! We sit under it for a lecture on the Jerusalem Cross. The central cross represents Jerusalem. It's beams are of equal length, and are topped by a perpendicular bar. The cross-members on each of the main beams represent the four winds, North, South, East, West. Each of these is topped by a perpendicular bar. When the Crusaders arrive, they adopt the cross and change the meaning to represent the countries participating in the Crusades. England is the mainstay, German, French, Spanish, and Italian are represented by the smaller crosspieces. Fauneil Thompson has a panoramic camera with which we are all captured sitting on a bench.

This church has two stories. On each, masses are being celebrated continuously by visitors, by prior arrangement. The bottom floor provides access to the Byzantine church below. The mosaic floors are visible through some very large trap doors, which are folded back to show an area approx. 4 feet by 20 feet. On the second story are many very large niches, about 3-4 feet across and 8 feet high. Each contains a fresco or mosaic or mural or similar style art from various countries. They all have the same theme. The Virgin Mother. She is portrayed as the artist(s) from that country see her. Sorrowful, joyful, beatific, enigmatic; but always ornate. For example, the large puffy sleeves of the Madonna from Japan are all made of pearls. That's a lot of pearls! The mural on the back wall above the main altar is a depiction of Jesus being baptized by John. Above the Spirit, represented by a Dove, there is the Coptic (Early African Christian) representation of the all-seeing Eye of God inside a triangle.

Off to a rather leisurely lunch, followed by baklava, story swapping, and a bunch of relational photos.

Next stop, Megiddo, on the Southern edge of the plain of Esdraelon. The plain is called the valley(Ar) of Megiddo, from which we get Armageddon. It is positioned in the Jezreel ("God sows") valley. This fertile land is rich in harvest today. It has incredible strategic and tactical location. Napoleon noted that "all the armies of the world could meet here". At the crossroads of two main thoroughfares, it also has a spring nearby. There was a tunnel dug from inside the fortress to the spring. For an Historical Fiction of such event, I suggest "The Source" by James Michener.

Mike Benkert taught from a long list of Bible references, and Edna took us for a guided tour through various ruins, culminating in a walk through the tunnel to the spring. This mount has 20 separately identifiable layers of culture.

Inhabited since the 4th millennium B.C., Megiddo been the scene of many battles throughout history, from the victory of Thutmose III (c.1468 B.C., where he claimed 2,000 cattle, 2000 goats and 400 horses as his booty. The title Pharaoh, or "Great House" comes into use during his reign) to that of Gen. Edmund Allenby in World War I.

Two Hundred years after Thutmose III, Deborah, a Prophetess and Judge, helped recapture this land by driving a tent stake through the head of Sisera (Judges 4). And the land rested 40 years. After the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan and the land was divided, the people fell into wicked ways and the Lord allowed the Midianites to conquer them. After seven years the people cried out to the Lord. He sent an angel to Gideon of the half-tribe of Manasseh. Gideon prevailed. (very abbreviated Judges 6). Several other battles were fought here, as recounted in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Hosea.

There is, of course, the final battle, described in Revelations 16 through 19, with the Apocalyptic phrase in Rev 17, spoken by Jesus from the Cross, "It is done".

On to Mt. Carmel, where John taught about Elijah vs. Baal(1 Kings 18). Elijah "dueled" with Baal. The 450 Prophets of Baal built a fire and put a bull on it for an offering. Then they called upon Baal all day long to start the fire supernaturally. They failed to get an answer. Elijah built his altar, placed the bull on it, then had the entire system drenched with water and called upon the Lord to start a fire. The entire offering, bull, logs, and water was consumed. During his wait prior to the duel. Elijah had been in seclusion and had been sustained with a never-ending meal. Application; the Lord will sustain us.

Mt. Carmel is described as "the vineyard of the Lord". Solomon told his beloved that her head was like Mt. Carmel.

Later (2 Kings 18) Obadiah meets Elijah (his name means "The Lord is God"). Elijah sends him to give Ahab some news other than what Ahab is looking for. Obadiah quavers at the "opportunity". Mike shows that we all are no different from Obadiah.

From here we can see the Mountains of Gilboa, which David cursed (2Samuel 1:21) for having been the death place of his childhood friend Jonathan, and his King, Saul. They are still barren today, despite JNF plantings.

More shopping. I pick up some jewelry that contain Malachite, a rare greenish stone found only in Solomon's quarries near Melat. We have lunch in the Seven Arches restaurant, above the graveyard, and overlooking the Kidron Valley, and, across, the Dome of the Rock, the Moslem shrine with the 5 million dollar gold dome donated by King Hussein of Jordan, on top of the rock where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac. This restaurant has a parking lot which will someday, weather permitting, be the site of our group picture, with Dome of the Rock in the background.

It is from here that the incorrect positioning of the "Mercy gate" or "Golden gate" through which the Messiah will enter is most visible. Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Turks, rebuilt the wall in the early 1500's. Due to his lack of knowledge of Old Testament and of Jewish customs, he was unaware of the proper alignment. Later the Moslems sealed the Golden gate to insure the Messiah could not arrive. Rhetorical question: If they did not believe in his ability to do so, why seal the gate??

We stroll down the hill, through the graveyards, past the marker where Jesus asked His disciples to stay and pray, while he went further into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26 and Mark 14) to pray. The graveyards were always outside Jewish City limits. These graves all point West, towards the Mercy gate. Their inhabitants expect to be called up with Jesus when He arrives and accompany Him through the Golden Gate. They are buried deep, with monuments on top. The monuments have rocks on top, each one a token of someone's visit. A Jew is actively mourned for seven days (Shiva) and then visited for a month in the Cemetery. Relatives tear their clothes to indicate mourning.

As we are strolling downhill, I can see from looking at Jays face that he is troubled by something our guide has said. She has occasionally taken liberty with translating the Bible in some interesting ways. I inquire as to what was troubling him. His wit reclaimed the moment. He said, "Aw, I'm just trying to separate the wheat from the chafe"! I almost died laughing!

We enter a restored grave site behind Dominus Flavit (The Lord Wept) church. The church has a roof shaped like a teardrop, and the "turrets" are replicas of tear vials. The burial cave has an inner and outer chamber. The outer was for visitors, the inner for the remains. Several generations buried in same small space. Bones are collected after a period and placed in smaller containers (thus the many Biblical references to "buried with the bones of his fathers). Some containers appear to have lopsided crosses. Are they Christian? No, they are from the 1st century BC! So what's with the cross (or "X")? Actually these folks knew their prophecies( Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9, among others), and had marked their containers in anticipation of the coming Messiah. "Messiah" is a Hebrew word. Christos is Greek (the state language of the time, due to the conquering of that area by Alexander the Great in 332 BC) for the same thing. "Christos" starts with an "X" in Greek. They did not want to risk being missed in the call-up when He arrived. "X marks the spot"!

Ed taught inside Dominus Flavit on the Olivet Discourse. Parable of the two sons (Matthew 21) and retained incredible composure in the face of some rude tourists, and an irate priest.

In the Garden; From here it is obvious that Jesus could have seen the mob representing the chief priest and the elders (Matthew 26:47) led by Judas Iscariot, His betrayer, approaching for quite a long time before they actually arrived. It is a straight line-of-sight shot across the valley, but the walking mob could not have walked a straight line. He obviously could have departed under the cover of night, but chose to remain -- in obedience to the Father's will. "...not my will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). The Garden still has olive trees that are well over 2,000 years old. Next to it is a beautiful church commemorating the event, named "The Church of all Nations", because all nations have contributed to its erection and upkeep.

Before we enter the church, the Moores read John 17. Bob sets up verses 13-16 and Nancy illuminates. Jesus died so that all may have eternal life.

Friday 25th:

"Up to Jerusalem" -- more than just a saying. Jerusalem is at 2100 ft ABOVE Sea Level! First we get to identify our bags for the bellhops. We take no chances with further lost bags! I get to exercise more of my Arabic, both with Youssef, our driver, and the bellhops. Quite fun. They are amused by my mixture of accents. When I was teaching in King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia 1976, my students were Moslems from all over the world. Filipinos, Koreans, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, Ethiopians, Jordanians, Somalis, etc. so my accents are an amalgamation of theirs.

First to Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls, then to Jericho, at 1200 ft. BELOW Sea Level, the oldest city, some 11,000 years BC! Pictures out the window...Bananas in blue plastic bags to ward off birds...Mt. Bernice, (who asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter)...nude bathers (no time for pictures!). Date trees...dates are bagged. A few jokes about "one baggers". Edna tells us that the ratio is currently one male tree to 20 females. "Soon they will spray from the air and will not need male trees any more and poof! ends the romance!" Gilead on left, where Elijah was taken up. "V" opening to Golan heights. Malaria was abated only in 1956. We are traveling down the West side of the Jordan. Mangoes and avocados under the Crusaders Fort, Belle Voire "Beautiful View".

Next we arrive at Beit She'an. This area is settled by very poor folk who left all their belongings in N. Africa. The unemployment is 20%. It is also the site of one of the most important archaeological finds. The Ministry of Antiquities is focusing all their money on two sites instead of spreading it over many. This massive infusion of capital into this area has already yielded some improvement in the unemployment. As more area is uncovered, the more tourists come, and the more there is a need for hotels, restaurants, shops, pickpockets, police, etc. They chose this one partially because it is a very well preserved town built 4,000 years before Christ and evacuated in the 7th century because of a volcano, which then filled the town with volcanic ash! (sorta like Pompeii).

There is a 10,000 seat amphitheater. The lowest level is still fairly intact. There is a lot of structure showing where the second level was. The third level is indicated only by the support columns and substructure which are still in existence. No admission fees and all were invited. Doorways were called "vomitoriums", for "vomiting" the people in and out of the arena. In the theater, all actors were male. Orchestra did all talking as well as all singing and instrument playing. Players entering from Right were gods or kings. Players entering from Left were evil.

There is a bathhouse next to the theater in good shape with mosaics on the floor. A brothel is next to the bathhouse, with lewd graffiti referring to the practitioners of the "oldest profession" as "sellers of olives". Dionysus (Greek & Roman Mythology; The god of wine and of an orgiastic religion celebrating the power and fertility of nature. Also called Bacchus) was worshiped here. Excavations revealed a man with a bag of loot was obviously crushed by a toppling stone column. Twenty feet of volcanic ash; Bulldozers on site -- most unusual for an excavation. The paved main street has an elevated center which contains drainage for sewage of this giant city of 100,000+ inhabitants.

The Tel (mound or dig) behind the city center contains a Canaanite city upon whose walls Saul and Jonathan were hung after their ignominious defeat chronicled in the book of Samuel. This area given "Decapolis" or "ten cities" status by Romans. As a way of putting this into perspective, Ron and Doug remind us of the story documented in Mark 5:8-20. The setting is a cliff nearby. A man was possessed by demons. When Jesus asked for the name of the demons, the demoniac replied "I am Legion(many)". Jesus then allowed the demons to enter the herd of swine (a ritualistically unclean animal to the Hebrews) who then went hurtling to their death over the cliff. He then sent the healed man on his way (he went to "Decapolis") to share the good news.

This story is also significant in that it later shows how Jews kept themselves apart from non-Jews (Gentiles) because in that area hospitality was food-based, and the Jews were concerned that they might violate their dietary laws by eating something non-kosher offered by a Gentile.

There is a Byzantine church from the 4th century which is being restored. It is faced with limestone which was brought a great distance from the mountains. Beit She'an has a stigma akin to Milpitas. (first prize is a week in Milpitas, second prize is two weeks in Milpitas). It is, as mentioned before, a poverty-stricken area. One of the workers decided to lift a 9 foot square mosaic of the goddess Nikki in pieces and smuggle it out in his boots. A 2 year sting operation set into place by the antiquities police who started a rumor that a rich American was willing to put up a large amount of cash for it yielded the return of the mosaic. The fate of the thief is unknown.

This place is very lavishly decorated. There is a mosaic of a "lion/zebra" (an animal that has never been seen?? In the story of Noah's Ark??) and there is marble, which was brought to this area from Rome via the seaport in Caesarea, to the Northwest. There is a Calderium-Tepiderium-Frigiderium (hot-warm-cool) Sauna complex. The Calderium is heated by fires under the raised floor. The Frigiderium is cooled by running spring water stored in deep cisterns and poured by slaves. There are wooden sandals. All this dates to approx. 100 BC.

Deep in the excavation a column lies on its side. A successive generation let it lie, and used it as the foundation for another wall!

Back on the bus, and further South to Jericho. The oldest city. En route to the main highway, we pass an ancient Hippodrome. Previously it had been thought that the Romans only fed captives to the lions in Rome. Evidently they brought one of their favorite gambling sports here. There is ample evidence that this was a Hippodrome used precisely for that sport.

We continue down the West Bank. There is a fence to our left, protected with solar-cell-powered motion detectors, as well as Israeli soldiers in Jeeps. Further left is "no man's land" of some really desolate looking sand and stone moguls, followed by the Jordan River, which forms the Jordanian boundary. PLO villages along the right are ramshackle and reek of poverty. Irrigation here is mostly by springs revealed by tectonic motion.

Unable to go to Hebron. Entering Jericho through PLO refugee area, where recently new buildings have started construction. Elisha's spring on left. He purified the spring (2 Kings 2:21) which had been dead since its conquest by Joshua (Joshua 6:20). From here we can see the site of the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11).

Lunch includes shopping for glass-ware and a camel-ride for those unable to resist the charms of this ugly beast and his beaming Nubian handler in his white robe (mumu) and checkered (indicating he was Jordanian) kafiyeh(headdress).

Flavius Josephus records the Persimmon perfume in favor by the "olive sellers". Herod built two castles. He killed his sons out of paranoia. The Romans capitalized on the lack of successors to the throne and divided the territory and sent in their own rulers in 67 AD.

The Jews and Samaritans were at war due to the post-Babylonian decree that those who had remained behind and married Gentiles must put aside their Gentile wives. Several hundred years later, Jesus uses the story of the "Good Samaritan" and "The Samaritan woman at the well" to introduce the novel concept that Samaritans are God's kids also, and that they are more "brother" to the Jew than some Jews were.

In 70 AD the Jews protested Roman oppression by cutting the Persimmon trees. Very un-Jewish. The Jews had and still have a reverence for the land and planted and still plant trees as a first article of faith. Jim Jeffries reads Joshua 2, and gives us some wonderful insight. Rahab, an "olive seller" and an ancestor of Jesus, protected those who were sent from the Lord, and thus she was protected during the siege, due to her faith.

We see the monastery commemorating the temptation of Jesus following his 40 days in the desert. Young monks are fewer as time progresses. This huge monastery has only six monks! According to our guide, there is an excellent discussion of Jericho in the "Biblical Archaeological Review" approximately 3 years ago. ??

A quick shot of Zacchaeus' Sycamore tree (Luke 19), the only one in Jericho, and then back in the bus and off to Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. All 963 of them. Qumran is located on the coast of the Dead Sea, North of Jericho and Ein Gedi and Masada. Its water was provided by blocking the water coursing down the Wadis (huge river-beds dry most of the year) and diverting the water via aqueduct. At this point we are 1200 foot below Sea level, and the mountains providing rainwater are 22 miles away at 2200 ft above sea level.

Qumran was inhabited by Essenes during the first century BC. They were awaiting the coming of the Messiah foretold by the prophets, and were concerned lest the Old Testament be lost. They copied the book, and also left scrolls depicting their own lives. They were rigidly divided by task (baker, scribe, ink maker, pottery maker) and wrote in Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. They were convinced that the "last war" would be fought between "the sons of Light" and the "sons of Darkness".

These scrolls were found in caves by an Arab shepherd in 1947. They were well preserved in stone jars, and are currently visible in the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem. Included is the entire book if Isaiah, all 66 chapters (though without the chapter demarcations which came later). This is notable because of the Messianic nature of chapters 28 and 53.

This area is a disputed area and control will revert to Arabs in the near future due to the "Peace talks". The Jews are aware that the Moslems have no need to preserve sites which are of historical imperative of the Jew, so they are frantically trying to finish excavation on the site of a recently rediscovered Essene village near cave #4, the site of the book of Isaiah. This area was under Arab control from the 7th century when they were pushed out of Arabia by the Turks until 1948 when the Balfour declaration was signed.

Back in the bus, and "up to Jerusalem". Doug reads Psalm 121, one of David's "songs of ascent", and promises Psalm 122 for tomorrow. We sing "I will call upon the Lord" which is evoked by the Psalm, and further reflection brings up "I lay for Zion, a Foundation, a Stone" from Isaiah 28.

Jerusalem is a stark study in incongruities. It is a stunningly beautiful city. By city ordinance, all buildings must be covered with white limestone, quarried far away, which adds 30% to the cost. It is simultaneously a very modern city with 4-lane freeways and overpasses and internally illuminated roadway ads which feature "Clinique cream - moisture on call"(quite appropriate to this arid land), and an ancient city with a huge graveyard dating back several centuries BC, all in good shape, facing the Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, through which The Messiah will come. There are people on donkeys, and there are goat herds. There are road signs in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. There is a large Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza next to a vast Daihatsu dealership. I am weeping, sobbing uncontrollably. The joy is too much.

We stay at the Renaissance, a four-star 20 story hotel, next to a vast bus-yard. It is Friday evening. Shabbat (Sabbath) began at 4:21 PM and will end at 5:33 PM tomorrow per the front page of the Jerusalem Post. Other cities are listed with differing times. Due to their varying distances from the equator, and their differing elevations, the Sun will set and rise differently for them. Of the four elevators available to us, two are designated "Shabbat" elevators, where observant Jews can ride without pushing the buttons (performing work). One stops on even floors, the other on odd.

We meet a Jesuit priest and a Jesuit brother in the dining room. They are from the East coast, and came in a large mixed contingent on the "Blue bus named Beige". They are delightful company. The Brother works in Baltimore in the shipyards. Horrible tales of the mistreatment of seamen. Most seamen today are Filipino. Most are on ships of Liberian (no rules) registry and have questionable safety and nutrition and work environments. If they question these they are subject to severe discipline. They tell of their families being held captive to their silence. The Jesuits and the unions try to protect them. This concept is quite foreign to those of us who take our legal protections and creature comforts for granted.

As I chew on a quite nicely done piece of duck, I feel an odd sensation, followed by something quite hard to chew on. I have lost a crown. The entire table is solicitous and helpful. The ever-adventurous Jay offers to accompany me on my excursion to locate a dentist. Educational Travel Services, our organizer is less than useful, but quite polite. The front desk volunteers that it has an on-call dentist. We are taken by a very friendly Arab taxi driver named Youssef.

Dr. Moshe turns out to be in a nearby medical facility. As Jay observes, the only relationship his office bears to one of ours is that the dentist wears rubber gloves. The dentistry equipment would have looked old in a '50s movie. He is quite friendly and offers to give me a root-canal and a replacement of my crown for $850.00 and promised to be done in 90 minutes.

I decline, stating that if the pain got too bad, I would return for treatment. He nodded, smiled, said "of course" and then proceeded with the treatment! Fortunately his assistant was more conversant in English, and I was able to convince them that I really did not want treatment now.

We return in a cab driven by a very hostile Jew who is quite annoyed that Rabin was shot so late in his life. It should have been much sooner according to him. This is the one year anniversary of his death, and our miscreant is in his early 20's, a skin-head, and fearful the Arabs are going to over-run Israel.

Once back in our rooms it is midnight local time, and Jay and I have fun figuring out how to make the pulse based phone system get us out of the country and then switch to tones to access our tone-based answering systems at home. There is an annoyingly arrhythmic tattoo being drummed in the room next door. I go to knock on the wall to indicate my wish that they could stop, and was quite painfully shown that this wall was made of concrete. Jay cracked me up. He approached the wall with an object in his hand, saying "This ought to do the trick!". Without my glasses I was unable to see what it was, so I asked. He replied, "It is my Swiss Army knife, with it's concrete-wall-knocking-attachment!"

We spent some more time swapping amazingly similar tales of boyhood mayhem and rampant curiosity which yielded broken bones and left things such as family alarm clocks and family automobiles in non-functional states. We also spent some time talking about faith and how we came to it.

Saturday 26th: Shabbat still

Fun breakfast with Ed, Jay, and Jim, where the conversation ranges from bees to O-rings to dentists to SCUBA to coffee. On the bus, Youssef greets us with, "Do you know where USA is? Right in the middle of Jerusalem! That's Right! Jer-USA-lem! See! We love you!" He is quite loving and an INCREDIBLE bus driver. John, our hazardous materials tanker driver is quite taken with his abilities and says there is no way he would attempt some of the feats Youssef appears to pull off with beaming ease. Youseff then teaches us "Baruch hashem, Yeshua Hoomashea, Baruch hashem Adonia" (Thank you, Jesus He is the Messiah, Thank you Lord). I inquired as to the difference between Hoomashea and the way we say it back home, Hamashea. He explains that Yeshua Hamashea means Jesus is the Messiah, whereas Yeshua Hoomashea means Jesus He is the Messiah. Emphatic!

We head off to a wonderful scale model of Jerusalem created with the help of Flavius Josephus works by a second-temple-time scholar by the name of Professor Aviona. It is to the scale of 2" = 66". Even so, it is some 50' across and 75' long! It has the identical directions, topography, and materials!

We take a slow walk around it, getting filled in with a LOT of detail by Edna. As she says, we need to understand what Jerusalem looked like in the second temple era in order to understand what we were going to see for the rest of our time in Jerusalem. Much has changed in 2000 years of habitation by tribes who either did not care about Jewish customs or were downright hostile.

Some landmarks have been damaged, destroyed, overlaid, or overbuilt. Some walls were reconstructed by later conquerors who were Christian, but, without a thorough understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, they misplaced things.

Intermittent rain makes for a difficult understanding. Umbrellas make effective baffles against the tour-guides remarks. I miss a large part of the presentation. The Southeast corner was inhabited by the Jebusites. It was "David's City". South of that was "Gehenna" (Hell). There was child sacrifice practiced here, and the children's screams were reminiscent of Hell to the early settlers. We walk in counter-clockwise fashion around the model, with our erstwhile guide pointing out many Biblical sites and their relevance to each other and to various times in history.

Because I missed a large part of her spiel and because she necessarily had to point over the tops of certain structures, the presentation could seem disjointed even if one were present for it. Instead of a narration, I believe it would be best if I just recite the names of the sites that had meaning to me. David's tomb; Pool of Silo ah (Nehemiah 3) mentioned in John 9, where Jesus healed the man who had been blind since birth, a pool built by tunnel by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20, Isaiah 22:11) several centuries previously, currently covered by Moslem Mosque since 7th Century; The rooftop from which David saw Bathsheba taking her bath, and thus was tempted into an adulterous affair from which he could only hide from her husband Uriah, by sending him off to a battle in which he would certainly be killed, (2 Samuel 11); Mikva'ot (baths for ritual cleansing) provided for visitors to Temple; 1st Temple, built on the Rock where Abraham was about to sacrifice his Son Isaac (Genesis 22); Herod rebuilt a fortress here and called it Antonius, not to protect Jerusalem, but to house troops, also where Jesus was tried (Matthew 26, 27); Pools of Bethesda (John 5) in front of the fortress, where Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath who had been afflicted for 38 years; A tomb dating to second temple time, discovered by a British General Gordon in the late 1800's, which could conceivably be the burial site of Jesus -- there are now 2 sites that have archaeological evidence that they could be such a site -- Doesn't matter! He's not in either one! He's risen!

Back in the bus. Old Jerusalem is postponed due to the fact that churches are closed until tomorrow. Off to Bethlehem -- City of Bread. How wonderful! He is the Living Bread, and Bethlehem was prophesied as His birthplace in Micah 5, approx. 400 BC. The human historical reason it is called the City of Bread is due to the huge grain fields which surround it. Israel was Rome's breadbasket. Huge shopping mall and stadium complex on the way. Field where Ruth (King David's Grandmother) met Boaz (Ruth 2).

We are traffic jammed in front of Johnnies Souvenirs. Horns rule. Fists wave in the air. Drawn guns persuade an errant driver to return to his properly appointed course.

We exit the bus to Edna's familiar rallying cry, and are immediately swarmed with street merchants. "post cards, one dolla", "Best umbrella, not like bad one, ten dolla", "real olive wood, not like cheap one" etc., etc., etc.

In 335 Constantine decides to make Christianity the State religion. His mother, Helena, is a devout believer, and causes the first four Christian churches to be built. We first visit the Church of the Nativity. It originally had a much larger door. When the Moslems invaded in the 7th Century, they had a nasty habit of riding into the church and up the main aisle. This had the effect of intimidating the congregation. This church had its original huge door "downsized" to where a single person must stoop over to enter.

Inside are mosaic floors, beautiful paintings, and big altars festooned with incense thuribles. There are Greek Orthodox and Armenians venerating various relics on an altar on the first floor of the church, above the shrines. These dark visaged people with their thick beards, dark crimson robes and air of solemnity have many icons and decorations which bother Protestants. I need to remember that the wealthy "trappings" are their way of showing love and respect and adoration of Jesus and not be judgmental of their ways.

There are shrines below, inside the huge cave which contains the birthplace of Jesus, and, just a few feet away, his manger. The birthplace shrine is surrounded by a 14 point star representing the 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the captivity in Babylon, from the captivity to Christ(Matthew 1).

The Turks killed one million Armenians in the early 1900's as "ethnic cleansing", before the term became popular. There was no worldwide outrage, just some "Tsk, Tsk" noises from the West. Hitler used this as proof that no one would interfere with his plan for a "Master Race". More proof that we need to be ever vigilant against racial antagonism. Bosnia is a reminder. So is Uganda. So is Namibia. So is Chechnia. So is California.

Candles in the hallway. Bruce and Sue Cairns lead, reading the Birth announcement and activities from Luke, then Matthew, then back to Luke. We have lit candles. We sing "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem". Other groups are singing songs of worship in their respective tongues. It is beautiful! There is a statue of St. Hieronymus (Jerome) who translated the Bible into Latin. His foot is on a skull, signifying Christ's victory over death. We are turned loose to shop. Amy and Melissa would be in 7th heaven here. I try to balance quality, price, desire to bless recipients. There are many beautiful items.

Bruce tells joke about Eskimo being struck by an icicle and dying of cold cuts. We pass Rachel's Tomb. Jacob's beloved. He worked seven years to get her. Then her father tricked him by giving him her older sister Leah. He then worked another seven years to get her (Genesis 29:18)

Lunch at Mt. of Olives restaurant. A break from salads. Education is free and compulsory until age 16. Religion is taught, schools are sectarian, classes are 6 days per week. Moslem and Hebrew kids are out on Saturday, Christian kids are out Sunday.

We pass Herod's gate and cross the Kidron Valley. There seems to be some confusion as to whether "Kidron Valley" and "valley of the Kings" is two names for one place or two names for two places that adjoin and/or overlap. At any rate, it is the valley(s) that separate the graveyard from the town. There are monuments in the bottom of the valley to Absalom, David's son, which he built himself because he had no son (2 Samuel 18:18), and to Zacharia.

Sunday Morning 27th:

Awake to Kris Kristoferson croaking "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down in my head. Jay is brushing his teeth. He moves into the doorway to say something to me, and I scoot past him to preempt him in the bathroom. He finds the Tour Bus an inviting target for his toothpaste; but manages to resist temptation. I love this guy!

In the bus, we pass a sign advertising a museum dedicated to "The History of Taxes" !! The emblem is a guy standing next to a stone "coin" almost as tall as he is, in front of the "Tax Man". We are in the back of the bus playing "name that tune".

On the Jericho Road, we pass the area that Jesus used as the setting for the "Good Samaritan" story ( Luke 10:30-37). We pass a Crusader castle, and some Bedouin and Gypsy encampments; tents with TV antennae, and goats. As we proceed from 2300 ft. above Sea Level to 1200 ft. below, the journey is only 22 miles. At the mountain tops, the average rainfall is 27" per year, while below, in the desert, it is only 2".

We pass the bright green oasis of Jericho on our left, and head down to the Dead Sea. It is split by an isthmus, across which the camel caravans used to travel. Protection of these caravans was ostensibly one reason for the outpost at Masada. More about that later. The area of the sea to the North of the isthmus plummets to 1200 feet deep. When I got home and discussed the various parameters with my SCUBA diving buddies, we agreed that we would have to consult local specialists. The dive tables just aren't built for this. In fact, it is questionable as to whether or not gear is built for this. These waters are incredibly full of salts and minerals.

The mineral industry channels water through a gated sluice to the Southern end of the lake which is only about 15 feet deep. The concentration increases here to unbelievable proportions. The industry just allows evaporation to take place; then they harvest the salts and minerals and flood the area and start all over again.

We visit the AHAVA (Love) cosmetics company, which manufactures it's wares from the minerals thus mined. Cleopatra purportedly used mud baths, ointments, and unguents from these same materials to retain and enhance her beauty.

We pass Ein Gedi, the Cave of the Gazelle, where David had his encounter with Saul(1 Samuel 24). The paranoid Saul had been hunting David. He heard reports that David was in this area. He went into a cave, where David was and did not see him. David could have killed him with the approbation and gratitude of the Nation, but instead he chose to be obedient to God in respecting the King that God had installed. He cut off a piece of Saul's cloak to show Saul he could have killed him.

On to Masada. Go rent the movie! I'm going to! Built by Herod the Great in 37 BC, this fortress is atop an 800' mountain. We took a cable car up. There are eleven cisterns which hold 4,000 gallons apiece. There were 250 soldiers, supposedly to guard the camel caravans. There were storehouses for grain and foodstuffs. There was also a guard tower. A guard tower? At 800' above the valley floor? What for? Well, if you've got 250 soldiers with nothing but time on their hands, you probably want to guard the foodstuffs!

Herod also built two palaces here. One on the Western side for his guests, and one on the Northeast for himself. They were richly and lavishly appointed, with frescoes, mosaic floors, saunas, etceteras. No expense was spared. There is no record of the paranoid Herod, who killed his sons for fear of them overthrowing him, ever having stayed here.

While the natural aridity preserved this area for 2,000 years, that last 100 years of tourist have wreaked havoc. People would take "souvenirs", and tour guide would pour water on the mosaics to wash off the dust and bring out the colors. This had the deleterious effect of eroding the grout between the tiles in the mosaic, and parts of them washed away. Restoration is under way. This area was rediscovered in 1860 by a pair of English and French explorers. In 1901 a Hebrew scholar wrote extensively about it and interest was reawakened. Evidently the caravans ceased in the year 64 when wars started elsewhere, the troops were needed and they were pulled away.

Some 1,000 Zealots occupied the mountain-top, complete with the abandoned food and water from Herod's troop's hasty departure, until the Roman General Silva arrived from Egypt in the year 67 with 15,000 troops. In order to capture the mountain-top he had his troops build a ramp to the top, which started about 1/2 mile away. It took three years to build. Why do this if you've got 15 to 1 odds and you are soldiers and they are not? All you have to do is starve them! Well, if you are a General who has 15,000 troops, and you are going to stay in one place for a while, you have to do something to keep them busy!

At the end of the siege, the Zealots opted for mass suicide, rather than be taken captive. Their accounts were chronicled by Flavius Josephus, based on the accounts of two survivors. Essentially they drew straws. The guys with the short straws killed all the others and then killed themselves. Also in the excavations were found letters by Simon bar Kokba, a Zealot leader of an unsuccessful revolt against the Romans in later years. Until this find, he lived only in the rich oral history of the Jews.

I stopped to talk with an older couple and absent-mindedly left my appointment book, complete with some of my trip notes and all of my life commitments until Dec. 31, 1996. On the morning of November 11, Veterans Day (a day I normally observe as a holiday, being a Marine who served in Viet Nam), I walk into my office and Behold! there is my appointment book, sent anonymously from Israel with 33 shekels, ($10.00) postage!

We get back on the bus, and head for lunch, followed by a dip in the Dead Sea. We arrive late in the afternoon. Sunset gets here very quickly, as we are in the lee of the mountains. We change clothes, race off to the "mud packing" area. Someone quips that the sign on the vats reads, "Axle grease -- to be used on forklifts only". We miss the shuttle, so decide to jog the remainder of the distance to the shore, approx. 1/4 mile. Fortunately for the rest of us, Jay was first on scene. He was confronted by an Arab who wanted to go home. He told Jay that the shore was closed. Jay did not accept that and was very firm. The gentleman relented, and said "five minutes". Those of us who got there in the first wave got a good fifteen minutes, while the last wave had to settle for five. It was bizarre. When we were floating on water that was knee deep, we could not force our bodies to sit on the bottom! Due to it's high concentrations of minerals, the specific gravity of the water was too high! One member accidentally splashes self in the eye, and reminds us of the warning we have received against doing that. It burns!

Back in the showers and on the bus, homeward bound, with the moon rising over the Sea chasing us home.

Sunday Eve with friends living in Jerusalem.

Monday 28th.

The Wailing wall, with a vast plaza in front. Banners opposite announce the imminent arrival of the Messiah. A stunning glass sculpture on the North wall commemorates the Holocaust. We pass a troubadour dressed to look like King David. According to our erstwhile guide, he is out every day with a different outfit. Today's outfit was a heavy emerald robe with a breastplate, golden crown with red translucent stones or glass in the spikes, and sandals. He had a much larger physique than David could have ever possibly had, but he did have the "ruddy complexion" (1 Samuel 16:12) and was strumming a harp and singing the Psalms in Hebrew and in English.

This wall is not the wall of the Temple, but the Westernmost wall of the Courtyard. Men to the left, women to the right. It rises approx. 200' above the pavement. And, as excavation shafts demonstrate, it extends an additional 210' below the pavement. We observe Bar Mitzvahs being celebrated along the wall; young men reciting their Torah, and candies being thrown as a part of the celebration. The now-famous tunnel entrance is about 100' ahead of us to the left. The ramp which climbs the wall to the entrance to the Moslem "Dome of the Rock" shrine and Mosque areas is to our right. Armed Jewish and unarmed Moslem guards face each other halfway up the ramp. All are wearing bullet-proof vests.

Ron leads us men to the entrance to the tunnel. For about 150' into it, men are facing the wall (to our right), interspersed with tabernacles holding scriptures. Most men are standing. Some are sitting. Most are rocking back and forth as they pray. There is a library to the left. In front of us is a locked metal door that leads to the rest of the tunnel. I approach the wall intending to simply say a small prayer in accordance with Psalm 122:6 and leave. I am surprised by an onslaught of emotion. I am blubbering and unable to control it. I pray until the storm subsides, and then leave. It is difficult to imagine violence in this place, but I've seen enough senseless violence to know that it is no respecter of anything we hold dear and true.

On to the pools of Bethesda, where Carol reads John 5. Right next to it is St. Anne's church, marking the home of the Virgin Mary's parents. Built by Crusaders. Amazing acoustics. We sing "Alleluia" and another song. Groups are constantly rotating through, and the polyglot harmonies are a delight. Whilst the others of my group go out and explore the various layers of archaeology spanning 23 centuries, I content myself with remaining in the church to listen and pray. I am stunned by a young quartet (2 male, 2 female) that sound like the angels. I race outside to grab others, hoping to get Bruce and his camcorder. Anne Marie is the only one I see. We go back in. It is lovely. It turns out they are from Norway. What a blessing!

The Mosque is huge and gorgeous. The Dome of the Rock shrine, 100 yards away, is impressive. We are deeply impressed with the fervent devotion which the believers practice here. On Friday noon, approximately 250,000 show up to pray! Consider that in light of the fact that only 1.5 million Arabs inhabit Jerusalem! We observe a funeral procession. Only men are allowed to participate. We see also the "Golden Gate" from behind. Not only have the Moslems sealed it, they have blockaded access to it with a massive garden.

We stroll through the Moslem quarter, which is quite destitute. The kids are being led in uniform in processional from one class to another, and we exchange looks of appraisal at the oddities before us. They are young, and their entire lives have been filled with visitors from around the world walking unannounced through their neighborhoods and prayer sessions.

We exit the Old City via the Lion's Gate (so named because of the four lions in the face of the wall surrounding the gate), also known as St. Stephen's Gate, because this is where he was stoned to death for preaching that Christ was the Messiah. We experience some lovely bagels from a street vendor that would make "Noah's Bagels" in Los Altos weep and close up shop. These bagels are light, fluffy, texturous, and bursting with flavor! We also avoid a run-in with some professional pickpockets, that our guide has somehow charmed into not targeting us. (ed. note. This is per herself... I'm still skeptical).

We go next to King David's Tomb, which is probably not the real site. However, enough people over the centuries have observed it as such, so there you are. There is a shroud over the scriptures representing the death of a young Jewish woman. These shrouds are replaced daily. The walls from previous Moslem inhabitants are in delicate blue mosaics to ward off the "evil eye". The rich emerald velvet brocade covering the "tomb" is the setting for many gold amulets and emblems of reign and worship.

Upstairs to the "Upper Room" where the Last Supper was held. We are fairly sure the Tomb is not David's, and we are drop-dead certain that this "Upper Room" is not the original. The Crusaders who positioned it in such an emotionally (from a Western perspective) obvious place, had no under-standing that the Jews would NEVER live above a tomb.

Nonetheless, it has been the "traditional" place of remembrance, so we join with tradition. Doug reads Matthew 26 (Judas: "Master, is it I?"), and Acts 2 (Pentecost). We sing the Doxology, and "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus".

We go through the Zion Gate and see how the City grew to the North and West. (Recall that Gehenna is to the South, and the graveyards are to the East). We see the Cardo, or main street, of the Byzantine era which has been excavated. Also visible is a portion Nehemiah's original wall (Nehemiah 3:15). This area of town has been renovated during the excavation. The contrast between the modern and the ancient is incredibly striking. There is a Moslem Mosque in the middle of the Jewish quarter. It was not built by any Moslem conqueror, but by a Jew in the 12 Century who was protesting that he was not getting enough attention from his fellows. He converted and built the mosque in protest. We escaped through an incredibly dense and crowded Suq (Arabic for market) and found ourselves at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

This church was built by St. Helena in the 4th Century and was 1/2 destroyed in the 10th. It is currently under the custody of the Copts, Ethiopians, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Syrian churches. As it is on a hill, we go "upstairs". The 10th, 11th, and 12th Stations of the Cross (Crucifixion, conversation with repentant thief, John, and Virgin, removal from cross) are commemorated here.

As we enter, there is a phenomenal mosaic on the wall to our right depicting the angel thwarting the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. The paintings, mosaics, brocade tapestries, gold and silver chains, incense thuribles, and chandeliers are ornate beyond description. I recall that at the time Jesus said "It is finished" (John 19:30), the curtain in the Temple was torn. From Top to Bottom(Matt 27:51). As could be done only by Someone above.

We go downstairs to the traditional Tomb of Joseph of Aramathea. There is an ornate marble facade over it, donated by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 19th Century. There is tension because the priest in charge wants to close the Tomb from 4:30 to 5:30. We are in line, and Edna secures a promise from the priest that we will be allowed entry, even though it will run past his time. He is not a happy camper. I wonder if I would be, inundated by thousands of visitors per day, speaking a confusing mixture of tongues, and having a varied assortment of behaviors which may be considered appropriate in their land and inappropriate in others.

We spend some time in the courtyard awaiting the consolidation of our group. Edna has "arranged" a buying spree with one of her co-conspirators around the corner. Jay finds a collection of wooden camel-pins for his soccer team. Meanwhile we are pestered by several small children wishing to sell us postcards and other "trinkets and trash". One little one captures the hearts of several of the ladies. He approaches us with a mischievous grin and a greeting of "Postcards, one dollah" -- "OK, for you, ninety-nine cent". We finally wend our way through the Suq, and out the Joppa Gate to the bus.

I go out with local friends and get to meet Felix Darnell, a 76 year old hale and hearty man. He is a German born Jew whose father saw the handwriting on the wall the morning after Kristalnacht, November 9, 1938, when Hitler's Brown-shirts smashed all the Jewish shop windows. He evacuated his family to England where Felix was trained as an architect, after training and fighting with the British forces. He worked on several main buildings in Israel, having moved there right after the founding. He now dedicates his prodigious energies to helping alcoholics.

He took me for a short tour while driving me back to the hotel in his ex-taxi cab Toyota. We went past Shrine of the Book, (one of his projects) and looked at the times on the wall. This was fortunate for me, because I had been under the impression that the museum would be closed Tuesday morning. The majority of the Museum is, but the sign stated the Shrine of the Book would be open at 10:00. Felix pointed out the way that "We Jews circumvent the Law." Shabbat forbids work, which would include selling tickets. So, on Shabbat, there is a van parked next to the ticket booth where Arabs sell tickets for the Jews.

Tuesday 29th.

I may hold the record for best "fleecing" by a street urchin yesterday. I had already made up my mind to buy some postcards from the next kid that approached me. When he showed up, the group was preparing to leave the Mosque area, so our change-making was hurried. Something upon which I am certain he capitalized. The cards were "one pack, one dollah". All I had was a $10.00. He said, "No problem, I give you change" and proceeded to pull single bills from all over his person. He got up to 7 and said, "will you take shekels?", I agreed, and he pulled out two coins which had the number 10 stamped upon them. They were bronze and silver, just like a 10-shekel piece. He said, "there's 20 shekels, or 7 dollars (actually it was more like 6, but I was enjoying him) and here's two more", handing me 2 $1 bills. I later gave Jerry the two coins in payment for Mosque tickets and he had to return them because they were actually French francs, worth a total of 40 cents! So I wound up paying $8.00 for a $1.00 pack of cards. A beggar got the French francs.

It is our last day here. After a late wake-up (due to the fact that our plane is leaving 1 hour after midnight tonight) we have breakfast. The younger crowd splits for the Rockefeller Museum. David & Mary Maxwell and I have a very leisurely cup of coffee in the hotel lounge, and casually stroll down to the Shrine of the Book. It is awesome. The actual scroll of Isaiah is not on display. It is being restored. A duplicate is in the central display. Our exit is dampened by a cloud-burst. After a very long wait in a taxi line, during which we started to be concerned about our ability to get back on time, we catch a limo back to the hotel, where we meet the group and are off!

While waiting on the bus for our guide, we sing psalms. Edna arrives, and we proceed past the homes of the President, Ezer Weizman, and the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. We learn of a Hebrew parting phrase, L'hitre Ot, which means "see you again". Edna informs us that her grandfather, who came from England and never learned Hebrew, used to pronounce it "Let Hitler Rot". Edna notifies me that Mr. Elizar Goldman has been to Massada with his bus, and while there made unsuccessful inquiries about my lost appointment book, or "brains". We are told, as we pass an antique train heading North, that the train trip is a museum piece. Train to Tel Aviv takes 3 hours. We will take 1 hour by highway. We have lunch on the upper side of Mt. Zion, and are treated to a full rainbow (God's promise, Genesis 9:13) over the Kidron Valley!

Next stop was the Peter In Gallicantu church. Gallo is rooster, and cantu is to speak against. This is Herod's courtyard where Peter denied Jesus, (Matthew 26:70-75, Mark 14:67-72) and where Jesus was thrown into the dungeon. Edna informs us that "previously you have walked 210 feet above where He walked, stood where He might have been buried, but these rocks that you are standing on are where He walked". It was an incredibly poignant and sobering moment.

We proceed to the "bottle dungeon" where Jesus spent 4-6 hours awaiting trial. No doors or windows. The inhabitants are lowered on ropes around their chests with their hands and feet bound. We hold a small service there. Another heart-penetrating moment.

The front door mantle is decorated with a sentence in Latin from Psalm 121:8 "The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore", while the bottom of the huge bronze double door has the Latin for Matthew 26:34, "Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice". Inside are huge elaborate mosaics representing scenes of the New Testament.

Next we proceed to the site discovered by the British General Gordon in the late 1800's, called the "Garden tomb". It is certainly a tomb of a wealthy Jew. It had a 200,000 gallon cistern, and a "grave which had never been used" (Luke 23:53) and is within a rock-throw of a cliff-side which has a remarkable impression of a skull (Golgotha, the place of the skull). This site has much archaeological support for the claim to be "the" site, as does the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So which one is the "real" one? Who knows? It doesn't really matter, because He is not in either tomb. He is risen!

We hold the last sacred service of the trip in a chapel here. This place is administered by the Church of England, and the staff are light-hearted, beaming-faced, warm, open, and loving. We have several poignant and piercing testimonies from the members of our fellowship. One of these that impacted me greatly was Frank's mom giving her testimony with Frank translating.

Finally, we are off to supper. We drop off those members of our party who are continuing on to Egypt for a few days, including the adventurous Jay, who has always had a more expansive itinerary. We go to Viktor's restaurant. We are advised that even though the meals are covered, the tips and drinks are not. Too bad. Ron had suggested at the Garden Tomb that supporting this ministry would be a good thing and that we consider leaving town broke. After a short check, I decided to follow suggestions, and thus had to borrow in order to make the meal. The spices were strong, displaying Viktors Russian heritage. Even though he is from New York.

Mike had the wonderful idea of nick-naming everyone based on our experiences. Frank's family got the "Ahava "(love) award for showing us what family love looks like. Mike announced that he had one award but needed to give it to two people. Richard (age 85) and Fauneil (age discreetly left out) who were sitting side-by-side. They are both quite diminutive in stature, and were asked to stand to receive their award. She asked, "What are we going to get, the Peewee award?" "Nope", replied Mike, "we are going to give you the Energizer Bunny award." They were always out in front of the pack. What an example to the rest of us!

Edna got the Proverbs 31 award, (too long to excerpt here; it praises the model woman) so we had to read it aloud, editing as necessary to change "wife" to "tour guide" etc. She had previously been nicknamed "She Who Must Be Obeyed" by some wag in the group. The tag ostensibly comes from the British sitcom, "Rumpole of the Bailey", but was originally the title of the nearly-immortal heroine of the novel "She" by H. Rider Haggard. A good read, almost as good as "King Solomon's Mines". Check it out at the library. (Thanks to Park Chamberlain, a coworker. The man who once used Scripture to make a poignant point in a heated and important meeting in a corporate headquarters of a Fortune 250 Company:

When others had repeatedly ignored his succinct memos, and now wanted things to be different than the way they were because they had failed to follow instructions, he referred them to Luke 16:29-31 and left the room. "Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.")

A wonderful time was had by all. Some of us had an impromptu mini- reunion after first service the Sunday following our return. My adult daughters have started saying, "Dad, you've told us that part of the story three times already". I feel as though I have a grin all over. When asked "how was it?", one of my responses has been , "all the big words in my vocabulary smashed together don't even make a scratch on the surface". It is also quite obvious that our efforts to explore and absorb what was being given so richly to us was also only a scratch on the surface of what is available. This trip made the Bible come to life! I am convinced that one could easily spend years in this abundant land without a risk of having nothing to explore.

Many new friendships were made, and many of us got to share our stories with each other, in conformance to 1 Thessalonians 2:8, "So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear unto us." Which, incidentally, is the basis for the writing and sharing of this document.


In His Perfect Love,