A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 11 - Monday 28th November

Akko, Caesarea Maritima

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Our first stop today was the site of Acre (Also Akko/Acco). This is a port city located north of Haifa. It is an ancient site which has been rebuilt many times. It was first founded during the Bronze Age, and most significantly, was conqurerd by the Crusaders in 1104AD.1 It is mentioned in Judges 1:31 as a city which Israel failed to hold.

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It was interesting when Hannaniah told us that Messianic Jews in the area don’t want to call themselves Christians for fear of being associated with the Crusaders. Instead, they are encouraged to call themselves ‘believers,’ so people can then ask what they believe in and they can explain our faith. He also explained some of the Crusaders' theology, for example, when they got baptised they kept their right hand above the water in order to say that it was their ‘old self’ using a sword to destroy things and kill people. This just goes to show that bead theology can equal bad practical outworkings. Theology is not all head work!

When the crusaders crusaded, they brought with them their own culture, including medial practices and architectural designs. They had very poor hygene. They destroyed Eastern churches and set up their own nearby.

Together we read Acts 21. Here the site is mentioned as one of Paul’s stops in his final return to Jerusalem. It would have been a bustling little place back in the day!

We then went to Mt Carmel. Together we Read 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenging Baal. There was a fantastic view from the top of the mountain - it would have been quite a sight to be watching the challenge with the amazing view in the background, and to see our God win!

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After Mt Carmel we went to Caesarea Maritima, a massive harbor built for Herod the Great. It also contained a theatre, baths, a swimming pool and prison. It is likely that Paul was prisoned in the grounds of this palace (Acts 23:35). It was also in this ampetheatre that Herod Aggripa died (Josephus, Acts 21). Also, it was probably where Paul preached to the governor in chains (Acts 24).

It was amazing to see the splendor and significance of Herod’s places. It would have been an imposing site to see, and if I was Paul I'd be quite terrified!

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1 - Ridley College, Israel and Jordan Handbook, 2011

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Day 12 - Tuesday 29th November

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Bible College, the Herodian

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Our first stop today was the Church of the Nativity. Since it is in Bethlehem, we needed to cross the wall between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. I’ve been getting a bit more used to these checkpoint places now. Its such a culture shock to suddenly have a massive barrier dividing two places. It was big and grey and ugly. Our bus got through in just a couple of minutes. The guard came into our bus and looked at us all, then we were allowed through. Hannaniah our guide was not allowed in since he is an Israli citizen, and may be kidnapped if he is found there.

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Soon after crossing the coarder, we arrived at an olive wood souvenir shop where we met our guide for the day. I bought a nice olive wood nativity scene. It was my big purchase for the trip! There have been recent media reports saying that the hand crafting of the olive wood industry is under threat in Bethlahem from cheap Chinese imports. We were assured at this shop that it was the real deal.

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After meeting our guide we took a short bus trip to the Church of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born. The church is 1500 years old, and is still quite a significant and imposing building! It is still a working church shared between the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthadox and Armenian Orthadox. Our guide said it was quite a special thing for the 3 churches to share the site so peacefully. Although in late December, there was more fighting in the church.

According to our tour guide, the original building was built by Queen Helena in 329AD but destroyed by the Samaratins in 529AD, and Justinia built the current one. In 1934, an Earthquake hit Jerusalem, uncovering a fantastic Mosaic floor from the original building which is now on display. Our guide answered questions about how we know this is the correct site. He said 3 things: Firstly, it is built on a cave, and a cave is a stable. Secondly, the first Jewish converts to Christianity cam to those caves until 7AD because they noticed Christians coming there. And thirdly, pagan temples were built around the site in 130AD to stop Christians from going there.

There was frankinsense incense in the church, lots of people, lots of stuff in the roof.

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After waiting in a long line for a good 45 minutes, we were eventually ablet o go down the steps underneath the church to the site. It was a bit of a disappointment! It was a very small space with so many objects, paintings and lights that it reminded me more of an actor’s dressing room than the place our Savior was born! Part of me was repulsed at the ‘religiosity’ of the place. People were bowing down, and kissing the large silver star which marked Jesus’ birthplace as if it had some special power. My theology doesn’t really agree with doing stuff like that! Although it was a little uncomfortable, it was good to have been in the area where it all began. After my long wait in the line, I spent about 30 seconds in the place. It was all a bit of a let down to be honest!

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We then all jumped on the bus and headed for Bethlehem Bible College. The College has just over 100 students. We had lunch in their refectory area – pasta, bread and salad. We got a short tour of their new building. It was very encouraging to hear from Christians in the Holy Land. The population of Christians on the West Bank is less than 1.5%. We were also given a lecture of the history of the Israli/Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective. I really learnt a lot here, I’ve heard so much about it on the news but never really understood the source of the conflict – its long and complicated! A number of solutions have been proposed, but it doesn’t look as though peace will reign in the region anytime soon. This was the one thing the man at the College asked us to pray for – that there would be peace. Its so different to what we have to worry about in Australia! I need to remember to keep them in my prayers. After spending some time at the College, we headed again to the other side of the wall. This took about 10 minutes to get through – not bad at all!

We met up again with Hanarnia and went up to the Herodian. This was built as a palace for King Herod in 20BC. It was remarkable to see how his slaves literally moved a mountain to build the one next to it even higher. This is likely to be the place where the Maggi asked who is going to be the King of the Jews. (More info in yellow book). Its also possible that Jesus was looking to this mountain when he said ‘If you have faith, you can move mountains.’

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Posted by israeladventure 16:00 Archived in Israel Tagged church_of_the_nativity bethlehem_bible_college herodian Comments (0)

Day 13 - Wednesday 30th November

The Temple Mount

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This morning we set off on the bus towards Temple Mount. On the way there, the bus passed the piece of land which is known as Judas Iscariot’s field, the one which he bought for 30 pieces of silver and committed suicide.

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We reached the Temple Mount. We had to go through pretty strict security to enter the site. Our bags were checked for bibles, and we went through metal detectors. There is currently a Muslim mosque sitting on top of the mountain, with a big gold dome. Mosques were built on the mountain in 600AD, and under the current dome is the place where they believe Abraham attempted to kill Ishmael, according to Muslim tradition. Muslims have had total control of this mountain since 1948. They come here to gather, pray, read and learn.

The temple area was so much bigger than I was expecting it to be. In served many functions in biblical times. It had administrative roles, contained the sacrifices, and all aspects of religion was carried out here. It was designed to look really impressive, it was the place where God resided so needed to be amazing! The enterance would have been very imposing and awe inspiring for a Jew.

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We saw the Eastern/Beautiful/Golden Gate. This was a ceremonial gate, which was not used for everyday activities. Jesus went through this gate. This gate was closed for security reasons since the 12th Century. The one in the photo is not the actual one, its further underground.

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After leaving the top of the Mount, we went to the Western Wall, the most holy site for the Jewish people, since it is the closest they can get on their territory to what was the temple. I had not experienced anything like this before. I felt a little intrusive standing and watching people praying at the wall. Yet there was this sense of excitement and expectation as people headed down to the wall to spend time with their god. I think we can learn from the Jewish people's devotion to what they believe, as well as the sense of community which was evident around the wall.

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We walked down into the Jerusalem Archeological Park. This is the only part of the Temple which has been able to be excavated due to religious tensions. Perhaps the most significant part of this site was seeing the corner of what was the 2nd temple. Again, I was struck by the size of the thing. It was huge! It was up on this corner where priests would blow a trumpet over the city. Together we read Matthew 4. This is the corner of the temple where Jesus was told by the devil to throw himself down. It would have been very high up, falling off would have led to certain death. Jesus however fought the devil with scripture, saying 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

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We walked around the steps at the enterance of the temple. This area is biblically significant because of Acts 2-3, where Peter spoke to the crowds. This would have been a busy place back in that time. There was plenty of room for plenty of people! The steps at the entrance were designed so that there was one long, followed by one narrow step. This adds to the holiness of the site, so that people cannot run in and out of the temple.

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Day 14 - Thursday 1st December

Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Garden Tomb

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This morning our first stop was 'The Church of our Father,' originally built by Queen Helena as one of the first churches in the Holy Land. The church is built as a memorial to Jesus' teachings in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Crusaders, and rebuilt in the 11th and 12th Centuries. It is controlled by the Canaanite Sisters, and its walls are covered in the Lord's prayer in dozens of different languages.

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As we kept walking on the Mount of Olives, we began to walk down the road toward Jerusalem, the route Jesus would have taken on Palm Sunday. The path was a lot steeper than I had imagined!

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As we walked down we stopped to look at the gravestones and tombs on the mountain. These kinds of tombs would have been here in Jesus' time - its the clearest picture of 'whitewashed tombs' we can get when Jesus uses the phrase in Matthew 23. While we were there, our guide talked about John 11, Jesus and Lazarus. He told us that the fact that Lazarus was raised on the fourth day after he died was particulary significant since in Jewish custom, the belief is that the soul stays with the body 3 days after death. If Jesus had come on the third day, it wouldn't have been much of a miracle. But the fact that Jesus came on the fourth day, after Lazarus' soul had left his body, made his resurrection even more amazing!

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Also on the Mount of Olives, we stopped at another church, which commemorates the likely spot where Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept. The church here is designed to look like a tear drop. While here we were also taught about the Jewish custom of collecting tears in a glass bottle, sealing itwith bees wax and putting in front of a tomb to show that people mourn somebody's death.

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At the base of the Mount of Olives we came to the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of Jesus' arrest. Together we sat in the courtyard of this place and read John 18. This garden contains the oldest Olive trees in the country - some believed to be up to two thousand years old.

This would have to be one of my favourite places in Israel so far. It was so different to how I had imagined. So much closer to the Temple - it was only a few hundred meters away. We were taught about the name of this place. Gethsemane derives from Gat-Shemin - which means oil press. The name of the garden describes the function of the garden - it was an olive grove. Not a beautiful botanical kind of garden. It was a very ordinary kind of garden, with only one type of tree. It was a good time to sit and reflect about what Jesus must have gone through around this place. And to thank Him for what He has done.

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The church on this site was called the ‘Church of all Nations.’ It was quite dark inside, remembering the dark events that happened here.

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As we walked into the city walls we did the walk to the cross (Mark 15:16-23).

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Our second last stop today was the Church of Holy Sepulchre, the place marking the likely locations of the cross and the tomb. We didn't spend a lot of time here. It was very crowded - there was pushing and shoving to see the sites - this was pretty disgusting! In fact, the whole church disgusted me a lot. The history involved with the 6 orders who 'run' the place, their infighting, the 'religiosity' of the place all made me quite uncomfortable. There was no respect or sense of awe at being in the place. I'm glad we weren't there long.

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Our final stop was the Garden Tomb. This is a site set up by a group of keen Christians who believe this was more likely the location of the tomb of Jesus, mainly due to the apparent visible skull in the rockface of the site. This has been highly criticised by archaeologists and is highly unlikely to be the correct location.

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Day 15 - Friday 2nd December

Yad Vashem & the Western Wall

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Our first stop today was the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem). We were warned on the bus on the way to the museum that it might be a tough day. And it was. I hadn’t studied the holocaust in much detail in the past so this was my first real chance to immerse myself in what actually happened. I wish we had more time than the 2 hours allocated though. I found it hard to come to terms with the suffering the Jewish people went through. Pictures of people being murdered, and piles of bodies being pushed into pits are images which I think I’ll never forget. The thousands of shoes and handwritten notes, as well as videos of people recollecting their experiences made up for quite an emotional experience. I can’t imagine what it must have been like. It was helpful that the museum was set out in chronological order, it really helped me understand what was going on.

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Its going to take me a lot longer than a day to process all of what I saw. Some initial thoughts...
Why would anyone do this?
How did one man have so much power?
Why did nobody stop it all sooner?
What were other countries doing about it? Why the Jews?

Being at the museum helped me understand the recent history of the Jewish people a lot better. It’s hard to believe that it didn’t happen very long ago. Those people have gone through so much suffering, and it is amazing they still grasp on to their faith in God.

We then spent a short amount of time at the Citadel Museum, looking at some maps of Jerusalem, and looking at some awesome views over the city of Jerusalem.

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After this we had some free time, I went and had coffee at a local café run by a Christian church in the Old City.

As the sun began to set we met at the Western Wall, and watched the Jewish people gather at Shabbat for a time of prayer. The crowds swelled to hundreds of people in the hour that we were there. They were passionate. There was young people singing and dancing. They were dressed well. Again, I found myself asking could we learn from their devotion to God and celebrating him? I think we can.

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Back at the hotel there was continued celebration for Shabbat. Families gathered for dinner, there was singing and great joy. It was a feel-good kinda day!

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