It's now Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem. We had a nice morning in the Old City again today, and now most of the group has gone to Bethlehem again to visit a family and have lunch there. A few of us decided to stay behind to get some more rest. I am preaching on Sunday when we return, so I wanted a little time to rest and begin preparing for that service. I thought I would also try to catch you up a bit with the blog and hopefully at least finish off the first day we spent here in Jerusalem.
After the Church of the Visitation, we drove to the Israel Museum where we would look at a scale model of the Old City of Jerusalem as it appeared in the 1st century AD, the time of Jesus. We would also tour the Shrine of the Book, an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls. The public viewing for Ariel Sharon at the Knesset was going to start at noon, so our guide was surprised at how easily we made our way to the Israel Museum nearby. The parking lot and area in front of the museum was acting as a staging area for Israeli police who would be providing security:
This was the scale model we came to see. It's built out of actual stones and displayed outside. My only disappointment was that they had a railing around it so I couldn't get a picture of Art the Conqueror terrorizing the miniature streets of ancient Jerusalem. Otherwise, it was quite impressive:
Our group standing at the southwest corner of the city:
The Second Temple, viewed from the southeast. Solomon's staircase that we saw earlier in the day from the bus are along the Temple wall to the left. The eastern gate is in the center-right, and we're sort of floating above the Kidron Valley.
A straight on view of the Temple with the eastern gate in front:
After taking that picture, another American group was standing on an area above and behind us and I thought I heard a familiar voice. I turned around and it really looked like Dr. Thomas Schattauer, one of my professors from Wartburg Seminary. I almost hollered out his name but didn't think there could be any way that it was actually him. Their group left the area and I never said anything, but I emailed him that evening and it indeed was him. It's my one regret from this trip that I didn't shout to him, but it's cool that we were in the same place halfway around the world at the same time.
Back to our day, after viewing the model, we went into the Shrine of the Book where no pictures were allowed, but it was very cool to see pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including a large piece that included the passage from Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant text. On our way out of the Israel Museum, I took a picture of the Knesset with the Israeli flag at half-mast for Ariel Sharon. It's not often you're this close to something where world news is taking place.
Back on the bus, we made our way south to Bethlehem, which meant we had to pass through the wall that has been between Jerusalem and Bethlehem since the suicide bombings in Jerusalem in 2000. Again, I didn't risk taking any pictures as we went through the checkpoint, but I got the feeling that our process of crossing was quite smooth compared to some. You'll be able to see a portion of the wall in one of my later pictures. Our first stop in Bethlehem was the Christmas Tree Cafe where we had lunch, meaning I had another falafel sandwich. This time, they were preparing the falafels right out in front so I could show you what it looks like. It's simply ground chick peas rolled into balls and fried in oil. Here are some frying with some finished ones to the left:
The pestle for mashing the peas and the handle of the spoon for forming the balls. I thought this was one of the best falafel sandwiches we had. At one place you could tell they were pre-made and probably came off of the Israeli equivalent of the Sysco truck. Obviously, homemade is better!
After lunch, we drove to the Shepherd's Fields, a site near where they believe the shepherds were probably gathered and experienced the visitation of the angels announcing Jesus' birth. There is (surprise!) a small church there. Here we are outside the church. You can see the angel above the entryway and the standard Stearns county farmer stance:
The top of the church with a closer view of the angel. We were waiting our turn to go inside because it's not very large and it's another place where people often sing. We heard singing coming from inside, obviously Angels We Have Heard On High, but not in English. After the singing stopped, out came the same group of Koreans that we had heard singing in Caesarea the day before!
Inside, there were large murals on the walls depicting scenes of the angels announcing Jesus' birth to the shepherds:
At the front of the church was a scene of the Nativity:
We gathered around the altar in the center to take our turn singing:
One of the other murals:
Then we walked just a little ways down a hill to see the fields themselves. They are still apparently used by shepherds, because if you look closely you can see some Bedouin houses off to the left and a few tiny white dots toward the top left of the field. Those are sheep and maybe one goat...you'll just have to take my word on that.
At this spot, they had several areas for worship services, so we used one to have our Sunday worship. I led the liturgy, singing, and prayers, and Pastor Art read the Christmas story from Luke and preached for us. It was really nice:
Singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" together:
After worship and a quick bathroom break, we drove back into Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity to see the place they believe Jesus was born. Here is Nativity Square across the street from the church:
Looking toward the Church of the Nativity. We would enter through that small door directly in front of us where the two men are standing:
First we walked by some places where the newer floor had been opened up to show the old mosaic floor underneath:
The Church of the Nativity is an Orthodox church, so there were lots of ornate decorations in the sanctuary and near the place where you go to view the spot they believe Jesus was born.
An ornate version of the young Jesus on Mary's lap, a common depiction of the two in Orthodox Christianity.
The steps down into the place they believe he was born. This was pretty typical, so extremely claustrophobic people need not apply:
One of the decorations in the room:
Here it is, the spot Jesus was born:
When we were all finished, we went into the Catholic Church of the Nativity that adjoins the Orthodox one and then down some more stairs and eventually into a small chapel dedicated to Saint Jerome, the 4th century priest responsible for translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. His work comprised the majority of what's known as the Vulgate, the definitive Latin text of the Bible for the Catholic Church for over 1000 years. This stained glass window depicts him being visited by an angel:
On our way out of the building we passed through the Catholic Church of the Nativity. If you've ever watched the Christmas Eve Mass that they broadcast on the Catholic cable channel, this is where they do it every year. According to our guide, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's wife was Christian, so they often came here together for Christmas Eve:
A statue to Jerome in the courtyard on our way out of the church. Gila told us a legend that says he worked with a skull on his desk that spoke to him and said, "Get to work. You're not immortal." I guess that's one explanation for why he was such a prolific writer.
A look toward the top of the Catholic Church of the Nativity:
From there we drove back to the neighborhood near the wall where we had lunch, this time headed to an olive wood shop. We stopped at this particular shop because the owners were the ones who helped us get closer to the Church of the Nativity and our travel was made much easier because of their support. There were many beautifully carved items, and I bought a few small things to bring home. One last picture for the day, here is the street looking back toward Jerusalem. You can see the sign of the restaurant we ate lunch at on the right, and the madness of the traffic in the street to the left. The wall with a guard tower visible is in the distance.
That ended our day. After making our way back across the wall, we went to the hotel for supper and some well-deserved sleep. Even several days later, I feel like this first day we spent in Jerusalem was our longest and most overwhelming in terms of what we saw and culture shock. Every day has been amazing, but this was quite a day. I hope you enjoyed following along. I'm going to take a little nap now. I might to get one more post written today. Otherwise, tomorrow we leave Jerusalem early in the morning to begin our trek home by first returning to Jordan where we'll see the ancient city of Petra. Then it will be Friday morning and time to catch our flight home!