Tuesday, November 13
Today we started by going to Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is almost all downhill. Jerusalem is above sea level and Jericho is down below sea level just north of the Dead Sea. This is the road where Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan takes place. The area on the way down is like desert wilderness. Nomadic Bedouins in very poor shacks and tents live in the valleys and on the hillsides off to the side of the highway where their flocks of goats and sheep live off of what appears to be very little grass growing here or there.
Jericho is like a ghost town. It’s part of the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and very poor. There are nice looking farms around but Samir says they can’t sell their produce outside of town and definitely not in Israeli territory. In town we saw an old sycamore tree like the one Zacchaeus climbed to get a better view of Jesus as he was walking through town. We also went to the Mount of Temptation where Jesus might have spent his 40 days after his baptism. There is a monastery built into the cliff walls where pilgrims come to spend their 40 days of Lent. We stopped in town at a store that sells glassware, china/stone ware, and Dead Sea cosmetic products.
From Jericho we went to the district along the Dead Sea, first to Qumran to see some ruins of the Essene village and the cave where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Samir was telling us some cock-a-mamie stories about the Essenes following Jesus around recording stories of his life and ministry, another story about some Jews in Ethiopia preserving some identical scrolls to the ones found at Qumran. I’m finding him harder and harder to believe and to understand just what he’s trying to get at sometimes.
From Qumran we drove to Masada. I slept all the way and missed most of Samir’s theories that the whole Masada story as related by Josephus is a lie, sham, hoax, cover-up, etc. He doesn’t believe one bit of the story about the Zealots’ suicides after the lengthy siege by the Romans. His stories are just loonie if you ask me.
From Masada we drove up to Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea. It’s a spa with a beach. I went first down to the beach. The water level has gone down so much that you have to take a tram about a kilometre or more to get to the sea. It’s not a sand beach but salt, and sharp prickly salt on your bare feet. But floating in the Sea is the most amazing and weird sensation. You just can’t sink! There is no way. You can sit and just float, lie and just float. The water was nice and warm but when you rubbed your skin it felt kind of oily. After taking the tram back up to the spa some of us put mud on ourselves. I don’t know where the mud comes from or what it’s supposed to do but I smeared it on and then showered it off. After changing we drove back to the hotel. Tonight I did some re-packing in preparation for tomorrow night when we won’t sleep much before we head home. I can’t wait. Tomorrow we see Old Jerusalem, our last day of touring. I want to see that but I’m all toured out.
Wednesday, November 14
Last day. Today we did Jerusalem. We started at the western wall, the wailing wall, the wall is not part of the temple but part of the retaining wall that held up the whole temple complex at the time of Jesus. We had to go through metal detectors, then the men had a section separate from the women, and we could go up to the wall. I had my picture taken in front of it and touched it. There were hundreds and thousands of slips of paper with prayers on them tucked into the cracks between the stones.
After that we went to the temple mount itself after passing through another security check-point. The temple hasn’t stood there since 70 AD. Now a couple of mosques stand there as it is also a holy place for Muslims. The big golden dome is over a large slab of rock where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac (or Ishmael, it depends on whose story you hear).
From there we walked down to the Old City, saw the Bethesda pools where Jesus healed a paralytic and right next to them is the place Mary might have been born(?). From there we started on the Via Dolorosa seeing the stations of the cross. This is so totally hokey. This is probably not the route Jesus took to Golgotha. We don’t really know exactly where Golgotha is. Apparently the route has changed over the centuries. But along the way are these arbitrary stations with a chapel here,a sign or a sculpture there, and some people (our guide included) seem to take this all as fact.
At the end we came to the church of the Holy Sepulchre which is worse than a circus. There are crowds, noisy crowds, and line-ups of people to see the rock that was part of the hill where Jesus was crucified, the slab of stone where he was taken down from the cross and wrapped, and then a marble slab under which is the stone where his body was laid. Absolutely ridiculous.
Next came one of the better parts of the day when I shared a bagel with Doug. This was some bagel, oval shaped and over a foot long, and really yummy. Some of the others who bought bagels couldn’t finish theirs and gave me their leftovers.
After this bite to eat we went to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer which is very close to the Sepulchre. The church seems to have services in German and Arabic. We didn’t climb the steeple but you can see it from all around. It must have a great view.
Next we went to see the (an) upper room. It’s so ridiculous to believe they ate the last supper there. Downstairs in the same building we went into King David’s tomb. Silly. Next to that building is the Church of Mary’s Dormition where she is supposed to have lived after Jesus’ Ascension and from where she was taken up into heaven without dying.
From there we drove to the Garden Tomb which is on the other side of the Old City from the Sepulchre. It’s a garden owned by some British that contains a tomb and has a skull shaped cliff where they think it might be just as likely, if not more likely, that Jesus was crucified and buried. It’s a much prettier place than the Sepulchre and they provide the opportunity for groups to have a communion service, which we did, which people liked, and which was the end of our tour itinerary.
For dinner the local tour company took us for a special dinner at a restaurant in Bethlehem. We almost didn’t get into Bethlehem because they didn’t want to let our tour guide through. We finally did get through with him and had a dinner of stuffed lamb (lamb stuffed with rice). It was delicious.
We came back to the hotel and I tried to take a nap before our 12:30 a.m. wake-up call. Then we’ll drive to the airport in Tel Aviv and head home. Yay!!!