Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hi All!

We ended our Egypt extension yesterday by taking a one hour sailing trip on the Nile on a traditional sailboat called a faluka (although I have no idea how you really spell that!) We also got to go to the Cairo Museum where we were able to view all of King Tut's tomb treasures, including the solid gold "death mask" which is never allowed to leave the museum. We also took a day trip to Alexandria, which was one of the most important centers of Christianity in the first few centuries.

Early this morning, we all made our way to the airport and Bishop Schneider and the rest of the group headed for Paris and then Dulles. I headed back to Germany, where I am now. I'll catch a flight back to Dulles tomorrow evening. This has been an incredible trip and I look forward to telling you all more about what I've learned and experienced.

I've really enjoyed being away, but I'm glad to be heading home tomorrow. I look forward to seeing many of you on Sunday!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hi All!

Yesterday, we completed the Israel part of our trip, and a portion of our group headed back to the US while the rest of us headed to Egypt. We took the long route (due to unrest in Gaza, which even in Biblical times was the faster and easier way). We headed down the Jordan river to the place where the Gulf of Aqaba (the eastern arm of the Red Sea) meets up with Jordan, Israel and Egypt. There, we crossed the border into Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Along the way to Mount Sinai, we got to see quite a bit of the desert.

We got to the hotel, but four of us didn't get much of a chance to sleep there, since we got up at 1 am to go to climb Mount Sinai and be there for sunrise. (While we got great shots, I didn't personnally care if we got there later, but we needed to be done before breakfast so we could get on the road for our next day of travel.) The trip takes about 3 hours up and about 2 1/2 hours back. On the way up, we road camels in the dark for the first 2 hours, and then climbed the ancient stairs cut into the rocks by the monks at St. Catherine's monastery many centuries ago. It was a great experience, but it left me really sleep deprived today! After we got back to the hotel and had breakfast, we headed back to St. Catherine's, where we got a private tour from Fr. Justin, one of only 23 monks at the monastery (and the only American in the bunch). We then headed for Cairo, crossing the Suez Canal by using the new tunnel under the canal. And having done that, I arrived on the continent of Africa for the first time in my life.

Tomorrow, we're scheduled to head to the Pyramids, so hopefully I'll have some more great pix soon! In the meantime, there are pictures from the Sinai trip and also pictures from our last day in Jerusalem, which include more pictures from the Church of the Holy Sepulchur (where some of us went again at 5:30 am the day before yesterday), the Garden Tomb, which is sometimes suggested as another possible site of Jesus' crucifixtion and burial (although for several very good historical, biblical and archaeological reasons, this is highly unlikely), the Israel Museum, which now houses an incredible model of 1st century Jersualem, and Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial.

I'll have only periodic internet for the next several days, so I may not post every day, but be looking for more pictures soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hi All!

For the past couple of days, we've been touring Jerusalem and taking a couple of day trips. Two days ago, we toured the Old City, which included much of the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchur and the Pool of Bethsaida. There was a lot to see, and enormous crowds, so we didn't always get to spend as much time as we would have liked at each site. VERY early this morning, several of us, including some who like me hate mornings, left the hotel at 5:30 am to try to get into Jesus' tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchur before breakfast. We did actually make it inside the structure built over the tomb, but got thrown out quickly because apparently they reserve that tiny space for private masses until 8 am. But, we did have some neat experiences in the church before the huge crowds got there.

Yesterday, we toured Masada, the mountain fortress originally built by Herod the Great as a palace. Later, during the Jewish revolt in 67 AD, zealots occupied the palace fortress and held out for 4 years until the Romans built at seige ramp and broke through. Then, we headed down to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on Earth, to float in the Dead Sea. After that, we stopped at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. Those scrolls contained some of the earliest copies of OT manuscripts, as well as other material that gives us some insight into Jewish life from the first century BC through the 1st century AD.

Today, we're heading to the archaelogical museum in Jerusalem, as well as a couple of other sights. Then, tomorrow morning, some of the group will head back to Dulles, while the rest of us will continue on to Egypt. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hi All!

Today, we left Tiberias and headed towards Jerusalem. Our first stop was on the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee. Called "Yardeni", it tries to bill itself as the traditional site of Jesus baptism, although it's not. The traditional site of Jesus baptism is down river towards Jersualem, but Yardeni is pretty much the only spot on the Jordan River where both sides of the river are inside Israel (elsewhere, the Jordan is usually the border between Israel and Jordan). But, it is the Jordan River, so we stopped and I got some Jordan River water!

Then, we headed to Bet She'an. Bet She'an is an ancient city which has levels of occupation going back to 3000 - 5000 BC. In Old Testament history, it's mentioned in 1 Samuel 31:1-10 as the city where King Saul and his son Joanathan were nailed to the wall after being killed. In New Testament times, it was one of the cities of the Decapolis, which were 10 Roman cities mostly east of the Jordan River (except for Bet She'an which was on the west side). There are Roman ruins there, as well as ancient Caananite, Egyptian and Israelite ruins. Also, there's a prominent dead tree on the top of a the OT Tel (the old hill which has the ancient levels of civilization). That tree was the prop from which Judas was portrayed as hanging in the movie "Jesus Christ Superstar.

From Bet She'an we moved on to Jericho. Actually there are two cities of Jericho mentioned in the Bible, both next to each other. Ancient Jericho (see Joshua 6:1-20) is mentioned as one of the first places Israel conquered when it entered the land. That city was never rebuilt. However, next to it another city, also named Jericho, was built. In the OT, that Jericho is mentioned as the place where the prophet Elisha cleansed the waters (2 Kings 2:19-22). In the NT Jericho is mentioned in Jesus' parables (see Luke 10:30-37) and also as the place where Jesus met Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

On the way to Jerusalem, we passed through the wilderness of Judea and saw the ancient road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho. One of the things you get an appreciation of is why the Bible always speaks of going "up" to Jerusalem and "down" from Jerusalem. I always thought this was simply because you went up and down from the temple mount, and that's partly true. However, you really do go "down" to Jericho, because Jerusalem is 3000 feet above sea level and Jericho is about 1000 feet below sea level. While we stopped to see the wilderness, we met Beduin people and rode camels!

Finally, we arrived in Jerusalem just before sunset. We'll be based here in Jerusalem until we leave for Egypt. Tomorrow, we'll be touring around in Jerusalem, and soon we'll be making day trips to the Dead Sea, Qumran (the site of the Dead Sea scrolls) and Bethlehem. Because I'm taking a lot of pictures, and we have wireless in the hotel room, I'll try to post pictures every evening, even if I don't get a chance to post a description, so check the photos each day!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hi All!

Today, we toured around the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, also known as the Lake of Gennesaret and the Sea of Tiberius, is the lowest fresh water lake in the world. It's located 700 feet below sea level. It's circumference is 32 miles. It's 9 miles wide at its widest point and 12 miles long at its longest point. Much of Jesus' ministry occured in villages and towns on and around the Sea of Galilee.

Several stories of Jesus' ministry involve storms on this lake. Storms here are common, because winds come in through the Valley of the Winds and Doves and create violent upheavals which suddenly start and end. Today however, we had unseasonably warm weather (it was around 90 degrees fahrenheit) and the sea was an absolute dead calm. In fact, Bishop Schneider, who's been here 15 times or more, said he's never seen it this calm, especially in the fall when the weather is usually much rougher. In any event, it was good to be out on the boat in calm weather, and it was a nice peaceful way to celebrate Bishop Schneider's 75th birthday!

On our tour around the lake, we also visited Capernaum, where Jesus taught in the synagogue and healed Peter's mother-in-law. While the site of Peter's house and the synagogue at Capernaum are pretty certain, other sites are more or less simply based on tradition. The sites of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes and the site of the Beatitudes, for example, are two places we visited. While much of Jesus' teaching, preaching and miracles probably occured nearby, many of these sites are based on reports and research of Eugenia, an early Christian nun, who came here to find the sites in 384 AD.

Tomorrow, we're heading south for Jerusalem, where we'll base ourselves for the remainder of our days in Israel. I'll try to keep photos posted every couple of days, at least.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hi All!

Yesterday, I arrived in Tel Aviv just an hour or so before Bishop Schneider and the rest of the group arrived from Paris. We set out together heading first to Joppa/Jaffe/Tel Aviv (all are really the same place), and managed to see a little bit there before the sun set. Then, we headed to Netanya for our first overnight.

Today, we got an early start and had a full day of biblical sightseeing. We started at Caesarea Maritima (not to be confused with Casearea Philipi), which is the first artificial port on the Mediterranean. It was built by Herod the Great at the end of the first century BC, and named in honor of Caesar (because Herod was very polticially astute). Caearea Maritima was really the political Capital of Judea during Roman times. It was here that Herod the Great lived most of the time, and where Pontius Pilate and other Roman Governors were headquartered. Later, Paul was tried here before the Roman Governor before being sent to Rome.

After Caesarea, we headed to Meggido, an ancient ruin with more than 25 layers of civilization. Meggido was an important strategic point in the trade route between east and west, and many monumental battles were fought here. Joshua conqured Meggido from the Caananites when Israel came into the land, and later Solomon made Meggido one of his three chariot cities. Although the site was abandoned around 600 BC, it continued to be thought of as the site of epic battles, which is probably one of the reasons it was the image of the final battle between good and evil in the book of Revelation -- which is why we often know it as "Armaggedon" (the Greek transliteration of "Har Meggido").

After Meggido, we headed to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. It was getting late, but we did see one of the sites which was potentially the precipice from which angry people in the synagogue tried to throw Jesus from. And, we got to see Mary's Well and the area which would have been ancient Nazareth.

Tonight, we're in Tiberius (another city named for a Roman Emporer, and built by Herod Antipas). We'll be touring around the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Genesseret and the Sea of Tiberius) tomorrow. I'll try to post new photos every couple of days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hi All!
I've been in southern Turkey for the past several days, basing myself in Adana, which is on the southern Mediterranean coast, just next to Tarsus, the city where St. Paul was from. Today, in fact, I finished my tour of Turkey by going to Tarsus. Not much is there from Paul's days, due in large part to the fact that Tarsus has been continually occupied since well before New Testament times. On the other hand, you may have noticed that many of the places I've visited are now called by different names because the biblical cities that were there before were abandoned, and new towns or villages sometimes sprung up. By contrast, Biblical Tarsus continued to be a city, and so today, Biblical Tarsus is known as, well, Tarsus!

My tour here began after taking an overnight and all day train from Istanbul. It was really a neat way to see a lot of the very diverse and intersting countryside through the central section of Turkey. Much of that central area was once known as "Galatia", and so as I was traveling through, I read Paul's letter to the Galatians! The train ride was very comfortable and I slept well in my sleeping compartment. I had planned to take the train back today. However, when the train was almost 2 hours late getting to Adana, I realized if it was that late getting back to Istanbul, I'd miss my connecting flight to Israel. So, I got a refund of my train ticket (I think!) and I'm flying back to Istanbul tomorrow morning.

The other two places I visited while here were Antioch (and it's ancient port of Seleucia Peiria) and Cappadocia. Antioch, you may remember from Acts, was the place where followers of Jesus were first called "Christians" (Acts 11:26). There's an ancient cave church there, in use since at least the 4th century, which legend claims was one of the places where St. Peter preached while he was in Antioch. The port of Anitoch, known as Seleucia Peiria, was the place from which Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey.

Cappadocia is an area of central Turkey which has incredible volcanic rock formations. This particular type of volcanic residue becomes very hard when exposed to air, but until then is very soft. So, people for thousands of years have carved out cave homes, churches and other things from these rocks. They still do today. In the early church, very many monastic communities gathered there. It was remote, and also provided protection during times of persecution. The paintings (mostly dating to the 11th or 12th century AD) are incredibly well preserved because they've been in these dry cave rooms. Both the paintings and the rock formations are incredible! Lectors on Pentecost Sunday will remember that "Cappadocia" is one of those dreaded place names you need to read! (Acts 2:9)

I'm sorry I haven't been able to post for a few days. My hotel has free wireless internet, but the Preventer of Information Technology there decided that Blogger is a bad website and won't allow me access. So, for the very last thing on my tour of Turkey, I am visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Internet (Starbucks), which has no such restriction!

This concludes my tour of Biblical sites in Greece and Turkey. Tomorrow, I catch a flight from Adana to Istanbul, and then a connecting flight to Tel Aviv, where I'll meet up with Bishop Schneider and the rest of the group from the US, who will be departing from Dulles this evening (Tuesday). So in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, "we're off on the road to Judea!"