On To Jerusalem
Trip Start Jan 08, 2008
33Trip End Mar 18, 2008
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Hello FUMC-Palatine and a special hello to the 6th grade Sunday school class. This is Teri and John Schmelzel; we will miss not being with you in class tomorrow but have lots to share with you when we return.
We left Tiberius today to wind our way to Jerusalem, with several stops along the way. We went first to Bet She An, a city first established in the fifth millennium BCE, as a seat of Egyptian rule. As with some many cities it changed hands several times over the centuries. What were discovered in the 1920's were the ruins of an extensive Roman settlement. Still standing is a theater that seated 7000 people and was used by the Romans for plays. The 2 main streets can still be seen and have tall columns standing on both sides of the streets. Along the streets were the foundations of stores. We also saw a bathhouse, a temple and even a public bathroom. The Byzantines added other structures including steps that still stand that probably led to their temple. All of this was carved out of stone and the workmanship was amazing. In all they have identified 16 layers of civilizations. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749, leaving some pillars knocked over while other still stand. This city is mentioned in 1 Samuel 31, (6th grade boys might enjoy this chapter; the girls may get grossed out.)
Our next stop was at Bet-Alpha Synagogue national park. Kibbutz members in 1928 discovered a mosaic floor and the outer rim of a synagogue dating back to 6th century AD. I had always heard that Jewish synagogues were meant to be plain, but this mosaic floor had over 20 colors, depicted the Zodiac signs, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, symbols for the 4 seasons, and even a sun god. Our tour guide explained the decorations were influenced by the Byzantines who were in power at this time.
We drove along the Israel/ Jordan border going south towards Jerusalem. There was a fence separating the two countries most of the way. The countryside changed from green to desert the farther south we went. The desert is more how Teri and I had expected Israel to look. When we first reached the drier terrain they were using irrigation and watering to still grow crops. We saw Bedouin communities along the route in makeshift shanties, and camels along the road. We saw several herds of sheep being watched over by shepherds. We imagined this was relatively unchanged from Biblical times although the shepherds may now have cell phones or I-Pods.
We drove through Jerusalem and into Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian controlled territory. We had to stop at a checkpoint and also switch tour guides as the Israeli government does not allow Israelis to go to Bethlehem. We had lunch at a nice restaurant, shopped a little, were given the "opportunity" to shop some more by the street vendors, then went to the Church of the Nativity. It is traditionally believed that the church was built over the cave where Jesus was born. There is a small doorway entrance into the church, so all who enter must bow down to go in. As we waited to enter there was a call to prayer coming from the mosque on the other side of Manger Square. The church is watched over jointly by the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches, and each has its own chapel inside. The group just before ours was from Africa. We had to go down a level to get to the cave where Jesus was said to be born. It is marked by a silver star and across the hallway was the manger where he was laid down. We sang "Away in the Manger" here and then exited up into St. Catherine's Church. We sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and then Michael suggested we take a few minutes to meditate. Right then the church bells started to ring.
We checked into our hotel back in Jerusalem which was only 4 miles from Bethlehem. As most of you know there was an incident in Jerusalem 2 nights ago. Driving through the streets one would not know anything has changed. We are sure security is tighter but I think we all believe that God is with us. His presence has been felt by all of us on this trip in different ways.
You are in our prayers as we hope we are in yours.
God Bless to everyone and especially to any of our family members who may be reading this!
The Holyland Travelers