Three More Places


Welcome. In February, 2006, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the bulk of the posts for the February, 2006 archive describe my impressions. To begin, scroll down to Feb. 3, where I announce the trip, and then scroll up from there to read the posts in order. Feel free to skip over the occasional other items mixed in. Pray for the people of the Holy Land --and go there if you possibly can! --RC2

There's always more to tell, but I think I'll close this travelog with a few words about just three more places.

  • The first is Bethany. It's on the Eastern slope of Mt. Zion, and the Franciscans have a lovely church there built on the grounds of Mary & Martha's house. You will definitely get a sense of peace there, and understand why Jesus loved to visit. The original entrance to Lazarus' tomb was blocked off by the Muslims, but the Franciscans cut a side entrance, so you can still visit and see it.
  • Of course you have to see the Dead Sea --before it disappears! It's evaporating away. It's probably a pleasant experience to bathe there in warm weather, but we were there in winter. It's too far below sea level to truly be cold --the enterprising kibbutzim have even desalinated the land and started date farms all along the region-- but it was overcast when we were there, and the only folks bathing were Japanese & German middle aged tourists. It was interesting to feel the minerals in the water (feet & hands), but to be honest that was more flab and wrinkles than one needs to see in a lifetime!

We visited Q'umran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, which was wrthwhile, but archaeologically speaking, the most amazing place is Masada. It simply boggles the mind to see what Herod the Great built on this forsaken mountaintop --without benefit of cranes, electricity or monster trucks. Because of its location, everything is preserved. You can see not just bare stone walls, but the plaster put over it, and in some places even the way the walls were painted; it gives you a very different sense of how civilized life was. Through a cistern system and small channels for water to flow cut into the walls everyhere, Herod even had running water, a steam room and hot baths --and this was the fortress he never used. It was "just in case."

The enormous well-organized store rooms are amazing. Archaelogists found grain and fruit supplies here that could have allowed the Zealots who camped here after the fall of Jerusalem to survive two more years of siege had the Romans not been able to burn down the entrance to the fortress. You feel very small here in more ways than one. Masada's not for the weak of stomach. Heights have never bothered me, but I found myself dizzied by the cable ride to the top and the feeling of exposure at the edges. And you also realize the vacuity of the contemporary assumption that anything not contemporary must have been primitive. At Masada you find yourself wondering if anything nearly so great has ever been accomplished since. (Look at some pictures.)

If you know the story, the zealots held out for years against Roman siege, and when they knew they were beaten, they committed suicide rather than be taken as slaves. Israeli defense forces now come to Masada when they complete their training, and swear an oath that there will be no more Masadas --that they will fight to the death protecting Israel instead. I thought about that oath on the way out of Israel (ponderous layers of security; be prepared for the fact that just when you think you're through all the checks, there will be two more). Think about what our airport security personnel look like. The Israeli personnel are all young people --18, 20, 25-- and they take their roles very seriously. No one's working a job; they're serving their country. It's impressive.

By popular request I'll collect all these posts in one link for easy access when I have the chance. If you've enjoyed this series of posts at all, then do me the favor of remembering the Holy Land in your prayers, especially the Christians --"the salad in the sandwich"-- whose stories I promised to tell when I got home. Remember their three requests: pray, visit, and tell the truth about the situation. For myself, I went to Jerusalem with the idea of making a once in a lifetime trip. But the place gets to you, and I am dreaming about how to go back --hopefully with my whole family.