Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Up to Jerusalem today

We said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee this morning with a 7:30am departure. Today's schedule included a visit to another "tel", to Jericho, to Qumran, swimming in the Dead Sea, Mass at the Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, and finally "up to Jerusalem".

Our first stop was the Decapolis. This region of the 10 cities is mentioned in the gospels as a place where Jesus went with his disciples. The capital of the Decapolis was Beit She'an. This place has had human habitation since 5000BC. The Egyptians held it until 12th century BC. It was held by the Philistines who lost it to King David in around 1000BC. The Israelites lost it to the Greeks in the 4th Century BC and they lost it to the Romans in 1st Century BC. The Romans built a beautiful city with the necessary theater, coloseum, and circus, or race track. On the top of the "tel", which reveals 18 layers of cities, the Romans built a temple aned did not bother to dig down into the lower levels. As others did, they simply built on top of the previous foundations.

Here are a few pictures from my visit.

A view of the "tel" from the ruins of the 1st century Roman City. This is the city Jesus would have seen. The "tel" stands behind with the ruins of the Roman temple on top.
Rolman cities also had to have public baths which included gymnasiums, cold and hot water pools, dry and steam saunas, spas, and of course toilets. This is meeting room where men gathered before entering the various rooms of the baths.
1st Century Roman toilets. Men just sat n two stones and a flowing water trough below carried away waste.
Remains of a sauna. A floor was built above these short pillars. The hole at the end is one of the chimneys. Fires would be built at one end. The hot smoke would pass through these round pilars and become hot. This in turn would warm up the floor to high heat. Water was added to the surface of the floor for a steam room, or left dry for a dry sauna.
Remains of one of the pools.
The main street. These pillars would have supported a covered walk. Behind the walks would be merchants' stalls and shops. Notice how the street is built higher in the center. Those cap stones covered a trough that carried away water that was not sunning off to the sides of the street. All the water would be drained and collected for use.
This was an important picture for me. It shows columns that had toppled over onto the streets. Archaelogists excavated and decided to leave the columns and wall stones where they lay in order to show us what was discovered at the initial dig. In the previous pictures, the columns along the side of the street were placed in a standing position to show how the street looked in ancient times.
The sidewalks and views of the doorways of the shops along the main street. The sidewalks were covered in mosaics.
We climbed to the top of the "tel". This dead tree is not part of the site. It is the prop used for the crucifixion scene in the movie, "Jesus Christ Superstar", some of which was filmed here at this locationl
View of the main street of Beit She'an looking towards the "tel".
You may think that I have had enough of all these ruins. And sometimes I do think to myself, "...not another dusty ruin". But after I get there, I realize that these are important cities and villages that existed when Jesus walked this earth. Some he actually visited. Jesus' ministry was part of the life of these communities. He challenged the life of the residents, some converted to his teaching, Christians were martyred in the public arenas, and the disciples returned to many of these places after the resurrection and ascension to continue what Jesus had started. For this reason, I am not tiring of these places.

Our next stop was the supposed site of Jesus' Baptism. Actually, the Isreali government has chosen a convenient site along the Jordan River and designated it a National Park. If there anything which challenged my faith and left me a bit disgusted, it was this location. My brother priests were joking, "All that's missing is Mickey and Minnie". The atmosphere they created is more like a carnival rather than the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Baptism. It's the perfect example of what happens of when you let government get a hold of religion. Enough of this place.

Our next stop was the city of Jericho in Palestinian territory. Jericho is the longest inhabited place in the world - approximately 10,000 years. Jericho is mentioned many times in the Bible. Most notably, in the Old Testatment when Joshua conquered the city for the Israelites. And in the gospel when Jesus and his disciples go there before "Going up to Jerusalem".

A 7000 year old tower of Jericho.
View of the modern city from the top of the ancient city wals.

We next headed to the Dead Sea to go swimming. There are no pictures. I went in the water and left my camera in the bus. There are some pictures that some of the other priests took that they will send my via e-mail. I'll post them here when I get them. The water in the ocean is 4% salty, the Dead Sea is 33% salt. The water feels oily and you cannot sink. When you float on your back, about half of your body remains above the water. Its great fun. And so is the shower after to rinse off all that salt.

We left the Dead Sea and the Jericho area to "Go up to Jerusalem". The last time I did this drive, it was a terrible road, turning and twisting through the mountains and ravines. Today the road is a modern 4 lane interstate highway. It remains uncomplete, it is so new. We stopped in the city of Bethany where Jesus visited Martha, Mary and Lazarus. There is a church there marking the place where Lazarus was buried. WE celebrated Mass there. It is a simple Greek cross, that means the four arms of the cross are of equal length. A dome sits above the crossing of the nave and transept. Here are pictures of the beautiful mosaics in the end of each arm of the cross.

Jesus teaching Martha, Mary and Lazarus, "I am the resurrection and the life."
Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb.
Mary washing the feet of Jesus at the home of Simon in Bethany.
Jesus saying to Martha that Mary has chosen the better part.
Leaving Bethany, we completed our trip into Jerusalem. We checked into the Notre Dame Center. We enjoyed a good dinner and some down time together in the roof-top bar. I returned to my room and logged on to find Pastor Don Bliss already at the Pilgrim United Church in New Bedford to prepare the program for tomorrow night. We did the sound checks, and I wandered around the hotel to find the best wi-fi hot spot to wend images and voice. Looks like I will be in the lobby. I am ready to Skype my presentation. Hope you will be there. I will have the chance to see you all as well. Looking forward to talking about Jesus, "going up to Jerusalem."

Blessings everyone.
Shalom from the city of Peace.