Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Old City Of Jerusalem

Today was a walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.  We began at the Dung Gate on the south wall of the city and left through the Damascus Gate on the north wall of the city.  It is not a long walk except for the way we did it.  After walking through the Dung Gate, we proceeded to an Israeli check point for entrance to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall.  The Western Wall for many years was a very small exposed portion of the original walls Herod built in 19 BC around the Temple Mount.  It is the holiest shrine of the Jewish world.  Immediately following the 1967 Six Day War, excavation around the Temple Mount began and now we are able to see and walk almost the entire length of the western wall from the southwest corner to the northwest corner and up into what was once the Antonio Fortress which overlooked the Temple.  The walk included an old Herodian (Roman period) street where Jesus would have walked which had been buried under rubble of the Temple when it was destroyed in 70 AD.  Access from the Herodian road or street to the area of the Antonio Fortress was through tunnels into cisterns which supplied water for the fortress.  Built over the remains of the fortress are several churches to commemorate the condemnation and flogging of Jesus and the beginning of His walk to Calvary.  

From the fortress we walk the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Grief" or "Way of Suffering") (a street in two parts within the Old City of Jerusalem) traditionally held to be the path Jesus walked, carrying His cross, on the way to His crucifixion. The winding route from the  Antonia Fortress west to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a distance of about 600 meters (2,000 feet).  However on our way we took a side trip to see a portion of the wall around Jerusalem built 1000-586 BC.  Then on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre originally built by Constantine over the area his mother was told was Calvary and the site of Jesus Tomb.  The church was rebuilt during the Crusader Period 1099-1291 AD.   

At this point it was time for lunch before continuing back to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.  This time we explored more excavation work and then walked to the south side of the Temple Mount to the Hulda Gates and the south steps of the Temple.  The Hulda gates are a set of three gates to enter and two gates to exit the Temple.  The steps have been buried under the rubble of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  Jesus and His disciples would have entered the Temple via these steps.  Jesus healed the lame and the blind on these steps.  Through these gates Jesus chased out those as he cleansed the Temple. Peter also healed the cripple on these steps.  The plan of the archeologists is to complete the excavation of these steps down to the Pool of Siloam.  

 Standing on the original Temple Steps at what would have been the Hulda Gate.

After the Temple stairs the group broke up and Eileen, Christine and I spent time in one of the archeological museums and then walked back to our hotel via the Damascus Gate with only one slight problem.  As we wandered through the streets towards the gate we saw one street with a nice vista at the end so we decided to give it a try.  As usual I was in the lead and as we came to the end of the street, I ignored the men I thought were trying to sell me something.  One man finally got my attention telling me it was closed.  I was taken back thinking a street was closed until I realized the Dome of the Rock was right in front of me.  They then explained it was closed to us not Muslims.  Tomorrow we are going up onto the Temple Mount but non-Muslims are only allowed from 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What a Special Sabbath

Today was another special day.  We started with a walk in a private section of the Garden of Gethsemane.  One member of our tour prepared a devotional on the Atonement and as she began the sun came out and shone on her face.  For the next half hour we quietly contemplated the meaning of the Garden of Gethsemane and looked across to the Golden Gate (this is a newer one (blocked up in the 1500's) just above the one Jesus went thru on His way to the Garden). As we went to leave and go to the Church of Many Nations it started to rain again.  This church is the traditional site of the rock where Jesus prayed.  Many of the trees in the Garden are over 2000 years old so they are referred to as Witness Trees.  From the Garden we went to the BYU Jerusalem Center which overlooks Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  Attending Sacrament Meeting (the Sabbath is on Saturday here) was very special as you sit looking over the city and the Temple Mount as you partake of the Sacrament and are taught.

View of the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount from the BYU Jerusalem Center

After Church we went to Bethlehem where we had an authentic Bedouin meal in a facility modeled after a Bedouin tent.  Thankfully it was much warmer than a tent would have been. Again the meal was delicious and way too much food.  From there we went to an area called the Shepherds’ fields.  We went into a grotto considered the traditional site of the announcement of the Saviors birth to the Shepherds.  We sang Oh Little Town of Bethlehem in the cave which sounded beautiful.  The hillsides are covered with similar caves where the shepherds kept their sheep at night – it gives you an idea of what it was like in those days and the importance of that announcement. The landscape photo above shows what shepherds fields look like today - there are many caves dotting the hillsides as well as housing now.  Next we visited The Church of the Nativity – the oldest church in Christendom.  It was built about 326 AD by Constantine after his mother Helena visited the area and was told this was the site of Jesus birth. The picture of the gateway shows how it was blocked up to keep people from riding their donkey's into the church.  Below the church is the Grotto of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.  When Elder Harold B. Lee visited the site he said “There seemed to be in this place a kind of spiritual assurance that this was indeed a hallowed spot although marred by centuries of, shall I say, unhallowed embellishment.”  This was probably the most crowded spot on our tour.  This ended our tour for the day which I think all our minds and bodies appreciated.  We have devotionals each evening which together with our fast pace touring has made us all very tired.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Touched By The Spirit

Today was one of those extra special lifetime experiences.  We started with a trip to Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  As we walked to the tunnel we looked over the Kidron Valley to the hillside where the Assyrian army camped in preparation to besiege Jerusalem approximately 700 BC.  The prophet Isaiah however had prophesized that the king of Assyria would not come against the city nor shoot an arrow against it.  The army went to sleep on the hillside and died during the night (I’ll let you find the scripture reference). The threat of the Assyrian invasion was the reason Hezekiah’s Tunnel was built.  He had his men build the tunnel starting at Gihon Spring and at the ending point which was the Pool of Siloam.  It was built to protect the women when they went to get water at the spring.  The spring was protected by walls but not from arrows from the hill across the valley.  We walked the tunnel which still supplies water for irrigation.   In some places it is mid-thigh deep.  That was quite the experience as the tunnel is very narrow and much of it you have to stoop to get through – it is also pitch black.  The really special experience however was after leaving the tunnel we walked up steps that have just been excavated in the past 6 years.  These steps are the same steps Jesus walked and in particular when Jesus gave sight to the blind beggar and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam - these are the steps where that event happen.  We then sat on the very steps that lead down into the Pool of Siloam even though the pool is only dirt because they cannot continue the excavation to restore the pool.

From there we went to Jericho the oldest and lowest city on earth.  We stopped to see the Valley of the Shadow of Death (the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in Jesus time).  In Jericho we saw the excavation of a watch tower from 8000 BC.  Next we saw a Sycamore tree that is believed to be 2000 years old and could have been there when Jesus invited the man down (again I’ll let you look up the reference as it is too late for me to even be very coherent).  Next we saw excavations of Herod’s Winter Palace.

Leaving Jericho we traveled up again  to Bethany to see the Church built over what is traditionally the tomb of Lazarus.  We also walked down into the traditional tomb of Lazarus.  It give a good opportunity to see what tombs were like in Lazarus day and place.  We then went to the Western Wall for the Jewish Sabbath and it was inspiring to see the devotion of these people. 

Our days are long and tiring so please forgive.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wadi Rum or Lawrence of Arabia

Yesterday was our last full day in Jordan and we traveled south from Petra to Wadi Rum which is not far from the Red Sea.  Wadi Rum is famous because of Lawrence of Arabia.  It was here that Lawrence of Arabia was able to bring together the Arab tribes to fight against the Ottoman Empire and eventfully win.  We traveled south along the ancient caravan route from the Red Sea to Damascus.  It took us high into the mountain into snow once again then south to Wadi Rum.  We visited Lawrence Spring named because of the natural spring.  It was originally one of the many Nabatean Caravan station for protection of their caravan routes.  Because of the spring, Lawrence of Arabia decided to use this place as a staging ground for the organization of the Arab tribes in the area to defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.  We traveled a short distance from the spring to a Bedouin family tent (so short the spring provided water for the family).  They invited us into their tent for tea and cookies (only our Arabic guide had the tea) and a Q&A session.  Their 20 year old son was our guide through Wadi Rum.  The tent is made of goat hair and while it doesn’t look like it would keep you dry they say when it rains the hair absorbs the water and seals the tent.  There is a partition that separates the men and women when there are outsides like us so we did not see the women.  They have no running water or electricity yet they have cell phones (they go to the Wadi Rum Visitors Center to charge the phones).  The 20 year old son is the oldest and is planning to marry soon and continue the same life as his family has in this same spot for over 100 years.  His great-grandfather helped Lawrence of Arabia bring the tribes together at the spring.  From there we went to a canyon that was only a few feet wide where we saw carvings on the walls from 100-200 BC including ancient Chinese characters.  We then went to our lodgings which is a Bedouin camp/guest house.  You can sleep in tents or rooms – considering we can’t seem to get warm we opted for the rooms even though they were still cold.  We had a Bedouin dinner and then off to bed with no TV or internet.

This morning we were still cold and Eileen actually skipped her shower even though the water was hot.  We drove south this morning to the Red Sea and then north along the east side of the Dead Sea.  We crossed the border into Israel just north of the Dead Sea.  We had to get off the but and go through 3 different check points and luckily we made  it through without incident.  We arrive in Jerusalem in time for a shower to get rid of the smoke smell from the night before (We did have a great Bedouin breakfast).  We then had a quick tour through the Damascus Gate and walked along the north wall of the Temple site.  After a great dinner we had an orientation session that was wonderful - we have a great tour operator.  No pictures from today as I had so much trouble getting the internet to work here that I am just going to do yesterdays pictures hopefully. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Those WOW Moments - Petra Jordan

This is one of those moments when as you walk through a canyon you suddenly see the most unexpected view.  Of course if you have seen the Indian Jones movies you are not completely surprised but still it is something else to experience.  This area was settled in approximately 100-200 BC by the Nabateans.  It is believed this structure was carved out of the mountain in 100 BC area.  The Nabateans left no records so they only have what other wrote about them.

This is the Treasury so famous in the movies.  It is actually a religious structure and not a Treasury as the legends said.  It is cut right our of the mountain starting at the top down.  The interior space was removed as blocks to use to build their houses.  While this looks like street level the plaza in front of the building was 20 feet lower.  They have excavated the rubble that has filled the area and found entrances to this structure 20 feet down.  The government will not allow further excavation though as it would make getting tourists in more difficult and they don't want to interfere with tourism.  The area was abandoned in 746 AD after a major earthquake destroyed all buildings and housing.  The poor people who were unable to leave moved into the tombs which are numbered in the thousands as most of what was built in the valleys were tombs and the housing was out in the flat land.

The building above is a Temple that was just recently discovered as it was all buried under rubble.  On the road is what is left of Hadrian Arch.  All of this area was buried during the earthquake in 749 AD and not discovered until 1815 AD.  This picture is taken from what was the residential area that was completely destroyed.

One of the other most famous structures is the Monastery which is reached via 900 steps.  To do that trip you can take a donkey and then walk down.  Eileen didn't think her knees would make it and I should have followed her direction.  I took the donkey ride that ended up to be more than I bargained for.  The saddle came loose and rolled over the donkey leaving me laying on the ground upside down with one leg under the donkey and one high in the air.  My biggest worry was the donkey stepping on me but he stayed still until I got myself freed.  The trip down was the killer though.  The Monastery is amazing.  It was carved out of the mountain as a religious center and had free standing statues in the niches but they fell and were most likely destroyed.  They are considered to be in the debris that filled this are too and is about 20 feet deep too.

The picture above shows camels which we did ride for about a most uncomfortable 1/2 mile.  By the time we rode the camels Eileen had taken 145 pictures and her camera was dead.  I had take 79 and my phone was dead so we have to wait for pictures taken by our fantastic tour operator.

The picture to the right shows steps going up to the horizontal line which is the remains of a clay pipe drinking water line.  The steps were for maintenance of the pipe.  The lower steps have been eroded away.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Amman, Mt Nebo, Petra

Great breakfast then off to see the Amman Citadel with great Greek and Roman ruins.  Then a Roman amphitheater where you could stand on an x and hear your voice return to you.  I climbed to the top forgetting my knees but the view of the amphitheater is so much more impressive from on top (notice our tour left me).  We then headed to Mt Nebo where Moses was allowed to see the Promise Land.  We have a great tour guide but even better is our tour operator who does archeological digs in Jordan.  He is able to add more insight.  He said while Mt Nebo is the traditional site he says there is so much archeological evidence that has been unearthed in the area to make it fairly sure this is where Moses viewed the Promise Land.  The big round stone is also most likely similar to the one that would have been at the Garden Tomb.  The width of the stone is the same at the trough for the stone at the tomb.  From there we went to a Church with the oldest known map of the Holy Lands done in mosaic on the floor.  Again our tour operator specializes in historic maps and he said this one is so accurate to the time that it is believed the mosaic was done from an actual map.  On to Petra where we arrived to snow.  Can you believe we traveled to the Holy Lands to find snow - yes we have been cold and expect it tomorrow too.  Having a great time with our group of 13.  Slow connection speed so don't know how many I will get posted.