GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 5 – From the East of Jerusalem

We had another great day in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. We began the day at the traditional drop off point on the Mount of Olives in front of the Seven Arches Hotel. When we arrived we were almost the first bus, so there were only a few people looking out over the Kidron Valley. Several of our people wanted to ride Kojak the Camel, so by the time we were done, there were many tourists crowding the viewpoint.image

After the traditional group picture, we walked down the Mount of Olives to Dominus Flevit. This is the traditional site where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We took a few minutes to read from the book of Luke, beginning of the triumphal entry at the top of the Mount of Olives and his brief pause to lament Israel’s rejection of his messianic claims. We had a good time of questions and answers about this passage as we looked out at the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. One of the highlights of this particular location is a small cave just inside the entrance containing quite a few ossuaries, or bone boxes. This is an indication the Mount of Olives has been used for burials for centuries.

 

From Dominus Flevit we walked down to the garden of Gethsemane. This is the traditional site of Jesus’ prayer after the Last Supper, his betrayal and arrest. We walked around the small olive grove to the Church of all Nations. Many of our group went into the church to see the so-called “agony stone,” and we gathered on the front steps of the church to read again from the book of Luke.

imageAfter visiting Gethsemane, we crossed the busy street and walk down into the Kidron Valley to see the Tomb of Absalom. While this rather spectacular tomb has nothing at all to do with Absalom, the national parks authority has created a nice walk along these famous Hasmonean era tombs. This walk now includes stairs going up the east side of the valley leading to the City of David. It is a bit of a long walk, but it was honestly a lot easier than trying to finagle the bus to pick us up and carry us to the City of David.

I have visited the City of David many other times, but this is the first time I have watched the “3-D movie” about the location. To be honest expected the worst, since most National Park films are not particularly well done. In fact this was occasionally quite cheesy. But for the most part the information was good and I thought the 3-D animations of the City and how Hezekiah’s tunnel was constructed were fairly well done. Nothing struck me as particularly out of sync with the Bible, although was a great deal of Israeli nationalism in the film. It was only 20 minutes and gave the students an introduction to the overall importance of the City of David. If you visit this location and have the time I would recommend watching the film.

The obvious highlight of the visit to the city of David is of course Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Once again I have visited the tunnel many times before, but this is the first time I have been through the tunnel  since the completion of the construction project and multimedia presentation. Once you get to the bottom of the tunnel you can now see the Gihon spring, and there is a brief multimedia presentation showing how the tunnel cuts through the hillside. I was quite impressed with the amount of work on this particular part of the tour, after many years of work.

One other new feature is a small desk selling small flashlights for five shekels for those who did not bring a flashlight for the wet tunnels. If you’ve never been through the wet tunnels you need to know ahead of time that there is no lighting in them whatsoever. Once we finished with this section we experienced the “parting of the ways” as a handful of our party entered Hezekiah’s tunnel while the rest of us took the less-adventuresome (safe and sane) route through the Canaanite dry tunnels.

We met the brave souls who passed through the wet tunnel at the pool of Siloam at the bottom of the city of David. There was less new work there than I had hoped. You can still walk back up the sewer line and see the Herodian era steps, but they really have not improved the section in many years. Based on what I saw the last time I visited, I expected significant progress to have been made, perhaps exposing more stones and improving the presentation of the pool in general. Other than a much better system for paying for the shuttle up to the Dung Gate, there was really nothing different at the pool of Siloam.

The Canaanite Tunnels

The Canaanite Tunnels

Side Note: I’m always surprised at the two or three people selling “authentic Roman coins” found right there in the excavations. I’m really not sure why that sort of thing as tolerated since it is fairly obvious that they are fake coins. Honestly, if someone walks up to you on the street and tries to sell you an “authentic Roman coin for the special student price of $10,” that ought to be a fairly good indication the coins are fake.

Instead of what I had planned, I walked the group from the Dung Gate to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (rooster). This is the traditional site of the home of Caiaphas, the high priest who arrested Jesus. There was a crusader church at the location but the church is relatively recent. At the very least the archaeology underneath the church was a priestly home in the sight of the temple itself. If it is not Caiaphas is home it is certainly a good example of a wealthy, aristocratic home. Many people believe Jesus was kept in a cistern near the bottom of the house. Since Jesus was kept her overnight, Peter remained in the courtyard where he denied Christ three times “before the rooster crows.” Many students found the unexpected visit a good experience.

After Gallicantu, I marched the group through the Zion Gate and over to the Jewish Quarter. Since Sabbath was near, shops were closing and there were few tourist groups. We took a few moments to view the remains of the Roman Cardo (once again demonstrating how deep second century Jerusalem really is). We also stopped for a brief view of Hezekiah’s wall. We were a bit early for the bus, so everyone browsed the shops near Jaffa Gate (while I enjoyed an iced coffee).

We ended up walking just about seven miles again, which was more than I had planned. But I will make up for it tomorrow, since we will leave early for Caesarea and eventually Ma’agan Holiday Resort in Galilee.

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On the Mount of Olives

 

 

 

 

 

 

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 4 – Museum Day in Jerusalem

imageToday was a “museum day,” something I have not done quite this way before. We began at Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This is one of the best designed museums I have ever visited. A person can walk through the story of the Shoah from the beginnings of anti-Semitism and the rise of Hitler through the horrific events in the ghettos and death camps. There are numerous video interviews with survivors who tell their stories, many of these devastate me even though I have heard them several times. If you have the time to read the hundreds of displays you will have a full education in world history surrounding the Holocaust. While there are a few this that betray a bit of a slant, overall I think this is a museum all people should experience.

I am always interested in the reactions of my students as they encounter the story in more detail than an American usually hears. I think this group is one of the more serious I have had the pleasure of leading, and they asked several excellent questions along the way. I was surprised, however, that several did not really realize the Christian community not only was silent when the worst was happening, but participated in the crimes of the Holocaust. One asked me when the Nazis started coming after Christians. My response (“these were the Christians!”) shocked the student.

For those who are a bit younger, it is impossible to imagine the kind of police state that could enforce the crimes against humanity described in detail in the Yad VaShem. To me, this is the question the present generation must deal with. The events of the last week in Baltimore indicate a peaceful nation can be torn apart suddenly. The Christian church cannot be silent about racism against any people nor should we actively participate in attacks against people based on irrational prejudice.

imageFor the first time in many years I took a group to the Israel Museum. After walking around Jerusalem yesterday, most on the students were very interested in the model of Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period. While there a few odd things in the model I don’t quite understand, it is a wonderful teaching tool and most of the students actively participated in our discussion at the model.

We walked through the Shrine of the Book, the hall that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most are Sectarian, although there is a nice display of 1QIsaa showing the best features on the book. This Dead Sea Scroll exhibit is good, but anyone who has studied the Scrolls should have a good grasp of the displays already. I do recommend some time spent in the lower level, which tells the story on the Aleppo Codex. (I do not recommend spending much time in the “nano-Bible” room.)

We walked over to the main museum and I let the kids have something to eat and the walk through the archaeological wing at their own pace. I naturally skipped lunch to spend maximum time looking over the excellent collection. I would estimate an interested visitor could spend several hours in this section alone! There are too many highlights to list here, but I thought the early history of Canaan was particularly good, and there were several important inscriptions on display from the later Second Temple period. There might be a rumor going around I “giggled like a school girl” on one occasion, but that remains unconfirmed.

We start early tomorrow at the Mount of Olives. It will be a long walking day, but very exciting.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 3 – Seven Miles in Jerusalem

Today was a very long walk from our hotel to the Old City of Jerusalem. According to several step-counters people wore, we walked about 7 miles today. One estimate was higher, but the other two were a bit lower, but based on how my feet feel, 7 miles is just about right.

On the Old City Ramparts

 We started walking for our hotel Garden Tomb, a short walk from our hotel. As always the Garden Tomb is a delight. The grounds are a well-kept garden and the staff guides have always been very good. What I particularly appreciate is the clear message that it does not matter if this was the real tomb of Jesus, the only this that is important is that he is not in the tomb! In fact, there is almost no chance this was the tomb of Jesus, but the Garden Tomb is a lovely place to think about the death and resurrection. We had a short communion service (accompanied by the loudest sparrow in all Israel).

From the Garden Tomb we walked up the hill to Jaffa Gate. I will admit the hill is a bit steeper than I remember. We (ok, I) stopped about halfway up the hill to catch our breath, and while I was standing there young man approached me and asked if I was leading a tour. I thought this was perhaps a tour guide trying to find a job, but it ended up being a gentleman from Serbia who is visiting Jerusalem for one day and hope to be able to join us as we visited a few sites. He ended up being a great addition to the group and we had a nice talk over lunch about history and politics.

We did the Rampart walk from the Jaffa Gate to the Damascus Gate. This walk gives the students an overview of two or three sections of the city. The highlight for me is the  Hadrian-era Damascus Gate, since this shows how deep underneath the present “old city” the first and second century city of Jerusalem really is. Unfortunately the gate is not accessible as it once was. I used to be able to walk under the existing Damascus Gate and go through the the gate back up to the Ramparts. All this is locked out now.

From the Damascus Gate we headed back to visit the Western Wall. I had intended to visit the Pool of Bethesda, but we did not get off the Ramparts until noon, the site was closed. We did stop for lunch (your choice, pizza, schwarma or falafel) and an icy  lemon mint  drink.

The Western Wall plaza has not changed much since the last tour, although I noticed they moved the entrance to the Temple Tunnels back by the security checkpoint. The Herodian excavations are not open to the public, and the people at the gate resisted my plea for a quick look. I this this is going to be a very nice addition to a Jerusalem tour in the future.

I took the group up the steps toward the Jewish Quarter so the could buy some cold water or maybe an ice cream. Unfortunately the toilets were under repair, so several of us (mostly Zac) were in great need.   After most of the group bought t-shirts of American sports teams in Hebrew, we cut back through the city to the Holy Sepulchre.

Outside the Holy Sepulchre

The Holy Sepulchre is one of those places your need to visit on a tour to Israel,although I am never really happy about it. It is of great historical significance, but it is also a place where many legends about Jesus are perpetuated to serve the faithful. Is the is real site of Golgotha and the Tomb? Perhaps, and there is a better chance this is the site than the Garden Tomb, but as a Protestant, I think the place obscures the truth more than is expected.

Back to the Leonardo Hotel for a great dinner, although not everyone appreciates beef tongue like I do.

Acts 15 – The Significance of the Jerusalem Council

Darrell Bock makes an important observation concerning this “council.” He suggests it ought to be called a consultation rather than a council since it is not like the later “church councils” which decided doctrine for the church (Nicea, for example). This is true, although I think Bock does not take this far enough. Paul does not submit his Gospel to the elders at Jerusalem and he certainly is not requesting permission to waive the requirements of the Law for Gentiles. Nor is he described as arguing his case or reaching a compromise with the apostolic community in Jerusalem.

As Paul and Barnabas moved into Asia Minor they evangelized Gentiles who were not connected with a Synagogue. These are not God-fearing Gentiles like Cornelius. Paul was expanding his mission into areas (geographically and culturally) the Jerusalem church would not have naturally considered as their “mission field.” As Gentiles accepted Christ and began to fellowship with ethnic Jews, some problems arose primarily concerning the Gentiles not keeping of the Law. These teachers are sometimes called “the Judaizers” since they were interested in converted the Gentiles to a form of Second Temple Judaism.

apostles-creed3The core of the problem is that up until Paul, Christianity was a messianic movement within Judaism. The people accepting Christ in Jerusalem (and even Antioch) were not rejecting the Law. They remained fully “Jewish” in every sense. They maintained ritual purity as they always had, they ate only clean foods, and may have continued the practice of circumcision for converts to the faith. For many of the earliest followers of Jesus, Christianity was not a “new religion” as much as a reform movement within Judaism.

This conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile (Pauline) Christians was the first major problem in the church Luke reports, although Gal 2 describes Paul’s conflict with Peter and Barnabas over table fellowship. It is possible Luke alludes to the the Antioch Incident in Acts 15:1-2, but this is unlikely since the main issue in Acts is circumcision of Gentile converts, not eating with Gentiles.

Acts 15:1-2 says people from Jerusalem travelled to Antioch and were teaching people were not saved unless they were “circumcised according to the custom of Moses.” I will deal with the idea of “circumcision for salvation” in my next post, but at this it is enough to observe that some Jews refused to recognize Gentiles as “right with God” if they were not fully converted to Judaism, including circumcision.

Is it surprising there was a serious break between some teachers in Jerusalem and Paul with respect to Gentile salvation? This is the first generation of the Church, yet there is a serious problem caused by Gentiles accepting the Jewish Messiah as savior. How deep is the rift between Paul and these teachers?

Issues at the Jerusalem “Council”

As Paul and Barnabas moved into new territory they evangelized the Gentiles directly. After the initial contact in a town at the synagogue, the work of evangelism focused on the Gentiles of the community. The new church was expanding into areas that the Jewish church would not have naturally seen as their “mission field.” As Gentiles accepted Christ and began to fellowship with ethnic Jews, some problems arose primarily concerning the Gentiles not keeping of the Law.

jerusalem-councilWe know from Acts 10 that Peter was instructed by the Lord to preach the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and God-Fearer. Peter was hesitant to do so, and after he returns to Jerusalem the Jewish Christians there question Peter closely about why he had entered into the house of a Gentile. Peter appears to have understood that salvation was moving into the Gentile world. But Paul was doing more than preaching to God-Fearers in the synagogues who were keeping most of the Law in the first place. He was preaching the gospel to Gentiles and telling them that they did not have to keep the Law in order to be saved. This means that they did not have to worry about Jewish food laws or circumcision, two of the most fundamental boundary markers for the Jew in the first century.

The core of the problem is that up until Paul, Christianity was a messianic movement within Judaism. The people that were accepting Christ in Jerusalem (and even Antioch) were not rejecting the Law, they remained fully “Jewish” in every sense. They maintained ritual purity as they always had, they ate only clean foods, and they continued the practice of circumcision for converts to the faith. This conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile (Pauline) Christians was the first major problem in the church. The issue appears in several of Paul’s letters (Galatains primarily, but it is also found in 1 Corinthians and Colossians as well. Romans 9-11 deals with the problem of the Jews in the current age.)

Darrell Bock makes an excellent observation concerning this “council,” it ought to be called a “consultation” rather than a council since this is not anything like the later “church councils” that decided doctrine for the church. This is quite true, although Bock does not take this far enough. Paul does not take his doctrine that Gentiles are not required to keep the Law to Jerusalem in order to have it approved by the apostolic community. He does not argue his case and accept the will of the apostolic community. Rather, he reports what it is that God has been doing and the “Judiazers” accept Paul’s position on the issue.