The Old City of Jerusalem

As most tours of Israel must do, we started with a very long travel day. Very Long. We left Grand Rapids about 3:30. The bus ride was smooth and we had no traffic or weather delays (which is unusual), passed through security quickly and with no hassles (also quite unexpected). Our Lufthansa flight had a layover in Frankfurt and the connection to Tel Aviv was delayed. Bottom line, we ended up and the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem after 1AM. The staff at the Leonardo was very accommodating and laid out a nice snack for us even though the kitchen was long closed by the time we arrived.

Grace Christian University

Fortunately our guide was flexible and we delayed our first day’s activities until 10AM. Most people had a good night’s sleep, some a little two good and we had to pound on a few doors. We did a quick drive around the Old City, visiting the overlook at Mount Scopus. We walked through the Jaffa Gate and made our way through the Armenean Quarter to Zion Gate to visit the Upper Room and the Tomb of David. Neither of these sites are particularly authentic, but the whole area around the Church of the Dormition has been refurbished. Although we did not visit the church, it was until recently known as Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion and commemorates the the location of Mary’s death. Other than several very large groups jockeying for position the students enjoyed the view from the rooftop over the Kidron. The day was clear enough to see the outline of the Herodium, that is not always possible.

We then walked into the Jewish Quarter to see the Byzantine Cardo. This is the Roman street which was discovered after the Six-Day war. Compared to other Roman cities, this main street through the city is on at all well preserved, but they have set up some art to give us an idea of what it might have looked like. From there we walked over to the viewing point for Hezekiah’s wall. Only a small part is exposed, but this is the wall Hezekiah built before the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 18; Nehemiah 3:8; Isaiah 22:9-10). After lunch (falafel for me) we walked down to the  Western Wall Plaza. For those who have been to Jerusalem, the viewpoint about halfway down the stairs is closed for repair; the large menorah has been moved up into the plaza in the Jewish quarter. Since we were there in the afternoon the crowds at the wall were small and I had several good conversations about the history of the Western Wall with students (and got a blessing from one of those random beggars who was not happy with a non-paper “gift”).

Dome of the Rock

We then did a tour of the Temple Tunnel, something I have not done for several years. Quite a bit has changed, especially in the first part of the tour (including a a new synagogue and several nice stairways. The tunnel follows the Western Wall underground for about 1500 feet. There are a number of places with first century paving stones and at least one spot that dates to the Hasmonean period.

Temple Tunnel Tour

The exit to the tunnels is across from the Church of the Flagellation, the traditional site where Jesus was flogged by the Romans; it is the second station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. We walked past many of the other stations to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Our guide took in the “back way” (which sounded sneakier than it really was). We basically avoided the crowd by cutting through the Ethioptic church to enter the plaza in front of the church. The Church of Holy Sepulcher is really a collection of churches and chapels on the traditional site of Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. I took some of the students to Golgotha and had a good discussion of the value of traditions which support the site (some are very good, others are very weak). The line to enter the actual tomb of Jesus was very long so I took the students into the Syrian Chapel. There are usually very few people in the Syrian chapel, but there are two first century tombs in the back of the chapel which are good illustrations of the tomb people are waiting an hour or more to enter.

Se ended the day by walking through the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate and up to the Garden Tomb. As always, this is simply a lovely spot to read the story of the resurrection and reflect on Jesus’s death and burial. It is irenic, especially when compared to the Holy Sepulcher. All things considered, the Holy Sepulcher has a better claim on being the actual location of the crucifixion and location of Jesus’s tomb, but the Garden Tomb is a much better place to actually worship. After a very nice orientation by the Garden Tomb’s own guide we entered the tomb and then celebrated communion. Since we were the last group of the day, most of the students were able to spend a few minutes privately reading Scripture or praying in the quiet garden.

Garden Tomb

We have a big day planned tomorrow at the Yad VaShem and the Israel National Museum (the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jerusalem Model and the archaeological wing of the national museum).

Acts 21 – Paul vs. James

Paul and JamesWhen Paul arrives in Jerusalem, he meets with “James and the Elders.”  As it turns out, there are many Jews in Jerusalem who believe Jesus is the Messiah yet are still following the Law (21:20).  This is not unexpected since Jesus said he did not come to destroy the Law nor did Jesus ever teach his disciples to reject the Law or Temple worship. Jesus did reject the traditions of the Pharisees, but he lived as any Jew might have in the first century. It is better to see Jesus calling his disciples to a deeper engagement with the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus wants his followers to obey not only the letter, but also the spirit of the Law.

James, the Lord’s Brother, has emerged as a leader in the Jerusalem church. When Paul arrives he gives a report (ἐξηγέομαι) of how God is working among the Gentiles. While the elders of the community rejoice and praise God for this, James moves quickly from what God is going among the Gentiles to a potential problem with Paul’s missionary activity. James describes the Jerusalem church as very large, the NIV has “thousands,” translating the Greek “myriads” (μυριάς). While this might seem like hyperbole, several thousand people accepted the apostolic teaching in Acts 2 and 3. It is likely additional converts in the many years that have passed and there are still a large number of Jesus-followers in and around Jerusalem at this time.

There are some among this Jewish Christian community who think that Paul has made a grace error by teaching Jews who have accepted Jesus as Messiah to turn away from the Law (v. 21).  Certainly Paul taught Gentiles they were not under the law. The letter to the Galatians is a strong condemnation of Gentiles trying to keep the Law.

With respect to Jews who are in Christ, there is no specific text which clearly indicates Paul told Jews to continue keeping the law and traditions of Israel. It may or may not be the case that Paul considered ceremonial law and traditions matters of indifference.

Ben Witherington thinks it is at least possible Paul considered traditional Jewish practices as no longer required in the present age. Galatians could be read as a repudiation of the Law, although it seems that Paul only has in mind Gentile converts. But this may be the heart of the problem: the church Paul has created is something new and different.  People are converting to a belief in Jesus as savior apart from Law rather than converting to Judaism or converting to a particular messianic conviction within Judaism (Acts, 648).

If members of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem had read Galatians, they may have wondered if Paul had rejected the Law himself. If rumors of his “all things to all men” ministry model reached Jerusalem, then it is likely there were Jewish Christians who thought Paul has gone too far in his desire to reach the Gentiles.

Luke certainly describes James and the Elders as polite and welcoming, but there are lingering questions about Paul’s ministry method. Luke does not create an artificial unity here, he reports a real tension in the early church over a critically important issue, the status of Gentiles in the church as well as the role of the Law.

To what extent do these two issues continue to be a problem in Acts and Paul’s letters? Is this tension still a problem in the modern church, even after the Reformation?

Acts 5:13 – No One Else Dared Join Them

The first few chapters indicates that there was remarkable growth in Jerusalem after Pentecost.  But in Acts 5:13, Luke tells us “none of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” Even those within the church were greatly afraid.

AnaniasFor insiders, Spencer points out two factors which may have enhanced the fear of the church. Ananias and Sapphira were not outsiders who joined the church without fully understanding what they were getting into. These were part of the group who were “of one mind” in 4:32 and had decided to sell property to help the community. If these full members of the community were caught in a sin worthy of death, what of the rest of the group?

Second Spencer, draws a parallel to the shame of Adam and Eve. Ananias and Sapphira are the first of the new community to sin and be judged with death (75). While we know Jesus’ death atoned for sin, the earliest community had not worked out all of the implications of the death and resurrection and were quite seriously living with expectant hope in the return of the Lord almost immediately. They are the first “new covenant believers” to die, therefore any member of the community is in danger of not surviving to the return of Jesus.

Perhaps this is a result of the death of Ananias and Sapphira. Acts 5:11 says not only was the whole church greatly afraid, but anyone who heard about the deaths was also afraid. For outsiders, the deaths meant the Jesus movement dealt with infractions quite seriously indeed! It is likely the rumors of the untimely deaths of Ananias and Sapphira but a damper on evangelism, and no outsiders dared join them, although v. 14 says “more believers were added.”

Craig Keener understands the fear in 5:11 more positively, since fear is often a response to God’s work in Luke and Acts. He gives several examples both in Acts and other literature of the positive nature of “fear falling” on a person. But not all his data supports a positive response: Acts 19:17 indicates fear came on both Jews and Greeks in Ephesus as a result of the beating of the Sons of Sceva and the name of Jesus was extolled (μεγαλύνω, the same word as Acts 5:13). The people who were afraid were outsiders and the result is they spoke highly of God, but the text does not say they became disciples.

In fact, in Acts 5:13, Luke chooses a verb (κολλάω, kollao) which as the sense of clinging to something very closely. For example, dust clings to a cloak (Luke 10:11) or a man to his wife (Matt 19:5) or a man to a prostitute (1 Cor 6:9). The connection is of a very close, intimate relationship.  Luke uses the term in Acts 17:34 to describe individuals who become disciples of Paul. The word appears in 1 Macc 3:2 with the same sense as the brothers of Judas Maccabees join their father to fight for Israel.

In Acts, it seems to me people outside of the apostolic community respected the apostles, but they were increasingly less likely to join in their community. Why? Perhaps they did not want to suffer the fate of Ananias and Sapphira, but it is also possible the growing popularity of the apostles inevitably would lead to confrontation with the Temple aristocracy. Keener suggests this fear may have even prevented other Christians from joining the apostolic community (2:1199).

There were other followers of Jesus who did not sell possessions to support the poor or go up to Solomon’s Portico to preach and teach. These were respectful but afraid of the community led by Peter and John and may have wanted to avoid confrontation with the authorities. Could one “accept Jesus as Messiah and Savior” without joining Peter’s community? Possibly, since Stephen and Philip seem to consciously expand the movement away from the Temple to the Hellenistic synagogue and later to the Samaritans.

Bibliography: F. Scott Spencer, “Scared to Death: The Rhetoric of Fear in the ‘Tragedy’ of Ananias and Sapphira.” Pages 63-80 in Reading Acts Today. London: T&T Clark, 2011.

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.