First about those pictures below: they are us during worship, in fact, during the biblical reflection. You can see how we are all in thought, processing the day’s experiences in the light of the scripture we have heard. There is so much to consider, imagine, reflect on.
The internet connection here in Jerusalem is really sketchy – I’ve tried to write this paragraph before and the connection is lost before I can upload it. Pictures? If I’m lucky – yesterday and before I was not; but now it’s Sunday!
I’ve just heard the sounds of the church bells ringing in the old city across the street.
Since we have been able to upload, we have taken the journey by bus from Galilee to Jerusalem, stopping on the way at several sites of note, the first of which was an enormous piece of aqueduct the Romans left behind. Water is key here – and always has been. Now it still is: when the Syrians cut off the water flowing from the snow run-off of Mt. Hermon in the North, on the Golan Heights, there was a major war – the 6 day war – that ended with Israel controlling that water supply by occupying the Golan. Here’s an idea: why not just build de-salination plants by which to remove the salt and stop the rapid drying up of the Sea of Galilee and solve it? Well, if you did, would that weaken Israel’s claim to have strategic reasons for keeping the Golan? So water is key, even as a political weapon.
After the aqueduct we went to Megiddo, or biblical Armageddon – the site of the future battle of the end of the world in John’s Apocalyptic vision (book of Revelation). Now Megiddo is a large hill rising up in the middle of a vast plane – from which you can see for miles around. It sits on the major road that traders took from the ancient empires of Egypt to the West and the land between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, or Mesopotamia to the east, home to a succession of empires: Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian in the biblical period. Whomever sat on that road, called the Via Maris (it runs near the sea) controls the whole valley of Jezreel, and the road, and the taxes that come from the traders. So it was a strategic site, which is why one civilization after another built a city there at Megiddo, in fact, 25 successive layers of occupation have been identified. What started as a hill is now a huge mound of cities on cities – but by the time John wrote his vision of the end of time at Armageddon, it had been unoccupied and abandoned – desolate – an apocalyptic scene of ruins without people. Perfect for the last battle at the end of time.
After Megiddo we went further South to the ruins of Herod the Great’s magnificent palace built to honor (to curry favor from) Roman emperor Caesar, hence the name Caesarea. His son followed his footsteps and later built his own Caesarea which is why the name Philippi is appended to it, but dad built the palace on the sea and used it as his HQ to govern Judea in just the way the Romans wanted him to do. The palace is complete with hippodrome and amphitheater – for the Roman pagan to enjoy life’s finest treats.
Finally in Jerusalem. Yesterday we started on the Mt. of Olives which sits across the Kidron valley from Jerusalem’s old city. The walls of the Old City that we see are Crusader-era walls, built on foundation stones that date back to the 4th century BC, visible in places like the corner (if I can ever get the picture to upload). This site has been occupied since Jesus’ time in the 1st century by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the Cursaders – all of whom have built on the ruins of the ones before. But sometimes – and only sometimes – you can get back down to the 1st century Roman level that Jesus would have stood on, as in the church on the Via Dolorosa which stands on the site of Herod’s Antonia fortress where Pilate came to visit during Jewish feast days – like the one on which Jesus was arrested. On the floor of that church are places where you can see the Roman flagstone rocks – and scratched into them is an odd thing that looks a bit like tic-tac-to, which was a Roman soldier’s game. So, there it is: Roman soldiers, from the time of Jesus, passing the time playing games on that stone that perhaps Pilate and (here’s a stretch – but who knows?) Jesus may have stood on. So, we are that close.
From the Mt. of Olives we went to the garden of Gethsemane – which means “olive press” where stand ancient olive trees, knarled and splitting, and spawning new growth – which “may” date back to Jesus.