Sunday, June 28, 2009

3rd Weekend Tour Part One

Our first stop is Herodion, one of the many projects Herod the Great took on during his reign over the Jews. Just to give you some background on Herod he was known to be a little paranoid and ended up killing his wife and some of his children because of it. He was also not in a position to be King of the Jews since his mother was an Arab pagan, this probably added to that paranoia.
You can see Herodion from far far it more of a volcano shaped compared to the rolling hills of the shephelah. Josephus describes it as looking like a women's breast ( when the fortress was at its height). Herod built Herodian as both a living quarter and a burial place. There are four main towers of Herodian and they are all on the 4 points of the compass.
Jesus is compared to Herod a lot in the scriptures. Herod moved tons of sand from a nearby mountain to build up Herodian...Jesus spoke of having faith to move mountains.
Just two years ago archaeologists found what they think is Herod's tomb....right where Josephus said it would be in the side of the mountain. Its still under excavation but a very decorative sarcophagus was found smashed to pieces which is likely showing the bitterness that people felt towards Herod.

Next we headed towards the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is now in Palestinian controlled West Bank. We have to drop off our tour guide before we enter thru the walls since he is an Israeli citizen and is not allowed to enter. As we enter we see tons of graffiti on the concrete says " to exist is to resist" and another has a dove wearing a bulletproof vest. We also see a shop called "Obama Pizza" and when we enter a store someone says "Shalom Obama"....hes a pretty popular guy huh?
As we go through the city we pass Rachel's tomb. Rachel was Jacob's wife and she died giving birth to Benjamin. Bethlehem is also known as the City of Kings since both King David and Jesus himself were born there.

The Church of the Nativity was first built by Constantine and had an octagonal shape-a symbolic shape to commemorate an event. However, Justinian came along and thought it was not grand enough so he tore it down and built it bigger and better on the same site.
Let me stop here and explain how crazy some of our Christian traditions are. Not crazy, like we shouldn't believe them but crazy in the fact that we have believed weird things due to tradition. In the gospel of Luke we are told that there is no room in the inn so Mary and Joseph are forced to stay in a stable.
First you have to remember that everyone was coming home for the census at this time. So all of Joseph's family was probably going back to his childhood home and therefore it was crowded. The inn was probably also overflowing so they chose to go back to Joseph's relative home and stay down in the "stable" instead of the upper room. The stable or cave was normally underneath the main house. Israelite's would build their homes on top of caves to add more storage to their home and a place to keep their animals. So yes, they probably were surrounded by animals but they were not out in the wilderness in a cave. Mary probably had the help of her in-laws family. That might ruin a few Christmas cards huh?
So as we enter the church we have to duck through a very low door. You can see three different door shapes though that get smaller. The theory is that the door got smaller and smaller to keep attackers from riding in on horses or to make sure you bow down as you enter. We go in and immediately are herded into a line to go down into the cave where Jesus was born. You are probably thinking " how sure are they that this is the site". We asked that question. Lots of places throughout Israel have a very strong tradition that helps to validate them. To have a strong tradition you need a) no other competing traditions and b) oral tradition that is consistent.
This site is one of the strongest traditions of all of the biblical places. There are NO other competing traditions for where the birthplace of Jesus was.
So then we stand in line for 1.5 hours ( and no there is not air conditioning and no, not everyone had on deodorant). As we descend into the cave our tour guide tells us " we had to put up asbestos on the wall to keep it from catching on fire" least that is what Adam and I hear. The cave is very small and there is tapestry on almost every wall. A fourteen point silver star is underneath what looks like a fireplace mantle and that is the spot where Christ was born .The 14 points represent Jesus' lineage from Abraham to David, David to captivity and captivity to Christ. As you turn to your left there is another area where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Actually the whole time you are down there you are underneath the main alter of the church of the nativity....only about 15 people can fit and even then you are tight. Adam and I take a picture touching the star. To be honest I wish I could have stayed down there and prayed or done some reflection but we are moved through very fast...i mean there are at least 1,000 more people behind us so you get 30 seconds to take your picture and you are out. The Church of the Nativity is owned by three different groups....Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic. Kings in the past would have been crowned here where Christ was born instead of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he died since they would not want to receive a crown of gold where Christ was crowned with thorns.
Thats enough for one blog.....make sure to check back later on for new and more accurate information on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.....turns out our Tour guide has been feeding us some Jewish traditions since he is Jewish and lately has been almost mocking the bible. So this weekend one of the bible professors came with us and gave us wonderful HISTORICAL information on the places we went and the places we have been. He showed us scripture and it was wonderful. You can also look up places for yourself and link up the scripture to these locations.

Pictures of Herodion and Church of the Nativity

1 comment:

  1. Discerning the difference between truth and tradition - the Christian conundrum