On our first field trip out of the Old City, we learned about the approaches to Jerusalem. The very early morning (complete with a 6:15 breakfast call) began with a trip on the eastern side of Jerusalem along Mount Scopus with a view of the Wilderness with precious little goat paths. Looking over the Wilderness was a perfect accompaniment to reading Isaiah 40. The hills looked very distinct with the clouds cast dark shadows. The topography evening out would be a miraculous sight. We made out way across the saddle between the Augusta Victoria and the Church of the Ascension towers. We then made our way down the Mount of Olives with various stops along the way. It was fascinating to see the different sections of burial places from the modern Jewish tombs with stones placed atop rather than flowers as a way to honor the dead to the desecrated tombs below the garden to the Muslim cemetery across the Kidron Valley. We stopped at the Sanctuary of the Dominus Flevit for a reading from Luke 19 and 22. The final stop along the Mount of Olives was the Church of All Nations. It felt a little bizarre being inside a church with so many tourists. I adored the tiling on the ceiling. I’ve always been a big fan of Byzantine architecture, so I get very excited to see the real thing rather than the imitations like that of the Christian Science Center.
My favorite part of the day was going to the Herodian. I’m a huge fan of caves and keeps, so I was in archaeological heaven! I am interested in looking into the BAR’s articles on the possible Herodian tomb to compare evidence for what I really think. Without knowing any of the evidence, I would be surprised that he would have himself buried in the Herodian out of obvious paranoia for grave robbers. For those that don’t know, the Herodian is a giant structure that Herod the Great built within eye-sight of Jerusalem. It was basically a first stop on a flee route leaving the Holy City. This fortress is likely the greatest and most opulent of all the ones that Herod built–hence him naming it after himself. It’s worth looking at the proposed models of what archaeologists think the Herodian looked like since he basically chopped off one mountain and stuck it on top of another mountain. Pretty cool, right? It made for some great views of Bethlehem, the Wilderness, and the Dead Sea way off on the horizon.
Following the Herodian was a trip to Bethlehem which was not at all what I expected. I’m curious as to what it would be like without preparations for the Pope who will be there this Sunday. The Church of the Nativity had beautiful paintings and gardens, but it almost felt like a tourist trap with it being a commemorative site rather than an authentic site for Jesus’ birth. Visiting with these shop keepers has been my favorite market experience as of yet (besides the trusty Shabaan–a shopkeeper in the Old City who is the kindest Israeli I have met yet.) They were welcoming without the abrasive attitude of merchants in the Old City. Driving by some of the Banksy paintings was a thrill. It’s such a strange feeling to see the real placement of these pieces that I have looked at so many times online.
Overall, it was refreshing to get out of the city and get a feel of the greater topographic context. I’m looking forward to traveling around Benjamin tomorrow!