Monday, June 29, 2015

ISRAEL: CAESAREA

When our group left Jerusalem and headed for Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, we took a wide swing away from the West Bank to visit some ruins on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea was built by Herod the Great in about 25-13 BC to serve as the administrative center of the Judaean Province of the Roman Empire. In a very savvy move, Herod dedicated the city to the emperor, Caesar Augustus.                                                                                               Herod is the ruler referenced in Matthew 2 to whom the Magi came to inquire about the location of the King of the Jews, whose star they had seen in the east. Of course, Herod, as the current King of the Jews, was not too keen on having a rival, so he ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed. An angel warned Joseph in a dream of Herod's plot, and he and Mary and the infant Jesus fled to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod's death. When they returned, the family moved to Nazareth so as not to be under Herod's son Archelaus.

Herod the Great was an all-around bad dude. He was ambitious and cruel, a dreadful combination. In three different fits of jealousy, he had his brother-in-law murdered, and then his sons, and then his wife. Augustus noted, "It is better to be Herod's dog than one of his children."  No kidding.

On the other hand, Herod is probably called Herod "the Great" because of his massive building program, which included building Caesarea, building the fortress Masada, and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. He didn't skimp either. 

Clearly, Herod was an important man with a lot of power.
Sand dunes on the way to Caesarea
Caesarea is also a key Christian site. This is the city from which Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus. It was here that Paul converted the centurion Cornelius, the first non-Jew, after Paul had a vision in Joppa of the unclean animals caught in a net (Acts 10). Later, Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years, and during that time he defended himself to Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great. Paul told Agrippa about his sordid past as a Christian persecutor and about the vision that led to his conversion, and then he testified of Christ. Agrippa responded with the famous words: "Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26).

These days Caesarea is a very wealthy area. In fact, it has the only golf course in Israel, and it has a stunning beach:
We were there on a day when the radiant hue of the sky was surpassed by jewel tones of the Mediterranean Sea:
Clouds were moving in, and we needed to see the Mediterranean up close before the threat of rain became a reality:
. . . VERY up close:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

ISRAEL: TWO OLD TESTAMENT SITES--THE VALLEY OF ELAH AND MOUNT CARMEL

For most Christians, the draw of Israel is the New Testaments sites, but there are many wonderful Old Testament sites as well that are worth visiting. The bonus is that some of them have not been over-decorated with shrines and chapels and hanging crystal lanterns and crosses. They just are.

1. VALLEY OF ELAH
One of our excursions was to the Valley of Elah about 45 miles southwest of Jerusalem. It was the site of one of the most famous battles in history, the confrontation between the young Israelite shepherd David and the Philistine behemoth Goliath in about 1010 BC. 

 We prepared for the experience with special ceremonial foods, and we did indeed watch for (and see) many cyclists:


We saw interesting ruins along the way that date way, way back--at least to 2005.
The approach to the valley is covered with vineyards, and apparently this area has become an important piece in Israel's wine-making business:
 We got off the bus and walked across what looked like fertile farmland . . .

Sunday, June 21, 2015

ISRAEL: BEIT LEHI

One of the items on our itinerary that I was not all that excited about was a long drive out to Beit Lehi, an active archaeological dig 22 miles south of Jerusalem. However, the drive turned out to be very pleasant:
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain pontificated that Palestine is "a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds--a silent mournful expanse. . . . A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. . . . There was hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."
It's too bad that Twain visited this region in the middle of summer and right after the 1861 war between Christians and Muslims. We had the good sense to go in March when the fields were lush with new growth and there were PLENTY of cacti:
The further into the countryside that we drove, the more beautiful the scenery was:
Is this how you picture Israel?
Me neither.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

JERUSALEM: MISCELLANEOUS SIGHTS, SOUNDS, AND TASTES

Before I leave Jerusalem for other places in Israel, I have a few more pictures of places and things that caught my attention, along with some pictures of the delicious food we ate (always an important part of Cannon Travel).

This poster was plastered to a wall behind a bench. Maybe a bus stop? What's with the paper airplanes in the trees? I love it.

We saw Orthodox Jews everywhere, but I never felt comfortable snapping a picture. I took this one through the bus window. I have great respect for their devotion.

Israel is becoming more and more of a force in the international art world these days. I liked this modern sculpture in a random park and wish we could have gone to a few galleries:

The Rockefellers have a presence in Jerusalem? Yep. In 1925 John D. Rockefeller donated $2 million towards the building of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, a place to house the numerous artifacts discovered during excavations in the 1920s and 1930s:

We saw lots of different sections of the Old City Wall, which was in various states of repair and disrepair.
These walls were built between 1535 and 1538 during Ottoman rule. The total circumference is about 2.5 miles, which doesn't seem that long until you consider that the average height is forty feet and the average thickness is eight feet. That's a lot of stone.
On the other hand, I was stunned to learn that these walls only enclose about .35 square miles, but in that small space is the Muslims' Dome of the Rock and Al-aqsa Mosque; the Jews' Western Wall and Temple Mount, and the Christians' Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Old City is also divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and the Christian Quarter.
I don't know how many miles of streets there are inside those walls, but it's a lot more than you'd think. We needed a few more days to explore all of them.
There are a total of eleven gates, but only seven are open. This is the Damascus Gate and is where Stan just about lost his wallet to a pickpocket. Good thing Stan caught the guy with his hand in Stan's pocket.

The crescent on the gate . . .
. . . identifies this as a Muslim cemetery.
In the distance is the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane.

Everything in Israel is built out of "Jerusalem Stone," a kind of limestone found in and around Israel. It is a beautiful color--white, beige, pink, or gold--depending on the time of day.

One night we slipped out after dinner and went to Omar's woodcarving shop. He has a long-term relationship with the BYU students who study here and all the LDS tourists. In fact, his son studied at BYU-Idaho. We splurged big time and bought two of his pieces, a Tree of Life and an intricate nativity carved from a single piece of wood:

And, finally, there was the food. Yeah, the food was tasty. This was my dinner selected from the buffet at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem. They had a lot of different salads, including farro salad, which is my current favorite.
How about the color of this hard-boiled egg "white"? The shell was white, but inside it was a sun-kissed tan:
We enjoyed a few treats in the Old City, but the baklava and Turkish delight don't hold a candle to what we had in Instanbul. I think we needed to find an actual bakery rather than a storefront selling things made elsewhere:
We did have one sit-down meal with the Joneses in the Old City. We had stayed out late and missed dinner at the hotel, so we stopped in at a shish kebab place. 
The food was good, but the waiter was the best part of the meal. He was very friendly and talkative and told us he has 3 1/2-year-old triplets and newborn twins. so he works extra hours. I think his wife is a super star.
We weren't sure if he was working us for a higher tip, or if he was telling us the truth. 
He was such a happy, friendly feller that we opted for the latter and gave him the former.
The other options for dining that we had seen in that section of the Old City were not quite as appealing:
Bob was quite taken by this display and was wishing for either 1) a kitchenette in our room, or 2) a cook in the butcher shop.

The best street food we had in Israel was just around the corner from the gift shop of the Garden Tomb. Terry and Geneil went exploring and came back with falafel pitas that had us all drooling. They took us to their hidden gem, where we watched our falafel being shaped from this big bowl of ground beans . . .
. . . and then thrown in a big pot of hot oil. No sitting under a heat lamp to keep it warm for future customers. This is as fresh as falafel gets.
The man's son filled our pitas with all the good stuff shown here and topped it with some amazing sauce.
All of this for about $1.75. This place deserves a Michelin Star.

And if there is any question about the freshness of the ingredients, all we had to do was look across the street at the fruits and vegetables for sale:


Jerusalem is a feast for the senses. What we see, we remember--maybe. But what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch becomes part of us in a much deeper way. I can see why the BYU students who study in Jerusalem for six months all long to return. They carry a bit of Jerusalem around with them for the rest of their lives, as does anyone who embraces this amazing city.

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