Saturday, March 7, 2009

Israel Pictures, Take 4

Day 4: Friday, February 27, 2009 - Bet Alfa mosaic synagogue floor; Bet She'an (the city where Saul's armour was put on display after his death); Qumran (discovery place of the Dead Sea scrolls); Jerusalem - traditional blessing at the Western Wall; Bethlehem (Church of the Nativity).

The mosaic floor discovered in the old synagogue in Bet Alfa. Interestingly, the mosaic is of the zodiac, which would have qualified as making an image in the synagogue. The mosaic gives the story of the men of the synagogue hiring someone to do the mosaic for them, thus they were not guilty of making the image. Below the mosaic is the story of Abraham offering Isaac on Mt. Moriah.

These are some of the ruins of the Roman city of Bet She'an. The ancient city, where Saul's armour hung, is up on the hill (top right corner of green hill in picture - also see next picture). The village of Bet She'an had very high unemployment. Once the hippodrome was discovered, they decided to employ the townspeople by digging for the city. This is what they unearthed! Unfortunately, it started to downpour just as we entered the ruins. We saw the amphitheatre, the bathhouses, and the Cardo (main street) and then we made a mad dash for the bus!

The ancient city of Bet She'an

This is the cave at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Qumran is the settlement of the Essene sect that left Jerusalem in order to concentrate more fully on the Scriptures and living a pure life. We saw the ruins of many, many ritualistic baths used by the society. The Essenes hid the scrolls in the cave when discovery by the Romans was imminent.

This is a view of the Dead Sea (and the country of Jordan on the other side) from Qumran.

While at Qumran we received the news that it was pouring rain in Jerusalem. The rain was much needed - only the second rain of the winter.

When we arrived in Jerusalem the bus driver pulled up to the curb on a narrow street and we were told to unload for a quick trip. Then our guide, Shimon, asked us to wait. We waited. In the rain. Soon he returned and followed him - in the pouring rain - to a security booth and metal detectors. We had no idea where we were, or what was happening. We passed through security. The rain was driving in sheets, and the wind turned our umbrellas inside out. We were quickly soaked. I thought we were going to dash to the other side of the plaza where shelter was visible. But as we reached the middle of the plaza, we stopped and Shimon began pouring cups of grape juice! This was insane! We were the only group standing in the pouring rain in the middle of a have grape juice? Apparently it is a tradition upon arriving in Jerusalem. The plaza led to the Western Wall. Shimon quickly said the traditional blessing, we downed our juice, and ran back to the bus. It was too late. We were drenched beyond repair. But, as Shimon we will never forget it!!!

Bethlehem is governed by the PLO, so our bus driver and Shimon were unable to accompany us into the city. We went to a "neutral" area and a "Christian" bus picked us up to conduct our tour of Bethlehem. All of this transfer occurred in the rain. Our guide was Gabriella, and she was a master of at least seven languages (that I counted). She took us to the Church of the Nativity. Since the streets and plazas are made of stone, the water does not soak into the ground. We sloshed through many puddles and rivers on our way to the church. The church is not well maintained - well, at least the roof isn't. The were leaks in many places. It is a huge stone church, with high ceilings, and of course it isn't heated. We had to wait in line to view to the supposed place of the manger. Our feet were soaked, and it was very cold in the church.

The church is built over the caves that used to be the dwelling places of the area. They believe the inn of the Luke 2 passage was a cave, and that Mary went farther into the cave to find privacy for the birth of Christ. The altar and the area leading to the cave was very gaudy looking. We stooped down into a lower room, and here there was an altar which Helena (Constantine's mother) had decided was the place of the manger in which Jesus was laid. The place was marked with a 14 point star, to represent the fourteen generations from Abraham to David, from David to the captivity, and from the return from captivity to Jesus (Matt. 1).

Once we left the church we stopped at an olive wood workshop, and then the souvenir shop before rejoining our bus and guide. We cheered as we left the Palestinian area and were safe aboard our own bus.

The next stop was our Jerusalem hotel, hot showers, dry clothes, and a great dinner.

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