Shortly we will be leaving for a twelve day visit to Israel where we plan to stay in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This is our first visit to this country and we are excited about the many Biblical sites that we will see as well as experiencing the culture of the Middle East again.
We feel fortunate that we have already visited several countries in the area and have been moved when visiting places of historical importance referenced in the Bible. We have seen the land of the Pharaohs in Egypt and followed much of the Exodus route from the Red Sea through the deserts and hills of Jordan, east of the Dead Sea.
One of the most moving experiences of that visit to Jordan was standing on the top of Mt Nebo and facing west. From here the full effect of reaching the Promised Land could be seen, albeit a little hazily during our visit. Here was the northern end of the Dead Sea to our far left, the Jordan River running north-south through the middle of the view, and Jerusalem, Jericho, Rammallah and the rest of Palestine on the far horizon. Our view that day was less than perfect and a good guide and a little imagination were necessary to hazily pick out the sites, but the experience was one of those “once in a lifetime” that you just didn’t want to leave.
We were reminded that Moses himself never actually set foot in Palestine and, as the last of the generation that had fled Egypt forty years earlier, had climbed to this spot and had died here. He must, however, have seen the future home of his children, just as we were seeing it that day in 2006.
Also in Jordan we visited the supposed site of Jesus’ baptism by John. The River Jordan separates modern-day Jordan and Israel and, as a result of upstream damming, is little more than a trickle along much of the border. The Baptism Site itself is now dry and is reached via a rough boardwalk and path (and a military escort) designed to avoid landmines that still exist from recent conflicts.
So, the Jordan River is a stream and the Baptism site is a dry bed with a small stone marking the alleged exact spot. The whole could be a huge disappointment. But it is not, because there is sufficient evidence to identify a small area in which one of the most profound events in history took place and whether we were standing exactly on the baptism site or a few feet away, or even a mile away, didn’t seem to matter. It was for us the same feeling that we had had on top of Mount Nebo; whether that was the exact spot from which Moses saw the Promised Land didn’t change the fact that, for sure, he and we had had a very similar view separated in time by over 3000 years. Similarly, somewhere very close to where we were now standing, Jesus and John the Baptist had also stood 2000 years ago. It is that recognition that makes history come alive and is a major reason for our travels around the world.
On other trips to this part of the world we visited Corinth in Greece (unfortunately most of the Roman area where St Paul’s Letters would have been heard was a closed archaeological site) and Ephesus in Turkey. Here we certainly walked the same street past the Library and market place as had St Paul (when he wasn’t imprisoned) during his 3 1/2 year stay after the Ephesian Church had been founded by St John. These are “goose bump” moments that – regardless of faith – must surely be experienced by the thousands who visit here.
On a recent Sunday we were reminded by the St John Gospel reading that we have also visited the church built over the (second) tomb of Lazarus. This was in Cyprus, where Lazarus of Bethany was appointed Bishop after fleeing Judea, and where he lived for thirty years. Whether this site and its story is apocryphal or historical fact is for the visitor to feel for himself – but for us it was another of those experiences that make travel such a privilege.
So now we are about to leave for a country that will surely provide many more of these “I can’t believe we are here” emotions and we hope that we will be able to adequately convey these feelings as you follow our posts on this site.