|The entrance to the tomb|
I think this has been the most intense day of this pilgrimage which has been very intense.
There's an awful lot of information, most of which simply shatters all of my assumptions and the information I thought I knew as fact.
I mean, I went into debt to go to seminary and I always thought I had gotten an excellent education so it was worth every penny.
And then, I came to the Holy Land.
I've now got a much better sense of the geography. It made such an amazing difference to stand in the dessert and see Jerusalem on my left and Jericho on my right and realize that it was about 25.6 km or about 79 miles.
So, if the average, strong, young person is able to walk about 20 miles in one day, it's about a three-day journey for Jesus - or the Good Samaritan - to go "from Jerusalem down to Jericho". You begin to understand why hospitality is so important.
I also understand a bit more about the lives of people who lived in the first century. First of all, there were no houses made of wood. People either lived in caves or they lived in stone houses.
|A proper manger to fed animals - or for a newborn babe|
Some of the folks I've spoken with remember visiting their grandparents in their caves.
So, the place where Jesus was born was probably a cave-dwelling, in the "upper room" where the animals stayed the night so it would be warmer there.
The babe was probably wrapped in "swaddling cloth" because that's what would have been available for newborn lambs.
I don't think I'm going to be able to look at another Nativity Set again without having to turn off and silence my interior critic.
And, don't even get me started about Christmas Pageants. It's a good thing I'm not rector of a church because we'd either have to do a LOT of educational work with the adults and children to re-educate them to the story or we'd just have fun and riff on it with modern characters playing the ancient roles and storyline.
I mean, scholars have known this for YEARS! I didn't learn this in my fancy-schmancy seminary education which placed me in debt for ten years. And, I want to know why.
|Stone stairs leading to the street|
It's pretty clear after hanging around Israel and Palestine that chances are very high Joseph was more of a stonemason than a carpenter. It just makes a whole lot more sense.
Does that challenge or change my faith? No. But it does make a difference in terms of my sense of biblical literacy.
I've also learned a lot more about the importance of water in a land which includes a large swath of desert.
Mount Hermon is a majestic mountain range that sits in the north between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
Israel's sources of water include underground water from the mountain and coastal plain aquifers, groundwater from Lake Kinneret, rivers, the Sea of Galilee (which is a freshwater lake), floodwaters and now, water reservoirs.
It's important to know this, not only in terms of ancient cultures and their dependence on wells and water for a nomadic people, but also in terms of geopolitical considerations in terms of how boundaries are drawn and who gets access to water.
I didn't realize that Israel is really only slightly bigger than the state of New Jersey. But, within that relatively small area lie all three of the Abrahamic religions: Muslims, Jews and Christians, and all of the varieties of each of those three main categories.
It's important to know because each of those religions also claim the right of divine providence over the land. Each one points to something in scripture as proof of evidence that God wants the land for them and not for anyone else.
|The entrance to the cave-dwelling|
When all of that happens in a nation that is just slightly bigger than the state of New Jersey, you begin to understand that tensions can go from zero to 100 in less than ten seconds.
I could go on and on but I want to tell you about something that happened tonight that just simply knocked off my socks.
So, we've been staying at the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. The sisters came here from France in 1855 and opened a school. That was their primary apostolate.
They bought the land and built the school and the convent and were very successful and active for many years.
A few years ago and for a variety of reasons, they decided to switch their mission from education to hospitality and began to renovate and upgrade their property, putting in new electrical and plumbing system and an elevator, and changing the rooms into guest rooms with one floor dedicated for their residence.
In the process, they were amazed to find a cave-dwelling right underneath their school and convent. It has several large rooms which were used as common areas ("living rooms") a section for animals which included a double feeding manger (see above), as well as rooms to sleep.
As they continued to excavate and dig around, they also found a loose stone on the floor. When they rolled the stone away, they discovered below a crypt with an ante-room where the body would be washed and prepared with spices and then wrapped in bands.
The dead bodies would then be wrapped and bound and stored in a catacomb that would be sealed shut. I'm told that it takes a dead body approximately two years to decompose, at which point the tomb would be opened and the bones removed and placed in an ossuary, freeing the tomb for another body to be stored.
|A sarcophagus fit for a bishop|
They discovered a sarcophagus in that room and when they opened it up, the body and bones had disintegrated to dust but there was a pretty impressive ring in the coffin.
This has lead folks to think it was the body of a bishop who was buried under the church, as was often the custom in the early days of the church.
Other speculation includes the inhabitants of this particular cave dwelling.
Could this have been the home of Mary and Joseph and Jesus? We know that they lived in Nazareth and this particular cave-dwelling shows evidence of having been inhabited in the first century through the fourth century.
Could it have been the home of The Holy Family? Or, might it have been a relative of them? Might Jesus have lived or played here as a child?
There is no way to know for certain, of course, but the possibilities are tantalizing.
Here's the thing: We've been staying at this Convent for two nights and we did not know any of this until tonight. Our pilgrimage guide brought us downstairs as a special surprise.
I actually took the pictures you see here.
I can hardly believe I captured what I saw, but I'm more amazed that I saw what I did.
|The catacombs where the dead were kept|
And, the dining room abuts the place where the bishop's sarcophagus lies in state.
I wonder how many other treasures lie hidden under these ancient streets.
I wonder how much more I don't know that I thought I knew.
I really can't put words to how I feel, but here are a few:
Deeply, deeply moved.
Those are the ones I can most easily and readily identify and name.
We're heading back to Jerusalem tomorrow, stopping by Burquin where Jesus was passing by on his way to Jerusalem from Nazareth and healed ten lepers who were isolated and in quarantine in a cave
We're also going to visit St. Photini the Greek Orthodox Monastery. St. Photini is said to have been the Samaritan woman who Christ visited at the well when he asked her for a drink. We'll visit Jacob's well there, where the Samaritan woman met Jesus.
|The living area of the dwelling|
We still have 5 more days left on this pilgrimage.
I feel as though I've learned so much and yet there's so much more to learn.
My faith is strengthened and renewed by everything I've seen and every conversation I've had.
This is such a blessing.
There's lots more to explore and learn, including Sunday at the Western Wall and worship at St. George's Cathedral
Thanks for joining me on this pilgrimage.
I've felt lifted and supported by every one of your prayers.