After a long drive from The Sea of Galilee we arrived in Jerusalem during the evening hours. We dropped off Lynn and Dick (our site coordinator and her husband) at their hotel and then walked on foot into the walled off Old City of Jerusalem where our hostel was. The cobblestone streets of the city were wet and reflected the bright headlights of the cars driving through. We followed the directions we had gotten from the people who run the hostel and found ourselves walking down medieval “streets” that were so narrow that a car would never be able to fit in them. As we walked I felt increasingly like I was walking back in time.
We arrived at the Citadel Hostel, a rustic hostel in a building built in the 1100’s. The front door was made of heavy steel and it creaked loudly when we opened it. The interior walls were made of rocks and they curved up and in to form the ceiling. Behind a cramped desk, an old, balding man asked our names through a thick accent, checked our reservations, and then directed us to our rooms. The four ladies went upstairs while he led us gents through a low opening just to the right of his desk. The room beyond was spacious with a low rock ceiling and was scattered with fifteen or twenty small, metal-framed beds each with bed covers and a pillow. We each found an empty bed. Mine was next to the bathroom.
Once we put our things away, four of us struck out to see the surrounding area. We wound our way back through the narrow streets to the main street and hung a right. The street was a series of broad steps that seemed to descend forever and ever. After about ten minutes and two turns, we accidentally found ourselves at the back entrance to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.
The Wailing Wall is all that remains of the original Jewish Temple that existed even before the time of Jesus, and Jews believe that God lived in the temple. The temple was destroyed long ago by the Babylonians, rebuilt and then destroyed again by the Romans after the time of Jesus. The Wailing Wall is a retaining wall that encloses the land upon which the temple stood. Since then the Muslims built structures on this land, where the temple once stood. This area is called the Temple Mount.
When we approached the wall it was at about 10PM. It was a black, inky night, but bright spotlights illuminated the white stone wall. There is a large courtyard where tourists can look out and view the Wall, but far to the left there is a long ramp that leads down to a lower courtyard just in front of the Wall where Orthodox Jews pray. From a distance the Jews, dressed all in black, look like small specks dotting the bottom edge of the gigantic wall. But when we got closer, we could see that they were bowing quickly, repeatedly, over and over, almost tapping the brims of their hats against the Wall. It is a form of prayer unlike anything I have ever seen. Some men stood out in the open in the lower courtyard, yelling, preaching at the top of their lungs while maintaining some sort of repetitive ritual movement. The lower courtyard was also divided by gender. Men were to worship on the left side of a low divider wall, while women had to remain on the right. We noticed that some men, and most women left the wall by slowly backing away, only turning around once they reached the top of the ramp. To show your backside to the wall was like showing your backside to God and is a great offense.
We asked a man nearby if it was okay for us to approach the wall. He said it was fine as long as we donned a paper yarmulke that we could find in a kiosk at the bottom of the ramp. We slowly descended the ramp and approached the kiosk. We each retrieved a small paper skullcap and placed them on top of our heads. Suddenly the Wall seemed monstrous, intimidating, imposing even. We each took our own approach. Jay and I eased our way up to the wall, trying to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible.
Finally we got to an open space at the wall where nobody was standing and I reached out and touched it. And then… it was just a wall. I didn’t glow, lightning didn’t bolt out and electrocute me, and thunder didn’t roll. And the more I thought about it, the more I got frustrated.
You see to Jews the Wall is a holy place, a part of the temple they want to rebuild. They believe that once the temple is rebuilt again the Messiah will come. But in order to do that, they would have to tear down the Muslim holy sites on top of the Wall on the Temple Mount.
It starts to put a little bit of perspective on why the Jews are walling off Palestine doesn’t it? I mean once the apartheid wall is complete, all they would have to do is expel all of the Muslims to Palestine and then start bulldozing. Maybe that’s just a wild theory, maybe it’s not. So I stood there thinking, “It’s just a wall. Why all the fuss?” This is why I have a hard time when people refer to the area of Israel and Palestine as the “Holy Land.” Is land really holy? Are our beliefs so incredibly attached to places and things that we are willing to kill and destroy over them? Or are the teachings of the religions more important? Isn’t it more important to get along with our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet in the ways our religions teach us than to argue over what lands and things are holy and who should be in charge of them?
That said, it has been an incredibly eye opening experience to visit these places. “That spot over there is where Jesus walked. That rock over there is where Jesus stood.” Sure these places and things help give a better perspective on my beliefs, but I don’t think I would be suffering if I hadn’t seen them. Most Christians have lived their entire lives without visiting the “Holy Land” and many have lived with strong faith in the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. I suppose all of this is easy for me to say being an American, where I normally live far removed from the “Holy Land.” I just can’t understand why people place land and things above the value of people. Perhaps I never will.
The next morning we went by the Wailing Wall again, but this time we passed by it and climbed a long wooden ramp to the Temple Mount. Jay got stopped at the Muslim security point where they told him he could not bring his Bible in, while Stephen got his through just fine. Jay left it at the checkpoint and we proceeded up the ramp to the top of the Wailing Wall. We were immediately met by two large structures. On the right was the Al Aqsa Mosque and on the left was the much more stunning Dome of the Rock, a mosque that was built over the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac to God (though Muslims believe God nearly sacrificed Ishmael). It was an incredible structure with a dull gold onion dome and tiled with a plethora of small colored tiles. We walked around the Dome of the Rock but when we walked up to the door, we were practically shooed away because we were not Muslim. That’s right, since we weren’t Muslims we were not allowed to enter a “holy place” for Christians, Jews, AND Muslims. I guess we should feel lucky though because when Teri had visited Jerusalem 18 months previously, only Muslim males were allowed into the Temple Mount area.
Next we took a walking tour around the fortress wall around the Old City. Jerusalem at one time fit neatly into the fortress walls, but has since grown and expanded outside the walls. The area that the wall encloses is one square kilometer so we didn’t walk around the entire thing. In fact we only walked about one sixth of the perimeter and it still took us a solid 20 minutes. The structure was an incredible example of the stereotypical castle with many slender windows through which archers could shoot arrows and portals where hot oil could be poured on invading armies. We saw many great views of places around the city, including our next destination, The Mount of Olives.
We began our climb up The Mount of Olives by going to the Garden of Gethsemane, which lies at the foot of the mount. Unfortunately it was closed so we decided to continue up the mountain to the next site intending to come back to the Garden later.
We climbed a very steep road that ran along the northern edge of a Jewish cemetery with some graves that are over a thousand years old. I can’t even convey to you how many graves there were in the cemetery. Headstones littered the mountainside. They were densely packed in, one beside another. All of them faced the site where the Jews one day hope to reconstruct the Temple. To our left was a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church with highly polished, golden onion domes. We continued trudging up the steep hill, taking a few breaks to catch our breath before we came to a level area just before the top. To our right we saw a sign that read, “Tomb of the Prophets, Haggai and Maleachi.” I found this particularly interesting because I have two friends who named their son Malachi a few years ago. We entered the tombs, which were deep underground. It ended up there were some 50 tombs along two interconnected, concentric, horseshoe shaped tunnels. They were all pretty much low holes in the stone walls. The remains were long gone.
We continued to the top of The Mount of Olives, which was just up a flight of steps at that point, to see a beautiful panoramic view of Jerusalem and the various churches on The Mount of Olives. We spent a few minutes admiring the view, taking a rest, and passing time until the Garden of Gethsemane opened. As we waited we saw a troop of Israeli soldiers admiring the view too. They were all eighteen year olds with large guns. Some of them even had grenade launchers built into their assault rifles. They too were touring the sites of The Mount of Olives. At one point they came to the exact place where we were admiring the view and surrounded us. At that point I decided I’d had enough of barrels of automatic weaponry near my head and I began to descend the same road we came up. We came to a church on the side of the mountain in a place called Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept). It is a church built on the site where Jesus wept for Jerusalem. See Matthew 23:37-39. While I was sitting there taking pictures of some mosaics, an Israeli soldier wandered into the sanctuary, assault rifle and all. He had wandered away from the group and was by himself. I was just absolutely stunned that he would bring a weapon into a church. I just couldn’t bring myself to say something to him though. Sadly, that’s the exact effect they want. They don’t want anybody to question them.
I tried once again to get away from the soldiers with high-powered weapons by continuing down the mount to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was finally open. This is the place where one of my favorite parts of the Bible happened. Jesus, knowing that Judas had betrayed him, sought refuge with several of his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, knowing his fate, prayed to God asking for the “cup” to pass from him, but only if it was God’s will. This speaks volumes to me about the humanity of Christ. Christ was scared of dying just as any human would be. Jesus was God incarnate, but still struggled with this aspect of humanity. Eventually Jesus prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done,” accepting his fate, the will of God.
To actually be in this place, to see the place where Jesus repeatedly prayed to God just before his capture and crucifixion, was something I never thought I’d be able to do. And yet, there I was. However I was greatly disturbed. I feared that Israeli guards would come tromping into this peaceful place with their weapons, machines built for killing and destruction, to the place where Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” I obsessed over this thought. I stood there, leaning with my forearms on the iron fence, looking at the 2000 year old olive trees that Jesus himself might have sat under, periodically glancing over at the entrance, waiting for the Israeli troops to make their way through the door. I feel that I got a glimpse of how Jesus felt that night. I only wanted to find peace, but was anxious knowing that violence was literally just around the corner.
Thankfully the Israeli troops passed right by the doorway. One paused only briefly at the doorway, peeking in to see what was beyond the stone wall.
I am reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite songs by David LaMotte:
Yes, I'm scared and I'm angry
That we live in this occupied land
Where the Romans can kill us at random
But the Romans do not rule my hands
There are so many lives on the line here
This is not some philosopher's game
But if you draw your sword Peter
You may not raise that sword in my name
It’s an incredible song you can download from David Lamotte’s web site at:
Unfortunately a Muslim taxi driver took the brunt of the feelings boiling just under the surface of my calm exterior. He chose at just that moment to come through the Garden shouting, “Taxi! Taxi!” He was looking for a fare. He came up to me and I icily snapped, “This is not the place for that! Please leave!” I whipped my arm up and gestured to the door in the stone wall surrounding the Garden. At first he looked at me with a big grin on his face, but then he realized I was very serious. His eyes widened and his smile drooped. He silently turned away from me, going deeper into the Garden, away from the door. I milled about the Garden for a while, seeking the peace I had gone there for, but found only more tension within myself. After a time I strolled over to the entrance to The Church of All Nations where the taxi driver was waiting at the entrance. He came up to me and apologized for shouting, and added an excuse that someone had called him there for a ride. My first instinct was to think that he was just making up excuses, but I only looked at him sternly and only said, “Okay,” and then turned and walked into the church. I don’t know why I was so angry. After all, it was only a place… right? Isn’t it interesting how quickly a peaceful person can develop a strong affinity for a “holy place?”
I entered the church and tried to calm down. After a few minutes I saw the taxi driver standing in the back of the church and I angrily thought, “Oh, so I can’t enter your holy place, but you can enter mine?” I realized that my thoughts were getting out of hand so I took a few minutes to take some deep breaths and calm down. I looked around the church and up at the purple stain glass crosses. Then I looked toward the front of the church, up at the mosaic of Jesus sitting in the Garden, praying to God. And I realized things could be much worse. I looked down at the floor, just in front of the altar where I saw the stone where Jesus prayed. I said a prayer. I asked for peace. It didn’t come right away, but eventually I found it.
We left Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested and went along the path of the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a Roman Catholic tradition of fourteen events from the time Jesus was condemned to die to the time he was laid in the tomb. If you have seen the film “The Passion of the Christ,” you will notice that each of the stations are prominently shown. Teri was quick to point out that many of the stations are not even in the Bible and might be bogus. But we went along the path anyway. We started at the location where Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to die, and then wound our way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem and by vendors trying to sell us souvenirs of our visit.
We saw station after station before coming to what looked like a dead end, but found a small passageway all the way to the right in the back wall of the alley. We walked through the opening and found ourselves in a courtyard in front of The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the church built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. We walked through a large gothic style doorway into a dark chamber. Our eyes took a few seconds to adjust before we climbed up a tightly curving, stone staircase to our right. The space above looked down on the entryway we had just come through. Against the back wall was a lavishly decorated (Greek Orthodox-style) alcove. Silver and gold glistened in the candlelight as the smell of incense wafted into my face. Under an altar was a polished marble slab with a hole it in. I crouched down and put my hand in the marble hole and felt the place where Jesus’ cross stood in the rocky ground. Over the altar was a silver cross with the image of Jesus crucified. Around the room were several mosaics showing scenes from Jesus’ crucifixion. One showed Mary looking down at Jesus’ body and Mary Magdalene kneeling and weeping beside him.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed. It was a complete contrast to The Sea of Galilee, which seemed so natural and helped me to better understand places where Jesus and his disciples preached and taught. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, while being one of the “holiest” of places in the Christian list of holy places, seemed cheapened by the decorations. The fancy artwork and lavish decorations only seemed to detract from what an important place it truly is.
I descended the spiral staircase and wound around to another part of the church that was domed. A small amount of sunlight shone through a window at the top. Underneath the dome I found Jesus’ tomb. The actual tomb, which was a cave, had been chipped away over the centuries by thousands of pilgrims seeking a memento of their journey to the Holy Land. In its place a large, marble, cube-shaped mausoleum had been built. It contained a part of the stone that sealed the tomb, and a slab where Jesus had been laid. All of it was decorated in the lavish Greek Orthodox style.
I continued to wander around the church, which was a large complex of nooks and crannies. I found some enormous mosaic floors, crosses carved into brickwork by crusaders, and the tomb of Helena, the mother of Constantine who scoured the Holy Land for Christian holy places.
The next day we took a public bus, yes a public bus in Jerusalem (don’t faint Mom and Dad), to Yad Veshem, the Israeli holocaust museum. I had been to the holocaust museum in Washington D.C. but it was several years ago. I am sad to say that my memory of the holocaust had faded somewhat, which is why it is important to have museums dedicated to the victims of Nazi rule. It is important to refresh our memories every now and then of what human beings are capable of doing to each other, to ensure that it will never happen again.
There were some interesting bits of information regarding the holocaust at Yad Vashem that I had never heard of or read before. I am sure that is because the museum is presenting information to a target audience that is different than that in the United States. This target audience is the victims of the holocaust itself, the Jewish people.
Some of the bits of information were hard to read. Some had to do with awful treatment of the Jewish people at the hands of Christians throughout the centuries. And I suppose I have always thought of Americans as being among the heroes of World War II, but Yad Vashem had a different take on that too. I am sure my thinking is a result of watching WWII movies where Americans are the good guys at the end, helping to end Nazi rule. I suppose that’s why it was hard to read the Jewish side of the story where Americans were concerned. For instance Yad Vashem cited instances when Americans had multiple opportunities to blow up the train tracks to Auschwitz, but didn’t. It wasn’t considered a high priority. There were other instances that I can’t remember now where America could have decreased or perhaps even ended the suffering of the Jewish people earlier. I was surprised that there wasn’t really anything positive about the involvement of Americans in the liberation of the Jewish people. One monitor played a filmed speech delivered by the leader of an eastern European country. He appealed to the nations of the West to intervene and end the tyranny of the Nazis. After the film played, a voiceover informed us that the appeal never even reached the people of the West because news agencies refused to play it. Cries for help went unanswered by those who had the power end the tragedy. Certain parts of the museum seemed to be about pointing fingers and placing blame, but again, the target audience was the Jewish people themselves, so I can understand that.
But here’s what I don’t understand: this museum that is supposed to remind us of how cruel human beings can be, and how we should never allow that kind of treatment of human beings, suddenly takes a very nationalistic turn at the end. Monitors played scenes of important looking people standing around declaring the creation of the state of Israel while children sang nationalistic songs. At the end of the museum there is a gigantic glass window that looks out over the countryside of Israel as if to say, “… and now this is our land.” In light of the treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis, and the imprisonment of Palestinians behind a wall, I found this to be very distasteful. Do the Israelis themselves not see the comparison of the walls of the ghettos to the wall being built around Bethlehem and Jericho now? They would say that the walls are to protect them from Palestinian terrorists, but I didn’t see any terrorists behind those walls. I saw thousands of people trying to go about their daily lives. Even if the walls are decreasing the actions of terrorists, does the end justify the means? The accusations of the Jewish people about the rest of the world ignoring their plight are being fulfilled again through the Palestinian people. Palestinians have called out to the rest of the world for help and they have received no response. Western nations feel guilty about their inaction during a time when they could have saved millions of Jewish lives, so guilty that they have turned a blind eye to the current actions of Israel. How long are we going to wait to intervene now? Are we just setting up another situation for us to feel guilty about in the future, another situation where we could have acted and saved thousands, perhaps millions of lives?
Each morning in Jerusalem I woke early in the morning before the others and went to either the Wailing Wall or The Church of the Holy Sepulcher by myself. Both places were within a five-minute walk from our hostel, and I figured I should go as much as possible while I had the chance. I used this time to observe the Jewish people and try to further understand the importance of the Wailing Wall, and try to find some sort of meaning for myself at The Church of the Holy Sepulcher despite all of the lavish decorations. I ended up making similar trips to one of these two sites in the evening too. One night I actually got kicked out of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher because I accidentally stayed past closing hours. Oops.
The next day, which was our last full day in Jerusalem, I returned from my morning “holy walk,” and we set out as a group to the Church of Mary’s Dormition. As I understand it, Roman Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, never died. She just went to sleep and never woke up. While that sounds a little far-fetched to me, they decided to build a really nice church in commemoration of this. One particular aspect of the church that I liked was its overt focus on the women of the Bible. We found mosaics of Esther, Ruth, and Eve, to name a few. All too often the roles of women in the Bible are overlooked, so it was nice to see that someone had the presence of mind to honor them collectively in The Holy Land.
That afternoon we visited the “Upper Room” where Jesus and the disciples shared the last supper. We all kind of scoffed because there is no way that the building could have been the real location. The architecture was from a much later time period, and historically speaking, was waaaaaaay too large. Jerusalem was a cramped city and I can’t imagine that twelve plus guys who relied heavily on the hospitality of others would have dined in a room that was so large. We all agreed that it just wasn’t plausible. Teri said her guide from her previous trip said the authenticity of the location was dubious at best.
Next door to the Upper Room (how convenient) was the location of King David’s cave tomb. I once again had to don the obligatory paper yarmulke, except this time I had to give a donation to a shady man to get it, and then wandered off to the men’s section by myself since I was the lone man in our group that day. Over the tomb of David, the King of Jerusalem from a loooooooooong time ago, were two large silver canisters that contained the Torah, and a silver crown. This site seemed just one notch below the Upper Room on the “Made Up Tourist Sites” meter. Sorry Jerusalem. Next!
The ladies were intent on finding the Garden Tomb, the other site where Jesus was buried. ??? Apparently the Protestant Churches, in a move to distance themselves from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, found an alternate location for Jesus’ tomb. It is in a more natural setting outside the walls of the Old City, away from all of the Greek Orthodox glitz and theatrics. It sounds like a nice place. I’m sad to say I didn’t make it there. As we cluelessly wandered the streets looking for it, we came to an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood whose inhabitants have serious qualms with scantily clad tourists walking through the area. They had erected permanent signs proclaiming that people in their neighborhood should dress modestly. They even defined “modest dress” so there could be no confusion. Most of the rules are for women. They are not permitted to wear trousers or shirts with low necklines.
I suddenly felt very out of place and nobody seemed to be making any decisions about where to go next. At that point I decided to leave the group and strike out on my own. I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing the Garden Tomb and I had decided to return to The Garden of Gethsemane at some point. I wanted to see if I could have more meaningful experience there before leaving Jerusalem. This seemed like a good time.
I told the group I was leaving, stopped by the hostel to drop some stuff off, and then walked clear across the Old City to the foot of the Mount of Olives. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I arrived at about 3PM and stayed until sunset. I walked in through the door in the stone wall and just stood and looked at the ancient olive trees. I reflected once more on what it must have been like the night Jesus was arrested, and then walked into The Church of All Nations. This time I felt much more at peace. And then I was surprised when a Roman Catholic mass just sort of happened around me.
I was sitting there praying when a tour group of Italians came in and sat down around me. I saw the priests, dressed in brightly colored, finely embroidered robes, scurrying around and giving instructions to the congregants and knew something interesting was about to happen. Just before the mass started and old Franciscan monk dressed in a brown robe with a rope sash walked up to me and said something in Italian. I responded by saying, “I’m sorry?” He replied in English, “We don’t cross our legs in church. It’s disrespectful.” I looked down and saw my left leg was propped up on my right. I immediately snapped it down as I apologized profusely. He smiled at me broadly and said, “It’s okay. I know things are more relaxed in America. I used to have a parish there.” I apologized once more and then he was gone. How he knew I was from America I will never know.
In a few minutes the head priest began chanting in Latin and the Italian tourists responded at various points, also in Latin. At various times they stood and spoke. I followed suit but remained silent since I didn’t know the words. They also made many ritualistic motions with their hands. They kissed their fingers and tapped their chests, and occasionally made the sign of the cross. The tourists’ priest must have made arrangements with the priests of the church beforehand, because the service included participation from the tourists. A couple of times one of the tourists stood and sang a beautiful song that echoed throughout the sanctuary. Teenagers stood and read the scripture in Italian. They probably read the passages about Jesus and the disciples in the Garden. The head priest delivered a sermon in Italian and then other priests joined him in serving communion. I thought it was interesting that the servers served themselves before the rest of the people. Perhaps this says something about the bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church. In every Protestant communion service I have attended, the clergy serves the people first, then themselves. I did not go forward and accept communion because I know Catholics are prohibited from serving Protestants, and I respected that.
The priest gave the benediction and then something really incredible happened. I just had this strong feeling that the Italian tourists were about to be lead through the Garden outside. As I mentioned before, the Garden is fenced off and people are not usually allowed in. The Italians began to file out of the sanctuary, so I stood and mingled with them, just in case. I exited the sanctuary, turned right, and much to my enjoyment, I saw the gate was opened and people were filing in. Sarah lucked out because she showed up just then. She too had left the group and was touring on her own. She saw me, walked up to me and asked, “So what are you learning about with this tour group?” I said, “Turn around and act like you are supposed to be here.” I explained to her that we had just finished a mass and now we were going into the Garden. She turned around and in no time we were inside the fence. I felt like it was a special treat to walk amongst the trees, which sat just off of a gravel path. We took pictures of ourselves with the trees, and I once again thought about that fateful night.
After a few minutes the priests called us out of the Garden. Sarah wanted to go in the church again, so I joined her and sat with her on the front pew only to find that another mass was starting. Since we were sitting on the front pew, we couldn’t see anybody to mimic as the Roman Catholics stood and sat down. We felt as though we were too obvious. Sarah felt uncomfortable being there and left. I left a few minutes later, having already had my fill of Roman Catholic mass for the day.
I took one last look at the Garden and then climbed The Mount of Olives to view the sunset. Once again I climbed the steep road, and fortunately, when I got to the top, there were no Israeli soldiers. I saw Sarah, but could tell she was lost in thought so I left her alone. I perched myself on top of a wall, leaned back, and looked out at Jerusalem. The buildings were already mostly in shadow, but I could still see the sun from my vantage point. Only the gold crown of the Dome of the Rock reflected a glint of the orange sunlight. I pulled out my camera and took one picture. Then I decided I was just going to enjoy the view and put it away. No clouds obscured the sun as it touched the horizon. It melted into a dome and then sank even further until there was only a small patch of bright orange shining between two distant buildings. And then it was gone.
Sarah and I sat for another ten minutes or so before joining up again. We walked down the mountain and talked about our incredible experiences up to that point. We met the others back at the hostel and had dinner with them. Several folks said they wanted to go to the Israeli Museum and I decided to go along too.
We got to the museum just before closing time because it was a longer walk than we expected, so we didn’t have much time once we arrived. The highlight of our visit was a special exhibition in a strangely shaped building. It was a circular structure (when viewed from above) that came out of the ground as if it were a dome, but at the peak it curved up again and then tapered to a nub. Inside we saw many, many pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in a cave along the Dead Sea. Collectively it is the oldest written version of the Old Testament. In the center of this domed structure was a cylinder about twenty feet in diameter sitting on end. It was about 10 feet tall and protruding out of the top was a giant handle. Around the circumference of the cylinder was a reproduction of the entire book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea scrolls. Suddenly the shape of the building took on some meaning. The cylinder and the handle was the top end of a scroll and the domed building was the top end of a Torah canister. That was some pretty clever building design. The scrolls themselves were amazing to behold. They were mostly written on parchment in Hebrew, although some were written in Aramaic, a now dead language that was still spoken during the time Jesus lived.
We woke early the next morning and took a nice coach bus back to Eliat, the Israeli town on the border with Egypt. We all expressed how we weren’t quite ready to go back to the Third World just yet. Perhaps we had just gotten too comfortable with the amenities of life in Israel. Perhaps it reminded us a little too much of home. We left the sweet smelling air of the Israeli border plaza and entered the Egyptian plaza that smelled like an ashtray. We caught a bus back to Cairo at a bus station that was surrounded by garbage. The bus was rickety and uncomfortable, but it got us to Cairo.