“The David Hotel” on the Dead Sea. I went down to the workout room at 7 am, only to be told in an ancient, foreign-to-me tongue that it is only open to women until 8. I limped over to the dining hall for some breakfast only to be surrounded and mentally accosted by a horde of Alabamians speaking far two few words for the amount of syllables they were using. “mo-orn-in ya-a-all, tha-ey’s no bis-cits ha-ere!”
On a positive note, I slept well last night for the first time since home. Almost all the way through. The sun is shining on the barren hills and calm water of the Dead Sea area. Birds are singing, thankful for life in such an other-planet-like location. You must be deliberate, decisive and determined to live in this stark, harsh landscape. Even with the elevators – they take your order before you board, and then on the inside there are no opportunities to change your mind. You make your decision and cope with it. If you end up on the wrong floor you knock on doors until someone sees fit to harbor you for the night, lest you be forced to wander back out into the wilderness of the obstinate lifts.
Except for the fact that I’m on the 17th floor, we are 1400 feet below sea level.
Verbum caro hic factum est
This is the phrase on the altar at the Church where Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth. “Here is where the Word became Flesh.”
Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est
This is inscribed upon the star on the floor where Mary gave birth. “Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”
It seems the ancient Latin Church understood when an individual was made flesh, as opposed to when they were born, well before science showed us the same idea with 3D sonograms, which came well after the 1973 Roe and Doe opinions reluctantly penned by Justice Blackmun. Don’t get me started.
From 1947 to 1956, Bedouins and archaeologists were discovering ancient scrolls in the caves around the Essene community. As I have admitted my canonization issues in earlier posts, I am interested in these because not only are they fragments of all the books of the canonized Old Testament except Esther, but they also include some prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel and Jeremiah, as well as previously unpublished works of David and Joshua. Obviously this was discovered centuries after canonization, which begs the question of whether maybe they should be… I mean, what would it take for other “scriptures” to be called scriptural? Scary thoughts to a pre-determined mindset, but intriguing thoughts otherwise. This cave is where most of the scrolls were found.
From Qumran, we traveled the ancient path from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, only it’s a multi-lane highway here. I would call it an interstate, but that’s particularly American since there are no “states” here. I’ve read and heard of the welling up of anticipation as a pilgrim approached Jerusalem – the Holy City – and now I have experienced it. Jerusalem is the spiritual home of millions of believers and denominations around the world. We approached it from the same direction and over the same hills that Mary and Joseph did, and as we could see the Temple Mount as one the first sights from a distance, they surely did as well. Like them, though, we were traveling through, trying to make it to Bethlehem. We cruised from desert to metropolis, just as they ambled. In their time Jerusalem held around 80,000 people, which is comparable for then to the 800,000 now.
Bethlehem is closer than I thought. I’m sure it was another day for them, but it was about 30 minutes for us. The first place we visited, besides lunch, were the Shepherd’s fields. They are still used today, as they are one of the few places in the area that are not too steep to have a little grass. The old city is about an hour’s walk up the hill from there. Again, I was a little surprised that when the Shepherds saw the angels, they would have been able to turn and see walk up the hill to satisfy their curiosity.
Skepticism wanes with evidence, or least it does for reasonable people. Debate all you care to about what constitutes evidence, but I’ve spent half of my life now looking suspiciously at both spiritual and legal evidence, and on the spiritual side, I’m becoming less and less doubtful. Mark Twain looked at all the sites I have visited with a skeptical eye and reported Israel to be a dirty, ugly place inhabited by dirty, scandalous, ignorant people. He pointed out that most of the sites are the “traditionally accepted” locales of all these events, and doubted the accuracy of the claims. I still doubt some of them that lack credible evidence, but the manger of Christ was celebrated as such within 3-400 years. There are less substantial historical sites all over the world that are older than 3-400 years, that are undisputed, so why should I doubt the 400 year oral history of the birth and death of someone thousands of people believed to be God Himself, especially given the fact that those oral histories became documented with paper and architecture for the next 1700 years? I’m just saying I harbor less doubt now than before I saw them, and I certainly have less doubt than Sam Clemons did. The Church of the Nativity is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site and as the oldest continually operating church in the world. I walked within its walls on this day, among believers from around the world, speaking many of the languages of the world, at the same time, crowded around me as we all stood in line for a touch or glimpse of the very spot in a cave believed, since Christ’s time, to be the spot where He was born. Because of His fame id not His identity, people paid attention to where He was born and where He died just as they paid attention to the shack in Tupelo and the mansion called Graceland for another, lesser “king.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video – even a bad one – must be worth several thousand, and then if you give it a multiplier for subject matter – well I just don’t know. I give you the birthplace,and manger, decorated over many centuries:
It is a larger space than I imagined, with the star being where Mary gave birth, the blue drape and what looks like a fireplace where He was laid for a crib, and another area for Mary and Joseph to sleep. It forces me to remember that it had to be large enough for a few different animals….
I need to process all I have seen today. . .