In August of 1994 a small group of readers of The Urantia Book journeyed to Israel to observe the 2,000 year anniversary of Jesus' birth, Michael's bestowal upon our planet.
In addition to documenting an important group experience, there are several other reasons for doing a presentation such as the following. A primary purpose is to outline the status of excavations and studies of some of the significant sites mentioned in The Urantia Book, at the time of the 2,000 year anniversary of Jesus' birth.
Another purpose is to attempt to begin to correlate present knowledge about the land of the bestowal with the information contained in The Urantia Book to the end that other travelers may have a reference document which will provide a basic orientation to the region they will visit. It is difficult for first-time visitors to find their way to some of the special places mentioned in The Urantia Book. Time is often limited and available tours focus on traditional sites, many of which will be irrelevant. This writing is an attempt to specify some of the locations which are of special interest to readers. Although the book was published in 1955, many of the sites it mentions have only been excavated in recent years. Many other sites have yet to be investigated and, in some cases, discovered.
Another purpose is to suggest that there is a place for informed readers of The Urantia Book in the present efforts of historians, archeologists and theologians who are seeking to understand the factors influencing the origin and early development of the Judeo-Christian tradition. An attempt to understand the historical Jesus separate from the traditional views inherited from Christianity has been in process since the late nineteenth century. To a great extent this has involved recasting Jesus as simply a product of his environment and has lost sight of his divinity and his pre-existence. The Urantia Book provides us with a significant conceptual integration of Jesus' divinity with the historic exigencies of his life on our world. This knowledge deeply enriches us by expanding the range of meanings and values experientially encountered in a visit such as the one which we undertook.
And finally, I hope to provide some anecdotal stories which might begin to communicate some of the wonder, joy and sheer delight of being with a group of readers in the land of the bestowal at this particular juncture in history.
Friday, August 12
The group arrived in Israel and met at a hotel in Tel Aviv, individuals having taken a variety of routes to reach this point of embarkation. It was a delightful evening of renewing old friendships and anticipating the days to come. We had arrived in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. A well-needed rest from the rigors of travel was sought by all.
Saturday, August 13
Our first real "site" was Caesarea which we visited today on our way to Galilee. Rebecca Kantor gave a brief orientation in the old Roman theater (where Jesus and Ganid attended a Greek play in April of 22 A.D.) Here we were treated to the first of many wonderful musical interludes with the singing of Waldine Stump, Barbara Hestor, Chick Montgomery and Tom Allen. Barbara also sang a solo for us as we sat in the theater.
Readers of The Urantia Book will probably be most familiar with Caesarea as the place from which Jesus embarked on his journey to Rome with Ganid and Gonod. Page 1492 gives some detailed site description mentioning the wall which served as a promenade around the port, the water system, the statue of the Roman emperor, the amphitheater, the theater and the governor's palace.
Caesarea is currently the scene of one of the most extensive excavation projects under way in Israel. This was a large cosmopolitan city during Jesus' day. The artificial harbor constructed by Herod the Great made Caesarea one of the most important maritime cities in the eastern Mediterranean for hundreds of years. It was the Roman capital of Palestine and thus provided a direct link to Rome and other cities of major importance throughout the empire.
In order to appreciate the economic vitality of the region in Jesus' day, it is important to realize that Palestine was the eastern terminus of sea routes which led to centers of civilization throughout the Mediterranean and even up the coast of Spain in the Atlantic. It was also the western terminus of the caravan routes which came from Mesopotamia, India and Asia. This meant that a great deal of buying, selling, trading and re-shipping went on in the region. In Jesus' day, Palestine was one of the most active trading and shipping hubs in the Roman Empire.
In addition to the site of Caesarea itself, we were able to see the ruins of the Roman aqueducts which brought water to the city. These are presently dated to the second century A.D.
A very readable book, "King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea" by Kenneth Holum and Robert Hohlfelder (W.W. Norton, 1988) provides significant background information on this site, some of which is reviewed in the following paragraphs.
Caesarea also is of interest because of the role it played in the early development of Christianity. Let's consider some of the formative events which took place here.
The Apostle Paul was in Caesarea under open arrest for nearly two years. Because Caesarea was such a busy seaport Paul had access to communications with the churches he had established in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece. It is possible that many of Paul's letters were written here. Some scholars think that the gospel accounts of Jesus' life took shape, at least in part, here in Caesarea.
[Note that The Urantia Book on page 1342 indicates that one Nathan, a Greek Jew from Caesarea, worked for John in the writing of the Gospel of John and that "First John" was a cover letter written by John himself for the work which Nathan executed under his direction. However, the traditional thinking is that the actual writing of this gospel probably took place at Ephesus.]
Acts 8:4-40 talks about one Philip who preached the Christian message in Samaria and that this same Philip eventually came to live in Caesarea. Paul lived with this Philip in 58 A.D. Was this the same Philip as the Apostle Philip? Page 1551 of The Urantia Book talks about the Apostle Philip working with the Samaritans. Did Paul spend time with Philip the Apostle in Caesarea?
The Jewish revolt of 66-70 A.D. which resulted in the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was in no small measure fueled by the pagans in Ceasarea who attempted to slaughter the entire Jewish population of the city. Some 20,000 Jews were massacred in the streets of Caesarea during this episode.
Following the Roman victory, Titus celebrated his brother's birthday at Caesarea with a display of beast fights and man-to-man combat in the amphitheater. Forced to fight as gladiators, twenty-five hundred Jewish prisoners-of-war met their deaths.
One of the first significant theologians of emerging Christianity, Origen of Alexandria, moved to Caesarea in 231 A.D. He had embraced the ideal of Christian asceticism and had devoted himself to the interpretation of the Christian scriptures and doctrines in terms of Greek Platonism. He moved to Caesarea after running into conflicts with the bishop of Alexandria.
Origen virtually turned Caesarea into a university town over the next two decades. The city already had a reputation for it's Sophists and teachers of the pagan classics. Origen added Christian learning and advanced research. He did much to develop and articulate the first comprehensive theology of the Trinity. He wrote a number of his major works at Caesarea including an immense critical edition of the Old Testament with the text arranged in six parallel columnns: Hebrew, Hebrew in Greek letters, and four different translations into Greek(!). Because such a hand-written work could not be widely circulated, serious scholars had to come to Caesarea to use it. Origen attracted many pupils, some of whom became prominent theologians in the Eastern Roman Empire.
In 250-51 the Roman emperor Decius ordered the persecution of Christians throughout the empire, including Palestine. Origen was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured on the rack in an effort by his tormentors to forced him to abjure Christianity by sacrificing to pagan gods. Origen survived the ordeal with his faith intact, but died a few years later as a result of his injuries.
He left as a legacy to his adopted city the rich library of pagan and Christian books that he had assembled while writing his own works. Caesarea's library later reached an estimated size of thirty thousand volumes.
In the Great Persecution of 303-13 the priest Pamphilus was put to death. Pamphilus had devoted his family's great wealth to putting in order and expanding Origen's library. Pamphilus had also used the library, along with his own learning, to educate another generation of pupils in the Christian school of Caesarea.
One of Pamphilus' pupils was Eusebius, the first historian of the new Christian movement. Eusebius went on to make a major contribution to the ideological side of Constantine's new Christian empire, thus transferring much of the accumulated learning of the first three centuries into the empire which was to dominate Western civilization for a thousand years.
The story of Caesarea does not stop here. The city was taken by the Persians in 614 and then the Arabs took it in 639. The Crusaders took it in 1101 and it became the staging port for Crusader advances into Palestine. The Sultan Baibars took it from the Crusaders in 1265 and destroyed it. It was gradually covered by the shifting dunes of the eastern Mediterranean until the end of the nineteenth century when a village was established on the site by immigrants from Bosnia. Preliminary excavations were undertaken in 1945.
Excavation of the Roman theater and some of the Crusader structures were undertaken in the following decades. Some of the underwater structures were initially studied by the Link marine Expedition of 1960. In 1979 the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavation Project was formed. In the past few years a major dig has been under way to excavate major portions of this once great city.
It is of interest that all of this excavation post-dates the appearance of The Urantia Book.
After leaving Caesarea, we continued on to Haifa and briefly visited the Mt. Carmel area. The most notable event here was watching Tom Choquette think he was being charged $30.00 for a plate of spaghetti.
Although not visited by the tour, there are caves in the Mt. Carmel region and a museum in which some of the items excavated from the caves are displayed. These caves appear to have been used relatively continuously for some 150,000 years. Thus one may find information here about human communities which existed as far back as the period following the collapse of the Prince's regime.
There are also skeletal remains and artifacts here which date to the time of the collapse of the first garden. This region is to the south of the location of the first garden and perhaps these remains are from some of the hostile tribes which prevented Adam and Eve from going south when they left the garden (847).
The ancient site of Megiddo was visited in the afternoon as we continued on our way to Galilee. 300,000 years ago Megiddo was the headquarters of the orange race during the time of Porshunta (724).
The Urantia Book refers to Megiddo as "the international battlefield of Palestine." (1404) This city could be seen by the young Jesus from the hilltop in Nazareth and he apparently enjoyed considering the history of this site. (1387)
He also passed through this city on his way to Passover one year (1404). Megiddo was included in the cities visited during the second preaching tour in 28 A.D. (1668)
Megiddo, which dominates the Plain of Jezreel and is the site of the mythological "battle of Armegeddon" which supposedly will take place at the end of time, was already a significant fortified city by the Early Bronze Age. More or less continuous excavations since 1903 have yielded more than 20 distinct occupation strata. Solomon apparently remodeled the city to function as a military base for chariot warfare in the adjacent plains.
This site provides a good overview of the entire cultural history of the region because of the many levels of civilization represented. Because of it's geographic location it has attracted people for tens of thousands of years, many of whom built significant settlements and cities on the site.
Of particular interest is the hand-hewn water tunnel which allowed residents of the city to have access to water from a spring which was outside the city walls. Most of our group was able to walk through the tunnel system -- it is not a difficult undertaking in spite of the number of steps down into the system. Tour groups are met at the outside end of the tunnel by their guides to be taken in busses back to the main entrance of the site making it unnecessary to climb back up the hill.
Finally we arrived at Kibbutz Nof Ginosaur on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In many respects, this was the objective of the journey, for there is no place on the planet like the Sea of Galilee. Rural and removed from most of the hustle and hype of the tourist attractions one can easily find places of solitude from which to watch the sunrise and sunset, to hear the cooing of doves in the early morning and watch fish jumping from the water.
The rural nature of Galilee today stands in sharp contrast to the heavily populated, urbanized and cosmopolitan Galilee of Jesus' day. The Urantia Book describes Galilee as "a province of agricultural villages and thriving cities." It goes on to say that there were more than 200 towns with populations over 5,000 and thirty with populations over 15,000. Current estimates place the population of the largest cities -- Sepphoris and Scythopolis -- at over 30,000. If our current knowledge of the borders of Galilee match with those of Jesus' day, those borders describe a region of approximately 750 square miles. A little math done on the above numbers gives a population of Galilee in Jesus' day of approximately 1.5 million people, or 2,000 per square mile. This is fairly dense. Again, Josephus tells us that in the first century there was not a square inch of Galilee that was not under cultivation.
Some excellent background information on Galilee and the culture in which Jesus lived can be found in "Daily Life in the Time of Jesus" by Henri Daniel-Rops (Servant Books, 1962). This book will greatly expand the understanding of Jesus' life as it is portrayed in The Urantia Book.
Galilee was Herod Antipas' bread basket. Here were grown the crops that fed his armies and the crews of workers who were constructing his cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias. Much of Galilee was apparently feudal in structure, with a few wealthy landlords owning large estates on which peasant workers raised crops. Herod Antipas also maintained large estates on which he bred and raised horses.
There is ample evidence to assume that Galilee during Jesus' day was far more forested than it is today and the average annual temperature was probably considerably lower. The Urantia Book indicates that the temperature during July and August varied between 75 and 90 degrees Farenheit; today July/August temperatures are consistently over 100 degrees Farenheit (we know whereof we speak on this one!).
As was mentioned earlier, Palestine in Jesus' day was one of the most active shipping and merchant hubs in the Roman Empire. In addition to the goods coming into the region from the shipping routes of the Mediterranean and the caravans to the east, the cities of the Decapolis shipped their industrial and agricultural goods from their harbor at the southeastern corner of the lake across to Tiberias, and then overland to Caesarea or Ptolmais for shipment to Mediterranean ports, or to Sepphoris for sale to caravan traders returning to the Orient. All of these great trade routes intersected at Sepphoris, three miles from Nazareth.
The geography of the region is such that east-west travel is difficult. North-south travel is relatively easy. Thus there are 4 primary north-south routes through the region; up the coast (the Via Maris), up the crest of the hills from Judea through Samaria north through Galilee, up the Jordan valley, and over the Jordanian plateau to the east -- the ancient route of "The King's Highway." Jesus took each of these routes at different times in his travels between Galilee and Jerusalem. On our tour we traveled on two of these, the coastal route and the route through the Jordan valley. We also took what in Jesus' day would have been the major east-west route, the road from Caesarea inland past Sepphoris in central Galilee, to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee
When I asked individuals on our tour what had been most significant to them on the visit, they invariably responded, "Seeing the Sea of Galilee."
The Sea of Galilee today is much quieter and it's shores far more rural than they were in Jesus' day. In the first century, the shore was lined with villages, towns and substantial harbors. The Lake formed a primary transportation nexus between three distinct political entities who conducted commerce with each other and collected taxes from the merchants who crossed into their territories to sell their goods. These entities were those of Herod Antipas, Herod Philip and the cities of the Decapolis. Each of these entities had their major harbors on the lake which consisted of stone breakwaters and protected anchorages.
Among the major harbors (whose remains can be found underwater today) were Tiberias, Magdala, Gennesaret, Bethsaida, Capernaum, (Aish serving Bethsaida Julias?), Kheresa, Hippos, and Gadara. There are also remains of harbors at Gergesa, Ein Gofra, Susita, Philoteria and Sennabris which I have thus far failed to correlate with locations mentioned in the Jesus papers.
Josephus tells us that in the first century there were some 230 fishing boats regularly working on the Sea of Galilee. The construction of the harbor at Gadara suggests the existence of a marine theater where it is thought that battles to the death between groups of fighters on ships were staged for sport late in the first century.
The Kibbutz where we stayed just south of Gennesaret was excellent. The facilities were modest but adequate and the food was very good. The location provided easy access to all the sites we wanted to visit in the Galilee region. The staff at the Kibbutz was also very helpful and accomodating, providing meeting rooms as needed and providing competent guides for individuals wanting to take extra excursions on our day off. The Kibbutz also has a pleasant beach for swimming in the lake. (Future visitors who think they would like to swim in the Sea of Galilee should take some rubber footwear to protect them from the sharp rocks on the bottom of the lake).
Just offshore from this Kibbutz the remains of a 2,000 year old boat were found in 1986. The remains, consisting of ribs and hull, were removed from the water and immediately sealed in polyurethane foam to prevent drying (which would result in the wood turning to powder). A tank was constructed at the Kibbutz and filled with a synthetic wax resin. The boat was submerged in this solution where it still remains today in hopes that the resin will replace the water in the wood, preserving the boat and allowing it to be put on display.
The boat would have seated 12 to 14 people and is thought to be representative of the fishing boats working on the lake at the time of Jesus. An archaeologist from the university in Haifa who came out to study the boat is reported to have commented that the boat "was built by a master craftsman."
A first century mosaic at nearby Magdala has an image of a similar boat. On page 1419 of The Urantia Book we find that by 26 AD nearly all the boats working on the Sea of Galilee had been built in Zebedee's workshop in accordance with a design and construction techniques developed by Jesus. Is this one of those boats? Carbon-14 dating of ten wood samples gave a date of 40 BC, plus or minus 80 years for it's construction.
Saturday evening, August 13, Rick Goebel gave a very informative presentation on Capernaum and the Goebel children used colored chalk and a large blackboard to provide graphics announcing the title of his talk.
Sunday, August 14
The Kibbutz is ideally situated for quiet personal devotions -- next to the Sea of Galilee with plenty of lake-side space for personal privacy. Early in the morning few people are out and one can be alone with one's thoughts; there can be no experience quite like that of greeting the rising sun on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as a part of one's morning prayer and worship time -- this beautiful lake which formed such a rich backdrop for our Creator Son's terminal bestowal -- I hope I recall these mornings on the day I stand on the shores of Paradise.
This Sunday began with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It somehow was not the experience I would like to have had, as it was a very commercial boat, much like those which take tourists out to Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay -- but it was a good experiment. Part of the problem was that it was difficult to hear ourselves over the roar of the boat's motor. A smaller boat might be more conducive to a contemplative experience. We still have some work to do on providing ourselves with a meaningful experience that is not overwhelmed by tourist schlock. It will help tremendously to get some readers who actually live in the area and who can help coordinate tours for readers from other parts of the world. When such things are arranged "on the spot" one always takes a chance on their success. (However, the last minute arrangements for excursions to Mt. Hermon and Rujm el-Hiri turned out to provide excellent experiences for those who went.)
Paula Thompson helped us out to sea with a prayer; Steve McIntosh and Warren Litchfield provided our morning readings from The Urantia Book. Larry Geis gave us an informative talk about the 2,000 year old boat which had been recently excavated near our Kibbutz. We returned to the harbor at Tiberias from which we had departed.
This turned out to be a remarkable day, one of those days which, when you contemplate it at it's conclusion, you marvel at the range of experiences you've had and the sights you've seen.
Mount of Beatitudes
After our boat ride (and lunch) we climbed back aboard our busses and went to the "Mount of Beatitudes" on the hill above Capernaum, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount. This is a lovely site, not too commercial and designed for contemplation and worship. Numerous small areas have been created in garden-like settings in which groups of visitors can have their own worship services, celebrate mass, or be alone for prayer. The chapel on the site is also very lovely. The view of the Sea of Galilee from the deck surrounding this chapel is also very nice. Most of the people on our tour paused to appreciate the small mosaic honoring Melchizedek.
In one of the secluded garden places, our group read the ordination sermon, passing the book from person to person. Reading this sermon with a group of fellow kingdom believers there on the highlands above Capernaum, with the Sea of Galilee spread out before us, was another of those transcendental experiences with which we seemed to be blessed each day. When we had finished, Anis, our guide, recited the Lord's Prayer in an Arabic dialect which he said was close to the way it would have sounded when Jesus spoke it. I don't think there was a dry eye in the group when he was finished.
After a time we again boarded our bus and went back to the lakeshore, this time stopping at Tabgha. This is the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand, which The Urantia Book indicates took place much farther to the east at Magadan Park near Bethsaida-Julias. A number of contemporary scholars believe that this Bethsaida-Julias location is the correct one as well, but it remains controversial.
Another current controversy is the location of Biblical Bethsaida. The Urantia Book clearly places it here, at Tabgha. Mendel Nun, an Israeli who has spent much of his life studying the fishing industry of first century Palestine and who has located the ruins of many of the first century harbors, agrees with The Urantia Book assessment. He is also adamant that Tabgha was the fishing headquarters for Capernaum.
It's curious that the springs here are not mentioned either in the Bible or The Urantia Book. Could they have appeared after the great earthquake in the fourth century? It was shortly after this that they were first reported in the diaries of visitors to this area. I know of no mention of them prior to the diary of the pilgrim Egeria at the end of the fourth century. She also mentions the cave on the hill above Tabgha which is easily seen from the road. This hill was called "Eremos" by the early Christians in the region and was reputed to have been a hill upon which Jesus sometimes sought solitude and often taught.
It is much easier for smaller groups or individuals to get down by the water here. It is semi-private although I think arrangements can be made ahead of time to use the area for worship or conducting Mass. Several from our group were able to get down to the water at this location and David Beik even dove in for a look around underwater. He reported the existence of the remains of underwater structures, such report having been purchased at the price of a reprimand from the custodians of the site who felt it was inappropriate for people to be in the water.
We continued easterly along the shore to the site of Capernaum. In spite of being a major tourist site, it is still a delightful spot and there is plenty of space for groups or individuals to be alone with their thoughts. There are garden places off to the side for group gatherings and the recently constructed chapel above what is reputed to have been Peter's house affords a very pleasant environment for worship or contemplation.
Capernaum was a border town, on the Via Maris near the crossing from the territory of Herod Antipas into the territory of Herod Philip. There was a tax collection station here where taxes were collected on goods coming into the territory. There was a Roman garrison stationed in the town but it was largely made up of mercenaries whose purpose it was to guard the border.
Capernaum was atypical of the towns and cities in Galilee. It was a thriving economic center but lacked the strong Roman political pressures of Sepphoris and Tiberias. It was in many ways an ideal place for Jesus to center his operations -- he had easy transportation to other towns around the lake and hence inland to the different territories of the region, and he could easily cross the border into a different political jurisdiction when necessary to avoid confrontation with the authorities.
The site is divided by a wall which creates two zones, one managed by the Greek Orthodox Church, and one by the Roman Catholic Franciscans. It is the Franciscan side which is visited by tourists and which has the reconstructed synagogue. The Greek Orthodox side has yet to be fully explored. In the late 1980's a large Roman bathhouse was found there which was dated to the late first or early second century AD. Beneath the bathhouse were remains of the first century town, but they were not investigated.
Remains of a sea wall can be seen there today. The city appears to have been well planned with streets on a typical Roman grid. The main public buildings formed a line along the lakeshore. Domestic structures were built inland behind the public buildings.
The first century buildings at Capernaum differed from those in other towns of the same period in that they appear to have had roofs constructed of wood, grass, straw and earth. Most other towns had roofs consisting of large slabs of stone.
The synagogue has been reconstructed from remains found at the site. It is dated to the late fourth century on the basis of coins found in the mortar of the floor. Several thousand coins from the second and third centuries appear to have been used as aggregate in the cement for the floor of the synagogue. This synagogue is built directly over an older one whose foundations are of basalt.
I would like to suggest that the fourth century construction was actually a reconstruction of the synagogue in which Jesus taught which was severely damaged in the great earthquake of 363 AD. Thus the columns, walls and lintels which we see today were components of the synagogue of Jesus' time, but were placed over a new foundation and floor which was built during reconstruction following the earthquake.
The Urantia Book actually describes the carving on one of the lintels which can still be seen today. Is this a copy of the one which was there when Jesus delivered the epochal sermon, or is it the same one? Was the economy of Capernaum such that following a major earthquake which destroyed many cities in the region the populace was able to afford the highly refined stone work and carving which one sees on the reconstructed ruins? Does the use of so many coins in the cement indicate that they had become useless, certainly a sign of a major economic upheaval following the earthquake and the political events of the preceeding decade? The earthquake was in 363. In 337 the death of Constantine triggered a series of civil wars as new people sought control of the empire. In 354 the Jews in Galilee staged yet another political revolt and Gallus Caesar responded swiftly, destroying most of the major cities of Galilee (including Tiberias and Sepphoris) during 355 but sparing Capernaum. Ah, so many fascinating threads to pursue!
What of "Peter's house" supposedly underneath the chapel constructed by the Franciscans? The excavations here revealed a very early church constructed over a domestic structure which dates to the first century. It was local tradition which designated this site as Peter's home. But this local tradition should not necessarily be slighted. The church has third century grafitti on it's walls. By the third century Capernaum had become a major tourist attraction. There is some indication that this church was built, not for use by the population of Capernaum, but to meet the demands of Christian pilgrims coming into the area. At any rate, the archaeological evidence indicates that both Jewish and Christian communities co-existed in Capernaum until the seventh century.
The ruins of the synagogue here form a nice context in which to read Jesus' epochal sermon from The Urantia Book, or simply to contemplate the life Jesus and his friends might have lived here in this wonderful lakeside setting.
From here we journeyed north to Caesarea-Philippi. We passed through the demilitarized zone along the Syrian border where Israeli troops were practicing tank maneuvers surrounded by the remaining devastation of the great tank battles fought here during the 1967 war. We viewed the UN Headquarters near Quneitra and then passed the ancient Crusader fortress north east of Caesarea-Philippi -- has anything other than the players really changed in the political-military affairs of the region? Then we descended into the lovely valley in which are found the ruins of Caesarea-Philippi, certainly one of the most delightful locations for a city in the entire region.
Caesarea-Philippi was Herod Philip's administrative capitol during Jesus' time. It is strategically situated at the base of Mt. Hermon just to the west of the large basaltic plateau which forms the Golan Heights. There is a passageway here between Mt. Hermon and the Golan plateau through which the Via Maris passed on it's way to Damascus. This was a major crossroads since ancient times, not far from the Biblical city of Dan. The road to the northeast leads to Damascus and Mesopotamia. To the south one travels down into Galilee. The road to the west goes to the Mediterranean coast and the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
Caesarea-Philippi is located at one of the major sources of the Jordan, a place where water from the melting snows of Mt. Hermon gushes forth from the ground in a copius spring. In Jesus' day, the water came directly out of the mouth of a cave in the base of the mountain, but this source has shifted with geologic activity since that time.
In Jesus' day, the cave which marked the source of the river was considered a very sacred place. There are niches carved in the rock face near the cave, niches which held statues of the various Greek, Roman and Pagan gods of first century people. In addition to these niches, there were carved columns placed adjacent to this area which also held statues of the Gods.
Our guide felt that it was these statues to which Peter referred after witnessing the transfiguration when he suggested that they make a tabernacle for Moses, Elijah and Jesus -- he was suggesting that they include these three in this collection of gods.
Anis also felt that it was a significant place for Jesus to ask the apostles, "Who do you say that I am?" In the midst of this collection of statues of the gods, Jesus asked them the question to which they replied, "You are the son of the living God!" -- not a god represented by a stone which symbolizes nothing more than an intellectual abstraction, but the living God.
Caesarea-Philippi is in the initial stages of what will probably be a significant excavation. A great deal will likely be learned about this city in the next few years.
This evening Larry Geis did an extremely informative presentation on Sepphoris, a site currently in process of excavation which holds a great deal of potential for changing the way in which Christianity views the environment in which Jesus lived during his childhood and young adult years.
Craig Rohrsen provided the group with some handouts which he had prepared about Tiberias.
Monday, August 15
On our way to Nazareth we stopped at a place sold to tourists as Cana. This is not the Cana of Jesus' day. The town Jesus knew lies to the northeast, nearer to Sepphoris. It has yet to be excavated. One of the problems with packaged tours in this area is that you end up being taken to such sites which are set up to take advantage of tourists, often with little regard for the real authenticity of that which they purportedly represent. Be careful and study before going!
A visit to Nazareth is an adventure which you will not likely forget. It is a dirty, noisy, bustling town today. What was it like during Jesus' day when it was a service center for international caravan traffic? Perhaps it existed on a smaller scale than the town of today, but I suspect that it still had a sense of noisy bustle as caravan travelers interacted in this rest stop at the intersection of the routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, Palestine and the rest of the Roman Empire.
The Hill of Simeon will be a desired destination for all readers of The Urantia Book -- the hilltop where Jesus played as a child. It is difficult to reach from the bottom but as of late summer 1994, a road that follows the crest of the hill from the junction of the road to Tiberias allows the easiest access. This is at the east end of town and it goes along the northern edge of the ridge. The hilltop itself is difficult of access because it is almost entirely enclosed within the grounds of a Monastery.
When we arrived at the gate of the Monastery, the good Sisters at the nearby Selisian convent cheerfully opened the gates for us so we could get closer to the crest. It would be easier for an individual or a group of only a few people to get just about anywhere here, but the logistics of getting a large group into such areas is difficult. A proper respect for private property and for things others consider sacred is essential.
This is not a difficult ridge to identify; it dominates the horizon to the north of the town.
When you try to find your way onto this site you will more fully appreciate the scene we created trying to get onto it with two large tour buses! Our drivers were indeed heroic and did everything possible to take us to the strange locations we requested to see (I think they were truly intrigued as to why any group of people would possibly want to see some of the places we took them!). And we got through the entire trip with smashing only one corner of one of the busses! Fausi, our Moslem driver, was absolutely amazing. The way he got that bus around some of those narrow winding roads and through some of those villages and towns was a feat which could only be accomplished by a true professional who had a streak of the artistic activated by a cool determination to meet virtually any challenge which the group might pose.
An interesting stop in Nazareth was the Basilica of the Annunciation, supposedly built over the location of Jesus' home. While the authenticity of many of these sites is dubious, they nevertheless form important focal points for the countless pilgrims who come from all over the planet to remember Jesus' life. Reverberating through this basilica was the beautiful chanting of a large group of pilgrims celebrating a mass. We had a difficult time getting everyone back together so we could continue our trip.
We also visited an old synagogue which is thought to date to the second century and is said by some to be built over the site of the synagogue which existed there in Jesus' day. The interior of the old synagogue is small; being inside is very much like being in a cave. Someone started singing; the resonances of this room were superb. We sang and prayed together enjoying the first of many times of shared worship. We had many such times together during the trip, often facilitated by the lovely voice of Barbara Hester.
Was this the site of the Synagogue in Jesus' day? I have been unable to find any substantial reasons for such a claim. In addition, I would like to suggest that the synagogue was on a small hill to the south west of this location. The suspected site has not been excavated but there are a lot of good reasons for suspecting that it was the site of the synagogue, including the physical location and the nature of the ruins.
While we were in Nazareth, I took Anis, our guide, aside and asked him about this suspect site. I described it to him and asked him what he thought it could be. He replied, "Oh, I know that place -- just between you and me, I think that's where the synagogue really was in Jesus' day!"
From Nazareth we went on to visit Sepphoris. Sepphoris was not originally on our itinerary but because of it's significance to readers of The Urantia Book and also because of Larry Geis' insistence that we visit the site, our guides indulged us and took us out to the site.
This is one of the sites currently being excavated and the findings here are radically altering what is known about the world in which Jesus grew up. The image of Jesus as an innocent peasant growing up in a bucolic Palestine is giving way to an image of a well-educated youth growing up in a thriving cosmopolitan urban setting.
Much of this is being driven by the discovery of a city less than an hour's walk from Nazareth which had an estimated population of 30,000 people consisting of Greeks, Jews, Romans, Egyptians and Persians. Sepphoris was Herod Antipas' administrative capitol. It was located on the major transportation routes of the day. The main east-west route through the region ran from Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, through Sepphoris and over to Ceasarea on the coast. The main north-south route, the Via Maris, crossed Palestine here as it moved inland from Caesarea, through Sepphoris and north to Damascus.
A recent report on this excavation was prepared for a Christmas issue of National Geographic magazine but was pulled at the last minute by an editorial staff who felt that the material was too controversial. Much of the text for the National Geographic article as well as some of the artwork has been published separately in "Jesus and the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus" by Richard A. Batey (Baker House Books, 1991).
Among the areas where excavation has been done is the Jewish quarter where Jesus would likely have stayed when working in the city, and the remains of a large villa which may have been the Governor's palace -- recall that Joseph was killed in a construction accident while working on the Governor's palace. The villa contains some magnificent mosaic floors, one containing over 1,000,000 small stones.
The city itself must have been magnificent -- 9 varieties of imported marble have been found as well as a great deal of white limestone. Mosaics and frescoed walls were extensively used.
Today one may also see the remains of a 4,000 seat theater. Did Jesus ever attend the theater here? He was at least familiar with the theater -- he uses the term "hypocrite" in several situations. "Hypocrite" is a classical Greek word which literally means "a stage actor."
The city also had colonnaded streets, a forum, numerous villas, markets, pools and fountains, public baths and a water system which utilized slave labor to operate gigantic water wheels which were used to pump water up to the top of the hill from distant springs.
The massive construction projects which Herod Antipas had underway here in Sepphoris during Jesus' time changes our understanding of what it meant to be a carpenter living so close to such large scale projects. The Biblical understanding of Jesus as a carpenter comes from Mark's gospel and the original Greek uses the term "tekton" which implies a skilled artisan who works with hard materials such as wood, stone or metal.
Beneath the city have been found large limestone caverns, carved out by hand labor, which were used as grain silos, water cisterns and wine cellars.
Evidence is also accumulating which leads to an appreciation for the industrial base of Sepphoris. A nearby clay quarry has been located as well as ovens for the baking of pottery and roofing tiles. Textiles were big in Sepphoris, with much weaving of wool and linen. Some nearby towns specialized in the production of dyes which were used in the textile industry here as well as in Scythopolis, another large textile center.
Sepphoris was destroyed in the great earthquake of the fourth century.
On our way back to the kibbutz we took a side trip to Safed. This would have been a spectacular place on a clear day. It is at a high elevation with a panoramic view. Unfortunately, it was very hazy the entire time we were there.
Some of the first work of the Apostles was done here. We also have a story of James of Safed, who wanted Jesus to heal his fourteen year old son. This was the boy which Simon Zelotes and Judas tried unsuccessfully to heal in Jesus' absence.
Safed is another town with a lot of interesting history. There are many art galleries there now and it is a delightful place to simply wander.
Safed was the home of the Kabbalists in the sixteenth century. It is an ancient mystical city and is ranked along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron as one of the region's most important holy cities.
A large Spanish quarter developed as refugees from the Spanish inquisition immigrated in the fifteenth century and began building synagogues. In 1777, a rabbi who had trekked all the way to Safed from Europe finally packed up and left for Tiberias, complaining that the angels in Safed kept him up at night!
Tom Allen was scheduled to give a presentation this evening back at the Kibbutz, but the tour drivers had rearranged the tour schedule in part to accomodate some of our requests to visit unusual sites. This evening, Steve McIntosh led a delightful session on the kibbutz lawn next to the Sea of Galilee, where he helped us recall many of the events which had taken place here. It was a beautiful evening and it is difficult for me to think of the Sea of Galilee without remembering this gathering of friends at dusk, resting from the day's adventures and contemplating the life of the Master.
Tuesday, August 16
Tuesday, August 16 was a free day, and we broke up into small groups and went to various places. A number of people went in to Tiberias, about a 10 minute trip from the Kibbutz.
Through Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Rebecca and I had made contact prior to leaving on the trip with a group who is working on the excavation of Bethsaida Julias. We visited the site and were able to meet Dr. Rami Arav who is heading up the excavation. A German woman who was supervising the field crew gave us a tour of the site and as we left, Dr. Arav was excitedly examining a rare cylinder seal which one of the workers had just discovered.
This excavation is just beginning and in the next few years may provide some interesting insights into life in the domain of Herod Philip during Jesus' time.
This was the day that another group hired guides and vehicles for a trip up Mt. Hermon. Because of the haze permeating Galilee during August, it was impossible to see Mt. Hermon during the time we were there. The group who ascended the mountain had a memorable trip, and were able to get beyond the military patrols to a place where they could pray and read. Here they also found out about the existence of Rujm el-Hiri, the concentric circles site in the Golan.
After dinner this evening, a study group was held in the meeting room at the kibbutz.
Wednesday, August 17
Today we drove from Galilee out of Tiberias, past Scythopolis, down the Jordan valley past Jericho to Jerusalem. This is the route which Jesus took on his first trip to Jerusalem and Passover, going by way of Bethany, around the crest of the Mount of Olives and into the city.
Scythopolis (Beth Shean)
Our first stop of the day was Beth-Shean, the city which in Jesus' day was Scythopolis. This site is nothing short of spectacular and should not be missed by anyone visiting Israel. The Israelis have excavated a great deal of the Greco-Roman city and excavations are continuing at this time.
This is the site of one of the oldest settlements in the Ancient Near East. In the tel which is adjacent to the city, the remains of more than twenty civilizations dating back at least to 5,000 BC have been found.
There is an abundance of water nearby as well as fertile farm land; the site exists at a natural crossroads in the geography of the region. It was here that the Philistine rulers of the city displayed the bodies of King Saul and his sons after slaying them on nearby Mt. Gilboa. King David later conquered the city and it became an administrative center for the Solomonic kingdom.
In Jesus' day it was a thriving industrial and commercial center, populated with a mix of Pagans, Jews and Samaritans. This was where Joseph and Jesus witnessed the games and had their little incident when Jesus mentioned that it would be a good idea to have such events in Nazareth. An amphitheater has recently been excavated but currently is dated to the second century, raising some question as to whether or not it is the one which Jesus saw.
Many of the amphitheaters in these old cities (Caesarea is a good example) have been destroyed by persons using them over the centuries as sources of building materials. The tiers of seating originally extended several stories up and were constructed of blocks of stone stacked on top of each other. In subsequent years when they were no longer in use, these amphitheaters provided easy access to a large supply of cut stone.
This must have been an extremely beautiful city in Jesus' day. The extent of the planning which went into the layout of the city and the uniformity and integrated design of its architecture were more sophisticated than anything found in any American city today. The provision for public places bespeaks a type of urban culture virtually unknown today in the technologically developed West.
Among the structures revealed by the excavations are a large theater, baths, a Roman temple, an Odeon, beautiful paved streets, workshops, residential quarters, fountains and reflecting pools. I wondered what these beautiful structures of light golden stone would have looked like covered with the brilliant bouganvilla which we saw blooming in so many places.
The city was destroyed in the great earthquake of 749 AD and the excavations show the way in which the great central colonnade collapsed into the street. Following its destruction, the city remained a relatively small settlement up to the present day.
In the Perean hills, east across the Jordan valley from Scythopolis lies Pella, as of yet unvisited by students of The Urantia Book, quietly beckoning as we passed by on our continuing journey down the Jordan Valley.
The journey down the Jordan Valley is sobering, to say the least. One goes from the lush groves of date palms and productive kibbutzim at the northern end of the valley into the desolation and poverty of the occupied territories. The military checkpoints and occassional glimpse of a missle or a tank hidden in the rocks remind us that all is not well in this part of the world.
We arrived in Jericho, thought to be the oldest continually inhabited place in the world. It's existence is due to it's proximity to an abundant supply of water, creating an oasis which predates recorded history in the region. Artifacts have been found here which date to at least 10,000 BC and the curious thing about these artifacts is that they indicate the existence of trade with other urban centers which have yet to be identified.
When we visited Jericho, it had just recently been turned over to the Palestinians who are presently struggling to establish self-rule here and in the Gaza strip, with hopes of extending it to the rest of the occupied territories. My interest in Jericho as a historic site was overshadowed by my interest in what was happening there today -- the struggles of the Palestinian people for autonomy in the shadow of the political and technological power of Israel is a deeply moving story, a morass of conflicting values, hopes and ideals held by Jew and Palestinian alike, which seem impossible of reconciliation.
On to Jerusalem! This road from Jericho to Jerusalem reveals the most twisted and deformed rock strata that I have ever seen. It makes one appreciate the tremendous geological forces at work in this region. Jericho is in a great basin some 1,300 feet below sea level. The road to Jerusalem winds up through the Judean landscape to Jerusalem which is at an altitude of 2,400 feet above sea level. This is an elevation gain of some 3,700 feet over about 25 miles -- quite a climb for those pilgrims coming to Passover from Galilee. (And Mary made this journey down from Nazareth in the heat of mid August, 9 months pregnant, on the back of a donkey!!!)
Our drivers took us up a back road out of Jericho, past the remains of a palace built by Herod the Great, and on into the mountains. They stopped at a hilltop and let us out to look into the ravine below which contained a Greek Orthodox monastery which dated back to the third or fourth century. It was possible to identify the location of springs supplying water to the monastery by the greenery surrounding them in this otherwise desolate sun-baked place. The monastery itself is built adjacent to a large spring known as "Elisha's Spring."
This route to Jerusalem is the road along which Jesus' story of the good Samaritan is thought to have taken place. It is easy to see how such a road, winding through these desolate canyons and hills would have provided easy prey for robbers.
We continued on into Jerusalem up the back side of the Mount of Olives. The Seven Arches Hotel (the old Intercontinental Hotel) sits at the top of the Mount of Olives with a spectacular view of the old city. We arrived late in the afternoon and some of us dropped our things in our rooms and immediately took off to go into Jerusalem. This hotel is in East Jerusalem, part of the occupied territories. I found it a pleasant experience to have both Israeli and Arab hosts during the course of our trip and found that it deepened my appreciation for the magnitude of the problems faced by each group.
After dinner we met in the garden behind the hotel for our evening meeting. The presentation this first night in Jerusalem was given by Cheryl Bellman who lived in Jerusalem for a number of years and attended Hebrew University. As a student, Cheryl had worked on the original excavation of Masada and she told stories that made chills go up and down my back -- stories of climbing to the top of Masada each morning and beginning work as the sun rose over the great desert to the east.
Thursday, August 18
Can there possibly be a more intriguing city on the planet than Jerusalem? This is the site where Machiventa Melchizedek founded his school and developed his relationship with Abraham -- the beginning of a story which is still playing itself out today. As the site of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus it takes on mythological proportions indeed -- perhaps the only city on our planet whose name is known throughout our universe.
I found much of my sense of Jerusalem beautifully expressed in the following paragraphs condensed from "Jerusalem: Song of Songs" by Jill and Leon Uris (Doubleday, 1981).
"Jerusalem is perhaps the most venerated site on earth. She is made of golden stones, not one of which has remained unturned by scholars and holy men. Everything about her is subjected to sublime glorification, her air, her walls, her valleys, those paths trod by the sandals of prophets and saints, those places of agony, her sacred mount, even the necropolis, her city of the dead. It is said that the world has ten measures of beauty and nine of these belong to Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem has known the hosts of thirty-six wars. She has been reduced to ashes seventeen times. She has risen eighteen. She has been sanctified by blood and martyrdom. She knew the hoofbeat of Assyrian war chariots, chilled to the besieging battering machines of Rome, heard the hissing arcs of Saladin's sabers, the rattle of crusader mail, and the tattoo of Israeli paratroop gunfire. She has seen more of passion and love, more of human savagery than any other place in the world.
"Her location, difficult for agriculture, in a constant search for sufficient water, without natural wealth, tells us that she should not have a place among those cities considered as great. She rises and rests on hot windy crests of omnipresent stone of which she is made -- stone which has given her a constant look for thousands of years.
"The Old City is entered today through seven magic gates leading into a vortex of holy fires, of smells of ancient spices and a cobblestone labyrinth that eventually finds the heart of hearts, the Temple Mount. Through this great portal, Melchizedek, Jesus and Mohammed all passed on their great journeys.
"The very names of Jerusalem call out to us like poetry heard in distant childhood...Calvary...Ophel...Al Aksa...Gethsemane...the Mount of Olives...Sanhedria...Via Dolorosa...the Valley of Hinnom...the Valley of Kidron...the Pool of Siloam...the Spring of Gihon..the Dome of the Rock...Ecce Homo...Zion.
"The city is a mosaic of strangers speaking different languages, with different alphabets and alien to one another in culture, religion, social life and education -- a city which is characterized by more cultural diversity and more potential political volatility than any place on earth.
"The tree called Jerusalem was planted before recorded history. Its roots go back to the dawn of civilized man. Civilizations rose because of certain geographic and geological truths. A body of water was essential: the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Nile, the Mediterranean. Ancient Israel had none of these. The Hebrews were a hill people who became a nation on an idea, and that made her unique. Jerusalem was the magnificent crown of that idea.
"All the mighty kingdoms that once surrounded her have been eclipsed. Nothing but crumbled ruins remain of the mighty Mesopotamian empires. The pinnacle of Egypt's glory was reached twenty-five hundred years ago.
"Of all the cities founded by the ancients, Jerusalem alone retains her ancient glory and her special relationship to God. It was here that certain eternal truths were first heard by humanity, and these truths took root, emerged and endured. These truths will continue to dictate who we are and what we are so long as man occupies this planet.
"Her beauty and her significance to us cannot be exaggerated -- she is unique, she is magnificent, she is a place where "reality, miracle and illusion all tumble around together," she exists deep within us as well as at this special geographic location; she is Jerusalem."
A great way to enjoy Jerusalem is simply to wander about in the Old City and become hopelessly lost. The walls guarantee that you won't get too seriously lost and should you enter some forbidden place, an Israeli soldier or a Moslem elder will emerge to request that you might try a different route. The rich palette of sights, sounds and smells, the human tapestry exposed to one's gaze in this ancient city must be experienced, savored, and not rushed. It will remain with you forever as one of the truly great experiences of your life, always present to remind your soul of the mystery and wonder of the human experience.
The Old City is of course replete with tourist traps and reputed Holy Sites, many of which will be of some interest to the visitor. If nothing else, it is meaningful to visit locations which have been the object of pilgrimage by many of our fellow sojourners for many centuries.
In my own experience, the real jewel of the Old City is the church of St. Anne just inside St. Stephen's Gate. I have found it's quiet simplicity to be a welcome respite from the overly-ostentatious embellishment common to many of the "holy sites" in the city -- it is a wonderful place to sit quietly, reflect on one's experience, pray and worship.
The structure itself dates to the Crusader period and stands over a fifth century basilica which, in turn, is believed to cover a second or third century chapel. On the grounds of St. Anne's you can visit the location of the Pool of Bethesda.
The acoustics in St. Anne's are particularly delightful with one of the longest decay times I've heard in Jerusalem. Our group in 1994 was blessed with the presence of several very good musicians. We got to where, when we would enter a church or cathedral, we would immediately begin to hum, to check out the acoustics and harmonic possibilities of the space. We had some deeply worshipful times of singing together, one of which was here at St. Anne's. We formed a circle around the altar and worshiped together, singing several songs. As we sang The Lord's Prayer together, I became aware of more and more people joining in -- a group from Africa had walked into the church and had joined in our worship. It was a glorious moment, both deeply sacred and deeply human, as we experienced the unity that the reality of worship created in these two groups of kingdom believers from different races and radically different regions of the planet. We shared hugs with these fellow travelers. Smiles and the word "Jesus" seemed to be some of the few things we could exchange. We then joined them in singing an alleluia there in the sanctuary.
Perhaps herein lies the great hope for our world -- sharing an outer expression of the Spirit of our creator which ministers to each of us.
The Western Wall, or "the Wailing Wall" is another place which should not be missed. It is deeply moving to contemplate the hopes, dreams, longings and prayers for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven which have brought people to this spot for centuries. It is here where one may feel the innermost longings of good men and women down through the ages for a reign of peace and righteousness upon the earth. Is there anything on earth which can more fully symbolize our longing for the restoration of that within humanity which has somehow been broken by forces which we do not fully comprehend?
As a Christian, I found that my visit to the Western Wall greatly deepened my appreciation for Judaism and for the spiritual hopes of the Jewish peoples. Observing the prayers, chants and joyous Bar Mitzvahs taking place in the vicinity of this wall is a moving experience indeed.
In the same manner, one's appreciation for Islam may be deepened by visiting the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque up on the temple mount. The most deeply revered sites of the three great religions of Western and Occidental civilizations all within a 10 minute walk of each other -- how could any religious person not be moved by such an experience?
I'm most suspicious of the Christian sites -- I can only appreciate them in their historical nature as traditional destinations of pilgrimages; their authenticity and any relation to the Master's life is lost in centuries of hype, illusion and exploitation of tourists. Remember that Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Romans following the revolts of 80 and 135 AD. For someone today to tell you that a specific room was where the last supper was held should at least arouse your incredulity. If not, enjoy the illusion; perhaps you will purchase a piece of the true cross at a bargain price!
When we left the old city to go over to the Garden Tomb, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe. There was a wedding celebration going on in the courtyard with some great music and dancing. There in the crowd of attendees was a man who looked as if he could be Steve Sawyer's twin brother. The two met, and Steve and Tom Choquette joined in the celebration.
If you're going to visit the major traditional Christian sites (and you certainly should see them regardless of what you think about them), don't miss the Garden Tomb, just outside the Damascus gate on the property next to the bus station. This park-like setting provides lots of quiet places where visitors may sit and contemplate the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, to pray and worship in the company of other pilgrims. We had a delightful time sitting as a group and reading from The Urantia Book. An Israeli tourist guide quietly sat at the back of our group and when we began to leave approached Rebecca to inquire about The Urantia Book. He was very interested and she sent him one when we returned home. She recently received a thank-you note from him containing his expression of continued interest.
I think that the interest shown in the text by the guides who came into contact with it foreshadows a unique area in which the book is likely to spread and in which it is likely to deepen the understanding which people of our world have of Jesus' life and teachings.
This evening was marked by a celebration of Karen Allen's birthday. Tom and Karen's baby, Jeremy, was a joy to have along and seemed to take it all quite well.
The presentation this evening was conducted by Nathan Jansen, Ron Louie and Jim Johnston, with assistance from Alice Hodemaker, Tom Choquette, John Hales, Eef Hodemaker and Chuck Burton. Ron and Nathan dressed up in Arab robes and head coverings which they had purchased in Jericho. I don't think they knew how to get them on quite right -- several Arabs in the hotel kept walking past the open door, looking in and snickering.
Barbara and Waldine closed the session with more of their wonderful singing. Part of the success of this trip was that so many people participated in so many different ways. Berkeley did a great job of coordinating the efforts of everyone, including a significant amount of pre-trip planning and organization. Warren is also to be commended for assisting her so extensively as the trip progressed.
Friday, August 19
Today we journeyed back over the Judean hills to the Dead Sea, visiting Qumran, En-Gedi and Masada. Some of the hardier members of the group marinated themselves in the Dead Sea before the day was over.
We began our day with a stop at a church built over the supposed site of Mary, Martha and Lazarus' house in Bethany. Barbara sang for us once again. This noisy, dirty town must have been quite different in Jesus' day. It is not a very pleasant place to visit under present circumstances. Most of these sites (especially around Jerusalem) are so built up and overly commercialized that it leaves one longing for the peace and quiet of Galilee. Is this what Jesus experienced?
On to Qumran and Masada with a stop at Engedi on the return trip.
We journeyed over to the Jordan Valley and south along the western shore of the Dead Sea, sitting spell-bound in our bus as Anis told us the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as only a story teller like Anis could do. His story telling was a real highlight of the trip for many of us.
One of Anis' neighbors, while he was growing up, was Kato, the antiquities dealer who acquired the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Bedouin who had found them. Anis says he remembers Kato and his father, sitting around the kitchen table examining the scrolls and wondering if they were worth anything. He related how the unfolding drama of the scrolls stimulated him to study history and archaeology and to pursue a career which enabled him to share his knowledge and love of the land with visitors.
He also told us the story of Josephus which I found to be simply stunning -- his presentation would have been the envy of any professional monologist. Often, when he had finished telling us a story, there would be a few moments of complete silence on the bus followed by an explosive round of applause.
I should mention that the busses we had were extremely comfortable, air conditioned, and contained a sound system with speakers distributed the length of the bus. This enabled him to use a microphone at the front of the bus and to be heard easily by everyone. We also used the same sound system for our readings and prayer times as we traveled.
Qumran appears to have had its most important period of occupation between 150 B.C. and 68 A.D. At present it is believed that a community of Essenes lived and worked here during this period but this assessment is controversial. Findings at the site have been interpreted as indicating a place where a great deal of writing occurred. The location of near-by caves where the scrolls were found is well-known. Manuscripts of every Old Testament book, with the exception of Esther, were found in addition to many more documents. A great deal is currently being published about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the serious student is referred to a good book store; any book I could suggest here would be outdated in six months.
Among the scrolls found is the oldest known copy of the Septuagint written about 100 B.C. Recall that Jesus had been given a copy of the Septuagint by family friends in Alexandria and that the presence of this document at the Nazareth home occassioned visits from many individuals interested in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. In a pre-printing press world where all such documents were painstakingly reproduced by hand, this was a real treasure which Jesus had been given. In telling us about it, the revelators use the term "priceless manuscript" to describe it. (1359)
The book also tells us that having a copy of this rare manuscript made Joseph's home "a much-sought place and enabled Jesus, as he grew up, to meet an almost endless procession of earnest students and sincere truth seekers." He subsequently donated this manuscript to the library of the Nazareth synagogue as his maturity offering to the Lord on his fifteenth birthday (and also to keep it from being seized by the Roman tax collectors). (1393)
Another factor of interest to readers of the Urantia papers is the mentioning of Melchizedek in some of the scrolls. The meaning to be ascribed to some of this material is perhaps more controversial than the circumstances surrounding the creation and use of the scrolls themselves.
In a number of places the scrolls refer to "the Sons of Zadok", the "Zaddikim" or "Righteous Ones". "Melchi Zedek" is used as "The King of Righteousness". Sometimes "Zedek" is used alone and at least one scholar has suggested that the "z-d-k" sequence always be understood as referring to Melchizedek. There is a great deal of work to be done here by competent scholars to see if it is possible to trace a path back through existing documents and stories to the times of Melchizedek.
Perhaps the primary factor of interest in the Qumran-Engedi region for readers of The Urantia Book is that this is the region where John the Baptist tended his flocks, studied and from where he launched his ministry which prepared the ground for Jesus.
Just who inhabited this region during the first century and who occupied Qumran are issues of great current controversy. The Urantia Book clearly designates this region as a major center for the Nazarites. Page 1496 refers to Engedi as "the southern headquarters of the Nazarite brotherhood." It's interesting to note that outside the Urantia papers and some references in the Old Testament, there is little information available on the Nazarites.
In reading passages in The Urantia Book on John the Baptist, we get some insight into what life was like in this region at that time (See pages 1496 through 1499). The book describes John studying "the sacred writings which he found at the Engedi home of the Nazarites." It even mentions the Isaiah and Malachi scrolls as ones which particularly impressed John (1499).
John was no isolated teacher. On page 1502 it is indicated that in the fifteen months of John's public ministry he baptized more than 100,000 penitents. The ford across the Jordan where John did much of his work was not far from Qumran. Millar Burrows devotes an entire chapter to the relation of John the Baptist to the Qumran community in the book "More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls." Even though this book is somewhat outdated (published in 1958), Burrows' arguments provide interesting background on John and his work.
Abner was also associated with this region. In refering to the Nazarites on page 1605 it says that "Abner had been head of this group." On page 1817 it is indicated that Abner was "a Nazarite and onetime head of the Nazarite school at Engedi."
It is my opinion that there is sufficient information contained in The Urantia Book to significantly inform some of the controversies surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls (as well as start some new ones!) and will do so in the future. It should be noted that the scrolls and their associated controversies post-date the completion of the Urantia papers.
The identification of Qumran with the Essenes is based largely on a few comments made by Josephus in his "Wars of the Jews". However, it should be noted that Josephus uses the term "Essenes" to describe individuals who "would not call any man Lord." Page 1497 of The Urantia Book says that "The Engedi colony included not only Nazarites....but numerous other ascetic herdsmen who congregated in this region with their herds and fraternized with the Nazarite brotherhood." Scrolls have been found in various parts of the region, some significant finds having been made in the Nahal Heber which is about three miles south of Engedi.
The available data illuminated by the text of the Urantia papers leads me to speculate that this entire region of the Judean wilderness between Qumran and Engedi was populated by ascetic herdsmen who used these settlements as community gathering places, libraries and educational centers and perhaps for purposes of trade as well. There is evidence at both Qumran and Engedi to support the idea that these communities played a substantial role in the commercial life of the region.
Part of what interests us, as students of The Urantia Book, is that the historical events which spark so much controversy about Qumran, the destruction of these communities, and the dramatic events which occurred at Masada were all major events in the early outworking of the fourth epochal revelation.
Far from appearing to be a library, the scrolls found at Qumran appear to have been stashed for safekeeping. The community was apparently abandoned in 68 A.D. as the Romans attempted to put down the Jewish revolt. What happened to the religionists inhabiting this region?
Consider: Due east of Qumran is Amman, the capital of present day Jordan and the Philadelphia of Jesus' day. Remember that Abner had moved to Philadelphia and set up his headquarters there. On page 1831 we find, "The synagogue of Philadelphia had never been subject to the supervision of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem and therefore had never been closed to the teachings of Jesus and his associates....This very synagogue later on became a Christian church and was the missionary headquarters for the promulgation of the gospel through the regions to the east. It was long a stronghold of the Master's teachings and stood alone in this region as a center of Christian learning for centuries....Philadelphia was really the headquarters of the early church in the south and east as Antioch was in the north and west."
Consider also some of the characters who were supporting Abner at Philadelphia after the resurrection of the Master. Lazarus became the treasurer of the church at Philadelphia (1849) and was a strong supporter of Abner in his controversy with Paul. Mary and Martha disposed of their lands at Bethany and moved to Philadelphia (1849). David Zebedee became "...the financial overseer of all those large interests of the kingdom which had their center at Philadelphia during the lifetime of Abner " (1869). Jesus' sister, Ruth, would also have been a part of this community, having married David Zebedee two months after the Master's death (2031).
With such a strong nucleus, did many of Abner's associates from the Engedi region join this group in Philadelphia? Given his contacts, did Abner get sets of scrolls for the center in Philadelphia? Would the religionists in the Judean hills have fled to the Philadelphia region when faced with the Roman response to the Jewish revolt of 68 A.D? Abner would have still been in Philadelphia at this time, not dying until November of 74, the year after the fall of Masada (1832).
How many early kingdom believers died at Masada? Did Abner, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, David and Ruth spend three years living through the horror of watching their friends attempt to outlast the Roman seige? And this after seeing the temple at Jerusalem destroyed and the Jerusalem community of believers scattered across the land?
Sobering indeed are such considerations.
Masada itself was spectacular. The account of the three-year Roman seige is an epic story best heard as one gazes down upon the remains of the Roman seige wall and the ramp, or while one wanders through the luxurious bath house and steam rooms Herod had constructed as part of his palace on this remote plateau. We were fortunate to have reader Sheryl Bellman with us on the tour. She had participated in the original excavation of Masada and had very informative stories to share with the group. One of her close co-workers found an ostracon containing the name of one of the men selected to kill the members of the community as the Romans made their final assault.
We stopped at Engedi for only a short view of the site. We could see the canyon leading back into the Judean hills, the spring and the wild Ibex at the nature reservation. By this point most people seemed so fatigued by the heat that they preferred not to wander too far from the air conditioned busses.
Saturday, August 20
This was the day on which part of the group returned to the Golan region to visit the site of the stone circles. The name of the site is Rujm el-Hiri; it is currently under study by several universities in Israel. Judged even by the standards of similar megalithic structures which appear from Europe to India, this site is impressive. Because of the intense interest in this site shown by the readers on this trip, I have included some material below which was taken from Archaeologist Jonathan Mizrachi's doctoral dissertation (in the Harvard University Library) which was a report on his excavation of the site.
Megalithic sites abound throughout the region. A British survey conducted by C.R. Conder in 1889 devoted an entire volume to the description of some seven hundred megalithic structures in the Transjordan.
It's important to understand that these archaeological periods are local in scope, that they existed simultaneously in different areas. For example, the Early Bronze Age began in Palestine somewhere around 3,000 BC. In Turkey there are known Bronze Age sites which are dated back to 9,000 BC.
I do not think it unreasonable to equate "Bronze" with "Andite" when found in archaeological or anthropological literature.
Rujm el-Hiri (which in Arabic means "Stone Heap of the Wild Cat") is in the Golan Heights directly east of the Sea of Galilee. The Golan is the terminus of a large basaltic formation which starts in Syria and extends south from the base of Mt. Hermon. The abrupt ending of this formation as it abuts Palestine forms a natural barrier. It's important to appreciate that activities in this region have almost always been related to activities taking place to the north and the east towards Damascus and Mesopotamia, and not to the south and west towards Palestine.
Rujm el-Hiri is the largest known Bronze Age site in the Levant. It was not known to Western archaeologists until it's discovery in 1967 after the Israeli war with Syria. Another ancient name for the site is "Gilgal Rephaim." Gilgal means simply "circle of stones." Investigating the origins of the word "Rephaim" leads us to "descendents of the race of fallen ones." Indeed, one of the speculations about the site circulating amongst Biblical archaeologists is that the site represents the tomb of Og, a 9 foot tall giant who was the last King of Bashan referenced in the book of Deuteronomy. The Golan region was known as Bashan in early Biblical times.
The site consists of 5 concentric walls which appear to be randomly broken by smaller radial walls. Archaeologists have been unable to relate these divisions to any functional activity such as storage, defense, etc.
There is very limited access to them and the floors indicate that they were essentially unused. Openings between these spaces are very small and appear to be randomly located.
The outer ring is nearly 1/3 mile in circumference. Originally these rings rose to 8' in height and 10' in width. There are two monumental entryways -- one facing northeast and one facing southeast. The largest stones in the complex are in the walls of the northeast entryway.
The center of the site has a large burial cairn which is 60' in diameter and consists of 3 concentric stepped circles. The burial chamber inside is 6' in diameter and is covered with a slab of stone weighing 5.5 tons.
The burial chamber was robbed during the Roman period but a few artifacts were found, including pottery and bone fragments, some flint blades, some bronze arrowheads, a few beads and some gold earrings.
Here are some more statistics about the site:
Over 125,000 cubic feet of stone weighing over 42,000 tons were brought to the site. Mizrachi estimates that it would have taken 100 workers working 8 hours a day, 365 days a year, 6 years to complete the construction.
This raises a very serious question -- who organized and managed this effort? It represents a complex social technology unknown in the area at the time.
One of the unanswered questions is, "Where does the site actually begin?"
Aerial photographs included in the archaeologist's report reveal that the surrounding area contains hundreds of low stone walls, dolmens and burial cairns. As of 1994, virtually no excavation had been done in this surrounding region; it is not known if these structures are co-temporal with the primary circular structure.
There are many similarities between this site and the European megalithic sites of the period between 5,000 and 2,000 BC. Rujm el-Hiri, however, is larger than most of the European megalithic centers, and no megalithic complex even approaching this size has been found in the entire Near East.
As a point of reference, Stonehenge was under continuous construction and remodeling from 3,100 BC to about 1,000 BC.
How do we arrive at a date for the construction of this site? It turns out that it can be quite accurately dated because, similar to other megalithic complexes, it contains a number of very strong astronomical correlations. Let's consider some of them.
The June 21, 3,000 BC sunrise would have been visible through the center of the northeast gateway from the center of the complex. (The accuracy of this time estimate is +/- 250 years.)
In addition, the radial walls appear to align with the points on the horizon where significant stars would have risen in the same time period. (I did not see the astroarchaeological studies on this so this I don't know how strong the correlation of the radial walls to star/horizon points really is).
Constellations are culture-specific and if there is no information on the cosmology of a people being studied it is difficult to know which stars were most significant to them. It is assumed that whatever patterns they saw in the heavens included the brightest stars.
The alignment of the radial walls at the site with star/horizon points was studied by calculating the horizon positions of the brightest stars back through the period in question and looking at the correlation between these locations and the alignment of Rujm el-Hiri's radial walls. Again, there appears to be a strong correlation for the period around 3,000 BC.
There is also a straight line running from the center of the site, through the peak of Mt. Hermon to where the north star would have been located at the same time. Constructing the complex even a couple of hundred meters to either the east or the west would have made this alignment impossible. The precision of the alignment is such that it is not reasonable to consider it coincidental.
Exactly due east of the center, 2 of the site's largest stones show an equinox alignment for 3,000 BC.
Mizrachi believes that the central burial cairn was built in the Late Bronze Age, some 1,000 to 1,500 years after the complex itself. He bases this on the presence of artifacts found during excavation.
All of the pottery fragments found in the main entryway were of Early Bronze origin while those found in association with the central cairn were Late Bronze.
In addition, the central cairn was constructed off center of the rest of the complex. It could not have been used as a referent for the construction of the outer rings.
But this dating of the central cairn is controversial. Moshe Kochavi, an archaeologist who is responsible for coordinating all studies in the Golan believes it was built closer to the time of the main complex. While I am not certain of the arguments which Kochavi offered in support of his position, it should be noted that the presence of Late Bronze ceramic materials in association with the central cairn could represent a Late Bronze use of construction done at an earlier time.
In either case, the cairn itself most likely represents the burial of a highly revered tribal leader.
What do we know of the large-scale cultural processes occurring at the time Rujm el-Hiri was constructed?
The BIG event of this period was the continuing impact of the Andites on populations which had existed for tens of thousands of years in relative equilibrium with their environment and with each other.
The Andites were a shock to the planet's ecosystem. They did not start at a point and spread as did the Sangik races, but rather they precipitated out of the genome in multiple regions simultaneously.
The Andites had the genetics for inventing complex social systems and essentially established true civilization on the planet. Their appearance marks the beginning of what we know as recorded history.
Consider that the response of the celestial government to the appearance of the Andites has been to provide 3 epochal revelations in a period of only 4,000 years!
In one sense the Adamic default did not produce a serious planetary crisis until the appearance of the Andites. The Andites began to appear with advanced genetic potentials for the stimulation of civilization at a time when the culture which should have been ready for them had virtually disappeared.
Instead of becoming catalysts for the aggressive advancement of civilization, they emerged as warriors at the fringes of Mesopotamia who launched devastating raids into the river valleys and flood plains, eventually completing the destruction of the civilization which had been responsible for their appearance.
Instead of being greeted by the staff of a well-established garden school system, the Andites emerged into a world whose highest view of reality held that men and women were slaves of the Gods.
The Andites and their descendents constructed numerous massive megalithic cult sites in India, across Europe and even at their remote center on Easter Island. They built pyramids in Egypt and Ziggurats in Mesopotamia. They quickly developed bronze weapons, compound bows and the fine art of chariot warfare.
Roughly at the time of the construction of Rujm el-Hiri the Melchizedeks were petitioning the Most Highs of Edentia for help.
What about local conditions? What was going on in the immediate vicinity of Rujm el-Hiri?
Five major Early Bronze community sites have been discovered within a day's walk from the site. These consist of large circular walls and are referred to simply as "enclosures."
Their interiors yield a rich collection of artifacts indicating domestic living. The stone walls enclosed dwellings which were made of more temporary materials. They also provided a safe place for animals.
The enclosures are built with the same construction techniques as Rujm el-Hiri. In some places they were 30' high and 45' wide at their bases.
Towards the end of the Early Bronze Age, regional concerns about security seem to have diminished. The enclosures were abandoned and their populations appear to have moved to some other region.
For some unknown reason there appears to have been a severe decline in the number of settlements, settlement size and population throughout the southern Levant at the Middle Bronze to Late Bronze transition.
I suspect it may have been a result of famine due to changing weather patterns. The Levant apparently never had irrigation systems for large-scale agriculture.
The Urantia Book tells of a period around 5,000 BC when there was extensive and destructive flooding in Mesopotamia. This would imply a lot of rainfall in the elevated regions of the Mesopotamian watershed.
In the Levant, this may have been enough to make marginal lands sufficiently productive to support larger populations. But as the climate changed and the annual rainfall dropped off, there were more frequent periods of drought and famine.
Indeed, when the Hebrew Old Testament books begin to pick up the story, the main purpose of indigenous religions among such groups as the Canannites is to magically effect the production of rain.
By the beginning of the Late Bronze period, the entire Golan region appears to have reverted to use by semi-nomadic pastoralists.
These peoples constructed extensive dolmen fields and burial cairns throughout the Trans-Jordan and Golan region, and it is these people that Mizrachi feels built the central burial cairn. Contributing to Mizrachi's sense that the central cairn was a later addition is the fact that it is not centered within the site; it could not have been used as a basis for calculating the location of the outer concentric rings. It would be interesting to try and corelate the location of the central cairn with the shifting of the north alignment which would have taken place over the 1,500 years which Mizrachi speculates separated the construction of the rings from the construction of the cairn.
The construction of Rujm el-Hiri reflects such a substantial change in the indigenous culture that it indicates the arrival of new ideas from outside. Recall that during this period, there was an on-going migration of refugees from the collapsing Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia.
There are also indications that during this period there was a substantial dispersion of the remaining Andites in Turkestan.
Whoever these new arrivals in the Levant were, they brought with them a familiarity with astronomy, complex geometry, engineering, and Mesopotamian religious concepts, factors which were not known to have been a part of regional culture prior to the discovery of Rujm el-Hiri.
As this was a "free day" people were on their own to choose and visit various places.
A few of the group explored the tunnel constructed under the direction of Hezekiah in 701 B.C. which enabled water from the Gihon Spring, outside the city walls, to be brought into Jerusalem via an underground channel. This is similar to the tunnel constructed at Megiddo which was seen by most of the individuals on the tour. A very interesting and detailed description of the construction of this tunnel appears in the July/August 1994 issue of "Biblical Archeology Review."
Other individuals visited the Islamic Museum, the Israel Museum or spent time in the Old City. Anyone visiting Israel with the intent to better understand the history of the region would do well to begin with a visit to the archaeological wing of The Israel Museum.
In addition to containing excellent artifacts and well-designed exhibits, the museum provides an overview of the region's history and an introduction to terminology which will be found at sites and museums throughout the country.
Waldine Stump gave the evening presentation, this night before we would be celebrating Jesus' birth. She concluded by having Barbara join her in singing "O Holy Night."
Sunday, August 21 -- Jesus' Birthday
This Sunday was the special day for which we had made our journey, the 2,000 year commemoration of the start of Jesus' sojourn on our planet.
The day began at 6:00 AM with the women in the group having a time of prayer and worship in the garden behind the hotel in honor of the original Women's Corps. I happened to walk through an elevated hallway in the hotel which had a view of the garden and from which I could see them. The sight was so moving that I know it will never leave me. Many of these women had purchased white cotton dresses with a traditional Arabic cut -- simple bodice, 3/4 or full length sleeves and a long skirt. Many of them had worn these dresses to their worship service.
There they were, these beautiful women, dressed in these simple but beautiful gowns, sitting in the garden near the olive trees with the morning sun just beginning to peek over the Judean hills to the east, giving thanks to Jesus for all that he did for the women of our world during his bestowal and representing the Women's Corps at this special anniversary.
In addition to the pure aesthetics of the scene I felt a deep joy that my friends were having such a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- I knew right then that it was going to be a memorable day.
At 6:30 we had our flag raising, lifting a white banner with three concentric blue circles into the air over Jerusalem. Rebecca Kantor opened the service by giving thanks to Michael for his bestowal, making note of the countless mortals living on our world today who derive sustenance and strength from his life.
Larry Geis conducted a short program in which he had different individuals from our group read something in honor of the great spiritual teachers which have graced our planet and served the different races of humanity -- Ron Louie gave a very moving reading in Chinese.
We concluded with a song by Waldine and Barbara. We lowered the flag with a prayer dedicating ourselves to work towards the day when the banner of Michael will fly over every city, over every grouping of humanity and within each individual on the planet.
We had been limited to one-half hour of time to fly the flag. The hotel, being on the top of the Mount of Olives, is highly visible from the city of Jerusalem. This was the first time since the outbreak of the intifada that a flag had flown on the hotel flagpole. First I had to convince the hotel management that all we were going to do was raise a religious (not political!) flag and pray. Then they wanted to know what was on the flag and I had to convince them that the concentric circle symbol represented the Christian Trinity and was not an attempt to caricaturize the flag of Israel, which consists of an azure blue star of David on a white background.
We spent some time taking pictures of the flag and just being there together in somewhat of a daze; it was impossible to really comprehend the significance of being there on the Mt. of Olives remembering Jesus' bestowal. But there we were, with the city of Jerusalem spread out before us illuminated with the light of a new day.
After breakfast we departed for Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem was a dirty, noisy town with a great deal of palpable political and social tension -- not a pleasant place. The Church of the Nativity I found to be interesting from a historical perspective but it's impact was overshadowed by the feeling of the present social conflict and the periodic rumbling of Israeli military helicopters passing overhead.
We then went to a small park-like place at the edge of town known as "The Fields of the Shepherd" which is sold to tourists as the place where the Shepherds heard the announcement of Jesus' birth. It was, however, far enough away from traffic and activity to be quiet and the trees provided a welcome respite from the blazing sun.
We had a nice remembrance with more music from our resident choir consisting of Waldine and Barbara, Tom Allen and Chick Montgomery. Time was taken for quiet prayer and thanksgiving.
I still found the occassional noise of Israeli military aircraft passing in the distance to be somewhat disturbing; it seemed to be a reminder of how much work yet needs to be done before the world will be really reaping the harvest from the seeds planted by Jesus 2,000 years ago. I deeply appreciated being here, at this time, with this group of friends.
During the previous week, many of us had kept our eyes open for something which we might use as a chalice during this service -- something which could then be taken home to commemorate the day. Consequently, many purchases had been made and a great variety of cups and chalices were raised to Michael there under the trees of Bethlehem. Even Jeremy, Tom and Karen's baby, was given some grape juice from the tip of a finger. As we returned to our busses, some wine and bread was also shared with Anis, our wonderful guide.
We then went to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlem for another service. I found it difficult to get into the spirit of the occassion because of the amount of garbage we had to walk through in the streets and the obvious social tension in the town -- I found it difficult to keep from being overwhelmed by the contrast between Jesus' gospel and the squalor and hoplessness which I saw in this town of the Master's birth.
We had a nice service in the church. The stained glass windows were beautiful and so was Waldine's singing. Unfortunately, just as Waldine started to sing the special song which she had written for the occassion, something happened with the sound system and she was engulfed in feedback. She heroically held forth until a worker in the church came to our rescue and replaced the microphone.
We left the church after the short service and headed back to Jerusalem. But the day was far from over. Before returning to the hotel we visited the two primary Mosques, the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa. Most noticable in these Mosques were the heavily carpeted floors, covered with hundreds of small carpets and rugs, most of which contained heavily ornamented images and passages from the Koran in that fantastic Arabic script.
We stopped at the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane before returning to the hotel.
Our meals at the hotel had been served buffet style. This evening we arrived at dinner to find a portion of the dining room set aside for our exclusive use, waiters for our tables and a special meal. Afterwords, Tom Choquette offered a moving prayer which gave expression to feelings many of us had been accumulating during the day. Tom Allen and Waldine sang for us. By now it was approaching 10:00 PM. As I tried to drag my exhausted body back to my room and to bed, I noticed a group gathering in the garden out behind the hotel to continue this day of memorable reflection on Michael's bestowal.
Monday, August 22
This was the last day in Israel. Part of the group went on to Egypt while others began boarding flights to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Rebecca and I went to the Israel Museum and enjoyed lunch with Bob and Betsy McGaughey in the courtyard of the American Colony Hotel, surely one of the most delightful spots on the planet.
In late twentieth century American religious culture (stretching the meaning of the term "culture") we have very little sense of the significance of pilgrimage. This had indeed been a pilgrimage in the classic sense for many of us. A journey to Palestine is not only a pilgrimage to a physical place deemed sacred by three of the planet's major religions, it is also a pilgrimage to a place deep in the psyche of Western civilization. For those of us raised in Judeo-Christian culture, here is where the external world mirrors the symbolism upon which the foundations of our very thought processes are constructed. Here we meet the human family whose spiritual longings we share. Here we contemplate the mystery of God attempting to reveal his presence and nature to humanity. Here also, we see humanity -- ourselves -- attempting to respond to this celestial outreach in our extremely limited, truncated, immature way with symbols, rituals, tears, illusions, hopes, prayers, vows and determinations. The entire human dilemma is tangibly summed up, felt, grasped -- somehow made known to the pilgrim in a new way, here in these few square kilometers of land.
Indeed, we are all pilgrims in the deepest sense of the word.
Notes for Travelers
1. If you take a tour with a guide, the quality of the guide and the relationship which is established will be a major factor in your experience. The Israeli government licenses (1994) only a few hundred guides each year. They are required to pass competency exams and are also required to attend continuing education classes each year. They are generally quite well informed. The critical element is finding one who is in love with the material and is not just doing a job. How this is accomplished remains a mystery but the topic should at least be broached with whomever is brokering the tour and every attempt made to specify a superior guide.
2. We started each day on the bus with a reading from The Urantia Book and a prayer (a good way to start each day of life). This set the tone for the day in an important way.
3. There are many old churches to visit, virtually all of which are constructed of stone with large central areas providing great reverberation for chanting and singing. If going in a group, prepare some simple songs ahead of time which everyone can easily learn. It is important to select songs which have simple harmonic structures because of the reverberation in these spaces. Simple harmonies are easier for non-singers to sing and because of the resonances in these churches one can more easily hear the primary harmonic relationships in any note being sung. Also, because of the delay time in the echos, anything with complex harmonics tends to get muddy quickly. Our group singing was one of the highlights of the trip and almost always precipitated very meaningful times of worship.
4. Keep tour groups small so that everyone can share a common frame of reference throughout the trip.
5. If you are interested in maximizing your understanding of what you will see on your trip, it is suggested that you begin with a visit to the Israel Musuem in Jerusalem. This is one of the most beautiful, well-designed museums I have ever visited. If you don't know the difference between chalcolithic and chocolata, this is the place to start. Here you will find a breakdown of the sequence of historic periods and a good orientation to both archaeology and historical anthropology -- an orientation which will help you make sense of the descriptive signs, guidebooks and small museums which you will encounter at the various sites you visit.
6. Carry some food with you such as dried fruit, granola bars or whatever else you can rely upon to sustain yourself during an active day. Bulk up on food in the mornings and evenings at your hotel but don't waste time on a mid-day quest for food in unknown territory. No matter how long you intend to stay, it will be too short a period of time to see everything. It's a real drag to spend an hour standing in line for a falafel and then find that you don't have time to visit a major cathedral or historic site. Even a hard-boiled egg and a piece of bread saved from the breakfast buffet can get you through the day without having to take time out to find a place to eat.
7. Prepare ahead of time. Read, watch videos, ask questions, talk with people -- acquire as much information as you can. When you arrive, if you have no knowledge to relate to what you are seeing, the days will quickly blur into a sequence of rock piles that all look the same.
8. Give your Adjuster and your Angels a treat -- take them to visit the land of Michael's bestowal. They will repay you by enhancing your tour in ways which only they can do.
Present-day Archaeological Efforts
Being uncovered in Israel at an unprecedented rate are the physical remains of cultures and civilizations whose achievements were repercussions of epochal revelations. The Urantia Book can play a significant role in helping us to interpret and understand this rapidly accumulating information to the end that our origin and destiny might be more fully understood.
While I will make every effort to insure the accuracy of factual information presented it is important to appreciate that the "facts" are constantly shifting due to the great amount of archaeological work presently being done in the field, and the present fluidity of interpretive contexts. In addition, I will be engaging in some speculation in hopes of suggesting directions for further investigation and study. The serious student is encouraged to seek out current sources of information at the time a trip to Israel is made and to enter all such studies as critically as possible -- everything in this field is presently in a state of great flux.
I have used the term "Palestine" in this document to refer to the immediate geographic area in which Jesus' bestowal was enacted. This includes regions of present day Israel, Jordan and territories under Israeli military occupation which are contested by Syria, Jordan, Israel and groups seeking an independent Palestinian state.
Numbers appearing in parentheses throughout the following text refer to page numbers in Urantia Foundation's 1955 edition of The Urantia Book.
Overview of Present Archeological Activity
The Israel Antiquities Authority is overseeing an unprecedented period of excavation and discovery. In five years the department has gone from having 54 employees to more than 3,000 -- some 200 of them being professional archaeologists. The departmental budget has gone from less than $2,000,000 in 1988 to $22,000,000 in 1994. At Beth-Shean (Scythopolis) alone some 300 workers have been employed as part of a project expected to last at least five years.
As of April 1994, some 300 sites were in process of being excavated and the Authority has identified some 15,000 additional unexplored sites.
Some 200 persons have been hired to specialized in restoration alone, to make these sites accessible to visitors and to provide historical information, publications, museums, etc. As of summer 1993 there were 13 sites undergoing extensive restoration. "Restoration" itself consists of strengthening walls to prevent their collapse, sometimes putting up roofs to protect important discoveries from the ravages of winter rain and summer sun, replacing crumbly old stones with new ones, using special materials to strengthen the adhesion of ancient plaster on ancient walls, and restoring mosaic floors.
There are now 70 "Antiquities Inspectors" whose full-time task is to monitor all new construction, road-building and agricultural projects to assure that anything discovered of a cultural nature which predates 1700 AD will be examined by trained persons and competently excavated if necessary.
A special police force has been created to prevent looting of sites which are waiting to be excavated and a project has been initiated to computerize all the data which has been developed over the past 100 years.
Another group has been formed to develop educational materials -- publications, interactive CDs, and museum exhibits which will travel to the great museums of the world. Later this year a number of selected items will be sent to the Metropolitan Museum in New York on long-term loan.
The Authority is planning a major exhibition in 1996 in Jerusalem to mark the 3,000 anniversary of David's establishment in Jerusalem of the Israelite capital. This exhibition will see the return to Israel of many artifacts now held by foreign museums.
Needless to say, all this sudden archeological activity has it's critics. There is legitimate concern about moving too fast and about potential tourist revenues taking priority over careful academic research. An example of what can happen is the problem which has resulted from the early Dead Sea Scrolls researchers using scotch tape to repair some of the scroll fragments. Today, three people work full time at the Rockefeller Museum just trying to remove this material. The adhesive from the tape has penetrated the parchment and darkened the letters to the point of illegibility. Each fragment must be treated with a special compound and then placed between special polyester screens which are being used to hold the scrolls together. This one mistake is expected to take many years to correct.
How does all this activity relate to students of The Urantia Book? How does it relate to us as a community of individuals who may have more than a passing interest in the remaining artifacts of the civilization which was flourishing during the time of Michael's bestowal? We may begin to address these questions by considering present activity at some of the sites we visited and some of the information which The Urantia Book provides or implies about these sites.
The Urantia Book makes a number of rather bold statements about not only the first century Palestine in which Jesus lived and taught, but also the Palestine of earlier Hebrew and later Judeo-Christian history. The book provides information about a number of sites which, in the world of present day academic archaeology, are highly controversial. Often these are statements which might appear to the casual reader as mere literary devices helping to create a context conducive to our assimilation of something which Jesus is saying or doing.
A good example of this is the paragraph at the bottom of page 1710. Here we are in the midst of reading the text of his epochal sermon in the Capernaum synagogue. As we read along, we're deeply involved in what Jesus is saying. Then we come upon this: "And then said Jesus, pointing up to the device of a pot of manna which decorated the lintel of this new synagogue, and which was embellished with grape clusters..." and the sermon continues.
But in this one little aside there is enough information to make a clear dating of an artifact which might be found at this site. This is potentially enough of a key to make possible the identification of a great deal more at Capernaum, including information about the construction represented by the synagogue ruins which the visitor sees.
Perhaps this one illustration may help you appreciate why our guides, well educated and deeply interested in the history of the land, were so excited about The Urantia Book. And this is but one example of the manner in which the book provides a great depth of meaning and insight into the factual material which is being discovered as you read this.
As of August 1994, the locations of active excavations which would be of interest to readers include Sepphoris, Scythopolis (Beth-Shean), Caesarea-Philippi, Caesarea (Caesarea Maritima), Bethsaida-Julias and the first century boat found at Kibbutz Nof Ginnosar.
Easily accessible traditional sites include Bethany, Jerusalem, the Caves on Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida (Tabgha), Magdala, the Mount of Beatitudes, Jericho and Tiberias.
Sites which are more off the beaten path include Cana (note that Cana of the tourist stop is not the Cana of the New Testament or The Urantia Book), Chorazin, Kheresa and Hippos. These latter two sites can be visited if you rent a car and drive around the east side of the Sea of Galilee.
There are several sites which may pose some danger to travelers at the present time due to local political conditions. These include Mt. Gerazim (the summit of which contains ruins of several temples), Hebron, locations in Samaria including Jacob's Well and any other sites in the occupied territories.
Changing political conditions may soon make it easier for the visitor to see the ruins of some of the cities of the Decapolis which are in Jordan, including Pella, Jerash, Gadara and perhaps even Philadelphia (Amman). Anyone up for a hike through the hills east of Pella to Beit Adis?
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