Israel is one of the perennial hotspots in our world. They are either the instigators or the recipients of antagonism. Obviously they are surrounded by Arabs-potential enemies.
I’ve visited Israel eight times. My first visit was in 1969. Six of my eight visits were at times when war was on the brink or had just terminated.
There are three religions that have a vested interest in Israel. Judaism, Christianity and Muslim. The population of Israel has approximately 7 million Jews, 1 ½ million Muslims and about 350.000 Christians. There are several historic spots that reflect one or more of these religions-primarily the Old section of Jerusalem.
In this article I hope to focus on several of the more unique places that I have visited. They are historically important. One item that is vitally important that most non-Muslims know nothing about. Approximately one third of the Koran is concerned with individuals from the Old Testament. One chapter is focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom the Koran reveres. The Koran accepts the Virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus.
On my first visit to Israel, I asked a priest at St. George’s Cathedral to take me to Masada. Because of the threat of war, we went by way of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Sound familiar? It’s from Psalm 23. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Several Israelis told me that every Jew knew where it was. Desolate, barren, nothing grew there and only a one lane winding road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
There are scores of villages in Israel with the name of “kibbutz.” A unique habitation made up of families that have everything in common. They eat together, work together, and go to school together but sleep as a family. Children belong to everyone. Also, every kibbutz has a specialty.
I’ve stayed at three of them. One grew bananas, another was a hotel, and Nes Ammim grew roses. Everyday planes take their crops to the major cities of Europe.
Nes Ammim is the only Christian kibbutz in Israel located a few miles from Lebanon; it is next to the “survivors of Warsaw” kibbutz. It is inhabited by Christians from Holland. I stayed two weeks with them and attended their daily Bible studies.
Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and is located about seven miles south of Jerusalem. It is a part of the West Bank and very much an Arab city. At the center is the Christian Cathedral and it is huge. To the right of the Chancel area are two very special items. One is a painting of the circumcision of Jesus. I’ve only seen one other-in Taxco, Mexico. The other is also in back and in an altar with a bronze star, around a foot in diameter hole. Looking into it is a light that is about twelve feet below the floor. It is viewed as the exact place where Jesus was born.
A few years ago I was in Bethlehem in December. It was so cold and snowy. Our bus stopped at a cave about thirty feet in diameter and made of limestone. It was where animals were kept. I imagined it to be like the place where Jesus was born. Certainly not in the Winter, more likely he was born in the Spring; in warm weather.
Southeast of Bethlehem and about ten miles from Jericho are four very important sights: The Dead Sea, Qumran, Masada and the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
The Dead Sea is supposedly the richest body of water, mineral wise, in the world. It is impossible for a body to sink. More salt than Salt Lake in Utah.
The Dead Sea is supposedly the original location of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is also a four foot high white pillar as a reminder of Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt.
Qumran was the home of the Zealots in ancient times. It is only a place of ruins today. Looking to the West are the hills with open caves where the Scrolls were found.
Perhaps the most memorable sight in all of Israel is Masada. It is about 2,000 feet high and was originally a vacation retreat for Herod the Great. The first two times I was there I had to climb up and back. Today there is a Palm Springs type tram that ascends it. The ruins are very visible.
It is also the place where a thousand Jews committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans. For several years prior to 70 A.D., the Romans could not capture the fortress. However, they built a ramp at the back and eventually got to the top. But 998 Jews were dead. Two escaped to tell their brave story.
Today, every graduating classes of Israel military go to the top and with a commitment they pledge these words, “Never Again.” Meaning to be submitted to a Holocaust. There are many other places I could write about, but I’ll settle with one more. It is called Gordon’s Garden. It is outside of Old Jerusalem. There is a tomb and next to it a hill that looks like a skull-perhaps Golgotha.
The tomb is open with a two foot wide, slanted stone trough for a huge stone to roll to the opening of the tomb. Inside is a ledge where a body was placed. A garden area is around the scene for services. It is believed by many tourists as the place where Jesus was buried. And from where He arose.
Amen. Selah. So be it.