It is Thursday and we just returned from our trip to Samaria. You might ask yourself, where are the Dahlseng’s now? I thought they are supposed to be in Israel this whole month. You are right. Samaria is the old Bible name for the area occupied by 10 of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Abraham and Sarah lived 4000 years ago and they are the first parents of the Jews. Abraham had his first son from a servant girl and this boy’s name is Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, His only son from his wife Sarah is Isaac who later married Rebecca. She had twins the oldest of whom is Esau who sold his birthright to his brother Jacob (later renamed Israel by God). Jacob had 12 sons and 1 daughter. 10 of those sons = 10 of the tribes of northern Israel and 2 of those sons made up the southern area of Judea (Judah and Benjamin). Ten of those tribes are later called Samaria.
We rode about an hour north of Jerusalem into the West Bank (mostly Palestinian area) and stopped in Samaria, Sebastia and Nablus. The main road was busy and traffic came to a complete stop due to an accident so we did a U-turn and took a side road. The countryside is quite hilly and covered with large and midsize rock. There showed little tillable land but we did see some Bedouin shepherds out in the rocky pastures watching their sheep and goats. Olive orchards covered some valleys and hillsides near villages. From an agricultural perspective, the portion of the West Bank we saw was quite bleak.
Our first stop was at a Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza, near the summit of Mount Gerizim. There are about 400 Samaritans living in this village with only about 200 more living near Tel Aviv. We met the brother of the Samaritan high priest who was delightful! He and his granddaughter made a presentation about the Samaritans (they claim to be the true Jews who worship on the true mountain of God’s choosing: Mount Gerizim). They continue to sacrifice lambs on Passover on Gerizim ,like the Jews did in Jerusalem until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Imagine being on Gerizim in April for Passover with the Samaritans dressed in white while 200 lambs are killed. It would be like stepping back into the Old Testament. He was a very kind and proud man who created the Samaritan museum we were in and published a book about his people.
Next we traveled a few miles to the ruins of Sebastia where King Herod did some building to honor Augustus Caesar. The ruins were fine but the real find was the café where we ate lunch. We enjoyed some of the largest (like pita bread with a different flavor) bread, bigger than a deflated basketball which we dipped in tasty humus, fresh salads, roasted chicken, and sweet bananas for desert.
The high point for me on this day was helping to crank up the water pail and drink from the well where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman in John 4. The stone well was deep and the water cold and refreshing (but not living water that only Jesus can give). When I poured water back into the well, it took at least 5-6 seconds before the water hit at the bottom of the well. The well has been proved to be older than 2000 years old and it sits in the heart of what was a Samaritan area. Sychar is located about an hours walk from Nablus which is sits in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. In Bible times, Nablus was called Shechem. Today this city is large for a West Bank city and takes time to navigate but so worth the visit!
I felt a Bible story jump out of the pages and into my heart as we stood around the well. Churches have been built and destroyed near and over this site in history. Currently, a Greek Orthodox Church sits atop of the room housing the well of Jacob. This story of Jesus and the woman at the well is the longest story in the gospels so that tell us of its importance. Jews did not associate or certainly did not interact with Samaritans. Men, say nothing of a rabbi, would not talk to women in public in Jesus day. Jesus is my rule-breaker hero because it is not about the rules but about people! God made all people so all people equally matter to God. Jody and I had a fantastic and soulful day at the well. Thank you Jesus.
Debbie W. presented on Judaism as cultural and religious. Jews can be atheists or religious and both are still Jews. Christians cannot be atheists because we are a faith based on the story of Jesus and not an ethnic group. Another distinctive between Judaism and Christianity is that Jews are to practice the faith while Christians are to both practice the faith and make disciples of others by sharing our faith. Christ came to make access to God for all people.
The Hebrew Scriptures use an anachronism: Tanakh to identify the three parts of their Bible – (Torah, Neviim (prophets) and Kituvim (writings). Torah means instruction and includes the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The later prophets are the twelve – Hosea – Malachi. The Writings include Poetry: Psalms, Proverbs and Job; the 5 scrolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. And finally, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. All 39 books in the Hebrew Scriptures are the same as in the Christian Bible.
The Hebrew calendar marks a variety of holy days. Shabbat or Sabbath observance begins several hours before sunset on Friday as they gather to welcome Shabbat. Debbie invited our group to her synagogue where the men sat on the left side and the women on the right with a curtain dividing us within the synagogue. Sitting and standing with the men was a song fest. We were singing Psalms and prayers in Hebrew (because I was dating Jody at the same time I took Hebrew means that I did not sing much!). We had to wear a kippah (Jewish hat) on our heads. The worship lasted until sunset and then we went home. There was no message but a reading and songs and prayers. The sermon happens on Saturday morning when they return for more worship. 3 mandatory times when Jesus would have traveled from Nazareth (his home town in Galilee until he began his ministry around age 30) in Galilee to Jerusalem or from Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee when he began his ministry were: the feast of Passover, Pentecost and the feast of Booths or Tabernacles.
Most Jews did not travel from Galilee in the north through Samaria to get to Jerusalem in Judea. They crossed the Jordan River into what is today Jordan and back across the Jordan River into Judea. If you went the most direct route through Samaria, this is about 90 miles. The more common route was 120 miles each way. Writing from my perspective, it has been very hot and sunny every day. The roads between Galilee and Judea are marked by significant hills if not mountains to climb or cross on dusty roads. Water is of most importance. If you walk 20-30 miles a day, this trip takes most of a week. Where are you and all the pilgrims with you staying each night? Are you packing food that will not be spoiled by heat? Lots of questions in keeping these three holidays.
On Saturday, Jody and walked to the Old city of Bethlehem to pray in the church of Jesus birth once again. It was a good walk but much uphill and a quick question from the military at the check point as we crossed from the State of Israel into the West Bank. The Greek Orthodox priest recognized us and welcomed us to go and pray. Prayer quiets my soul and centers my mind. I needed both.
The high point of this time in Bethlehem was an Arab women’s not-for-profit that we stumbled upon which sold handiwork done in the homes of poor women trying to make a living. The embroidery was amazing. What struck me was this organization served as a support and encouragement for all women, not matter what faith or not. Women’s rights and access is improving but has a long way to go. Add to that we were in Palestine in Bethlehem and the wages are not great.
We met Sami who owns and delivers coffee and tea around the old city. He was known and respected as people throughout greeted and talked with him. Sami met us in the suk (the marketplace) and invited us to try his coffee. He was proud to show us that Conan O’Brian had been to his shop! His welcome and interest in us was the same way he seemed to treat everyone he met and knew for years. Sami said he thanked God for the success of his business. Sami was our God sighting on Saturday.
Sunday was a free day so Jody and I rented a car to go to Tel Aviv to the beach. The water was warm and the Sea was filled with waves and jellyfish. We were careful and came away with no stings. We needed a day away as a couple after two full weeks full days of learning. Another God-sighting happened when we drove back into Jerusalem. Signs in Hebrew and Arabic are not helpful for us as we tried to find the car return. As we sat in traffic after a few unsuccessful attempts to find the return, Jody prayed and asked for God’s help, rolled down her window and asked a man on the side of the street for help, only to discover we were right were we needed to be. He stopped traffic and directed us into the return parking facility. This was NO coincidence! Thank you Lord for answered prayer.
We began our trip to Galilee on Monday. We departed Jerusalem and traveled to the west to Tel Aviv and north to Mount Carmel. Here Elijah defeated the priests of Ba’al who were supported by the Israelite King Ahab and his wife Jezebel (1 Kings 18). Our travels took us Eastward to Nazareth, Jesus home town. This town was about 400 population in Jesus’ day. Today it is 85,000. The old city is surrounded by hills that have become filled with businesses and homes. In the center of the old city of Nazareth is the Roman Catholic Church build over the traditional site Mary ‘s home. It is called the Church of the Annunciation. Angel Gabriel visited Mary here and told her of her pregnancy bearing the Son of God in her womb (Luke 1).
We visited the Church of Joseph and the Chapel of Anne and Joaquin (Mary’s traditional parents names) where we celebrated mass. After all the church visits, Jody and I went to the best sweet shop in Nazareth and ate some sweet treats! After dinner at the Sisters of Nazareth convent in which our group stayed, we toured the archeological remains the nuns found underneath their convent including a few tombs, the old city street in Nazareth etc. In a couple of funny stories, one of the nuns threw a stick of dynamite to speed their digging only to damage the neighbors house above! They also found and later lost the bones of a bishop who had been buried in one of the tombs they found.
On Tuesday, we toured the area around Nazareth visiting the National Park at Sephorris, the churches in Cana and returned to Nazareth. Sephorris was built by Herod as a northern capital city about 20 BCE. It has importance to our faith as it is only an hour donkey ride from Nazareth so Joseph and Jesus may have worked there as tektons or stone masons and carpenters because of likely little work for them in the small village of Nazareth. In Cana we tasted some wine samples where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast. Jody and I renewed our vows and were blessed by Father Mark from Chicago at the church in Cana. It was a memorable moment we will keep in our hearts on this 40 year journey together!
Our tour guide took us to her shop where she collects and sells handmade crafts from the area. There is a strong history of craftwork in the area. Next we visited the church of Annunciation for the Greek Orthodox church. Where Mary’s home is actually located in Nazareth is not verifiable but it is not so much about place as it is about the story. There is a spring located in the Orthodox church which runs year round. It was refreshing to listen to it running and thinking about Mary coming here to draw water which is the biggest issue in Israel: where do we get our water. We visited with the Anglican priest who spoke about the challenges of being Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli citizen and a minority as a Christian. After dinner, we had a very passionate lecture on the gospel of John from a Palestinian Christian perspective by a local professor. We found him inspiring and insightful.
The journey today, Wednesday, took us to new places in Northern Galilee and the Golan Heights. This is a very hot day as it is 104 degrees in Galilee going up to 110. Thankfully the bus has AC! Our first stop was northern most of twelve tribes of Israel, Dan. After King David’s son Solomon dies the kingdom is divided between his two sons: Rehoboam in Judah and Jereboam forms Israel in the north. Jereboam created an altar to foreign gods in both Bethel and Dan.
From Dan we traveled north to Caesarea Philippi where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8). There were no church ruins in this place so no picture. There was a nice stream that flows to form the Jordan River. It is this confession of faith – that Jesus is our Lord and Savior that impacts our lives as we follow his teachings in our lives. Like Peter, this is not a private confession but we too are to make our voices heard as we share our faith with others.
On our last stop of the day, we drove to near the end of the road where Israel and Syria meet, about 40 miles from Damascus. On the top of the hill behind us are many powerful Israeli communication dishes. In front of us are fences and barriers. The brokenness of our world is obvious. God, more than ever we need your peace and a willingness to work toward justice and peace. In the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace we pray. Amen.