Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day Four: Benjamin Field Study

Once across the Mount of Olives, the landscape changes drastically! Here
is a Bedouin Camp with Sheep and Goats.
Today was an early morning at 5:45 AM. We departed with the bus down by Jaffa gate at 7:00. We then headed through the outskirts of Jerusalem and UNDER the Mount of Olives. I had no idea there was a tunnel going under the mountain. Anyhow, once on the other side of the Mount of Olives, the topography changed drastically! Welcome to the desert wilderness. There are several contributing factors to this topography change. First is the actual stone itself. Once over the Mount of Olives, the region is covered in Senonian Chalk. This type of stone almost repels water, making it very difficult to grow anything on. The little that does grow here is just enough to graze one's flocks. This is shepherd territory. … How is it that this could be the Promised Land? As we were quickly reminded, the Promised Land is not an easy land. It is difficult. It is a fight for survival. Here one must learn to become dependent on God. One literally relies on Him for their water and daily bread. As God told Abraham, He brought Abram to the promised land that he may BE a blessing to all nations. Often times as Christians we experience God's presence the closest when things get difficult. We experience his miracles when we are needy and broken. … Here in this land, God's people can have a strong testimony, "Let me tell you about Him and how He provides!" Wow! What a lesson is packed in the wilderness: both in the physical desert and in the desert of our spiritual lives.

Hike up to ridge to get an overlook of the wilderness.
We soon stopped alongside the road and hiked up one of the ridges to where we could overlook much of the desert. While enjoying the view, we stopped for a teaching lesson on the desert wilderness. When everyone sat still and just listened, one could hear a few birds in the distance and the occasional blah of sheep with the rattle of its bell. Other than that, it was completely silent. Scripture often equates the desert as a place of testing. Although one may not necessarily feel God working in the desert, it is here that He becomes intimate with His people. If your Israel taking the land, you must first cross the desert before you can get to more watered areas of cenomanian limestone. If you are David, you will spend much time here preparing and proving yourself to become King. If you are Christ, it is here that you will be tempted and tried to see if you are worthy of the title Messiah. Hosea speaks of the wilderness as a place to reconnect with God and to remember His mighty deeds. When we finished out lecture, Bedouins were waiting to sell us necklaces and jewelry. … Some were made entirely of Camel's bones!

Arriving at the entrance to Saint George's Monastery. 
Back on the bus, we headed toward Saint George's Monastery on the Wadi Qelt (something like a valley – although dry most of the year, flash floods will run through the qelt during the rainy season). Here we hiked the qelt to the New Testament Jericho. Along the way, we spotted many caves and caverns where the monks used to live in order find solitude. Once beyond the mountains, we sat down in the remains of an old structure for another lecture. To our surprise, we were sitting in King Herod's Palace in the colonnaded courts! Jericho is a strategic location for trade. One must normally pass through the region of Jericho to head on any one of the three main East / West routes though the country. Hence, Herod could levy heavy taxes on imports and exports through the region. Mark Anthony had taken Jericho and given it as a gift to Cleopatra of Egypt in 35 BC. To Herod's great dislike, he had to rent the city from her. After her death however, he was able to keep the city and build his own palace. It has been estimated that taxes in the biblical era we as high as 75-80%! And we think our taxes are high! There are actually a couple Jericho's. Throughout history, Jericho moves around in this plain. Our next stop would be the remains of the tel (hill) of ancient Jericho. Jericho is the lowest and oldest city on earth. It is just north of the Dead Sea in the Rift Valley – well below sea level. Thus, it is warm all year round. Additionally, there are many springs in Jericho, making it a very fertile oasis in the desert.

Climbing the Tel of Jericho ... basically a tel is an artificial mountain. When
rebuilding a city, one would just build on top of whatever was underneath you. 
Over the centuries it formed a mountain until it wasn't practical to have your
city on top any more, and you would relocate ... often at the base of the tel.
Once at the ancient tel of Jericho we climbed to the summit and had another lecture. According to archaeology  the city walls were once 19 feet thick! Interestingly most cities of this early period had really thick walls … they all seem to be scared about something. Anyhow, from here we were able to follow the story of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan. From the plateau across the Jordan, the Israelites would have descended into the Rift Valley, across the Jordan, and set up camp just Northeast of here. Around this mount, the Israelites would have marched and on the seventh day, the walls came tumbelling down! Archaeologists confirm that there is a distinct burn layer in the city – the right time period for the conquest. One of the original archaeologists to site was Kathleen Kenyon. Although excellent with procedure, she was adamantly against anything biblical. Her names turns up among many archaeology digs. Her early claims stated that this Jericho was not in the right period for Joshua. It either preceded or missed him by a great deal of time. However, later archaeologist Dr. Briant Wood, an expert on Canaanite Pottery, confirmed that this site does date to the right period. Vern shared that it often takes fifty plus years for archaeology to be made public! After taking a few minutes to look around, we came back down and had lunch. I really like the humus they have here!

After lunch, we made a quick stop at an old sycamore tree. Although unlikely, according to tradition this was the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus. We then headed off, following Joshua's route near Ai and Gibeon. We stopped in the emek (a flatter place) between Ai, Michmash, and Geba. This was a strategic location to take as Israel moved further into the hill country. When Gibeon heard of Joshua's conquest, they pretended to be a very distant city and sent ambassadors to Joshua at Gilgal to make a peace treaty. When the Jebusites, Hebronites, and other ites heard what Gibeon had done, they were furious! Gibeon sits at the end of the Central Benjamin Plateau. Hence, they are the major gateway to the international highway and the coast. This treaty just killed their trade. These cities rallied their troops and marched against Gebeon. … We then jumped back on the bus and drove to Nebi Samwil (Samuel's Tomb – but it's not). From here we could overlook the Central Benjamin Plateau. Gibeon was directly ahead with Gibeah hidden by the trees to our right, Raamah at three o'clock, and Mizpah on the horizon. … Joshua then came to Gibeon's aid and "slaughtered them with a great slaughter." He marched all night by the Way of the Wilderness and surprised the invading armies. With the sun in their eyes, Joshua called out to the sun and moon to stand in their place, and God listened. Never before or after has any such event taken place. We jumped back on the bus and drove out to Gezer. The scripture says that Joshua chased them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. Although Gezer is not mentioned in the text, they would have passed this way on the route. 

Tel Gezer to the right ... just follow the white and red lines ... earlier today
we were following white and green along the Ascent of Adumimm.
Gezer is located in the Shephelah, or low-land. It is situated at the end of the Aijalon Valley. Again, this city is in a very strategic location. Not only is there a tax benefit for traveling caravans, but it a good military location. If owned by the people of the coast, they can keep eye on the those in the hill country and secure the international highway. If owned by the people of the hills, it would prevent the larger armies from trampling into the hills. Here we turned our attention toward Solomon. Solomon had many, many wives and concubines. In the ancient world, these wives would act as ambassadors for their home country. Interestingly, nowhere else is it recorded that Pharaoh ever gave his daughter to another king. Rather other kings gave their daughters to Pharaoh. This attests to Solomon's empire and control. Each came with their home-gods – similar to flying the home flag at the embassy, but these foreign women and their gods turned Solomon's heart. Anyhow, getting back to Gezer … Pharaoh was able to make a strike, take Gezer, and give it to his daughter as her dowry. Thus Solomon took and fortified the city. Today, the remains of Solomon's gate with its unique six chambers can be seen … and sat upon ;) as we did for our lecture at Gezer. We then walked about the ancient tel and admired the views. The residents of Gazer could see clearly in all directions! No one is getting past them without their knowing it! From Gezer, one can see to the Mediterranean clear to the central hills. Back on the bus, we started heading back toward JUC for the evening – across the Shepheliah, into the hills, and winding back to Jerusalem to the Jaffa Gate. Another tiring but fantastic day in the Holy Land!

Bedouin Camp
Wadi Running through the Hills - I believe this is the Qilt / Qelt Wadi

There's the Road of the Good Samaritan! ... Except that's pointing at a wall ;)

Uh Oh! There's a obstacle on our path! (Don't worry, no one's in it)

Overlooking the Wilderness ... How essential to find water in such a
barren place.

Vern giving lecture overlooking the wilderness

Mike, a professor at Taylor University, overlooking the wilderness

In the wilderness beyond Jerusalem along the Ascent of Adummim
Path weaving along the summit.

When the desert does get rain in the winter, it is enough for a few
plants to grow ... enough to feed the sheep. These hill have a green
hint to them in the winter and early spring. This is the green pastures
of Psalms 23. Not our mid-west or Kentucky green, but just enough to live
on. He will provide our daily bread ... just enough for today. You can't tell
too well in these pictures, but there are what look like stripes going across the
mountains. These are the sheep routes as the shepherd leads them from
mountain to mountain. 

And yes, someone wants to sell you something at every turn ... even in
the barren wilderness.

Walking back down to the bus. 

The wilderness along the Qilt / Qelt Wadi system.

One Lone Tree ... in the middle of nowhere.

The Wadi Qelt

View along the descent to the monastery. 

View down the wadi

There's St. George's ... we actually won't be stopping. Just here to catch
a walking path.

Flowers along the way.

Why is St. George's here in the middle of nowhere?
Because there is water ... and where there is water. There
is life.

Hike in the Wildereness

Notice all those small caves ... the monks used to live in  them
to get alone with God

The tail end of our group. Don't slip! It's steeper than it looks!

"Hey! There's a snake in here!"

First Glimpse of Jericho

The Wadi leading to Jericho.

Hiking the Ascent of Adummim toward Jericho

If you look carefully there is a Shepherd with a couple goats at the bottom.
Someone thinks he has an iphone on the rock next to him :) ... seriously

Getting Close to Jerusalem

Looking toward  Modern Jericho

Getting ready for another lecture from Vern

And where were we sitting? In Herod's Palace! ... And it's not even
marked off ... nope, no sign ... Apparently Palestinians love history ;)

Remains of Herod's Palace

Me standing in Herod's Palace

Here I'm standing in Herod's Bath House with a Palestinian kid wanting to
show us some tricks.

Herod's special stone design made it possible to round the walls of his rooms.
They have the flat edge that you see, but as they move into wall, they are more
like a spike. Thus they can be turned slightly to make a circular room. These walls
would have been plastered and painted in Herod's day. 

Water is valuable in the desert! 

Getting back on the bus to go to Old Jericho

Jericho is Palm City! The city has many natural springs as this is where the
 Cenomanian Limestone approaches the Dead Sea. 

In the Jericho Park

Lecture time on top of Jericho

Look you can see the Dead Sea and the plateau of Moab
from here! The red roof at the bottom of the picture covers
the largest spring in the area - gushing 45 liters per minute!

Overlooking the city to the Southeast. Jericho is 250 meters below sea level.
Making it the lowest city on earth. This also makes it very warm here! 70s in
winter and scorching in the summer. Many of the wealthier families of
Jerusalem had winter homes here. Kind of like having a winter home in
Florida today. The wind is warm and heavy as it blows past us.

The oldest tower in the world!

Looking back toward the hills. 

Remains of Jericho (this wouldn't be the level that was destroyed by Joshua
and his men ... that is much further underground.

Looking in a more Northeast direction. 

Yep, I'm on top of the remains of Old Testament Jericho ... and the walls
came tumbling down!

More remains ... 

And More Remains ... Most of these I believe were from the Byzantine period.

Entrance to the park ... "the oldest city of the world"

The nuts on a Palm Tree

Modern Jericho (Palestinian Control)

Look Mama! It's Jericho ;)

Random Church ... 

... and beautiful gardens ...

... and suposedly the tree that Zacchaeus climbed! ...
"Zacchaeus was a wee litttle man and wee little man was he ..."

Driving up the Taiybe Ridge Route ... Joshua would have been a bit south
on the Way of the Wilderness. The modern route takes the Taiybe Ridge
Route and cross over to the Way of the Wilderness.

Looking back down toward Jericho

Sheep and Goats!

Wilderness ... entering the hill country.

Stopping at the Emek (flatter land) between Ai, Michmash, and Geba.

See how flat it is in comparison to the rest of the land.

Walking back to the bus ... 

Getting ready to pass a check point. Jericho is within the West Bank.

Nebi Samwil - The Tomb of Samuel - here we can get a good overlook of
the Central Benjamin plateau. 

The large mound straight ahead is Gibeon. The tree patch way off on the
distant right is Ramah; Geba is to our right behind the trees, and Mizpah is
near a tower on the horizon line. Joshua and his men sneaked up from
the right to attack the armies outside Gibeon.

Vern lecturing over Gibeon

Overlooking the Central Benjamin Plateau

As we get over the water ridge route and close to the coast, things start
to get greener!

... and much more colorful!

As we get close to the coast, the plants are beautiful

Getting close to our destination ... 

Lots of Cactus as well ... 

Hiking to the tel of Gezer

A replica of an ancient calendar depicting the seasons of the Shephelah.

Looking out toward the Mediterranean. 

Looking toward the hill country of Benjamin

Remains of tower at Gezer

Hiking on top of the Tel of Gezer

Stunning Views!

Getting ready to have our lecture among the ruins. ... This turned out to be
One of the Gates to the city built by Solomon.

Here is the threshold of the gate. 

Standing in Gezer ... specifically the gate built by King Solomon.

Notice the six chambers - three on each side. This was a Solomonic signature.
These would have been used as shops, storage, and places for elders to sit
in the city gate. The trench down the middle of the road is actually the sewage
system. (This would have been covered with boards or stone.) This would
also have been considered the Dung Gate as it is the lowest in the city.

Remember how Jacob sets up a memorial stone? Although Jacob's was
much smaller, this is the concept. Except here, we have no idea what they
are for. When archaeologists don't know, the assumption is religious or
cultic in nature. 

Flowers growing atop Gezer. 

Type of Memorial Stone

Looking back over the Tel of Gezer before heading out. 

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