Friday’s activities provided yet more evidence that Nurturing Faith Experiences are deep, wide, and rich. When we take people to Israel and the West Bank, we make sure they get their money’s worth. Not only do we see more things and have more experiences than most other groups, we do things other groups don’t even know about — and sometimes those things we didn’t expect turn out to be the most amazing.
We began Friday morning with an hour-long bus ride west to Tel Mareshah, in the Bet Guvrim National Park, where we participated in an archaeological dig. All 48 of us managed to squeeze through a small door near the top of a complex of bell-shaped underground caves created by an Idumean community that lived there in the second and third centuries BCE. Following the Maccabean Revolt, in which the Jewish people regained control of the land for about 100 years, the Idumeans were required to convert to Judaism or move. Many of them threw what possessions they could not carry into the caves they had dug into soft chalk beneath their homes, then collapsed their houses into the caves.
More than 5,000 such human-made caves have been found in the area, all of them filled with the detritus of folk who lived there long ago. We had the chance to dig, fill buckets with dirt and rock, and find pieces of pottery or bone that no one had seen for the past 2200 years. After filling many buckets and separating the obvious finds, we schlepped the materials to the surface via a bucket brigade, then sifted the dirt to identify smaller finds. It was a fun and, in some cases, unexpected experience.
On the way back we drove through the Valley of Elah, where David famously did battle with Goliath, and were reminded of the story. After a pizza picnic on the Promenade, which overlooks Jerusalem, we returned to the hotel for a quick change (archaeology is dirty work) and headed for the Old City, where we entered through the Dung Gate and walked to what is believed to have been the place of the Antonia Fortress that guarded the northwest corner of the temple, and may have been the place where Jesus was tried before Pilate. French Catholics maintain a building there called “Ecce Homo,” Latin for “Behold the man,” in memory of Pilate’s speech when he brought Jesus before the people.
Ten feet below the current street level is a section of first century pavement from the Roman street just outside of the guard’s quarters. Called the Lithostratos, it may be the place where Jesus was beaten and led into the street to begin his hard walk to Calvary. There we paused for a devotion and a meditative walk on the same pavement Jesus may have walked.
From Ecce Homo we walked past the first five stations of the cross before turning to walk through the Arab souk, or marketplace, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We got there just in time to see formal processions by Roman Catholic and Assyrian priests, and to view the earliest traditional sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, both under the same roof.
As the day drew to a close, we walked to the Western Wall, where thousands of Orthodox Jews had gathered in their Sabbath finery to welcome the Sabbath with prayers, singing, and even dancing.
Cameras or other electronic devices are not allowed at the Wall on the Sabbath, so there are no pictures here, but the experience of seeing young men from the Yeshivas doing circle dances as they sang was quite a trip, especially when a group of soldiers joined in and circle expanded. The singing was so celebrative that our guide joked that they were like Jewish Pentecostals.
The day seemed longer than it was, as it gets dark by 4:45 p.m. this time of the year, but it was quite long enough for most. By the time we walked to meet the bus and made our way back to the hotel, we were tired but well rewarded with memories to last a lifetime.