Holy Land as we experienced

I always loved reading travelogues. But when we set on a journey (I will not call it a pilgrimage) to the Holy Land, I never thought I will write about our experiences. But one year down, I feel nostalgic and feel like writing some notes on our journey to the Holy Land. This note is basically a description of our visit to the Holy Land in May 2008. Towards the end of this note, I will also add some tips for travellers from Kerala. (Chacko)


Mid Night flight

Day 1 (May,9, 2009)
As per the itinerary of Royal Omania Travels, we gathered at Cochin International Airport at 10.30 PM on 10th. For three of us it was the first international travel. We were thrilled and of course a bit worried of things to turn up. Our worries turned out true when we checked in at the Air Arabia counter. We were advised by our guide to take drinking water with us since water was not served free with food in most places of our visit (I shall write more on this issue in the 'tips for travellers from Kerala', which I shall add towards the end of the whole description). Each of us had taken two 2 ltr bottles of water. This resulted in excess weight for our baggage. Another problem we had was to reduce the number of luggage, we used one big suitcase for two of us, thinking that weight of luggage will not be a problem since it was for two passengers(like in train). But the Airline had restrictions for weight and size of a single piece of luggage. Luckily for us we had just the right the size for our suitcase and weight also got right as we got rid of the water bottles.
We boarded an Airbus of Air Arabia at 1 AM. The midnight flight was a wonderful experience since none of us had flied at night before. Gliding through darkness for around three hours we landed at Sharjah International Airport. To our great relief, though we were part of a team, we were welcomed by my mother's cousin, George, who is an employee at the airport.
He re scheduled his shift to night to meet us. We spent nearly 6 hours in the airport waiting for our flight to Amman. George uncle's hospitality made us feel at home.
we were surprised to see the cleanliness of the air port, interestingly all the labourers in charge of cleaning were Indians. We had breakfast and lunch from the airport and left for Aman around noon.


To Amman

We arrived at Queen Alia Airport at Amman, the capital of Jordan in evening local time. The formalities at the airport were quick. The airport was a small one, even when compared to our Cochin Airport. After collecting our luggage we proceeded by two buses to hotel San Rock International by two buses. The city of Amman is a small but well designed city. Since we were not allowed to go out of the airport in Sharjah, we were yet to see the UAE. So I could not feel the smallness of Amman compared to the cities of UAE. But, coming from Kerala, Amman was large enough for me to feel the hype of a city and small enough for me to feel at home. We were informed that we can take rest for the rest of the day. The hotel was fairly comfortable. We had yet to mingle or acquaint ourselves as a group. Being a lone traveller, I was allotted a triple room with another two lone travellers, whom I later recognised as Mr. Patrick and Fr. Alex Koodaram. But they were friends and were travelling together, so they had no problem staying together. I did not stay in that room, but three of stayed in the other room since it was big enough for three. Later on in the trip this problem did not occur since we informed our guide we three of us can stay in one room and requested for triple room. We spent some time to look around the hotel. Opposite to the hotel a skyscraper was being constructed. Near by the hotel there were some shops, basically provision shops. Some of our group members were seen shopping. We did not venture to shopping since we were told if we pay in dollar, the change will be given in local currency which is of no use anywhere else.
We were asked to assemble in the conference hall of the hotel around seven for daily prayer. There was an informal prayer lead by the two priests in our group, Fr. Alex and Fr. John. I remember a couple in the group distributing sweets to celebrate their wedding anniversary, unfortunately I forgot their names. Our guide Alley briefed us of the next day’s plan and we proceeded for dinner. The dinner was buffet and the dishes were mostly western. Since I had decided to remain a vegetarian (a decision I took voluntarily partially out of my love for vegetarian food and partially not to leave Rosy alone, who is a vegetarian), I did not try most of the dishes which were made of meat.
Went to sleep thinking of home, Jaicy and kids, and wondering how my motherland missed me as I am not there for the first time in 39 years !


Day 2 (1) Madaba

In the morning of day two, we boarded a bus and proceeded to our first destination, Madaba, which undoubtedly should be the first stop for any explorer of the holy Land. Madaba (the city of mosaics) is about 20 minutes ride from the city. It is believed that the mosaic map of the holy land, now preserved in the St. George Greek Orthodox church, was used by the ancient travellors to the holy land. The 6th-century Byzantine mosaic map show the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south. This map includes a fascinating plan of Jerusalem: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend "Holy City of Jerusalem".

Other mosaic masterpieces found in the church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba's churches and homes.

The information center at Madaba in the traditional architecture is worth mentioning.


Day 2 (2) Mount Nebo

From Madaba, we proceeded to Mount Nebo. (Also known as Pisgah). The Bible says it is from here Moses viewed the Promised Land. He could not enter the Promised Land.
The Bible Story
Deuteronomy, Chapter 34 of the Bible says... Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land.... Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."
And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day on one knows where his grave is. --Deuteronomy 34:1-6
As we walked to mount Nebo, our local guide showed us a place at a distance which is believed to be the sight where Moses was asked to hit on a rock to get water., now known as the Spring of Moses (Numbers 19). As we read in the Bible it is lack of faith showed by Moses a this instance made God curse him.
The Bible Story
The people of Israel have been wandering for 40 years in the desert and they're thirsty. So God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will come forth (Numbers 20:8). The instruction to "speak" to the rock is in contrast to 40 years earlier, when Moses followed God's instruction to HIT the rock -- and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6).
This time, Moses is to speak. Yet he again hits the rock. Nothing happens, so Moses hits the rock a second time, and water comes out.God's response: "Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the people of Israel into the promised land" (Numbers 20:11-12).
Looking down from Mount Nebo, like Moses, we too had our first glimpses of the Promised Land(now called the Holy Land). The vision of the Holy Land was partially impeded by the fumes from the dead sea. Perhaps, one article of special interest is a sculpture by an Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, representing Moses' staff and Jesus' words in John 3: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up."

As mentioned above, Pope John Paul II visited mount Nebo on 19th March 2000. (Link) A huge stone monument to commemorate the Pope's visit welcomes the visitors at mount Nebo.
Recently on 9th May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also visited mount Nebo (Link1, Link 2 - good video on Mount nebo as well, Link 3 video)

The mount Nebo monuments and many of the other Holy Land monuments are under the custody of Franciscan fathers (Link).


Day 2 (3) Cana

We were welcomed at the border by Fr. Sleeba. It will be unjust if I do not mention a word about his dedication in organising the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. In his own words, he has taken this as the mission of his life and his vocation. He would like to see every Christian visit the Holy Land. Services of Alley as a guide and more correctly as a fellow travellor deserves special mention. We were also accompanied by two smart guides for the next four days.
As we travelled by road in two Mercedes buses, we were reminded of the bible constantly by familiar road signs like Jerrico, Nazareth, Jerusalem and so on. We stopped over at a small eat out for lunch. Interestingly the salesmen at the eat out did not understand when we asked for vegetarian food. Later we were told to ask for salad to mean vegetarian food. We had vegetable burger and finger potato chips for lunch. Since lunch was not part of package, we had to pay for the same. This lunch which looked so modest compared to our lunch back in Kerala, cost around Rs. 290 in Indian currency. But as days progressed we had to forget conversion equivalent of Indian rupees as food was much expensive as compared to our prices. If you remain too bothered of conversion, you will not have anything else than the food provided in the package, for one cup of tea or coffee could well cost Rs. 250.
As we travelled through the desert like terrains, we were pointed to Mount Tabor at a distance. Since our bus could not go up the small mountain road, we did not visit the church built over the site (Church of the Transfiguration or Church of the Savior managed by Franciscan fathers - link1, link 2) where the Bible says Jesus got transformed.
Our last destination of the day was Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle. (Link)The Shrine of our lady's First Miracle(Wedding church) in the village of Cana preserves earthen jars of believed to be of Christ's period. The house where Jesus is believed to have performed the miracle of turning water into wine is preserved in the basement of the church.
The church provides a rare opportunity for couples to renew their wedding vows. Being a lone traveller, I could do it only in my mind. Instead I performed the role of the photographer for Thampy maash and Rosy, thus catching up their wedding which I missed. Fr. Sleeba lead the ceremony. After the renewing of the wow, you can have certificate for the same at the payment of a fee. After the visit to the church we stopped at a shop opposite to the church to shop for some bottles of the famous Cana wine.
A word should be mentioned here of the courtesy with which drivers here welcomed the tourists. throughout the journey, except in Egypt, the drivers were so patient not to bang their horn to allow the last pedestrian crossed the road, even when we crossed in group of 50.

Our day two in the Holy land ended with our stay in Rimonim Inn, Nazareth. We can not forget the buffet dinner in the basement restaurant of the hotel where a fabulous dinner was served with people from different nations sharing the same food.


Day 3 (1) Nazareth : Basilica of the Annunciation

In the morning we bid farewell to Rimonim Inn. Riding through the streets of Nazareth in the morning watching the citizens about to begin their daily routine was interesting. Our first destination for the day was The Basilica of the Annunciation which is located in the centre of the city of Nazareth. The basilica is built on the traditional site of the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel of the birth of Jesus. The central grotto is believed to have been the home of Mary.The present church was built in 1969. The church has a uniquely-shaped concrete dome 55 meters high. Its shape is based on the Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary. The front door of the church has the entire story of Jesus carved on it. Inside, the basilica consists of an upper church and a lower church. The spacious upper church is decorated with mosaics of the Virgin donated by communities from around the world. It was really interesting to see paintings of Mary in the traditional dresses of many nations. The one fascinated me the most was Mary's paniting from Japan where she wore a Kimona. Paintings are also displayed outside the church. We could observe a statue of Velamkanni Matha (Annai Velamkanni) representing India. The lower church centers on the Grotto or Cave of the Annunciation, where the angelic announcement to Mary is believed to have occurred. We spent some time to look around the church which certainly had brettaking altitude from inside.
One thing I forgot to mention was we were all given red coloured cap to protect from sun and also for easy identification of the group. Whenever we entered a church our guide announced that all men should take off the hat. He said it is an old Jewish tradition that men should not wear cap inside the church. However it was intersting to note that he did not instruct women to cover their head as we do here in Kerala.

Day 3 (2) St. Joseph's Workshop

Near to the Basilica of Annunciation at walkable distance is St. Joseph's Church. Between the churches is the large Franciscan convent - Terra-Santa (Holy Land) with a beautiful garden and statues. Interestingly we did not see any more church in the Holy Land dedicated to St. Joseph. The church is located, according to early traditions, over the carpenter workshop of the Holy family. Later traditions identify this place as the house of Joseph and the Holy family.The caves underneath the church is supposed to be St. Joseph's Workshop.
We spent time in the church and walked back to the bus. On the pavement of the narrow street that goes down hill, we saw an old man on wheel chair playing a musical instrument. It seemed he was playing music to collect some money. Passing a small market place we boarded our bus and set off to Galilee.


Day 3 (3) Mount of Beatitude

It was a fairly long journey to the regions near the Sea of Galilee. From our reading of Bible I had an impression that Sea of Galilee is actually a sea, but on sight it was clear that it was just a lake. We were told that the Jordan river flowed in and out of the Sea of Galilee. Our first stop was the Mount of Beatitudes. According to the tradition, the Mount of Beatitudes is the place where Jesus gave his important sermon on the mountain. A church, monastery, hostel and gardens and farm are located on the hill, above Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee. (175M higher than the sea of Galilee, yet 35M under the Mediterranean sea level.) The beautiful Basilica of the Church of Mount of Beatitudes was built during the 1936-1938 to a design of the Italian famous church architect, Antonio Barluzzi. The ceiling walls of the church have a shape of an octagon, and on each side there is a window with one of the eight verses of beatitude. In the interior of the church, the verses and symbols related to the sermons are written on mosaics on the floor of the church and around the altar. The view of the surroundings of the church is panoramic. Out side the church there is a beautiful Gardens . In the Garden are small assembly areas where we saw groups gather, sit, listen to their pastor reading from texts and sermons, chant and other religious rituals. The side of the hill overlooks the sea of Galilee, which really is a serene view. From the cafeteria we tasted Coffee and Root Beer.


Day 3 (4) The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes or The Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha

Our next destination was Tabcha (Tabgha) or or Ein Sheva, is a site on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. There we saw a small but beautiful church which is built at the site where the miracle of multiplication 5 loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5000 people were performed. The present church built in 1982 stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches. It preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal was laid. We could feel this stone with our hands. In side the church people were lighting candles as offering. We also lit some candles. The church has a beautiful courtyard out side and inside. As we were walking out of the church we were amazed by a birds nest on the roof of the portico. The nest had two parent birds and two siblings who posed for photo session without any fear. Outside the church we saw a man and woman performing music, may be to collect some money. I noticed some tourists offering them money in a box kept in front of them.
1. In ancient times, Tabgha was known as Heptapegon - "Place of the Seven Springs." These seven springs produce warm water, which increases the production of algae in this part of the lake, and the algae attracts more fish. Fisherman have flocked to Heptapegon for thousands of years.
2. Christian historians have surmised that Jesus came here when he looked for solitude ,especially since it was close to the Galilee city of Kfar Nahum (Capernaum).


Day 3 (5) Capernaum or Jesus Town

Our next stop was close by at Capernaum. This village is on the northern side of Sea of Galilee, and was the center of the activities of Jesus and his town during that time. So this town is now re named as Jesus Town. Here we could see ruins of a grand 4th Centuary Ad synagogue built with white lime stone. Under the monumental building are the remains of the early Roman synagogue from the times of Jesus, which was built with the local (black) basalt rock. This earlier synagogue was the center of activities of Jesus, where he taught (Mark: "And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.") We also saw Byzantine ruins of the village in the center, which were the same area of the early Roman houses.
Near to the ruins we saw a modern church built over the House of Peter. The house of Peter, also known as Simon Bar-Yonah, fisherman, was located close to the shores of the lake. of Galilee by the archaeological excavations. A church was built over his house in his honor by the early Christian worshipers in the 5th century. This church has the shape of an Octagon, which was typical of early churches. A new church was built over this church in 1990. From out side and through the glass window on the floor of the new church we could see the house of St Peter, and around it the old Octagon Church.
Since we had some time left for the next programme (boat ride), we rested for a while in the yard of the church. Near to old Synagogue in the court yard there is a display of fragments of the synagogue. Also in display are industrial stone tools that were used at ancient times for farming, such as several oil presses, as seen below. we spent time with prayers and songs. It was really pleasant to spend some time to sit on the shore of Galilee lake expereiencing the cool breeze.
As we walked out two sculptures caught our attention. One was that of St. Peter with the keys of heaven and the other that of Peter's fish.
As we travlled by bus we could also see the Church of the Primacy of Peter, at Tabgha. The church is a modest Franciscan chapel that incorporates part of a 4th-century church. It is located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and commemorates the site where Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection and conferred Church authority upon Peter.


Day 3 (6) The Sea of Galilee

Riding in a boat that resembled Jesus' time was undoubtedly a sort of nostalgic experience. The lake was always live in my mind as we have read in the Bible about Jesus roaming around the lake and its shores. The one hour boat ride was eventful with hoisting of Indian and Israel flags together and singing and dancing. (The boat was managed by a family and the family members including women performed various tasks in the boat.) The three of us did not pay much attention to the happenings in the boat as we confined to three corners of the boat watching birds busy in fishing and lost in memories of bible events.
The boat ride started from the premises of Yigal Allon Museum on the grounds of Kibbutz Ginosar . Though we did not enter, later I came to know that a boat called Jesus Boat is on display at the Museum. (History : - A few miles north of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee is the "Jesus Boat, " a recently-discovered fishing boat dating to the 1st century AD. -- In 1986, an ancient boat was pulled from the mud along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a unique and exciting find that gives us an idea of the sort of boat used during the time of Jesus. The boat is made of 12 different types of wood and measures 25.5 ft. (8.2 m) long, 7.5 ft. (2.3 m) wide, and 4.1 ft (1.25 m) high. It would have had a crew of five (four rowers and a helmsman) and could carry about 15 additional persons. This seems like a lot for such a humble boat, but men were smaller 2,000 years ago — about 5'5" and 140 pounds.
We ended our boat ride with a grand lunch with Peter's Fish. A large fried fish was the main item in the menu.

St. Peter's Fish

Three types of fish were primarily sought by fishermen in antiquity in these waters. Sardines likely were the "two small fish" that the boy brought to the feeding of the 5000. Sardin0es and bread were the staple product of the locals. Barbels are so known because of the barbs at the corners of their mouths. The third type is called musht but is more popularly known today as "St. Peter's Fish." This fish has a long dorsal fin which looks like a comb and can be up to 1.5 feet long and 3.3 lbs in weight.(http://www.bibleplaces.com/seagalilee.htm)

By the time we finished lunch, our bus had reached the other side of the lake to take us further.
The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Gallilee, also Lake of Gennesaret, Lake Kinneret or Sea of Tiberias ), is Israel's largest freshwater lake, being approximately 53 km (33 miles) in circumference, about 21 km (13 miles) long, and 13 km (8 miles) wide. The lake has a total area of 166 km², and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m. At 209 meters below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The Kinneret is situated deep in the Jordan Great Rift Valley, the valley caused by the separation of the African and Arabian Plates and is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee)
The Sea of Galilee is located in the east side of the Galilee, in the north of Israel. It is a large sweet water lake (168 square KM), has 55KM of shore line, 21KM long X 12KM wide (at its widest section at the Arbel cliffs), and has a kind of the shape of a pear or a violin. The lake is shallow - the maximum depth is 44M.

The entire lake is located within a great depression, about 210M below the (Mediterranean) sea level. It is the lowest sweet water lake in the world. The hills around the lake are even higher: 400-500M above the lake's level. This depression is part of the Syrian-African fault line, which includes the Dead Sea.

Most of its water comes from the northern Jordan river. It also comes from springs and flow of water from the surrounding hills in the winter time.

The water comes out through the southern Jordan river that flows to the Dead sea. The water is regulated, so the southern dam is rarely open, mostly in wet winters.

The water is also pumped out and supplied to the south of Israel by the the ambitious project called "Movil Haartsi", or the national water canal. This project has a number of facilities in the Sea of Galilee - a huge water pump in the north-west side of the lake near Tabcha, and bypass canals that divert the "salty" water (hot springs) around the lake, in order to keep the lake clean. Some of the water is also supplied to the Kingdom of Jordan, as part of the peace treaty with this neighboring Country. (http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/SeaofGalilee.html)


Day 3 (7) Baptism Site at Yardenit

Next we traveled to the shore of Jordan River to the 'Baptism Site at Yardenit' in the south end of the Sea of Galilee. This site is believed by some traditions to be the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. the sign board at the site read 'near to the site of baptism'. Our guide said the actual site of baptism is in military zone of Jordan and hence could not be visited.
(Later I learned from the Net that there are disputes over the actual site. Among two or three sites claimed to be the actual site, one site in Jordan is also popular. "The Baptism Site on the Jordan side of the Jordan River is one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations only began here in 1996, following Jordan's peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but have already uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods." http://www.sacred-destinations.com/jordan/bethany-baptism-site.htm)
The Jordan River looked very small, almost like small rivers of Kerala. The site of Baptism is vibrant with activities. Groups of people were seen either getting baptised or renewing their baptism vows. The pastors were seen saying some prayers and sprinkling water on the person to be baptised. Some others were wearing white gowns and were dipped in the water for baptism. Our group howevevr did not go for baptism. There are rails fixed in the river for pilgrims to get into the river safely. As warned by our guide, the water at that point in the river did not look good with a lot of suspended particles. Later I came to know that the river was not so clean at that point because the site is located at the southern exit of the Sea of Galilee, just behind the gate of the Dam that is used on rainy winters to lower the level of the lake.


The Jordan River is a major water source that flows through the Jordan Rift Valley into the Dead Sea. It flows in and out of Sea of Galilee. The Jordan only reaches 20 yards across in some places, and its deepest point is around 17 feet. It extends from tributaries at the base of Mount Hermon to its main source, the Kinneret, and then down to the Dead Sea. The river forms the boundary between the country of Jordan and the West Bank. The Jordan River is a key water source for Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon;


Day 3 (8)Tel Aviv and Jaffa

From the Baptism site we drove through Acre and Ceaseria and proceed through the coastal road to visit the old city of Jaffa. We passed through Tel Aviv, the most modern city in the land. [The modern city of Tel Aviv was founded on the outskirts of Jaffa in 1909 and today it encompasses the ancient city. Tel Aviv means “the Hill of Spring” and it is the same name as the city of a settlement in Babylon during the Exile (Ezek 3:15).]
Jaffa (Yaffo, Joppa) is one of the oldest port cities in Mediterranean and was called the 'port of Jerusalem'. At Jaffa we saw the church dedicated to St. Peter commemorating his miraculous healing of Tabita. The church was closed. We also saw the House of Simon the Tanner.
Charulatha Passes SSLC in flying colours - Greetings from Jaffa
Jaffa being on the sea side is a beautiful city. The old city with its ancient pavements looked really ethnic. Since we had some spare time there we walked to the site through sea shore through a serene location. So we decided to try a phone call to home for one important event. Back home SSLC results have been published and Charulatha was in 10th. Though we wanted to make a call since morning, could not find a facility. Here as we sipped coffee at a coffee outlet one public phone was located. But we had a problem. We did not have local coins to operate the phone. Soon we realised that the phone is to be operated by calling card. Luckily the coffee shop had calling cards. Finally we could make the much awaited call and we were happy to know that Charu has passed SSLC with flying colours.
We also were fortunate to locate in the The Jaffa museum which is located under the paved street on the top of the hill, in Kedumim Square. In the museum you can see the walls of Hellenistic and Roman Jaffa, as excavated at this site. Among the ruins are life-sized figures that demonstrate the life in the old times. There is also an audio-visual show, and an exhibition of some archaeological findings. None of the other members of the group could see the museum since they had already rushed to the bus. when we reached the bus, we could understand that the spare time we got was out of some misunderstanding. But when we shared the news of exam result all of them were happy and wanted a treat which we did the next day in Bethlehem.

St. Peter's Churchand House of Simon the Tanner

Peter came to Joppa from Lydda to raise Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). While in Joppa, the apostle stayed at the house of Simon the Tanner. When Peter was praying on the roof, he had a vision of a large sheet filled with animals being lowered from heaven (Acts 9:43-10:23), signaling to him to go with the messengers from Cornelius. The Church of St. Peter marks the traditional site of Peter’s vision of the great sheet.

In Jaffa there are many other churches and monasteries.

Without spending much time at Jaffa, we travelled further to enter Bethlehem. Of all the destinations in the Holy Land, it is Bethlehem that I always loved and wanted to visit. It was night when we entered Bethlem. We stayed there overnight.


Day 4 (1) Bethlehem - Shepherd field

By the time we entered Bethlehem it was night. Our accommodation was arranged in a new hotel in Bethlehem. Staying a night in Bethlehem took me down the memory lane to the celebration of Christmas as a little boy.
Today Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central west bank, 10 kms south of Jerusalem with a population of thirty thousand. The word Bethlehem means 'house of meat' or 'house of bread'.
Our first destination on Day 4 was Bethlehem Shepherd field. It is located in a village named Beit Sahour. (The name Beit Sahour means "the house of staying up all night.") The field is identified since ancient times with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity - "Shepherds kept watch" on that night when Christ was born. From a city guide I read that there are two rival locations for the exact site, one run by the Greek Orthodox and the other by the Franciscans. Both sites have been excavated, and there have been churches and monasteries on both sites since the 4th century or earlier.
We visited The Terra Santa shepherd field. There we could see the caves in which the shepherds lived. The low natural cave or rock shelter in pleasant surroundings and with a fine view of the hills really take one back to the Silent Night. The cave, with soot-blackened roof, has been partly enclosed to make a modern chapel. Above is a modern church (1954) shaped like a tent and decorated with a bronze angel and a star on the top. The paintings in side the church commemorating nativity are marvelous. We could also see ruins of a rectangular monastery founded on a site occupied by nomadic shepherds in the 1st century.
From Bethlehem we proceeded to Jerusalem. First we visited the Mount Olives.
Before we proceed to the holy sites there, the next two posts gives a detailed description of Jerusalem and Mount Olives.

History of Jerusalem - Holy Land

It seems appropriate to make a brief statement of the sites / churches in the Holy Land. These sites where built, destroyed and rebuilt several times. Most of the sites in the Holy Land were identified by by emperor Constantine's mother, Queen Helena in 4th century. The churches built in those period are referred to as Byzantine churches. Many of them were destroyed by Muslim rulers and rebuilt by Crusaders and again destroyed. Most of the sites in the Holy Land today are built by Franciscans (
Given below is a brief history of the holy Land and the City of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a religious center sacred to all three monotheistic religions:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Religious pilgrims from all nations continue to congregate in the Holy City and millions of people flow through the gates of Jerusalem each year.

References to the city of Jerusalem appear throughout the entire Scriptures.

The Scriptural history of Jerusalem (known then as "Salem"), begins when Abraham meets "Melchizedek" (King of Justice) about 2000 BC. Through the ages it has been called by many names: Urusalim, Salem, Mount Moriah, Adonai Urah, Jebus, Jerusalem, Zion, the City of David, Ariel (Lion of God)...

God has declared that this is the place He will establish His Name and
will dwell there forever.

David conquered Jerusalem by defeating the Jebusites in 1052 BCE

(Chronicles 1 11:4-9), nearly 3000 years ago.

In history, No other city has been beloved and fought over as Jerusalem.

After David's death, Solomon (in 1015 BC/BCE) began to "build a house for the Name of the Lord" (Chronicles 2 2:1). It took seven years and 183,300 men to build it (Kings 1- 5:13-16; 6:38). It measured nearly 90 feet in length, 30 feet in width and 45 feet in height (1 Kings 6:2). The Holy Of Holies occupied one-third of the interior space, and the Holy Place, two-thirds. The complete details are described in Kings 1 - 6 & 7. When it was completed, the Glory of God filled

The Temple (View the model of Ancient Jerusalem) (Chronicles 2 7:1).

Israel was divided after Solomon's death (979 BCE).

The kingdom of Israel was in the north, while Judah was in the south.

Jerusalem was the capital of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). It was ruled by a succession of twenty kings from 979 BCE to 586 BCE. Their reigns lasted from as short as three months (Jehoahaz and Jehoiachim) to as long as fifty-five years (Manasseh). The disheartening history of the declines of Judah is told in Kings 1 12:1-2, Kings 25:30, and 2 Chronicles 10:1-36:21.

Jerusalem was entirely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC/BCE.

The city and the Holy Temple were completely demolished and the articles of the Temple and its treasures were carried off to Babylon.
The inhabitants that were not killed were also taken to Babylon. Jerusalem was to lie desolate for seventy years in order that the land might enjoy its Sabbaths (Chronicles 2 36:17-21/Leviticus 26:34).

Seventy-one years later (445 BCE) In 539 BCE, Cyrus, king of Persia issued a proclamation to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a total of 42,360 people returned to Jerusalem and Judah to help rebuild the Temple, (not including male and female servants and the musicians), All gave according to their ability, in order to finance the work.

In the first year, Jeshua and Zerubbabel led a group to build the altar in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah.

It was finally completed in 516 BCE and took twenty-three years.

In 167 BCE the Greeks converted the Temple in Jerusalem into a show place to Greek idols

In 40 BCE the Romans being the super power of that time dispatched an army of 30,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry to take Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and its Temple were incinerated.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was built in Jerusalem, the most important and prominent building in the city at the time.

During the Byzantine era (330-640 CE) many impressive Christian architectural monuments were built in the city. Jerusalem was a major Christian center, attracting pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire. Monks and clergy from the various sects started to settle in the city, and pilgrims from different countries filled Jerusalem's streets: Ethiopians and Armenians, Copts and Nestorians, Syrian Jacobites and Gregorians and, above all, Greek-Orthodox, who became the dominant Christian group in the city.

At the end of the 11th century, Seljuk tribes invaded the country. The city passed from one ruler to another until the arrival of the Crusaders who ruled about two hundred years (1095-1187) CE and again after a brief period, from (1189-1348).

Christian Crusaders order in Jerusalem was extremely brutal, especially at the beginning of the period, and the domination of the city was accompanied by a massacre of most of the Jews and Moslems residing there.

Jerusalem has been fought over by armies of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines,Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Crusaders, Mongols, Mamelukes, Turks, British, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Iraqis. Today the nations of the entire world consider it their responsibility and obligation to intervene in her politics and destiny.

This is a city that has been besieged about forty different times and destroyed (at least partially) on thirty-two different occasions. The rulership of Jerusalem has changed hands some twenty-six times. From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in May of 1948 until 1967, the city was divided. Walls, barbed-wire fences and a desolated strip of non-man's land cut through the very heart of the city, especially excluding the Jews from the Old City and the Temple Mount. During that time the Jewish Quarter was leveled and its synagogues burned. Jewish graves and monuments were desecrated or turned into latrines, Since 1948 Jerusalem has experienced four wars. Jerusalem, "The City of Peace" has known wars and destruction since it existence was first known to us from the Biblical record.

Today, Jerusalem is more of a city of religion, art, culture, and museums than an economically viable regional marketplace or a center of business activity. Yet Jerusalem thrives in our time as a city full of mystical attractiveness and endless fascination.

Jerusalem has played, and will continue to play, an important part in God' deliverance of the earth, His Holy City, and our involvement in it.

By Lena Mor - www.HolyLandNetwork.com (http://www.holylandnetwork.com/pages/Jerusalem_History.html )


Mount Olives

Mount of Olives is the hill facing the old city of Jerusalem, on the eastern side of Kidron valley. Separated from the Eastern Hill (the Temple Mount and the City of David) by the Kidron Valley, the Mt. of Olives has always been an important feature in Jerusalem's landscape. From the 3rd millennium B.C. until the present, this 2900-foot hill has served as one of the main burial grounds for the city. The two-mile long ridge has three summits each of which has a tower built on it.
Its name came from the olive trees that once grew on its hillside from ancient times. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will appear here and bring the dead back to life. Therefore, the hillside became the most holiest cemetery, and the hillside is covered by thousands of grave stones.

Jesus had many encounters on Mount of olives, and the area has many Churches that glorify his acts in this part of Jerusalem : Pater Noster church, the place where according to tradition Jesus taught his disciples the Lords prayer; the tear-shaped church of Dominus Flevit ("the Lord wept") where Jesus wept over the future destruction of the city; Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim) where Jesus was betrayed and arrested.

Day 4 (2) Into Jerusalem - Mount Olives -The Church of the Holy Ascension

From Bethlehem we proceeded to Jerusalem. We visited the Mount Olives. Our first stop was the Church of the Holy Ascension. This site though is the last one in order of events, happened to be our first stop. This church is built over the site believed to be the spot of Christ's ascension into heaven.
The Octagon shaped chapel is a very small one which can house hardly twenty people. It is located on the top of Mount of Olives, at 830M above sea level. In side the church in the center of the floor, is a stone with a cavity. According to tradition, it is an imprint of the foot of Jesus when he made the ascent to heaven.
The Church of the Holy Ascension was taken by Saladin in 1187 and converted into a mosque and remains such today. However pilgrims are allowed to celebrate ascension on Easter day, who cover the yard with tents during the ascension celebrations.


Day 4 (3) Church and Convent of the Pater Noster ( Our Father ), Mount Olives, Jerusalem

Near to the Church of Ascension is The Church of the Pater Noster. This church is built over a cave where according to tradition was the place where Jesus hid with his disciples and taught the "Our Father" (Pater Noster) prayer. The church and a convent in the same campus, controlled by the Carmelite Cloistered Sisters, is located at the site of the ruins of the "Eleona" Basilica, built in the 4th C by Constantine. The Crusaders rebuilt part of the church, and a new convent was built in the 19th Century.
One peculiar sight here is that on the outer walls of the church and walls of near by buildings the prayer 'our father' is written in different languages (more than 140 languages). We could see the prayer written in Malayalam, which incidentally was installed by Rev. Sleeba.Other Indian languages we could see were Hindi and interestingly Gujarati.


Day 4 (4) Hosanna

We next reached a place very close to the hotel where we stayed. The hotel being on the top of mount Olives, we could have a wonderful view of the Old City of Jerusalem. the old city fortified by the walls and gates takes one instantly back to the days of Jesus. Our guide showed us a narrow path going downhill explaining that it is the way Jesus made His triumphant entry to Jerusalem on Hosanna day. Today the narrow path is concreted, but by constant use it has lost its grip. Our guide was repeatedly warning us to hold on to the side rails as we walked down through the steep slope.
"How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees ! You hypocrites ! You are like water washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full bones and decaying corpses on the inside; Matthew 23: 27-32 " Photo shows view of symmetries adjacent to the Hosanna walkway in the Valley of Josephat.


Day 4 (5) Dominus Flevit

We walked down the Hosanna way and entered the compound of Dominus Flevit Church. From the compound of the church full of Fig trees, we could have a panoramic view of the Valley of Josaphat. It is believed that it is from this place that Jesus wept over Jerusalem and perdicted the destruction of the tmple (Luke 19 - 41 / Matthew 23:37) . The Dominus Flevit Church - the meaning of the Church's name is "The cry of the Master". The church is in the shape of a tear, remembering Christ's tears. The church looks very cute and features a beautiful view of the city through its distinct chapel window. In front of the church we were shon a plant with long sharp throwns which is beleived to be the one used to make crown of throns of Jesus.

Valley of Josaphat and Kidron Valley

I will be deviating from our experience to some facts in this post. The view from the church includes Valley of Josaphat, Kidron Valley and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Valley of Josaphat (Valley of Jehoshaphat)
The Valley of Josaphat is a familiar place in the Bible.
"I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat" Joel 3:2

The "Valley of Jehoshaphat" is another valley that the world will be drawn down into in the Final Conflict. According to Jewish tradition, the Valley of Jehoshaphat is that part of the Kidron Valley lying between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. The name Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah is Judge." The word Jehoshaphat is found a number of times in Biblical history. The valley of Jehoshaphat is mentioned specifically by that name only twice in the Bible, and specifically in relation to prophecy, in the third chapter of Joel, as the place of The Lord's end-time judgment upon the enemies of Israel.
From Jewish Encyclopedia :
A valley mentioned by the prophet Joel (Joel iv. [A. V. iii.] 2, 12), where, after the return of Judah and Jerusalem from the Captivity, Yhwh would gather all the heathen and would sit in judgment on their misdeeds to Israel. On account of the significance of the name "Jehoshaphat" ("Yhwh judges") some commentators and translators have thought the designation "Valley of Jehoshaphat" to represent only an imaginary locality. Thus Theodotion renders τὴν χώραν τὶς κρίσεως ("the land of judgment"); Targum Jonathan, ("the plain of the settlement of judgment"). The name is first met with in the fourth century of the common era, having been applied by the unknown Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333. It has since continued to be so used among Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans, who identify it with the valley of Kidron (the present Wadi Sitti Maryam, which separates Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and through which at one time the stream Kidron flowed), and believe that the Last Judgment will be held there. According to the Midrash Tehillim (viii.; quoted by Neubauer, "G. T." p. 51) no "valley called Jehoshaphat" exists .E. G. H. B. P.
Who is Josaphat ?
Jehoshaphat, from the Hebrew pronounced yeh-haw-shaw-fawt, is a combination of two other Hebrew words, yeh-ho-vaw, from which comes the English Jehovah (see also YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD) and shaw-fat, meaning to judge. Jehoshaphat means The Lord judges. Jehoshaphat is found a number of times in Bible History as the name of four or five people, ranging from a king of Judah (1 Kings 15:24, see also Kings of Israel and Judah) to a recorder for King David (2 Samuel 8:16). Jehoshaphat is also a valley that is mentioned specifically by that name only twice in the Bible, in Prophecy, in the third chapter of Joel, as the place of The Lord's end-time judgment upon the enemies of Judah, and Israel. (from http://www.keyway.ca/htm2006/20060427.htm)Another story on JosaphatBackground - Jehoshaphat Jehoshaphat was one of the few "good" kings in Judah, the southern kingdom after Israel split in two. He challenged his people to rid the country of all their idols and put there focus back on the one true God. Judah thrived under his leadership and was even miraculously delivered by God when three large armies invaded. One of the key lessons to be learned from Jehoshaphat is the reassurance that "...the battle is not ours, but God's." (2 Chronicles 20:15) Once you learn that God has already fought the battle and won the victory, you can enjoy an even better peace and prosperity as Jehoshaphat, and live your life as more than a conqueror in Christ!
Check out all the wonderful Christian content linked below and learn about Jehoshaphat's reign. Read Jehoshaphat's story in five popular translations - AMP, KJV, HCSB, NIV, The Message: Jehoshaphat 1 Kings 22:1-40 2 Chronicles 18:1-34 - Jehoshaphat's alliance with King Ahab against the Arameans. 2 Chronicles 17:1-19 - God's Blessing at work during Jehoshaphat's reign. 2 Chronicles 19:1-11 - Jehoshaphat encourages the people to return to God. 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 - The war with Ammon, Edom and Moab. 2 Chronicles 20:31-37 - Summary of Jehoshaphat's reign.
(from http://kingskidstuff.home.att.net/jehoshaphat.htm)

Kidron Valley
This is another location that is significantly mentioned in the Bible. Infact the Valley of Josaphat is a part of the Kidron Valley.
The Kidron Valley separates the Mount Olives and the City of Jerusalem.
In the Old Testament, King David crossed the Kidron Valley to escape his wicked son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23-30). The Kidron Valley is also where King Asa burned the pagan idols and asherah poles (1 Kings 15:13) and where the evil Athaliah was executed (2 Kings 11:16). It became a major cemetery as far back as King Josiah (2 Kings 23:6).

In the New Testament, Jesus traveled from Jerusalem to Bethany through the Kidron Valley to visit Lazarus and raise him from the dead (John 11 and John 12). Jesus also rode the foal of a donkey up the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives through the gates of Jerusalem during his “Triumphal Entry” ( Luke 19:28-44). A few days later, after the “Last Supper” with his disciples, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley to go pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was ultimately arrested ( John 18:1-11).
Some facts of the valley.
1. From Go Israel
The Kidron Valley is one of Jerusalem’s most sacred locales, due to its location between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. On the Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest Jewish cemetery, where it is believed the resurrection of the dead will begin when the Messiah comes. Legend has it that a miraculous bridge will span the valley at the end of time, over which the righteous will pass on their way to the Temple Mount.
This part of the Kidron is also called the Valley of Jehosafat, where God will judge the nations of the world (Joel 3:12). Another name for the valley is the Vale of the King; it was once intensely cultivated and the revenues went to the king.
The Kidron also has the earliest tombs in the cemetery: Zechariah’s Tomb, named after a First Temple priest, the Tomb of the Sons of Hezir, a Second Temple-era priestly family, and Absalom’s Tomb.
2.Valley Of Kidron by Wayne Blank

The Valley Of Kidron is located along the eastern side of Jerusalem, between the Temple Mount (see Mount Moriah) and the Mount of Olives. Many important events of Bible History have occurred, and many tremendous events of Bible Prophecy will occur, in or very near the Valley Of Kidron.

Jesus Christ traveled through the Kidron Valley many times to and from Jerusalem, including on His way to visit Lazarus at Bethany, the Triumphal Entry in which He rode a Donkey from the Mount of Olives to the city, or crossing the valley from the "Last Supper" to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested That Fateful Night. The Pool of Gihon is located in the Kidron Valley. The Brook Kidron runs through the valley during the wet season, but remains dry much of the year. To the south of the city the Kidron joins the Valley Of Hinnom. King David crossed the Kidron Valley to escape his rebellious son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23,30). King Asa (see Kings of Israel and Judah) burned his grandmother's pagan Asherah pole in the Kidron Valley (1 Kings 15:13), and the evil Athaliah was executed there (2 Kings 11:16). It became for some time a dumping place for destroyed pagan items (2 Chronicles 29:16, 30:14). By the time of King Josiah, the Kidron Valley had become the city cemetery (2 Kings 23:6, Jeremiah 26:23). For this reason, the valley has been of much interest to archaeologists.The Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of OlivesAs we walk down the Hosana streets, we could see covered by thousands of graves. These graves are seen in The Valley of Josaphat.
There are two good reasons to want to be buried here. First, the view to the old city is spectacular. Second, when the Messiah arrives, all the dead will be resurrected, and since the messiah will arrive through the golden gate, then people who are buried on Mount of Olives will be 'First in line' to rise from the dead.
From Go Israel
Jews have sought since antiquity to be buried on the Mount of Olives, where according to the Bible (Zech. 14:4) the resurrection will begin when the Messiah comes. Eventually, the cemetery grew to cover the entire western and much of the southern slopes.
The earliest tombs are located at the foot of the mountain in the Kidron Valley. One is attributed to David’s rebellious son Absalom, another to the First Temple priest Zechariah; a third bears an inscription mentioning the sons of Hezir, a priestly family that lived 2,000 years ago.
Jewish burial here continued throughout the centuries, interrupted only between 1948 and 1967 when Jerusalem was divided. Among the many legends surrounding this sacred mountain, it is said that in the End of Days people will tunnel underground from all over the world to rise up here.
The view of enormous tombs here made me wonder wasn't this view that prompted Jesus to comment
"How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people's bones and every kind of impurity. (Matthew 23:27)