I was very fortunate to travel to Israel and Palestine recently with a group from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. The theme of the trip was “Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land.” I travelled for 2 weeks with 16 classmates, our professor, a dean, and an in-country guide.
We visited sites considered sacred by all three Abrahamic religions. We also visited a Baha’i shrine and the ruins of a temple of Pan and of a temple of Zeus.
Some of the highlights of our visit:
- Elijah’s caves, where God spoke to Elijah;
- the Dead Sea and Qumran, where the Dea Sea Scrolls were found;
- the Western Wall (at the former site of Solomon’s Temple);
- Bethlehem (and the location of Christ’s birth);
- Jesus’s childhood home in Galilee (part cave);
- the Sea of Galilee;
- the location at which Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be his disciples;
- Peter’s home (ruins, underneath the ruins of two churches);
- the location of the Sermon on the Mount;
- the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City (the path Christ walked to his crucifixion);
- the location of the crucifixion;
- the empty tomb of Christ (both asserted locations);
- where Jesus appeared to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection;
- the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount;
- the Western Wall on Friday, just before the beginning of Shabbat (the Sabbath)—lots of Jewish men dancing and singing to celebrate the coming of the Sabbath; and
- Jacob’s well.
The level of certainty that each spot is, in fact, the exact location that something occurred 2000+ years ago varies. In some instances, there is near certainty. In others, it is “highly likely.” Others, it is “it was most likely either here or this other spot several hundred yards away.” In many instances, the spot became a pilgramage objective very early and a church was built on the spot in the 300s, for example.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the trip:
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
Site at which Christ ascended to heaven after his resurrection
Site of the sermon on the mount
On the Sea of Galilee
From where the Transfiguration occurred
Most of our group
The Valley of Armageddon
We got baptized in the Jordan.
In the Dead Sea
Remains of the steps up which Christ would have been brought for his trial
Path down which Christ likely would have ridden the donkey into Jerusalem (where palm leaves were placed in front of him)
At the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
On the Sea of Galilee, in a boat; I did not try to walk on the water
The Western Wall at night
At Jacob’s well (a church was built on top of it)
Meeting with ministers and scholars
These pictures only scratch the surface. I have hundreds, taken by my fellow travellers and by me.
It was a formative trip for me. My fellow travellers were great companions, and I enjoyed getting to know them better. It was such a nice journey that I now miss living with 18 people! I learned a lot. In particular, seeing the land and the location of many Biblical events put scripture into perspective and gave me an appreciation for its setting and context. It also gave me an appreciation for the humanity of the people we have read about so many times, like the woman at Jacob’s well, those seeking to be healed by Christ, and others.
The opportunity to occupy briefly the same space Christ once occupied was especially humbling.
The trip and the months leading up to it also caused me to study the Israel-Palestine conflict, about which I had only a minimal understanding before. The situation and its history is surprising and deeply disappointing, and I plan to write a post or two on the topic soon.
This was a trip of a lifetime, and I am thankful for it and my fellow travellers.
(Picture at the top: This is a picture taken by one of my fellow travelers, either Neal Walls or Roxanne Cuff. Several of us decided to get baptized where John the Baptist did his baptizing and where Christ was baptized, in the River Jordan—most for the second time and me for the third time (a story for another day). Daniel Webb, Devin Lynch, and Michaia Hinds baptized me (I’m a big guy). I am nearly blind without my glasses, which is probably why everyone else is looking directly at the camera, while my gaze is a little off….).