Israel Update #1
First of all, thank you so very much for the letters. I began reading them in the Atlanta airport and they were so encouraging I decided to spread the reading of them out over the whole two weeks. Those letters have done as much to affirm the New Testament to me as being in Israel has -- reading those letters my mind was flooded with the passages in Paul's letters where he expresses great joy over being received by his people. Thank you, again.
Yesterday we visited Caesarea, Mt Carmel, and Nazareth. The highlight for me was Caesarea but the surprise was Nazareth. Caesarea was great because there were a lot of ruins and so many of Acts' stories regarding that city are quite political. That meant we didn't just get to see the government buildings in the town where normal Christian stuff happened (like the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10), it actually meant we got to see exactly where Herod was sitting when he died in Acts 12 and where Paul would have been tried. Very cool stuff! I was surprised at Nazareth for a few reasons. First of all, I knew there would be a church over the grotto that is supposedly Mary's home and I assumed that would ruin it for me. I was surprised to find that it didn't. Building a church on a "holy" site would be about the last thing we'd do in our day and age so the church itself (though this version was newer) seemed to highlight the ancient character of the place, not to mention the holiness of what happened there. And that leads me to the second surprise: I figured it was just random conjecture where Jesus may have lived when he was a child. Well, our guide said that at the time of Jesus there were only about a dozen families living in Nazareth so that means the church IS sitting on the actual house. Even if they are wrong about the one they are venerating you know it is within a stone's throw of it. That leant more authenticity to the whole thing in my mind.
The picture below is of me standing on the edge of the track at the hippodrome in Caesarea. The Mediterranean Sea is on the left and the track is on the right. The ruins of the bleachers and infield are behind me. This (or one of the other) public works nearby was dedicated to Herod the Great by our old friend Pontius Pilate. The stone commemorating that dedication is the one single reference outside of Scripture related material that Pilate existed and was truly a government official. How wonderfully affirming (and the stone was was found pretty recently).
By the picture you can tell it has been pretty stormy. There have been some really violent wind and rain but we've been able to squeeze the site seeing in between the stormy moments -- apparently storms here last 3-4 days each and come in waves. The stormy season really should begin next month so these are early. These same violent winter storms are what led to Paul's eventual shipwreck in Acts 27:12ff. (Such "teaching moments" are literally everywhere in this country!) Anyway, hopefully things will be warmer and drier by the weekend.
Thank you again for letting me do this and the deep encouragement your letters have been. I will treasure both for years to come.