I was so good about keeping a journal until we got to Israel. I don’t know why my journaling fell by the wayside, but it did. So from here on out, I am relying on my pictures and my memory. Boy, are we in trouble now! Also, because of time constraints, etc, we didn’t follow the written schedule and saw sites out of order. So, because of this, I am just going to post pictures with some commentary after each one.Once we got on the bus after finally clearing security in Israel, we travelled to Qumran. This is where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. Nearly 900 scrolls were discovered. Most were written on parchment and some on papyrus. There were lots of archaeological excavations going on at this site. Cisterns, Jewish ritual baths, and cemeteries have been found, along with a dining or assembly room and debris from an upper story alleged by some to have been a scriptorium as well as pottery kilns and a tower.
In case you didn’t know it, Bethlehem is in the West Bank. This means we had to go through security entering and exiting the area. The entire West Bank is surrounded by a concrete wall with watchtowers and armed soldiers standing guard. Every day when we left Bethlehem to go to other locations, the bus would stop, two armed soldiers would come on board and walk through and look at everyone’s passport. It was kind of scary the first time or two, but then I got used to it. Our guide, Samir, is a Palestinian Christian, and we got a large dose of the Palestinian side of politics in Israel every day. This was not necessarily a bad thing, because most of us have grown up thinking the Palestinians are “bad” and the Israelis are “good”. This ain’t necessarily so. However, I’m not going to get into the details here on my blog, but if you have questions, please feel free to ask me about what I learned.The first thing I noticed about Bethlehem was that all the Christmas decorations were still up. I wondered if they stayed up all year round since this was Bethlehem after all, or if they hadn’t gotten around to taking them down. Before we went to our hotel we went to the Church of the Nativity and I found out why the decorations were still up. There were crowds of people at the church and Samir told us that the 17th of January was when the Armenian Christians celebrated Christmas. I knew that the Greek Orthodox celebrated on January 7th, but didn’t realize that there was another Christmas celebration after that. There was a TV crew broadcasting outside of the church and the crew was speaking Armenian. We went into the church, but services were being held in the Armenian quarter of it and other parts of the church were being cleaned. The line to go into the Grotto of the Nativity was very long and Samir determined that it would take us hours to get through it.
By this time everyone was tired, cold and it was getting dark. It was decided to go on to our hotel, get checked in, have dinner and go back to the church on another day. Our hotel “Holy Family Hotel” was nice. It wasn’t a 4 or 5 star hotel by any means, but the rooms were clean. The dining room was in the basement, which was sort of weird and it turned out that we were the only group at the hotel the entire time we were there.
The next day, we went to Nablus to see Jacob's well that is within the Greek Orthodox Church of St.Photina
Samir with the Greek Orthodox Priest who has rebuilt St. Photina Church of Jacob's Well single-handed.
Interior of the dome at St. Photina
Jacob's well. It was amazing to be standing next to the well on the very spot Jesus stood.
One of the restored mosaics at St. Photina Church
The fountain at Shepherd's Field. This church and grounds in Bethlehem is said to be built on the site where the angels appeared to the shepherd's to announce the birth of Christ.
The two pictures above are of the outside and inside of the dome of the Greek Orthodox Church at Shepherd's Field.
The three pictures above are paintings on the wall of the church at Shepherd's Field depicting the birth of Christ and the angels appearing to the shepherds.
This church was full of light and the gardens that surrounded it were absolutely gorgeous.