First, I want to let you know if you’ve seen in the news that there have been some sad events in Jerusalem, that we are all fine and safe. Please do pray for peace in this wonderful and very complicated place. The college is not close to the Dome of the Rock, where the incidents occurred, so unless we’re looking at an English-language newspaper we can be somewhat unaware of what’s going on. We feel very sheltered inside the walled and gated compound of the cathedral complex. The college staff have been monitoring things closely, of course, and sadly they have decided to cancel our visit to the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount and Western Wall. I completely understand that they want us to be safe as possible, although it’s a bit disappointing not to get to see these famous sites. Probably they are being over cautious, but caution is not a bad thing.
So, after getting to know everyone here at the college, we had a very full first day in the city of Jerusalem.
After breakfast and a group photo, we gathered in the lecture room for a talk from Rodney on the history and spirituality of pilgrimage in the Holy Land. It was fascinating and I took about 8 pages of notes. A few things I learned which may make it easier to understand future blog posts:
— For the first 3 centuries, Christians were just trying to survive persecution so the holy sites were not particularly important
— After Christianity became legal, there was a movement to commemorate and memorialize the events of the New Testament and saints of the past. Several churches were built over the sites of New Testament events.
— When we visit these holy sites, our visit is really curated in a way by these Christians of past centuries who have chosen which sites are “holy” and designed how they will be viewed by building churches and other monuments literally on top of them. So sites that we think of as being outdoors (e.g. the tomb, the place of the crucifixtion, the birthplace of Jesus, etc.) are now actually indoors.
— There were several major waves of building/commemoration on the holy sites. The first was in the 4th century under emperor Constantine. The second was when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem in the 11th century. The third was the Protestant “rediscovery” of the Holy Land in the 19th century when British and American archeologists and tourists came here. These Protestant pilgrims tended to not like the Eastern Christian piety of the established sites, and built many of their own based on archeological discoveries (e.g. the Pool of Bethsaida)
— It’s really impossible to know if the actual locations of these sites are “authentic”, whatever that means to us. They have been hallowed by many centuries of pilgrims, and are probably as close as we are going to get. Rodney recommended we think of each site as a place to commemorate or remember a particular story.
After lunch, we got on the bus!