A visit to the Holy Land
Day 2: In which we visited too many churches and appreciated the philosophy of bus drivers
After the richness of yesterday's experience it was perhaps to be expected that I would feel a bit flat today. It hits me now that we know so little about what happened where, and in any case what can we expect to see remaining of events from 2,000 years ago? I feel quite despondent about it at times as we trudge between a site where the transfiguration might or might not have happened, but where a basilica has been built just in case,...
... and the foundations of what might or might not have been Mary's house (build a church just in case) and a place where the annunciation might or might not have happened (another basilica) and the place where there was quite possibly once the synagogue where Jesus preached on Isaiah (another church). In Cana we see a church with a stone water jar in it, so obviously that was one of THE jars, even though the church next door has some different ones altogether.
At least we discover some really nice wine later in the evening, from the Golan Heights.
In Nazareth (a frankly ugly town about 280 times larger than it was in the time of Jesus) I am prepared to be underwhelmed by a recreation of a 1st century village in the style of Beamish, with actors herding sheep and demonstrating carpentry, ....
but funnily enough it turns into a little highlight. I find out some stuff about how olive oil was made, and about Jesus' trade as a 'tekton' or builder rather than just a carpenter. We also see what a 1st century synagogue would have looked like. Best of all when excavating the site they found a communal wine press cut into the rock, and it dated from around Jesus' time. The guide doesn't overdo it, but does shrug and point out that in a community of 250-300 people they would all gather to help at grape harvest time and to tread the grapes, so it would be downright odd if young Jesus hadn't joined in and used it too.
So maybe there is something still to see even after 2,000 years.
Khalil our guide is a Palestinian Muslim*. He joins us for coffee at our request and tells us about his view of the tensions between Israel and Palestine. Though he speaks in a gentle and considered way, much of what he says leaves us uncomfortable and we resolve to become better informed.
Meanwhile one of our drivers tells us that he loves Muslims, he loves Christians, he loves Jews. 'You are a politician!' We joke. 'I am a lawyer!' He replies, quick as a flash. He goes on to explain that in his eyes, this country has holy sites for all religions, so it should be the most peaceful and loving place in the world. 'What football team do you support?' We ask. 'Barcelona' he replied, 'If anyone here is for Real Madrid, we stop bus and fight now!'
We all laugh. But we know all too well that this is not a peaceful country. It is a beautiful and holy place, but it isn't a country of pure love, however much it should be.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
*Thank you Ben