The map shows our travels from Haifa to Jerusalem in blue.
While in Jerusalem we visited a number of Christian sites that are also important to the Muslim faith. Some of the sites have some archaeological evidence, whereas the only evidence for other churches is that they were built on the ruins of earlier churches marking a Holy Site.
First we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where it is believed Christ was buried and resurrected. The tomb is surrounded by an enclosed chapel.
Another church we visited was the Catholic Church of Gethsemane, also called the Church of All Nations because it was built with funds from Catholic Churches from all over the world. It is the disputed site where Christ prayed and his disciples slept the night before he was crucified. It is located at the base of the Mount of Olives and is the church in the foreground.
Next to the church is a garden of very old olive trees, one of which dates back to the time of Christ.
We visited Mount Zion and the location of the Last Supper and passed several locations of the Stations of the Cross. Since it is the height of tourist season, the Old City was packed with people from all over the world as well as the local people going about their everyday business. We also saw many large groups of religious pilgrims.
We visited the archaeological site of the City of David, the oldest part of the city near the Mount of Olives which is now a Jewish cemetery. Look for the figure on the path at the bottom of the photo as well as the large tour buses to get a sense of scale.
As for museums, we visited the Historical Museum of Israel and the Holocaust Museum. I could not take pictures at the Holocaust Museum so these photos are from the internet. The museum is designed with triangles and is filled with displays of personal materials belonging to those lost as well as testimonies of survivors. I was amazed by the amount of photographs documenting events, both historical and personal, that were on display along with movie footage.
The goal of the museum is to collect as much material as they can and to document every person lost. The search for identifying people and collecting materials is on-going. They are also making an effort to identify non-Jewish individuals who protected and aided Jews at that time to recognize them as the “Righteous Among Nations.”
We drove by the US Embassy, now located in Jerusalem.
Betsey and I spent a day visiting some of the various quarters in the Old City: the Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian (Orthodox and Catholic) areas. The streets were narrow and a great many were markets filled with locals, tourists, and pilgrims. We strolled through very crowded market areas as well as narrow lanes with only a few people.
We noticed that some walls had dots and symbols painted on them and learned that these were the homes where Muslims who had made Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, lived.
We met a shop keeper on one of the narrow streets who invited us to climb some stairs that led to roof tops with some great views of the city.
We did not visit the Dome of the Rock because to go to the top of the platform meant standing in a line for more than an hour. Also, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque, so we viewed it from a distance.
Bethlehem was a side trip from Jerusalem. There we learned that Jesus was not born in a barn, but a cave. The stable that we picture as a wooden structure does not exist in Israel because they do not have any wood. Instead, everything is built of stone. In Bethlehem, people lived in caves, naturally formed and then expanded on by hand. Our guide explained that people back then slept in upper levels and used the ground level for cooking, eating, and housing animals. So when Joseph and Mary were told there was no room in the inn, it meant the upper level was full. They then settled for the ground level which was made up of multiple chambers. He took us to see what one of these caves looked like.
And the manger, a feeding trough for animals, was not wood, but stone as well.
We then visited the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where Jesus is believed to be have been born. This is the unimpressive facade of the church. It originally had three large doors, but the door on the left is covered with a wall buttress that was built to add support and the left door is hidden by part of a monastery that was built later. The center door was once quite large, but was made smaller to keep camels and horses out. But the arched door was still used by horses, so they made it even smaller. It is called the Door of Humility since everyone had to bow to enter.
The interior has been undergoing a lot of restoration. At one time, the floor was 2 feet lower than it is today, where 4th century Byzantine mosaics were found.
There was a section that was tented over while restoration continues. We were able to find a peephole and saw an archaeologist at work.
The church is Greek Orthodox so the altar area was quite elaborate.
There was a huge line of people waiting to go down to see the birth place, so we decided not to wait. Instead, we viewed the church and entered the church next door, only to be have our guide lead us down to the cave from another entrance. He took us to an adjoining part of the cave where the stone was still original.
From here we could look through a tiny hole in a door and see the chamber where the birth took place. It has been decorated to the hilt and does not resemble a cave at all. I took this photo off the internet.
The church next door, St, Catherine’s, is where Christmas Eve services are televised.
Before we left Jerusalem, we visited the Dead Sea Scrolls Museum. Again, photography was not permitted so here are more images from the internet. The scrolls were found in jars with covers and the roof of the museum was shaped like one of these covers.
The interior is round with display cases around the walls as well as on an elevated platform. This photo was taken when President Obama visited the museum.
After we left Jerusalem, we visited Qumran, the site where the scrolls were found. They were written and copied by a group of highly religious men who objected to the way Judaism was being practiced. They withdrew and isolated themselves in the desert east of Jerusalem. There they created a community that is now an archaeological area. It is believed that when they felt threatened, they hid their archives in caves in the mountains. Some were discovered in 1946. Researchers have assembled a collection of some 981 different manuscripts – discovered in 1946/47 and in 1956 – from 11 caves
Notice the dark spots in the mountains. Those are the caves where they were found in ceramic jars.
Next, the Dead Sea.