Tuesday, November 19, 2013

O... burning hills of Bethlehem?

I figured that title would catch your attention ;D I'll get to the burning hills in a minute

The Wall of Life

Last week a group of ten went to West Jerusalem to see the movie Ender's Game. I've been anticipating that movie way too long to let somebody's comments on facebook taint my expectations. I won't spoil yours either. After the movie, we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon a Christian cemetery with one of the most captivating murals I've ever seen in my life. It's called The Jerusalem Wall of Life Mural. This mural, which spans probably 100 feet, depicts the entire Bible story in one huge image. Or at least it will. It's still a work in progress. One portion of the mural made a significant impact on me with its beautiful symbolism. I'll let you figure it out yourself.

A small portion of the Wall of Life Mural


We went to Bethlehem last week! On the way we went to the Herodium, a memorial to the earthly king Herod the Great. It ended in the shepherd's fields of Bethlehem, where the birth of our Heavenly King was announced.

The Herodium (inside):
One of Herod the Great's most grand palaces and also his burial site, built atop an artificially-enlarged mountain.

At the end of the day, we sat and pondered the birth of Christ on a hillside shepherd's field of Bethlehem.

Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem: still in use today!

We also saw an episode from modern politics when some arsonists threw some makeshift explosive onto the field across the way, and we watched a chunk of weeds burn and fizzle out. Some border patrol guys came and stopped whatever they were trying to do by shooting some smoke-like projectile toward them.

Note: Just in case your heart is racing, these were just some kids trying to start a fire. We were way, way out of their throwing range, plus there was no reason for them to aim at us.

The Shepherd's fields of Bethlehem. I saw a flock in the bottom of the valley, and a shepherd leading a different flock at the top of the ridge. It's still used for the same thing today!

O, burning hills of Bethlehem...

Anyway, here was the real highlight of that day. It goes back to a theme which keeps repeating itself in my life lately: "Yisra-el." Israel. God Prevails. He's in the details. I happened to stumble upon a quote that morning on Facebook. It seemed intended for me in two ways. First was that it referred to Bethlehem, to which I was going that very day. Second, it emphasizes that God puts us in each other's lives in order to influence each other, just as he puts the stars in the sky to influence each other. And in the scheme of the Plan of Salvation, stars can indeed represent people! Anyway, here's the quote:
"The same God that placed a star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has equal, if not more, attention to the placement of each of us in human orbits, so we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others, but warm them as well."
- (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "That My Family Should Partake", 1974, pg. 86)
Have you ever thought of that? God had to place the star in just the right spot thousands of years ago! And not only that, when he blew it up in a supernova, or whatever he did to make it shine, it had to be timed perfectly to coincide with Jesus' birth! And yet he gives just as much, if not more attention to you and me. Yisra-el. One of the reasons I am here right now is because of the people I needed to meet. God knows who I need to become and who can help me do it.

Now then! On to more adventures...

I'm an archaeologist!

Many years ago, the Muslim community decided to do some construction work on the Temple Mount. Turns out this is a really big deal, digging aimlessly with giant backhoes on one of the world's most culturally and spiritually saturated pieces of land. Yeah, that could have been thought through a little better. So the Israeli government jumped in and confiscated the dirt from this project, which was sure to be filled with pieces of history. I got to go sift through some of that dirt with my friends, and wouldn't you know! Megan Bassett and I got the find of the day: A Hasmonean coin! This was a half-shekel most likely from the Second Temple period, which covers Christ's lifetime. These were the coins Jews would use to pay for their sacrificial animal at the Temple.

Half-shekel coin, probably used to purchase animal sacrifices during the Second Temple period

I'll be famous! Megan will be... more famous!
Unfortunately we didn't get to keep the coin, and they actually find an average of one of these a day. But it was cool that we were the ones to find it!

Exploring the Temple Mount

Today and yesterday our class got to explore more of the Temple Mount. I guess I've never explained what that is, have I? Silly me, acting on assumptions. Brief history lesson: King David wanted to build a temple, but he couldn't because he was a king of war. So instead he collected the materials and built the foundational platform upon which the Temple would rest. His son Solomon then built the actual temple when he was king. That temple and its successor (2nd temple), are destroyed completely (Luke 21:6, Mark 13:2).

Temple Mount in the Second Temple Period (517 BC - 70 AD)

Temple Mount in front of the Golden Gate, which used to lead to the ancient Temple. It is now walled shut.
Shout out to the peeps in the pic! Jamison Peterson, Jordan Lenhart, Alena Tuttle, Makena Madsen, Cam Cardon, Kristen Fitts, Sarah Jensen (I hope that's you!), Emily Clifford, and Kinsey Ferrell (twice!)

As you can see from the sphere above, the Temple Mount is still around today. We explored the Kotel Tunnel, which leads along the side of the Western Wall, underneath all of the houses that are now built there. We saw some of the original stones from Herod's Temple (2nd temple) still supporting the mount. There are several stones which weigh 570 tons! How in the world do you transport something like that without electricity? I don't know, but Herod was a genius of a builder.

That stone on the right is massive: 570 tons!
Both inside the tunnel and outside on the south end of the mount, we also saw piles of rubble. This rubble is the very stone that was turned over when the Romans destroyed the temple. Much of it is still there!

Rubble from the destroyed templeStill sitting next to the mount 2000 years later!

Standing where Jesus stood

This morning, I stood at the old southern gate of the Temple mount, where most of the traffic in and out of the temple probably traversed during Jesus' time. Most places in Jerusalem aren't the same as what you read in the Bible, because they are buried some 3 meters below the ground. However, we're quite sure that the stairs at the south of the Mount are the same ones from Christ's day. And you know what that means?

I really did walk in the footsteps of Jesus today. I am a witness.

In the Savior's footsteps
Me standing on a stone where Jesus almost certainly walked.

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