Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween in Jerusalem

I almost hate to mix "Halloween," with its roots in medieval paganism, and "Jerusalem," with its focus on the spiritual heart of Judaism and Christianity.  I have always felt a bit ambivalent about this "holiday" in the States, drawn to its fun and festivity, but uncomfortable with its sometimes darker side.  But Elaine always hastens to point out that few people see it as a harvest festival anymore, let alone one invoking pagan gods and witchcraft, and making fun of scary things serves a psychological purpose of its own.

So, for better or worse, it is a largely American phenomenon as we experience it, and so being away from home it is something both the faculty children and the students really enjoy . . . and even some of the "adults."

My main objective was to do something familiar for our increasingly home-sick children, especially for Samuel, who has taken to saying, "I miss Christmas at home," "I miss holidays at home," and at last simply, "I miss our home."  So we went out of our way to find some big, white, almost pumpkins and carve them.

Elaine had thought ahead and brought Samuel's knight costume from last year.  And she and the other faculty wives organized a center trick-or-treat, which the students happily participated in.  I think it made them think of their own little brothers and sisters at home.

Roasting pumpkin seeds, just like at home!
Elaine revived an old costume favorite of hers, the Bride of Frankenstein.  Rachel was a Zombie Princess . . . or something.  Dad refrained from pointing out that one of our early compromises many years ago was no ghouls, ghosts, witches, or other "evil" costumes.  This was a lost battle!  I wore black pants and an orange shirt, and that was a festive as I got.  
Samuel came home from trick-or-treating "in the hotel," as he sometimes calls the center, and reported, "Dad, this was the best Halloween yet."  Thanks to everyone that helped accomplish this for our boy---for those who made suggestions on how to find pumpkins (esp. Chad Emmett), to those who sent candy from the states (esp. Dave and Deb Gehris), and to all the faculty couples, families, and students.

For an activity, we had a showing of a black and white, silent classic, "The Phantom of the Opera."  Our Jerusalem Center organist, Mike Ohman, accompanied the showing.

Mike Ohman at the organ

Later there was a party in the Oasis, where we got to see more of the student costumes.  Since this is not a holiday observed in any real way here, they had to be creative.  One pair of girls were an electron and a proton, with Sister Electron busily revolving around the proton whenever we looked.  Some of the students dressed up as each other.  And two people, my colleague Dr. Jared Ludlow and student Michael-Sean Covey dressed up . . . as me.  Wearing the equivalent of my field clothes and my trademark Indiana Jones hat, everyone knew who they were supposed to be.  Jared added a number of signs all over himself with my trademark sayings, such as "Shh! But I love you!"  Michael-Sean kept pulling out a pocket-sized hymn book, and whenever he picked it up to sing, he held it at arm's length, mocking my 46-year-old eyes.  On his back he had taped a heart that said "I love Elaine, Jesus, and the Byzantines.  I felt appropriately roasted.

A double-stuffed oreo!

That black-shirt and hatted man is supposed to be me

Afterwards there was a dance in the gym.  Elaine and I sneaked in late and danced discreetly in the corner, until we were discovered and soon surrounded by a dancing circle of students.  With nothing to lose, we busted out our best 80's moves.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

En Kerem, the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth

The Church of John the Baptist seen in the vale of En Kerem
Tomorrow may be Halloween in the U.S., but I am already thinking about Christmas as we begin going to sites associated with the Infancy Narratives of Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2.  Today we took a family outing to En Kerem, or "Spring of the Vineyard," which is the site traditionally associated with the home of Zacharias and Elisabeth.  Luke uses this righteous couple to serve as a foil for Mary and Joseph, with the annunciation to Zacharias and John the Baptist's birth serving as both a comparison and contrast to the annunciation to Mary and Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.  (See chapter 1 of my Good Tidings of Great Joy, now available at Deseret Book)

Zacharias was a temple priest, but there were so many priests in that era that they only actively served in the temple a few weeks a year.  The rest of the year they lived in their own homes throughout the land.  In the case of Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, that home was in "a city in the hill country of Judah" (Luke 1:39).  Since Byzantine times, that city has been identified with the village of En Kerem, now a beautiful suburb west of Jerusalem whose name means "Spring of the Vineyard."

The Russian Orthodox monastery on one of the hills around En Kerem

One of the terraced hillsides of En Kerem
After the appearance of the angel Gabriel in the temple to Zacharias, he returned, perhaps to here, where his wife, who was old and had long been considered barren, miraculously conceived.  Here Luke has applied the motif of Sarah and Abraham, as well as that of Hannah and Elkanah.

Immediately after this, Luke switches scenes to Nazareth (give me a few weeks, we go to Galilee two weeks from tomorrow) for the story of the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).  As part of that, Gabriel told Mary that her relative (KJV "cousin") Elisabeth was also miraculously pregnant.  That led Mary to travel to the hill country of Judah to visit Elisabeth and Zacharias.

According to early Christian tradition, the village's spring, for which the modern town is named, was the place where Mary and Elisabeth met.  The spring still runs from under a mosque.

Elaine, Samuel, and Rachel by Mary's Spring

Detail of the spring as it flows today from under the mosque
The meeting of the two women is better commemorated up the hill under a church that was associated with a cave, where legend holds that Elisabeth later concealed the baby John during the Slaughter of the Innocents.  Remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches are contained within the current Church of the Visitation, built by the Franciscans in 1946. 

Church of the Visitation
Mosaic on the front of the church showing Mary traveling to En Kerem

Grotto beneath the church
Painting of the meeting of Elisabeth and Mary inside the church
Rachel and Elaine in front of a statue of Mary meeting Elisabeth
In a small courtyard garden of the church, away from the area in front that was crowded with pilgrims, we did a reading of the story of the Visitation, including the Magnificat.  The Magnificat is the first of Luke's four canticles, or liturgical songs, which he weaves into his Infancy Narrative.  It is easily the most beautiful.

Rachel took the part of Mary.  My daughter is 14.  We do not know Mary's age at the time, but she may easily have been that young, making Rachel's reading particularly touching.

Lower down the hill is a church dedicated to John the Baptist.  In a grotto under it is the traditional spot of the prophet's birth.  In the courtyard in front of it are numerous plaques, each with a translation of the Benedictus into different languages.  The Benedictus is the second Lucan canticle.  Though it is ostensibly the blessing that Zacharias pronounced upon his son at John's circumcision and blessing, most of it is actually about the coming Christ.

Entrance to the John the Baptist Church
My family in front of the plaque with the English translation of the Benedictus

Inside the church
The entrance to the Grotto, with the beginning of the Benedictus in Latin: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited . . ."
Under the altar in the grotto is the traditional spot of John's birth.  The Latin inscription says "Here the precursor of the Lord was born"

Today was a wonderful outing, made all the better because I did it with my family.  And one of the best parts of that was that we were (largely) able to keep Samuel interested and engaged.  These kind of excursions are not always easy or interesting to him, but we feel strongly about giving him these experiences.  Visit Samuel's Page and scroll to the bottom to see some of the "other" side of today's trip.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Report of our last day in Jordan

We only did a few things today---spent time at the Roman-era theater in Amman, walked through the city's market, and then visited the baptismal site of Jesus---before leaving Jordan.  But that last visit was the most important.  Visit the Jordan Fall 2011 page and scroll to the bottom for the last report of our trip.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jordan Day 3: Amman, Jabbok, and Jerash

Today's post for the third day of our Jordan tour appears at the bottom of the Jordan 2011 page.  Make sure to scroll to the bottom.  To whet your appetite, here are a couple of pictures and the highlights video:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jordan Page updated

The Jordan Page is at last updated with lots of pictures and as much video as I could get uploaded with the slow internet here.  Today's entry, about Petra, may be particularly interesting.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jordan Page started . . .but

I have started a Jordan page, but painfully slow internet here may mean that it will largely be text until I can get a better connection to upload pictures and video.  Still, you can get a verbal description in the meantime.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

You say Emmaus, I say Latrun

As noted in an earlier post this morning, Rachel and I started the day by going to the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden with the other faculty and some of their families.  Elaine, who had been home with Samuel, was nursing a bad cold, but by 11:00, we were ready for our day out.

Today we had on the agenda the Canada Park in Latrun and the churches commemorating the Visitation and the birth of John the Baptist in a suburb of Jerusalem called En Kerem.  Well, between our late start and Samuel's still low tolerance for historical site-seeing, the better part of virtue was to go to only the first of the two.  We will save En Kerem for next week when everyone is fresh and when we can better prepare by reading parts of Luke 1 as a family first.

Latrun used to be a Jordanian salient protruding into Israel, a point that actually threatened the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  So when the Israelis captured the area in 1967, the main Palestinian village of Imwas was raised and the area has since been converted into the Canada Park, so named because it was financed largely by the Jewish National Fund of Canada.

We were interested in it because the name Imwas preserves the earlier name of "Emmaus."  Actually, it is not likely that this was actually the biblical Emmaus, where the Risen Lord revealed himself to two disciples after having walked with them there from Jerusalem with their not knowing his identity (see Luke 24:13-35).  Two other sites closer to Jerusalem, Qaryet el-Enab and Qubeiba, both near the modern village of Abu Gosh, have better claim to be Emmaus.  But my Byzantine friends thought that this was the site, so I wanted to see it.

 Actually it was interesting on its own, because before the Byzantines started to make pilgrimages there, it had been converted into the Roman city of Nicopolis, so there were a few interesting remains for us to look at, particularly an interesting water system.


And the site is important strategically, sitting over the wide Ayalon Valley, which provided an important approach to Jerusalem.  As a result, even though the Crusaders thought that Qaryet el-Enab was Emmaus, they built a big castle below this site to control the valley.  Richard the Lion Hearted passed this way on his failed attempt to re-take Jerusalem up the valley.

The Ayalon Valley from the hill top in the Canada Park

Cannot say that Samuel had a great time today, but he put up with it . . . and there was progress from a surprising direction: Samuel decided he wanted to try out a few words on just about everyone he saw (see the entry for 10/23/2011 at the bottom of Samuel's page).

Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee." (Psalms 122:6)

Tomorrow will be the 170th anniversary of Orson Hyde's blessing upon the Holy Land.  To commemorate this event, this morning the faculty and many of their families walked across the middle slope of the Mount of Olives to the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens to view the Old City from this beautiful spot and to remember the prayer that Elder Hyde had pronounced upon this city and this land somewhere on this mountainside.

The gardens were developed in 1979 by the Orson Hyde Foundation, a branch of the Jerusalem Foundation, which consisted largely of interested Latter-day Saint donors.  The land of the garden is part of the belt of Jerusalem parks that surrounds the Old City.  At the dedication of the garden on October 24, 1979, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleck was joined by many leaders of the LDS Church at the time, including President Kimball, President Tanner, President Benson, Elder LeGrand Richards, Elder Howard Hunter, and Elder Marvin Ashton.

Rachel listens to Brother Skinner recount a historical anecdote

Rachel in the Orson Hyde Gardens with the Old City behind

Orson Hyde, Wikimedia Commons
Orson Hyde (1805-1878) was an apostle and a member of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1835-1838 and 1839-1878.  He had received a special blessing and charge to take the gospel to the Holy Land, and before he left he had a vision of himself on the Mount of Olives.  This mission was realized in 1841-1842, when he traveled first to Europe and then Constantinople (now Istanbul) before sailing to the Holy Land, which was then part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Arriving in the port of Jaffa, Elder Hyde made his way to Jerusalem, where he stayed for over a year and a half.  On the morning of October 24, 1841, he climbed the Mount of Olives.  There, with a view of the Old City of Jerusalem, he composed a special dedicatory prayer, which he then pronounced upon the land and its peoples.

Here my colleague Steve Harper reads excerpts from the dedicatory prayer:

While much of this prayer is often read with a focus on the gathering of Jews to this land, this aspect of the prayer can also be understood in the context of Hyde's time and from the scriptural perspective of the ultimate restoration of Israel in and through the millennial reign of Jesus Christ

Below Brother Harper goes on to share parts of a letter that Elder Hyde wrote to his wife, detailing some of his experience in Jerusalem:

The Church today and BYU as an education institution are not political and are completely neutral in Israeli-Palestinian issues.  I see them all as the children of Abraham with a claim to the promises, especially the spiritual promises, made to him and to his sons Ishmael and Isaac.  Furthermore, we understand that all the nations of the earth are blessed through the covenant that God made with Abraham, and so we recognize the interest of many people---Jews, Christians, and Muslims---to this special land and this Holy City.

While we were there, Andy Skinner shared a story of an experience that Elder Hyde had while still sailing to the Holy Land, which we felt illustrated the Lord's interest in all the people of this land:

I love Psalm 122:6, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee."  Daily I pray for this land, for this city, and for both of its peoples, each of whom I am coming to love more and more while living here.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as seen from the Gardens

The Church of All Nations, next to the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane

Rachel in the amphitheater of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens

On the left is the place where a plaque recording the text of Orson Hyde's prayer once sat. Unfortunately, it was misunderstood by some and became the focus of vandalism.