Mount of Olives panorama

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bethlehem and `En Kerem

After several days focusing on Jesus' ministry up in Galilee, we returned to looking at the stories of his birth by visiting Bethlehem and then, later in the afternoon, the traditional home of Zacharias and Elisabeth, Mary's relative (KJV, "cousin"), scenes of the episodes known as the Visitation and Benedictus.

We started our visit to the Bethlehem with a visit to Khirbet Siyar el-Ghanem (Catholic Shepherds Field) found in the modern Palestinian town of Beit Sahur (for the open hillside often visited by BYU students and some LDS pilgrims, see some of my earlier blog posts about Christmas Eve 2011, at thevery bottom of my July 23, 2012 entry, or the last visit Rachel and I made in 2012).

In a teaching area below the modern church, we looked out over the hills north of Bethlehem.  There we read Luke 2:8-14 and sang "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains."

In the modern church are some paintings illustrating the events of that first Christmas Eve.

An earlier shot the Basilica of the Nativity, the church in longest continual use in the world.
We then drove into Bethlehem, where we were able to be dropped right off at Manger Square (which was unusual: usually we part at a bus parking station several blocks below and need to walk up the hill).  This was because we were on schedule and arrived quite early, finding ourselves the second group to enter the grotto or cave below the Basilica of the Nativity where Jesus is held to have been born.

I was shocked to find the interior completely under renovation.  This is a good thing, because the roof was unsound, but it certainly did not look like it normally did!
This is what the inside of the basilica usually looks like.

After we filed individually into the grotto and experienced the heat, crowds, and unfamiliar trappings of the traditional spot of Jesus' birth, we then went into the neighboring Jerome Grotto, which is another branch of the same cave system.  There we read Luke 1:1-8 and sing "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," and "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem."  There was a sweet spirit present, and other pilgrims and tourists joined in the singing or watched appreciatively.

With our guide, George Stephan, in front of St. George, his namesake.

After seeing the notorious "separation wall" (or, security barrier), we stopped at an olive wood and antiquities shop, where Brad and I were honored by the owners and our group was allowed to shop and browse.

We then had lunch at the Bethlehem Tent Restaurant. 

 Heading back into Israel proper, we drove over the hills to the west of Jerusalem to `En Kerem, the "Spring of the Vineyard," which is the traditional home of Zachariah and Elisabeth. For the Visitation, Lori read the part of Elisabeth and Rachel read the part of Mary. For the Benedictus, I read the words of Zacharias.

After a quick visit to the Israel Museum to see the model of first century Jerusalem and the Shrine of the Book (displaying Dead Sea Scrolls), we returned to our hotel.  Later that evening, Rachel and I went to dinner with a small group of family and friends to the Notre Dame of Jerusalem, which affords magnificent views of the city.


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