We drove to Bethlehem first this morning and did some shopping, then headed to the Church of the Nativity. This building is under restoration, but we could still go in and the it is the actual building built during the Byzantine time around 324 AD. It is the only church still standing from that period because when Persia invaded and destroyed Bethlehem they saw a mosaic of the Magi (who are Persian) and thought it was a Persian Church. We talked a lot about the timing of Jesus’ birth and it is fascinating. I always knew December 25th wasn’t the actual day, but didn’t know what date it was probably around. There are clues in the Bible – Shepard’s were keeping their watch. Multiple Shepard’s only kept watch overnight when it was birthing season in case one of their animals needed help. So this indicates probably spring time due to the birthing season. Interesting that the Lamb of God was born during the same time lambs were born. The Bible also refers to the time of birth being a time during a festival, which could have been Passover (Passover was 1 of only 3 festivals that required them to be in Jerusalem). So Jesus could have been born around March 14-28 in the year 5 BC. Also interesting to know that Jesus was crucified at 3pm like the bible tells us and that was the same time of the ritual sacrifice of the lambs. Even though the building was under renovation, it was still incredible. You get to see the actual spot where Jesus was born and the manger! It’s hard to put it into context though because all these holy sites had churches built around them to preserve the area, so it’s not like you go to an area that looks like a house, but the area where the birth took place is inside the church and you actually go down into a what looks like a cave because that was where the level of the ground was in Jesus time. I had a realization today that hadn’t really crossed my mind before. Some of the cities we have visited were on a tel or a mound and there were multiple layers of past cities. So in many times, ground level was lower during different eras because of destruction and rebuilding of the cities. It dawned on me why that is when we don’t have that today. Excavators! Duh! People weren’t going to dig out the rubble from the previous city by hard, so they just built on top of it – hence the mound! Funny how that all came together for me today!
While still at the Church of the Nativity, we talked about what is meant by it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a wealthy man to inherit the kingdom of God. We saw an example of what was probably being refered to. The door or gate to the area was enormous and usually had two openings. You could open the entire gate if you had a large crowd or something large to bring in, but in most cases they used the small opening which is similar to a regular door size but a little lower in height. That door could be what is being refered to as the eye of the needle. A camel could kneel down (yes they do that) and schooch through the door, but for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, he needs to approach his riches with humbleness and may need to give some away in order for him to pass through the opening or the eye of the needle. You get a totally different perspective on things after being here. Seeing the way things were build, the way things were used, the topography of the land, makes the Bible more meaningful. You really understand things from a different prospective and have a deeper understanding. This is truly a life changing experience. We also got to see into the area where Jerome translated the official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vulgate. That was really interesting to me because I am doing a bible study currently where we are learning about Martin Luther and have talked about this. Sorry Bob, I won’t be there tomorrow!
We moved on to the Shepard’s field which is also known as the Ruth and Boaz fields. This site showed us a typical Shepard’s cave that would have been used around the time of Jesus’ birth. It is also in the area where Ruth would have worked in Boaz’s fields. The interesting thing I learned while at the Shepard’s cave was about what a Shepard does when he loses his sheep. I’m sure you answered the way I did, he goes to find it. While that is correct – you have all seen the picture of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders – well when the shepard finds the lamb he breaks his leg. This might sound cruel, but they are babies so they heal quickly and it is for their own good. It actually hurts the shepard more than the lamb because now he has to carry him until the leg heals. But while the shepard is carrying the lamb, the lamb is close to the shepard’s heart and can hear his heart beat, the lamb becomes even more familiar with the shepard’s scent and he is also being protected and cared for. This bonds the sheep to his shepard and he won’t get lost again! See what I mean?! You will never look at that picture the same way again!
We return to Jerusalem and visited the City of David. We also took a trek through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is how the City of David got it’s water supply. The tunnel had water deep enough that went up to the top of your legs! It was really fun to walk though and think about all the men who labored chiseling this tunnel and carrying out the debris. The tunnel ended at the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed the blind man. He put mud over his eyes and told him to go wash them in the pool of Siloam.
We came back to the hotel, had a meeting to just ask any left over questions about what we have seen, ate dinner and now I am ready for bed! I guess I will find out in the morning how the election went since it is only noon there now!