Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mt Sinai

Thursday January 28th I climbed Mt. Sinai for the fourth time. Up at 2:30 and on the trail by 3:30. It was a 2 hour climb up a winding snake path and then 800 rock stairs to the summit. It was a cold wait for the sun to rise. It was wonderful to watch the dark sky slowly morph into a bright sunrise.

Hymn singing kept us entertained while waiting for the sun.
Some of the happy BYU students.
My first time up Mt Sinai was in 1982 when I was a student. We camped in sleeping bags at the base near St. Catherine's monastery. There were only a few others on the summit. Nowadays the summit is packed with pilgrims from all over the world.
Church and mosque side-by-side on the summit.
Proof that I made it. I'm glad I bought a hat near Trafalgar Square last month.
The hike down the upper stair section.
Scripture study and testimony meeting near Elijah's spring.
We hiked the rock stair route down. My knees held out better this time. At the base is St. Catherine's monastery.
A quick tour of the monastery complete with the "burning bush" !
The monastery with part of Mt Sinai to the right. The stairs come down between the two peaks on the right. The snake path winds out and around the central peak.
The view from the monastery out to the plains where the children of Israel could have camped (assuming this is the real Mt. Sinai). I'm looking forward to making the hike in May with Marie and the kids. I hope we all make it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sacred Places

The Emmetts have visited some pretty impressive places the last two weeks. On Monday January 11th, I led the new students on a geography orientation field trip. Our first stop was the Mt. of Olives overlook with the above view. While I was orienting the students to the lay of the land, Marie and the children were across the Kidron Valley in a special tour of the Haram al-Sharif which was arranged by our friend Kyler Kronmiller of the US Consulate. He worked with the religious communities of Jerusalem and as a last hurrah before leaving at the end of the month for a new posting, he arranged for a visit to the Dome of the Rock (gold dome) and al-Aqsa (black dome) for some of his friends. We were lucky enough to be invited--since non-Muslims are no longer allowed to visit these mosques unless they have special hard-to-obtain permission. I was unlucky enough to have other duties to attend to. I was especially bummed when I learned that Kyler asked to also visit the new Marwani mosque built in Solomon Stables in the vaulted chambers underneath the SE corner of the Haram (aka Temple M0unt). Kyler had asked in previous special tours, but this was the first time he was allowed to visit this mosque.
Marie and Sarah took some photos. Here is the mihrab (prayer niche) in the Dome of the Rock pointing south to Mecca.
The beautiful interior of the Dome of the Rock. I have been inside many times, but not recently. It is one of the most beautiful, peaceful sacred places I have ever entered.
In the chamber underneath the rock--while never certain, this rock is associated with the place where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, where the temples of Solomon and Herod were located and where Mohammad ascended on his night journey into heaven.
Sarah reaching in to touch the actual footprint of where Mohammad's foot left the mount on his journey to meet with previous prophets in heaven. This mosque is the third most holy shrine in Islam.
The stained glass windows of al-Aqsa mosque. This is the main mosque on the mount. Men pray here while women usually pray in the Dome of the Rock. This mosque commemorates where Mohammad first prayed.
In front of the mimbar (pulpit of al-Aqsa)
The interior of al-Aqsa.
The vaulted chambers of the new Marwani mosque. I visited these caverns in 1982 when, as a BYU student, I convinced the Muslim authorities to let a group of us to take a look. Back then it was a large pigeon roost with soft floors padded with piles of pigeon poop. When this mosque was constructed all of the debris from the excavations was thrown over the wall. It is now being sifted through by Israeli archeologists just down the hill from the center (see previous post).
Marie and the kids loved the visit and are proud to have seen something I haven't seen.

On the 14th Marie, Will and I went on a faculty field trip prep to Jericho. We visited Hisham's Palace with its amazing Tree of Life Mosaic.
The mosaic is in the diwan where the Umayyad ruler welcomed guests.
Will playing on Umayyad ruins.

We then visited a Greek Orthodox Monastery east of town. The dome was decorated with a nice anthropomorphic view of the godhead (trinity). Notice the Father with the Son in his lap and the Holy Ghost as a dove under his chin--three distinct personages. It fits with Mormon theology.
Friday afternoon we walked through the four quarters of the city--much to Joel's delight. It was our first time in the Armenian quarter. We eventually met up with all of the students at the western wall where we enjoyed watching Jews of all types welcoming the sabbath. In the foreground soldiers and others danced and sang.
At one point they all rushed into the center of the large circle and started to then sing and dance their way down to the wall.
The Jerusalem Branch primary with the just released primary presidency and teachers.
Saturday after church we accompanied the students to the Garden Tomb.
I was happy to visit with a group of friendly Christians from Indonesia.
Marie visit teaches sister Arceli (left) from the Philippines. She works as a care giver for Elias. Marie has become good friends with them both. Elias (aka Abba) loves Marie. He is a holocaust survivor from Poland who spent most of his life in Guatemala. He now lives in Israel. He came and spoke to the students about his amazing story of survival. Joel and Sarah were able to hear his story.
Showing us his number. He is a kind, gentle man. In many ways he reminds me of my Grandpa Bill Fife.
Monday the 18th was the student field trip to Jericho. Here from the Monastery on the mount of Temptation you can see the oval mound of dirt that is the Old Testament tel of Jericho where the walls came a tumblin' down.
We climbed up to the cliff side monastery. On the other side of the wadi are caves where hermit monks lived during Byzantine times.
It really rained (yeah) all over the country the day before and on the morning of the field trip. It was fun to see rain and water falls (both a first for me) in usually dry Jericho.
The interior of a rain soaked monastery.
My old testament class (and two Bedouin boys) at the Judean Wilderness overlook.
We talked about rain shadows and wilderness, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and sang "Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd". The clouds and cool weather made for a great day in Jericho--which is usually way too hot and humid.
After the field trip I hustled down to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an afternoon Christmas Mass celebrated by the Armenians. It was celebrated in front of the tomb of Christ. On Christmas Eve the Armenian held mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
None of the singing was familiar, but it was nonetheless nice.
Armenian clergy in their finery
Roman era tombs in the Syrian Orthodox Chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These tombs help to establish the veracity of this church as the site of the burial and resurrection. Both the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb fit the biblical narrative and both could be the place.
A pilgrim praying on the stone of unction (anointing) near the entrance to the church. This is where it is believed the body of Jesus was prepared for burial as illustrated on the mosaic.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunny January

January is supposed to be the coldest, rainiest month in the Holy Land. Not so this year (today was sunny and in the 70s). Perhaps it is a sure sign of global warming or maybe a reminder to keep the commandments (Deuteronomy 11:12-13). Or it could just be bad luck for me in that I have always wanted to ski Mt Hermon which will probably not even open this year. Israel is in its third or fourth year of drought so it is certainly OK to not only pray for snow at Beaver Mountain but also for snow at Mt Hermon (a snow day in Jerusalem would be nice too).
Friday is an early out day for the kids so after their school and my morning of teaching two hours of Old Testament we headed out to enjoy the January sun and warmth. Just north of the BYU Center dividing it from Hebrew University is the Tzurim Valley. It is a recently created national park intended to preserve the traditional landscape of the Mount of Olives (it also prevents Arab neighborhoods from expanding). The upper entrance to the park is thirty yards up the street from the upper entrance to the center. We started there and hiked down through the valley enjoying the olives, the newly sprouted green grass and the sheep--very pastoral.

At the lower entrance to the park we passed an interesting archeological site. A few years ago, Muslims turned the underground pigeon pooped filled caverns in the southeast corner of the Haram al-Sharif (aka Temple Mount) into a mosque. In order to transform what was once known as Solomon's Stables into a mosque, Muslims builders excavated out a lot of materials and then dumped them off the mount down into the Kidron Valley. This was done to the horror of biblical archeologists who would have loved to systematically dig down through the layers in hopes of better understanding the history of the temple mount. It was also done to the horror of temple focused Israelis who were hoping that such a dig would reveal artifacts and evidence of former temples. Once the Muslims had discarded the rubble over the edge, the Israelis gathered it up and moved it to the above tent in the Tzurim valley where archeologists and volunteers sift through the rubble for temple treasures (no Ark of the Covenant yet). We walked past the tent out to the main road and then 40 yards up the hill to the lower entrance of the center. A great walk.
Today (January 10th--Happy Birthday brother Bill) we headed southwest to the Shephelah--the low lying hills and valleys between the the Judean highlands and the coastal plain. Our destination was the Sorek Stalactite cave. This cave was discovered about twenty years ago when blasts from a limestone quarry opened up access to a wonderful cavern with a rich variety of stalactites, stalagmites and columns. This photo was taken near the entrance to the cave and is looking down on the limestone quarry, the town of Beit Shemesh and beyond that the Sorek Valley of Samson and Delilah fame. Samson comes from the town of Zorah which is located a third of the way up the forested hill on the right/north side of the valley. The biblical tel of Beit Shemesh is across the valley to the south of Zorah and beyond the modern day town that bears its name.
Soon after we pulled up to the caves another LDS family (the Lewis family) from our branch pulled up too. It was a nice coincidence. He is our home teacher, she is Sarah's activity day leader and their five kids are close in age to our kids--which made the visit much more enjoyable for all.

After a picnic in the USA Park we drove south to the Valley of Elah where we walked along the brook (no water flowing in this year) where David gathered his five smooth stones. The Israelites were encamped on the north side of the valley (seen here) with the Philistines on the south side.
Smooth stones and wild flowers
We all tried our hands at slinging. We certainly need some more practice. Sarah said David is her new hero since he figured out how to use a sling successfully.
We then drove a forested back road up to Jerusalem. We all enjoyed the openness and uncrowdedness of the Shephelah. We were surprised that there was so much open space and so few towns. There is certainly room for future Israeli growth here.