Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bronze Bow

Last night I finished reading The Bronze Bow to Joel. It is probably my favorite book of all times. I have read it at least a half dozen times--which is an amazing thing since I rarely re-read books. I read it to Sarah two years ago. She listened in most of the time this time too. It is the story of a Jewish zealot named Daniel who lives to avenge the death of his parents by fighting the Romans. In the process he meets a rabbi named Jesus who preaches of love and the coming of a kingdom that is not as Daniel imagined. It gives a nice, intimate portrayal of Jesus and those who follow him. The setting is very real--the Sea of Galilee, Arbel, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, etc. . It was particularly fun to read since Joel and Sarah have already visited or seen these places. If you have yet to read it, check it out. Then when you finish it, read all of Elizabeth George Speare's other books--I've liked all I've read.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Last Sunday we traveled to Jericho for a branch activity. The official activity started at noon, but before that several families with young kids made a stop at Banana Land--a tiny, but surprisingly fun amusement park. It opened a few years ago and is frequented by Arab families from throughout the West Bank.
We all loved the bumper cars.

But our favorite was the pool.

Banana Land is no Lagoon, but we all had fun for a few hours.
The official branch party started at noon. We all gathered for lunch at a large tourist complex near the ancient tel of Jericho.
From atop the restaurant you can see all the bus loads of tourists visiting tel Jericho (rising from the parking lot) and eating/shopping along with us.
We then rode a cable car over Jericho to the Mt of Temptations.
The mound in the center of the photo is the site of the ancient city of Jericho where the walls came a tumblin' down.

At the tram terminus, half-way up the mountain, we all met to introduce ourselves and to recount some of the biblical stories that happened in the area. The purpose for having the branch activity in Jericho was so that Palestinian Arab members of the church who live in the West Bank and are thus unable to cross into Jerusalem for our Sabbath meetings could finally fellowship with some other Mormons. It was a great day.
The tram stops near the monastery of temptation, but it is not opened to visitors on Sunday.
Happy children (ice cream helped) on the way down.
That was the end of the branch activity, but some of us stayed to visit tel Jericho. Joel, who is on a quest to see what will be the oldest thing he can touch, was excited to see this 10,000 year old tower. Too bad there was no way to climb down and actually touch it.

The south end of the tel, with some of the walls of ancient Jericho. The ancient city was surrounded by a double fortification of walls. Rahab the harlot and her family may have lived in a home between the walls which would have made it easy for the spies to escape over the walls.
On our way into town we passed this smiling merchant beckoning us to stop for a drink. At the end of the day, his smiling face still beckoned and so we stopped for some great fresh squeezed orange juice. His name is Daud (David) and he and his wife have 17 children.

We then stopped to see the very sycamore tree (I jest) that the short publican Zacchaeus climbed so that he could see Jesus over the crowd of people. I can still hear my mother reciting a poem from my childhood: "Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he...."

This past week the students spent two days of field trips walking the route of the last week of Jesus' ministry. Our first stop was Bethany. There in the beautiful gardens of the Church of Lazarus I was impressed with this grape arbor.
John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." Great biblical imagery.
On the second day Marie and the kids (out of school for Israel's independence day) joined us mid day to visit the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and then further infuriated the Pharisees by commanding him to take up his bed and walk--carrying on the Sabbath is not allowed.
We then enjoyed an hour of singing in the wonderful Church of St. Anne.

The Jerusalem Center terraces are in full bloom with roses. This is our balcony
The sunset on the last night for the winter semester students.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dead Sea

Last Sunday, April 11 we joined with the students for the Dead Sea field trip. It was an early departure at 6:30 am. Our first stop was Masada. We rode the cable car up and back. The kids are standing on the lowest level of Herod's three tiered palace on the north end of the plateau.
For the more adventurous you can climb up and down on the snake path. The square rock enclosures at the base are remnants of the Roman camps during their siege to oust the Jewish zealots.
In this scale model you can see the palace complex on the northernmost (closest) part of the plateau. The Roman siege ramp is on the right/west side. Rather than surrender to the Romans, the Jews committed mass suicide the night before the breach of the case mate walls. In the early decades of Israel's history, Masada served as a symbol of Jewish determination to fight rather than give in to another holocaust. More recently Israelis have backed off a little not wanting to glorify the idea of suicide nor of honoring the zealots (sicarri) who raided and killed other Jews.
Next stop was a float in the Dead Sea. When I first visited Israel in 1979 with a TWA tour group, Larry the Jew from NYC while floating in the sea (actually a salt lake) along side me wryly commented that "this was the low point of the trip." I enjoyed his humor then and have used this with others many times since. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the earth's surface and for some the salty oily water makes it a low point in a much different way. Most of the crowd in the photo are BYU students. Some played cards (go fish) as they floated, later most covered themselves with dead sea mud--which is said to be good for the skin.
We all went out for a short, but fun float. At one point the life guard called me "and the boy" via megaphone back closer to shore.
Will getting the hang of it.
Next stop the wonderful oasis of En Gedi. Not wanting to be left out of anything, Will insists on having his own set of headphones so that he can hear what the guides (in Jordan) and professors (in the holy land) have to say. Here he is listening to Professor/Associate Director Kent Brown tell about how David while hiding in a cave was able to cut off a piece of King Saul's robe as Saul spread it out to squat and defecate! David had several opportunities to kill the King, but he refused to remove the Lord's anointed without the Lord's approval.
The perennial stream keeps the wadi green year round. It was once much greener, but a flash flood several years ago wiped out much of the vegetation on the south (right) side of the valley.

If you look close (it's times like this I wish I had a telephoto lens) you can see four ibex climbing the hill.
Our final stop was Qumran--home of the Essenes and their dead sea scrolls. This is cave four where some of the scrolls were found.
The kids were great travelers, but by 4:00 pm they looked tired.
Joel with a sundial he made for his unit on time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


We all enjoyed our four day field trip to Jordan. We crossed the Allenby (aka King Hussein) bridge near Jericho and headed up to Mt . Nebo. The highlight there was singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot. We then visited the mostly Christian Arab city of Madaba with its famous 6th century Byzantine mosaic of the holy land. It includes a map of Jerusalem that is the earliest cartographic depiction of the city. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the gold domed structure in the lower center of the walled city. The Roman era, pillar lined cardo transects the city from north to south.
Notice the Dead Sea (with boat) and Jordan River (with fish swimming up stream to avoid ending up dead in the Dead Sea). Marie and I bought a mosaic of the Jerusalem map.
The highlands of Jordan were green following the winter rains. We drove south via the desert highway--still used by the US military to supply troops in Iraq.
We had a fun visit climbing over the ruins of the Crusader built Shobbak Castle.
Next morning we visited fabulous Petra--now at the top of Joel's top ten list. Here we are walking in to the Nabatean City through the slot canyon called the Siq.
The slot canyon opens up on the magnificent Treasury.

From there the canyon widens to include a Roman style theater and many tombs all cut into the red sandstone.
We hiked up 800 rock steps to the Monastery.
It is huge.
Beyond that we reached the "end of the world" where we could look down on the Arava (the rift valley) with Israel in the distance. During the war years between Jordan and Israel, adventurous Israelis would sneak across the border and climb up this escarpment to see the monastery and have their picture taken before sneaking back to Israel.
We also visited the urn tomb.
Inside the tomb with its beautiful sandstone.
The door to the tomb provided a good location for a jump photo--three Emmetts, plus Tanner Manscill-the 16 year old son of the other religion professor.
The admission price includes a horse ride during the last third of the journey out.

Next day we visit the Roman city of Jerash. It was one of the cities of the Decapolis. Will walking along the cardo.

The temple of Artemis. The Theater with the forum, cardo, and temple beyond
My class sang Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree and Do as I'm Doing for the school children visiting the theater. Then four Jordanian musicians marched around with their regular entertainment of Yankee Doodle and other favorites.

There were bus loads of Jordanian school girls visiting Jerash. They loved to try out their English skills on all of us. Very friendly. They danced the debka to the bagpipe music. Some of our students joined in. Years ago BYU's Young Ambassadors performed on this stage as part of Queen Nur's Jerash art festival.
In the ancient hippodrome, we then enjoyed learning about Roman warfare,
Roman gladiators (this guy got the thumbs down and soon fake blood came squirting out)
and Roman Charioteers.

A delicious lunch at the Green Valley restaurant. Tasty salads, dips and freshly baked pita.

The Jabbok River where Jacob wrestled with an Angel, received a new name and saw the Lord face to face.
A mall in Amman. Most Jordanian women wear the hijab so it was interesting to see what was being sold to wear under their long coverings.
Next day we visited the King Hussein Mosque in downtown Amman. It was built right across the street from a Coptic church as a sign of religious tolerance.
All the woman had to wear a black robe and keep their heads covered. Cute!

The modern sky line of Amman. It is a clean, modern very livable city.
The citadel/ high place of ancient Amman/Philadelphia. It is here that David sent Uriah to his death to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba. It is also at high places like this that the ancient people of Ammon sacrificed children to their god Molech.
Looking down on the Roman Theater of Philadelphia
Last stop--Bethabara beyond Jordan. A likely place for the baptism of Jesus. During the war years this was a heavily fortified military zone. Now Jordan has aggressively promoted their side of the Jordan as the baptismal site.
Several new churches have been built.
The Jordan River with the newly built Israeli baptismal site on the other bank. The border between Israel and Jordan runs down the middle of the river.
The less than mighty Jordan River is hidden by the trees. Beyond the Israeli baptismal site you can still see a military lookout on the nob/hill. We then crossed back into Israel in what was the easiest border crossing into Israel I have ever had! I think it helped to be traveling with three cute kids.