A tour of Israel

Tom and I recently completed a tour of Israel which was both educational and wondrous. We began our tour in Nazareth at the place where the Virgin Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel in the Church of the Annunciation and continued to many of the significant Biblical sites. However, we also had one-on-one multi-hour discussions with an expert on Palestinian-Israeli relations, visited the Chagall stained glass windows, toured the Holocaust and Archeological Museums, and learned a great deal about Herod the Great. In other words, our week was amazing.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death from the 23rd Psalm is a real place. There is a valley running beside Jerusalem lined with steep cliffs with caves where bodies were placed after death to decompose before the bones were later placed in an ossuary. The valley also had been a place where lepers lived and had food lowered to them. I thought the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' was a metaphor, but it is not.

There are multiple places that claim to be the spot from which Mary ascended into Heaven. We first visited 'Mary’s House' on a hilltop in Ephesus, Turkey. The Ephesus location is widely accepted as the place where Mary died, and at least two Popes have accredited the location. However, we then went to a Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem at Gethsemane that also claims to be the place where Mary’s body was placed and from which she ascended to Heaven. There is also another place in Jerusalem that makes a similar claim.

I think that many of my visions of Bible stories were based on paintings I have seen in museums over the years. For example, I always envisioned that the cave in which Jesus’s body was placed was a distance from the place where he was crucified. However, both of the tombs are relatively close to the place of crucifixion and would have been outside Jerusalem’s city walls at the time.

In Capernaum, we visited the exact place where the paralytic man was lowered through the ceiling by his four devoted friends. In the 4th century, a church was built over the site, and in the 5th century, the church was improved with three concentric octagons which still exist.

My vision of the Last Supper was firmly fixed by DaVinci’s painting in which Jesus is seated at the middle of a high table. In fact, Jesus as host would never have been at the middle of the table, and the table would have been low to the ground. We visited the room where the Last Supper was held and discovered that it was later used as a mosque and that there is sadly a writing on the wall (which cannot be removed for historical reasons) denouncing Christ.

Thank you for allowing me to share my photographs and a few interesting facts I learned from the trip. My wish for you is that one day you will have the privilege of visiting Israel (and especially Jerusalem); that you feel the awe of sacred places; and that your faith continues to bring you great comfort and joy.

Susan Brandt

[The photographs are available in the full version of the August-September 2022 church newsletter here.]


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