Friday, August 26, 2011

Holy Land Journal: Images of Jerusalem

JERUSALEM – A few random images and impressions of this Holy City for you tonight …

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Where else but here would there be a shrine to a book?

Of course, not just any book, but some of the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures, or as Christians call it, the “Old Testament.”

On Friday we toured the Israel Museum and spent considerable time in The Shrine of the Book, which displays some of the Dead Sea scrolls, primarily a long parchment containing a segment of the Book of Isaiah.

The scrolls were found in the desert in the 1940s by itinerant Bedouin tribesman, and through a circuitous route, they eventually made their way to scholars at the Israel Museum. The scrolls are extraordinary.

At least as interesting to me were the manuscripts from the Essenes, an ascetic group that lived in the desert in the time of Jesus. The Essenes cut themselves off from the rest of the world to live as close to the strictures of Torah as they possibly. Before being slaughtered by the Romans, they hid the scrolls in jars, not to be found for 2,000 years.

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The Israel Museum is basically the Smithsonian Institution of Israel, only instead of telling 400 years of history, it tells 4,000+ years of history. The artifacts tell the story of the Jewish people settling this land, uniting into an empire, losing it and being exiled. The collections are extraordinary, but I must mention my disappointment that the stories (and artifacts) of other people who have inhabited this land are barely acknowledged. There is a fine collection of carved stone from a Crusader church (not exactly the finest moment for Christianity in the Middle East) but very little on Islam (I couldn’t find it but someone told me they did). We could find only one mention to Jesus, described as a “rebel Jew.”

This is a much richer and more complex country than the Israel Museum shows. The omissions matter because the stories of half the people who live here (Palestinian Arabs) are not told.

Perhaps understanding between the peoples of this troubled land might be enhanced just a notch if the other stories could be told more fully in this otherwise first-rate museum.

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Our friend, Stephen Carpenter,
dining in the Armenian Quarter
We’ve explored the Old City and the Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim quarters, or neighborhoods. Each has its distinct flavor. The Muslim quarter is crowded, the shopkeepers are aggressive. Spices, textiles and all manner of goods are jammed in tight allies.

The Christian Quarter has its shopkeepers, and they sell icons, pottery and all kinds of devotional items. The Armenian Quarter I wrote about a couple of days ago. The streets on the periphery have a few shops, but the Armenian Quarter is otherwise inaccessible except to residents and invited guests. We were privileged to be invited inside the quarter by a wonderful Armenian family (see my post below).

The Jewish Quarter is modern, with wider streets. The reason is the Jewish Quarter was heavily shelled by Arab armies during the 1967 Six Day War. It has been rebuilt into a clean modern neighborhood with air-conditioned shops.

When entering the Jewish Quarter, the first sensation we had was the wonderful aroma of the pastry shops. Of course we sampled a few.

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Muslim Quarter in the Old City
The other day, four of us climbed to the top of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. It was a rigorous ascent up a narrow enclosed stone spiral staircase, and with no hand railings. At the top we could see the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest shrine in Islam, and we could see many small domes punctuated by large church domes.

And we could see many pathways on the roofs connecting the buildings. But we agreed that the most dominant feature we could see is television satellite dishes.

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This was the last Friday of Ramadan, a month-long fast by Muslims who take no food or liquid during the day. Thousands of Muslims entered the Holy City this afternoon to pray at the Dome of the Rock this afternoon, so we stayed off the streets. Green shuttles took the devout to the Old City, and we could hear the “call to prayer” from loud speakers on the minarets in our neighborhood. Outside our compound, Israeli Police directed traffic with heavily armed soldiers nearby.

St. George's Anglican Cathedral
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This evening I went to Evening Prayer in our Gothic-style St. George’s Anglican Cathedral. The Cathedral is a short walk from our rooms. I sat in a wooden quire stall and on a beautiful cushion hand-stitched with “Canterbury.” I felt right at home.

Our prayers tonight included this:

“That there may be peace to your Church and to the whole world,
We entreat you, O Lord.”


Anonymous said...

I've been to that restaurant in the Armenian quarter! Hope you all enjoy the rest of your time there...
-- Chris Hays

Morning Muse said...