A woman named Penelope, who attended one of my online courses during the pandemic is here in Israel to participate in one of Steve Ray’s pilgrimages. She contacted me asking to meet, so she came over from Tel Aviv to have lunch. I have been taking all my meals at the monastery so did not know any place to recommend. Penelope, it turns out, is quite an intrepid traveler. She turned up, cell phone in hand saying cheerfully, “Don’t worry Father, I found a good place quite close by.”

It turned out the nice local restaurant was literally across the street from the monastery in a building I overlooked as being a pretty rundown establishment–maybe a home or office. Instead it was a decent local restaurant and Penelope told me about her life, parish and conversion to the Catholic faith after being brought up by Episcopalian atheists.

Meanwhile Rod Dreher wrote up our interview on his blog at American Conservative. You can read it here if you like. I don’t know how Rod does it. His blog posts are always long, usually interesting, but never thoughtless. He is a smart and well educated guy and a deservedly successful writer. Rod was brought up in a fairly conventional non-religious home, converted to Catholicism, then disgusted by the clerical sex abuse scandals converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m sorry about that, but I understand. He’s not the first one to come into the church somewhat starry eyed only to wake up to reality and realize that being a Catholic is a long, hard journey with lots of pitfalls and problems.

Elias joined me and Penelope for a trip to the Israel Museum. This is a must-see when you visit Jerusalem. There you will find the Shrine of the Book–a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Next to it is a huge model of old Jerusalem at the time of Christ. It helps you picture old Jerusalem that lies beneath the modern, bustling city.

Penelope headed back other hotel in Tel Aviv and Elias and I hunkered down to plan our  adventures. On Thursday we are headed to Galilee to visit some of the holy places, Nazareth on the weekend, then back to Jerusalem. Next week are headed over the border to Jordan. This is more complicated as we can’t take a rental car over the border and a good number of the package tours are still suspended because of COVID. Happily, I had the contact details of Youssef Hilo–our Jordanian guide during our 2018 parish pilgrimage and he has helped arrange transportation, accommodation and technicalities for three days in Jordan.

Jordan is important to me because of my book The Mystery of the Magi in which I theorize that the magi were diplomats from the court of the Nabatean king Aretas IV to Herod the Great. The capital of the Nabatean kingdom was the famous secret desert city of Petra. We’ll be going there as well as the archeological site of Khirbet et Tannur–a Nabatean temple where they discovered a stone zodiac–proving that the Nabatean priests and wise men were stargazers.

I am somewhat disappointed that my book on the Magi has been rather ignored in the circles of New Testament scholarship. I don’t pretend to be a New Testament scholar by any stretch, but I do think my research and speculation at least deserves a respectable rebuttal if it is totally off track. The one conversation I did have with a NT scholar went like this:

NT Scholar: You have begun with a totally wrong presupposition. There is no historical basis for the Magi story. It is a late first century midrash. (“Midrash” is a Jewish interpretation of Scripture which springboards from the text itself and adds elaboration to bring out the meaning)

DL: I know. That’s what my book is about–the historical basis of the Magi story.

NTS: But you don’t understand. There is no historical basis for the story.

DL: No. I do understand the problem. That’s what my book is about.

NTS: But you don’t understand. There IS NO historical basis for the Magi story.

DL: Do think it might rain this afternoon?

So maybe in Jordan we will make some further headway and discover some further truths about the Nabatean Magi.

PS: After Jerusalem I will be flying to London to lead a pilgrimage focussing on the English martyrs and Catholic literary figures. There is still time to join us. Dates: June 1-10. Go here for fill info.