A friend said for every hour of changed time allow one day to get over jet lag. This means I’ll not be in synch until Friday! Still not sleeping and missing morning prayers with the friars, but I’m getting some good time in in the library. There has been a fair bit of background reading, but there is very little information on the Bethlehem Shepherds. When I wrote the book on the Magi I kept thinking I would discover that this book had already been written. It hadn’t. Maybe it will be the same with the shepherds.
I had a text message today from Abouna Rami (“Abouna” is the word the Arab Christians use for “Father”) who is the parish priest of Bethlehem. He’s going to pick me up on Monday and take me over to Bethlehem to do some first hand investigations with people who know more about this than me.
After lunch I put in another few hours with the books, then decided to go for a long walk. The weather was perfect–clear blue sky, about seventy degrees with a light breeze. I headed toward the Old City–the monastery is just a five minute walk to the Damascus Gate. I turned left and decided to try to find the first station to walk the stations of the cross on Good Friday in the Old City. This required getting seriously lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Muslim Quarter. Those who are familiar with Jerusalem will know the Old City is divided into four sections: The Muslim Quarter, the Jewish, the Christian and the Armenian. I am not sure of the history–and why the Armenians get a whole section. I’ll try to update you on that once I learn.
The Muslim Quarter is very much lived in–the streets are crowded with open air shops selling everything from pork chops to underpants. There are plenty of children about playing in the streets, teasing the stray cats, yelling and fighting. Street vendors hawk their wares. I have learned not to catch their eye or they engage you in conversation and pull you into their shop. Nothing is labeled with a price so I guess you haggle for everything. The only thing I’ve had the courage to buy so far is one can of coke.
Eventually I found the Church of the Flagellation which is where the Via Dolorosa begins. On the way I saw a film crew and stopped to talk with the presenter. It turned out he was an English history professor from Cambridge and we had a few shared acquaintances. Jerusalem is the most fascinating city with people from all over the world from every religious group, race, language and ethnicity. While it seems a colorful, mostly happy place the legacy of war and violence is hovering in the air. At every gate into the city armed Israeli soldiers stand guard. When I happened to stroll up to the entrance to the Temple Mount (where the Dome of the Rock now stands)–I was stopped and refused entry. When I first visited the city in 1987 I was allowed into the mosque. I guess not now.
From that corner of the city I went through the Lion Gate and a friendly Arab pointed me to a walkway through the Muslim cemetery on the Eastern side of the city overlooking the Mount of Olives. I hiked all the way around the city walls enjoying the view and soaking in the amazing history. On the South side of the Temple Mount there are extensive excavations of what they believe to be the oldest part of the city–The City of David and Solomon. From there you continue up Mount Zion. You can see the church of St Peter Gallicantu–where Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin and Peter denied the Lord. Up through Zion Gate and then straight across the Old City back to the Damascus Gate and home. It took two hours.
They say they are still looking for my laptop. Tomorrow I hope my hard drive arrives. Ali sent it from home on what was supposed to be an overnight shipment, but they say the delivery services here are pretty awful. Hope it comes soon. Then I’ll have to invest in a new laptop. I don’t think mine will be recovered. In the meantime I’m working on this worthy little machine my friend Chris just happened to have left here in Jerusalem. Thanks Chris!
I wish I could articulate how incredible it is to read about your trip. I feel that I am there as well. And not that is takes any effort to promote such an amazing excursion; I am definitely finding a way to travel there in the near future. Is there a possibility of a you hosting a pilgrimage in the next few years? I would be the firs to sign up! That is unfortunate you could not enter the Temple Mount. I look forward to why there is an Armenian section of the City. I will pray that your research bears fruit, and that you and your companions remain safe. Blessings.