The penultimate day of the Campbell University Divinity School’s 2015 Bible Lands Study Tour was spent in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We began the day with a photo op atop the Mount Olives, then made our way down the Palm Sunday Road, where we stopped to examine an immense Jewish cemetery. Jews believe that when the Messiah comes, he will stand on the Mount of Olives, our guide told us, making the Mount of Olives such a desirable burial spot that some American Jews pay up to $30,000 to have their bodies flown to Israel and interred there.
At Dominus Flevit, a small chapel that remembers how Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Crystal Fuller led our devotion, asking us to think about what might prompt Jesus to weep today.
Further down the hill, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we visited the Church of All Nations and pondered ancient olive trees, some of which are thought to be up to 2,000 years old.
A short distance away — but a fairly long bus ride in Jerusalem’s heavy traffic — brought us to the City of David, where we viewed ruins that some archaeologists believe might be the foundation of David’s palace, while others are skeptical. In any case, the area appears to have been some sort of royal compound, as seals belonging to government officials mentioned in the Bible were found in an adjoining house.
Far beneath the remains of the city, we ventured through ancient tunnels, with the majority walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, and others traversing a shorter dry tunnel carved out by the city’s previous Canaanite residents.
Pressed for time (and crowded out by participants in a middle school field trip), we took a quick look at the Pool of Siloam as we walked to the bus, then Sharon Thompson reminded us of how Jesus healed a blind man at that pool while we drove to Bethlehem.
At Bethlehem Bible College we presented a nice collection of donated gifts and had a lunch of rice with chicken and cauliflower. Afterward, we visited the gift shop and heard former dean Alex Awad offer the perspective of a Palestinian Christian on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite having lost his father and the family home during the 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their land without compensation, he retains an amazingly sweet and understanding spirit.
We made a short trip to the Church of the Nativity, first built in the fourth century, destroyed, and rebuilt in the sixth century. The dark church, smudged from centuries of oil lamps, is undergoing a long term renovation. The church was built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.
After a nice dinner at Ramat Rahel, we ended our day with some debriefing time, sharing aspects of the trip that were particularly meaningful to us — and there were many.
Tomorrow we have another full day, then a late night flight back to the States. Stay tuned.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.