Thursday, June 30, 2011

SNRAS professor to study conservation in Namibia

SNRAS Associate Professor Susan Todd (pictured at left) will spend the next year researching wildlife conservation in Namibia as a Fulbright scholar. At UAF since 1990, Todd will leave behind the comforts of home and venture to the place noted for being the second least densely populated country in the world (after Mongolia).

Todd helped analyze forestry projects in the South Pacific in the early 1980s but then settled in Fairbanks to concentrate on her academic career and raise a son and daughter. Now that the children are grown, Todd decided to pursue this longtime dream.

While she is less than thrilled at the prospect of snakes and scorpions, Todd is looking forward to researching the Community Based Wildlife Management program in which indigenous people are granted some ownership rights over wildlife on their communal land. Although the conservancies do not set the harvest quotas, they are allowed to retain revenues from trophy hunts. They also run wildlife viewing safaris and some own tourist lodges. “Instead of wildlife being a problem and marauding their crops and attacking their kids, the people can see the animals as an asset,” Todd said.

During colonial times, black people could not own animals. “Hunting and wildlife became synonymous with colonialism,” Todd said. Today, Namibia has 59 tribal-based conservancies; 14 are financially self-sufficient.

Todd will study what makes some conservancies successful while others lag behind. The role of women will also be emphasized. Women are now working as game guards, conservancy officers, and two are CEOs of their conservancies. This is a drastic change to the traditional order in Namibia. As the work progresses, Todd will publish journal articles about her research. She will teach at the Polytechnic of Namibia starting in January.

She will be based in Windhoek, a city perched on a mile-high plateau. When she arrives there in July it will be winter. The area is known for its extremely dry climate. Todd expects to travel throughout the country, visiting as many conservancies as possible. Because 28 languages are spoken in the area she will be accompanied by a student translator.

“I hope to learn a lot about how this system works and maybe in the long run try it on Native lands in Alaska,” Todd said. “There are a lot of details to it. How exactly does it work and how could we apply it here?”

What energizes Todd about the project is the concept of conservation and poverty alleviation going hand in hand. Unlike the American model of fortress conservation, where the local people were forced to leave when parks were created, the community-based system in Namibia offers a whole new model, Todd said.

Todd, who endured several immunization shots prior to the trip, as well as a plethora of paperwork, isn’t fazed facing the long flight (16 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg), but there is one concern on her mind. “I’m almost a vegetarian,” Todd said. From what she understands, the diet in Namibia is almost entirely based on meat. “It’s going to be different,” she said.

While she is on sabbatical, Todd’s courses will continue, with other faculty and graduate students substituting for her, and she will advise students using e-mail and Skype. She will write updates and post pictures on a blog while she is gone.

As Todd works extensively with SNRAS’s Master’s International program, she expects her year abroad will help her empathize better with the MI students.

“This will open a whole new world and should be very energizing,”she summed up.

The Holy Land: "The fifth gospel"

Basilica of the Agony. This is a partial quote in Latin from Hebrews 5:7. Words that follow in brackets have been omitted on the inscription compared to the original Biblical text. “… preces supplicationesque [ad eum qui possit salvum illum a morte facere] cum clamore valido et lacrimis offerens [et] exauditus pro sua reverentia ... [In the days of his flesh, Jesus] offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, [to him who was able to save him from death], and he was heard for his godly fear ."

By Glenn Patrick Juday, Professor of Forest Ecology, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Articles posted to “SNRAS Science and News” weblog of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, based on travel May 23-June 1, 2011

It’s Sunday, an ordinary weekday of work for the great majority of the population - Jews and Muslims - of Jerusalem. The civil Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday. Muslims observe a Friday jumu’ah or day of prayer. Jewish observance of Shabbat (the Sabbath) begins on sundown Friday and extends through sundown Saturday. Observance of Shabbat is somewhat variable across Israel, with the large urban and commercial center of Tel Aviv exhibiting a different pattern (leisure and entertainment featuring prominently) than Jerusalem (greater population observing strict rest).

In Israeli civic life there is a long-term debate over what exact set of publicly enforced Sabbath restrictions, if any, should occur. All Christians of apostolic origin are required to “Keep Holy the Sabbath” by performing their weekly worship on Sunday – the Lord’s Day, as they term it. The observance of the Sabbath was transferred to Sunday (Revelation 1:10, Act 20:7) in the immediate post-Resurrection time. In light of the tradition from its Jewish roots, the Catholic Church provides for the Sunday obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening (the vigil Mass) through Sunday afternoon. For our Sunday Mass we are going to the Basilica of the Agony, the church at the site where Jesus spent the night in prayer after the Last Supper.

Eyes filled with Hope

The events commemorated at the Basilica of the Agony include:

Jesus’ intense mental anguish, described in Luke 22: 44 – “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and this sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground”,

Jesus’ arrest, mentioned in John 18: 1-12 – “… he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” “…So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers … seized Jesus and bound him.”

As a natural human reaction it might seem that commemoration of the events of the Agony in the Garden would generate reactions among his followers such as resentment for the arrest of one who stopped any violent response of his followers, despair for the reception of his message, or gloom for what appears to be worldly failure. But it’s the opposite. What is encouraged is gratitude for such a rabbi who loved his followers to the end, an interior enthusiasm, a willingness to risk, a sense that each person needs a proclamation of hope grounded in truth and charity for all.

As the activities for the day are about to begin the pilgrimage leaders advise the Footprints group, now that they have had a day of personal involvement in the tensions that are part of life in Jerusalem, to be sure to reflect on the privilege of being in the Holy Land, the gifts of faith and hope, and to let the joy that it brings become visible. In other word, remember to smile, not as a forced gesture, but the reverse - as a refusal to let a natural human reaction be suppressed. A recent Church document written in preparation for a special assembly of bishops (Lineamenta) uses an interesting metaphor – “Eyes filled with hope and not with tears of despair.”

Basilica of the Agony or the Church at the Garden of Gethsemane

The Basilica of the Agony, or Church at the Garden of Gethsemane, or the Church of All Nations (because of the wide source of donations for its construction) is a 1924 structure built on the ruins of a 12th century one. It either is, or is very near, the actual site that Jesus spent the night before he died praying to avoid his suffering “… if it be possible, let this cup pass from me …” (Matthew 26:39), and where he was arrested (Matthew 26:50). While in the Jerusalem area Jesus stayed in a house at Bethany (Matthew 26:6), which is higher up the slope that Gethsemane is on, or possibly just over the top of the ridge above. Gethsemane is on the direct path between Bethany and the Golden Gate through the walls of Jerusalem, the gate closest to the Temple. Jesus had to pass through the area, and it was his custom to pray at Gethsemane.

Arriving in the early morning (a “trick” Steve Ray uses to get his groups into pilgrimage sites efficiently) in front of the Basilica of the Agony, our coaches quickly unload their passengers on the sidewalk of the none-too-wide major commuting highway that runs up the Kidron Valley across the street from the basilica. Anxious commuters on the highway, who assumed that they had started early enough to avoid the day’s heaviest traffic and certainly pedestrian bottlenecks, communicate a distinct lack of enthusiasm for our simple need to cross the street. Some do so vigorously. We manage to get across as a coherent group in a quick burst of movement, hoping not to have strained interfaith harmony excessively. We proceed up a side street north of the basilica along a high stone wall and enter a quiet olive grove with scattered ornamental garden plantings, a real contrast with the busy street scene on the other side of the wall.

“Garden” in the site name for the Garden of Gethsemane is a translation of chorion, a “place” or “estate” (Mark 14: 32), or kepos, a “garden” or “orchard” (John 18: 1). Gethsemane is at the base of the Mount of Olives (also called Mount Olivet) with a view over the Kidron Valley to the nearby city walls of Jerusalem. The word Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew “gat shemanim” which means "oil press" – implying that that the “garden” was an olive grove, or at least included one.

The olive (Olea europaea), is a small tree native to coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It is a productive, long-lived, and a relatively high value agricultural product that can be produced on slopes with stony, thin soils. Its oil is today recognized for its health benefits in the human diet. In the Bible, olive oil was used for the anointing of the elect or chosen. The way the early Church Fathers interpreted it, at Gethsemane the anointed one (the Christos) came to the place where the oil of anointing was pressed, where he was pressed down with the weight of the guilt for sin. It is a standard practice, which everyone in the region knows, to prune olive trees to stimulate the maximum production of fruit rather than wild shoot growth. And again in the metaphorical narrative, at Gethsemane Jesus was seen to offer himself up to be pruned to yield more:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17)

There are eight very old olive trees in the garden courtyard at the basilica. At the very least, they create an appropriate spiritual atmosphere for visiting Gethsemane. Upon entering the garden grove, the question spontaneously arises in the minds of visitors – could these trees date back to the time of Christ? I find myself impressed with the dimensions of these trees.

I operate a tree ring laboratory, and I spend long days counting backward in time the rings of living trees and even of some long-dead trees. After years of this work, for me the American War of Independence has become a recent event. To really perk my interest it takes trees alive before Columbus landed. Most of my direct experience ends with trees alive at the time of the Crusades – the same time frame as all these 12th century churches or ruins we have been visiting. But I have walked among trees that were alive at the time of Christ, for example California redwoods. Working with living mater that has been alive since long ago is not a startlingly new or different thing to me, just the comfortable backdrop of the work I love to do in the outdoors and in my tree ring lab. Olive trees do not produce good annual rings (technically, for the initiated, they lack distinct ring boundary definition), so ring counts won’t work to establish their age. And the oldest-looking of the Gethsemane olive trees are hollowed out, as rot has removed the original central trunk while the living outer perimeter continued to expand.

The age estimates of the Gethsemane trees in published guides and references vary quite a bit. The first written record of their existence dates from the 15th century, so they are at least 600 years old. But these tree veterans could easily be older. One thousand years is reasonable, and a millennium and a half is conceivable. One barrier to the survival of any trees alive in Jesus's time is the comprehensive destruction imposed by the Imperial Roman campaign against Jerusalem in the Jewish War of AD 66-70. The Roman forces stripped the landscape of all trees and wood for campfires, siege ramps, scaling ladders. The Mount of Olives was largely denuded. The Romans had entered a flourishing, rich countryside and made it desolate. The historian (and participant in the war) Josephus said, “No stranger who had seen Judea of old, and the lovely suburbs of its capitol, and now saw this devastation could have restrained his tears and lamentations at the hideous change.” In the end, the belief that no olive trees in this exact spot survived the Roman siege of Jerusalem can only be based on inference. An olive tree in Portugal has been radiocarbon dated to about 2,000 years old, so it may be possible.

But it seems almost beside the point. If the site of the chorion or kepos (Garden) of the “oil press” (Gethsemane) was not exactly here, it had to have been very close and very similar on the slope above the Kidron Valley along the route from Bethany to the Temple. Even it these olive trees of today were not alive then, they go back a substantial fraction of the time toward the first century AD. The olive trees in the adjacent Kidron Valley probably give a better idea of what “dressed” (pruned) olive trees would have looked like in their prime in the first century. As our Christian guide Amer observes, the Christians of the Middle East think of themselves like the olive tree – repeatedly pruned, but a living link with antiquity, challenged to produce good fruit.

The Western Wall

Without a doubt, the Temple Mount, now occupied by the Islamic Haram Ash-Sharif (in Arabic the “Noble Sanctuary”) is one of the most dramatic places on Earth. Of course, in Jewish belief the Temple is regarded as having been the unique dwelling place of the Divine presence, and this belief is fundamental to Christianity as well. But just to recount the events in the additional Jewish narrative of salvation history imputed to the Temple Mount, and the significance attributed to them, is to appear to lose all restraint in religious language. According to the Talmud it contains the Foundation Stone where the world was created and expanded, it was the place where God gathered the dust to create Adam, it became the place to carry out Divine injunction for a center of national life, government, and religious observance (Deuteronomy 12, 14, 15, 16, 26), the place where all prayers are focused, and more and more events of transcendent significance.

When the Jerusalem Temple was constructed, a basic challenge had to be met. In order to create a level courtyard and build a Temple complex on a monumental scale in the hilly Judean uplands, a major earth-leveling project was required. The solution adopted was to build a massive retaining wall and add fill to raise the grade to a uniform and higher level. Some of the largest stones used in antiquity were put in place for the retaining wall. After one of the greatest engineering and construction efforts in antiquity, a suitable large level expanse took shape, with a magnificent Temple in the center of it.

After the Imperial Roman destruction in 70 AD, came the Islamic conquest in 640. Shortly after, the Al-Aqsa (meaning “the farthest”) Mosque, was built over the Temple complex. The mosque, with its courtyard, covers 35 acres or one sixth of the area within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Completed in 692 AD, Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the oldest surviving Islamic structures in the world. The Dome of the Rock with its bright gold covering, was built over the former site of the destroyed Temple, and in many ways serves as an instantly recognizable icon of modern Jerusalem. Given the de-facto control of much of the Temple Mount for what is regarded today as the third holiest site in Islam, the Israeli government enforces a ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors to the upper courtyard precincts.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Jews at various times were forbidden to live in Jerusalem, or allowed to visit only once per year. But after permission to settle was again granted about 425, the practice of praying at the base of the exposed section of the Western Wall, the HaKotel HaMa'aravi, began. The practice among Jews has continued to this day, with restrictions and interruptions, including no access during the period of Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967. For nearly all that time the undeveloped level area at the base of the Western Wall on which pilgrims could gather for prayers was only about 30 meters long and four meters wide. After the Israeli seizure of East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, about 135 houses in the Moroccan Quarter (which was largely destroyed along with the old Jewish Quarter in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) were demolished. Following the demolition, the area at the base of the Western Wall became a great plaza over 60 meters long and 40 meters deep, capable of accommodating a few hundred thousand people.

During particular periods of tension at this juxtaposition of two great holy places, young Muslim fanatics threw stones down at those praying at the base of the Western Wall. A handful of Jewish fanatics in Jerusalem occasionally incite the Arab Muslim populations by calling for the Al Aksa Mosque to be torn down and a Third Temple to be built. Great numbers of sober minded people agree that the result would be a Third World War, instantly. The great majority of Israelis are not interested in moving events in that direction and have accommodated Islamic prerogatives.

When Pope John Paul II came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he scheduled a stop to pray at the Western Wall in March of 2000. He had declared the year 2000 as a Year of Jubilee, culminating a multi-year plan of prayers, devotions, and dedications as described in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Draws Near). Following Jewish custom he prayed and then placed a written prayer, a kvitle, in a crack in the Wall. The following note, hand-signed by the pope and stamped with the Vatican seal, was later placed in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial.
“God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and asking Your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. Jerusalem, 26 March 2000. Joannnes Paulus II.”
It was one of the great attempts at reconciliation in recent times or maybe ever. A major theme of his Third Millennium preparations was what he called a “purification of memory,” a call for past injustices to be forthrightly acknowledged while men and women of today not become the object of contempt for what was done in earlier times, before people of today even existed. John Paul II led by example. In Israel, up to the time of John Paul’s pilgrimage visit, the average citizen lived his or her life almost entirely unaware of fine documents issued from interfaith meetings or even milestones in Christian-Jewish relations. But this one simple, dramatic, gesture of praying at the Wall compelled their attention, and it laid the basis for a new and better atmosphere. In May 2009 Pope Benedict also came to the Western Wall, prayed, and left a note during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Ever since, Catholic pilgrims have felt no hesitancy to approach the Western Wall and to pray likewise.

Our pilgrim group passes through the security screening area and then into the great plaza. A low crowd-barrier divides the visitor’s area from the prayer section. We divide into men’s and women’s groups to enter the separate sections provided. At the base of the wall, religious students and scholars occupy small study chairs, their sacred books and commentaries spread on writing surfaces. A number of visitors place notes, and our pilgrims observe a quiet time of touching the wall, some for extended periods.

Yet, no matter how poignant, for Christians the experience cannot be as profound as for Jews. Jesus speaking in figuratively said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19). John makes sure that the reader catches the anagogical sense of his meaning when he follows up with, “But he spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Christians who follow Apostolic succession believe that what the Temple previously uniquely provided – specifically a priest vested in linen offering a sacrifice and the opportunity for communion with the divine – is now available universally. The Temple that seemingly unites in the sense of common origin, belief, and veneration, divides in another.

If we were to de-particularize the story, and just tell the tale of “Group A” going through a series of experiences similar to the tale of the Jewish people and their relationship to this land it would make a sad, dramatic, inspiring, barely believable tale. If the tale of “Group B” were to follow the outlines of Christians in the Holy Land it would be made up of periods of suffering, achievement, charity, survival against the odds. If the tale of “Group C” were to trace a route through time similar to the story of Islam here it would follow an arc of triumph, setback, and determination. And so, here in Jerusalem today, trapped by a conspiracy of geography and history, three of the world’s great religions are locked in an awkward embrace.

As our Footprints group reassembles and leaves the Old City we move counter to the current of a swirling mass of people – Israeli children, tourists, military units, rabbis, the curious. It’s a vibrant scene of a cross section of humanity. A case can be made that the system of management of access to the holy sites and life in these spiritually charged precincts which is maintained today by the secular Israeli government, though far, far from perfect, is one of the most balanced and effective seen through the long history of this city. But just as Jews are denied full control of a holy site, other claimants are denied too, as we shall see next.

Upper Room on Mount Zion

After exiting the plaza, we take a very short ride up to Mount Zion. Actually Zion or Tzion is a mis-transliteration of the Hebrew letters into English based on passing through the German language first – it should be rendered Tzadi rather than Tzion. But to say the phrase “We are going to Mt. Zion” is essentially startling. That’s because there are two different meanings. On the one hand the name Zion refers to a specific actual location - or actually a changing set of locations over time. The first was the place where a Jebusite fortress that was conquered by King David stood. Then over the years, a couple of the high points in the local topography around Jerusalem assumed the name Zion or Sion, culminating in the hill just outside the city wall to the southwest of the Old City where we are headed.

But the name Tzion appears over 100 times in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Over time it became a metaphor for Solomon’s Temple, then the city of Jerusalem, and finally it morphed into meaning the Promised Land to come. So to say "I’m going up to Mt. Zion" is, in that sense, to say you are going to Heaven. In American culture the term has largely lapsed, but at one point it was used extensively. To Christian African American slaves and later the still-oppressed free blacks it meant a longing by a wandering people for a safe homeland or a spiritual homeland. American settlers moving on to the western frontier frequently talked or sung about going to the promised land, and sprinkled a legacy of Zion place names (e.g. Zion National Park) across the west.

Between 1948 and 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian rule, Mount Zion III (the current one) was a designated no-man's land between Israel and Jordan. Israelis were not allowed access to the Jewish holy places, even though access had been agreed to as part of the 1949 armistice. Mount Zion was the closest accessible site of Israeli access to the ancient Temple. Israelis would climb to the rooftop of a building there to pray. In 1964, when the no man’s land was still in place, Pope Paul VI visited Mount Zion during the first modern papal pilgrimage to Israel in 1964. Taking note of the visit as an act of solidarity, the Israeli government named the winding road leading up to Mount Zion Derekh Ha'apifyor (Pope's Way).

And ironically, the site we are going to is a place where the Israeli government maintains control of a building on a site of immense importance to Christians. The management of the site forbids them from celebrating Mass and restricts public prayer to a handful of occasions. What site is it?

The preeminent biblical archeologist Bargil Pixner conducted excavations at the site in the 1980s and offered a cohesive case that this was, in fact, the place of the Cenacle or Upper Room of the Last Supper, which then served as the Church of the Apostles from the first Christian Pentecost. His archeological work simply confirms long, long Christian tradition of the area. If so, this was the place where the Catholic or Apostolic priesthood was established, and the site where the Church per se was born. So why the problem in custody and use of the site?

Many Jews today believe that the large commemorative Gothic cenotaph (an empty sarcophagus) built by the Crusaders in the sublevel of the Cenacle is the Tomb of King David (died ~ 1,000 BC). However passionately this belief is held, it unfortunately collides with well-established facts. For example, the surface that lies under the memorial to King David is a Roman-era synagogue, and very possibly one built by the earliest Christians, before the term "church" and conventions associated with church structures had developed.

In reality the site was under Christian ownership for most of the years before the Islamic conquest, then destroyed, then rebuilt in the Crusader Era, and finally came under Franciscan custody. The Franciscan Superior for the Holy Land even retains the title “Guardian of Holy Mount Sion.” Various Ottoman rulers used this belief in a tomb of David here as the pretext for destruction of Christian structures and expulsions from the site, since they endorsed reverence for David as a prophet, but not the Christian beliefs associated with the place. Between 1948 and 1967 when this site was the closest approach that Jews could make to the Western Wall, their attachment to the legend of David’s Tomb deepened. The Franciscans still hold a valid title to the site, but ultimately, to no avail, because the Israeli government declines to enforce title. Religiously motivated vandalism of Franciscan sites closest to the Upper Room is not uncommon when the issue of regularizing the control and use of the site for Christian worship comes up.

Over the centuries, the Franciscans on mount Zion/Sion have experienced several rounds of expulsion, partial destruction of the Crusader church, rebuilding, and expulsion. Following one expulsion, the church structure at the Cenacle was adapted into a mosque, but never fully used as one. And, a bird has an interesting story to tell about this.

In a corner of the small and essentially hollowed-out, partially restored shell of the Crusader Church, is a mihrab – an Islamic alcove indicating to the Muslim faithful the direction to face Mecca during prayer. The mihrab was built with pieces of the partially dismantled church’s ruins. The Muslim builders recycled a perfectly good stone pillar for use as a main support for the arched stone covering over the mihrab. The pillar, while beautifully carved, seemed suitable for their use because it appeared to them to lack Christian symbols. The carvings only depicted a pelican and its young. But these are one of the most ancient and distinctive Christian symbols of all, although very few Christians would recognize them as such today.

An ancient legend of the pelican was that the mother would pierce her breast with her beak to feed her young with her own blood and pieces of her own flesh. It’s obviously not literally true, but it had widespread acceptance in the realm of ancient folklore. The parallel with the Christian belief about Christ offering his own body and blood to feed his followers (John Chapter 6) is obvious. This symbol was adopted into Christianity by at least the 2nd century when it was mentioned in the Physiologu, a Christian adaptation of popular animal legends and symbols. One of the surviving expressions of this early Christian tradition of the pelican symbol is one of the verses of the beautiful hymn Adoro Te Devote”

Pie pellicane Iesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo Sanguine:
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

There are a few translations into English that take strong poetic license in order to preserve the rhyme, but here is my attempt at a more literal rendering:

Blessed pelican Lord Jesus,
Immerse me in your blood to clean what is foul,
Of which one drop has the power to save,
The whole world of all its sin.

The legend of the pelican became popular in Christian art in the first centuries following the events in the Upper Room and was taken up by many later writers, including Shakespeare, especially when they wished to invoke a vaguely archaic past. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (written about 1600) modern readers unaware of the background of this legend may be confused when the character Laertes says:
"To his good friend thus wide, I'll ope my arms
And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican
Repast them with my blood."

The Essene district

It has long been known that the area of Mt Zion III (Mt. Sion) was the district occupied by a distinctive sect at the time of Jesus – it was the Essene Quarter. And the story of the Essenses offers an intriguing possibility to fill in a puzzle. The Essenes formed one of the three main philosophical sects of Judaism in the late Second Temple (early first century) time period, along with the Pharisaic movement, and the Sadducees (or Zadokites). The derivation of the word Essene (in Hebrew "Isiyim," in Greek "Essenoi") is not certain, but modern scholars increasingly accept its derivation from the Hebrew designation for "osey hatorah," (observers of torah). The Essenes had a communal and largely celibate way of life, and ritually immersed in water every morning. They generally ate together after prayer, were devoted to charitable works, and were somewhat secretive. These characteristics and their location suggest an explanation for an otherwise obscure passage in Christian scriptures.

When Jesus was preparing for his final period in Jerusalem, his disciples were looking for a place to observe the Passover Seder. Jesus confidently gave the following instruction, which seems sketchy in the extreme.
“He said to them, ‘Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters,’ …” (Luke 22:10).

Cultural expectation plays a big role in the ability to see the information content here. The key word is “man.” Carrying water was an almost exclusively female task. Aside from a communal sect segregated by sex, when would you see a man doing the task? You wouldn’t. And if it were a cult that put great emphasis on the ritual of morning immersion, members would be going regularly to the main public source of water for Jerusalem, the pool of Siloam. So, the instructions Jesus gave were not so random after all – if you know the neighborhood.

Nearby is the Church of the Dormition of Mary. According to Catholic, Eastern and Oriential Orthodox Churches, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus went asleep for the last time in her Earthly life on Mount Zion, and her body was spared the decay of death as she was taken up into Heaven together with her soul at the time of her death (the Assumption). The imposing structure of the Church of the Dormition was built under the sponsorship of Kaiser Wilhelm II just before WWI, on land that was given as a concession to an ally by the Ottoman rulers. Our Footprints group enters the basement and prays around an empty sarcophagus with a very lifelike statue of Mary in repose on the top. An Orthodox group quietly waits and then its members smoothly take our places as we leave.

Hinom Valley

The coaches thread their way along the winding streets between the wall of the Old City and the Valley of Hinnom (Ge Hinnom). Hinnom, along the western and southwestern portion of the walls of the Old City is one of the two principal valleys surrounding Jerusalem. In the Hebrew Bible, this was where followers of Caananite gods, such as Moloch sacrificed their children by fire. Even some Israelites followed the practice:

“He [Ahaz] even made molten images for the Ba'als; and he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering.” (2 Chronicles 28)

Eventually, these "abominations" made such an impression on the Israelites that they judged the valley fit only to be the garbage dump for Jerusalem. The name of the place for this smoky pile of refuse with its acrid pall and sinister past became the definitive metaphor for the hellfire of everlasting punishment, so that "Ge Hinnom" became Gehenna, the Biblical term for Hell:

"Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:44)

The coach winds along the twisting upper portion of the valley, and then leaves it along the top of a local ridge. Fortunately, then, our group can say that at least metaphorically we have been to hell and back.

Kibbutz Ramat Rachel

Kibbutz Ramat Rachel is situated on a hilltop overlooking the old City of Jerusalem, the Judean Hills beyond, even the Dead Sea on many days. The kibbutz is a unique Israeli form of collective or community living with a focus on self-sufficiency. It grew out of the Zionist Movement in the later 19th century – the conscious effort to gather Jews and settle on the land of Israel. This one was established in 1926 and has about 400, counting all of the members including children. Most kibbutz (plural kibbutzim) started out organized around agricultural activity, but a number have readily adopted some other main occupational or commercial pursuit. Ramat Rachel has strong horticultural roots but has capitalized on its scenic setting to operate a hotel, banquet hall, sports center, treatment facilities, educational centers. Our Footprints group has lunch in the kosher-certified cafeteria of the hotel.

The Kibbutz also operates Eyal's Farm, an ecological learning center named in memory of Eyal Yoel, who was born and raised there. He was killed in action as an I.D.F. reserve soldier in 2002. He loved animals and nature, and he planned to work in the field of environmental quality and nature preservation.

“The farm's staff raises and cares for a variety of domestic animals, tends a vegetable garden and fruit tree orchard, manufactures organic compost, and builds structures using environmentally friendly methods. The farm also conducts a range of activities for children and adults. It hosts classes of children with special needs, some of them wheelchair-restricted, …”

These same interests are reflected in the programs of our University of Alaska School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and our Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and its students. It seems that working with plants and animals and preserving nature are universal human impulses. Anybody who has the opportunity to live a full life pursuing them is fortunate indeed.

As usual for any attractive place for human living in Israel, the Ramat Rachel summit is a major archeological site. It is being actively worked by volunteers under the direction of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Heidelberg University in Germany. Kibbutz Ramat Rachel even operates a (paying) participatory archeological volunteer guest program. Work at the site has uncovered a series of ancient royal gardens, the first full-scale excavation of such a feature in the eastern Mediterranean that dates to before the time of Alexander the Great and Hellenistic influence.

The archeological site has features indicating times when royal decrees would be dispatched from the site. It is only two miles from the Old Town of Jerusalem. This suggests a kind of green retreat for periods of low-key royal administration in a garden setting. Some archeologists speculate that the site might have had a spiritual function as a location of peace, tranquility, and a link with nature. Much like it did for one dead Israeli soldier, and much like it does today.

Overlook of Jerusalem and salvation history

We load the coaches and head south of the old city, and arrive at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade. The name is Hebrew for "Commissioner’s Palace," and dates from the British Mandate. This linear park was constructed to provide a scenic overview, and it is a favorite because the view is so attractive and comprehensive. The cross currents of history don’t ease off even in such a simple, pleasant place. In the park to the east of the promenade is the Hill of Evil Counsel, where tradition from Byzantine times says the decision to arrest Jesus was made. Also according to tradition this is the spot where Abraham first saw Mount Moriah. Nearby is the aqueduct built by Herod to provide water for the Second Temple. The view eastward extends to mount Nebo in Jordan where Abraham first saw the Promised Land.

Steve Ray starts a rapid-fire narrative of the events of Biblical history. For more than 10 minutes he sequentially rattles off one crucial event after another, and points to the place it occurred, with only a few out of view. It’s a lesson in geography and history all at once. Rather than isolated, disconnected events, people, and places, it all flows in a way that the pages of a book cannot quite do. This integration of so much information that is so familiar to Christians has led Catholic archeologists and historians who work in the Holy Land to call the land itself “the Fifth Gospel.”

We share the park and green space with a group of young Israeli men and women of the same age as my undergraduate students at home, laughing and loosely listening to a lecture. Except they are all in military uniform and a number are overseeing weapons, as the pleasant afternoon unfolds. There is universal conscription of Jewish Israeli males (three years) and females (two years), except for the growing practice of exemptions, which is a very sore point. For those in the IDF, Sunday is a mandatory "culture day," and they are assigned to visit a museum, attend a concert, or hear a lecture or some such.

Ein Kerem

Our last stop of the day is Ein Kerem, one of the most picturesque suburban districts around the perimeter of Jerusalem. It is the local tradition from very early centuries AD that the village was the summer home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and served as the birthplace of John the Baptist. During Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy with John, she was visited by a family relative - Mary, who was pregnant at the time too, with Jesus. This incident is called the Visitation, and has been depicted in art frequently over the centuries.

Pictures of the village of Ein Kerem in the 1950s, perched on a steep slope, a few years following Israeli independence, show a stony, treeless slope with a few olive groves. During the 1948 war, Arab villagers evacuated while soldiers, foreign Arab military units, and local militia took up positions. In the end Jewish forces took the village. Little physical damage to the structures occurred, and as the new Israeli residents, a number of them displaced people, settled in, the area took on the character of an artistic colony and retreat from the adjacent urban zone of Jerusalem. A few medical education and research facilities were constructed along the ridges to the east, but the village stayed a quiet little place.

As the coaches turn off the main highway on to the secondary road and work toward the village we enter the head of a valley with nearly continuous forest cover and beautiful views down the valley. As we come around the first corner and encounter it for the first time there is an audible gasp from the pilgrims. It’s the greenest area we have been to in the hill country of Judea. The area has been transformed by an extensive and determined reforestation effort. Nestled into the trees in this quiet, peaceful setting at the beginning of the ridge above the secondary road is Yad Vashem, the memorial to the millions of Jews murdered during WWII in the effort to eliminate them as a people.

This place performs a kind of whiplash on a visitor. While the apparent scene, at face value, can be attractive and even appear tranquil, the story behind the scene can be tragic. People losing their homes and way of life, a people targeted for extinction, here are masked beneath a bucolic exterior.

Ein Karem is a pilgrimage site for a steady flow of Christian visitors in large numbers. The Church of the Visitation covers an ancient sanctuary built against a rock declivity. It is venerated as the "stone in which John was concealed," at the time that Herod the King ordered all male children less than 2 years old to be killed (Matthew 2: 16-18). Herod was an Edomite, and many of his Jewish subjects believed he had no right to sit on the Davidic throne. When the wise men (Magi) from the East announced their desire to offer gifts to the newborn king whose sign they had seen (Matthew 2: 1-12), Herod developed his plan to preserve his dynasty. He had the male children of Bethlehem and the surrounding area killed. Perhaps we could regard this brutal incident as an early type of whiplash – the joy of birth and new life, and the hope of a messiah, versus the cold and calculating murder of innocents by a squalid petty ruler.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Olive trees in the Kidron Valley

Ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the oldest olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. This tree is hollowed out in the center but continues to grow outward. It is quite conceivable that it is well over 1,000 years old.

A number of units of the Israeli Defense Force take their oath of service at the Western Wall, a ritual which goes back at least to the sacramentum, the ancient Roman military oath. Recruits for the IDF 55th Paratroop Brigade are sworn into service at the Western Wall, the very place where this unit fought a costly and successful battle in 1967 to place the site under jurisdiction of a Jewish state for the first time in over 1,800 years.

Prayer notes (kvitle) placed in cracks of the Western Wall.

Pelicans carved on a pillar used to support a mihrab – an Islamic alcove indicating to the Muslim faithful the direction to face Mecca. The pelican was an early Christian symbol for Christ, and the pillar was part of an early Church built to venerate the site as the place where the Upper Room or Cenacle once stood. The Israeli government seized control of the site in 1967. Christians are not allowed to pray here.

Edge of the village of Ein Kerem and its terraced slopes in the lower valley, with forest cover of Aleppo pine on the slopes above.

(Photos by Glenn Juday)

Previous posts in this series:

  • Holy Land: Tourism, security, and religion
  • Holy Land: Jerusalem
  • Holy Land: One pilgrim, one suitcase
  • Holy Land tour: Cana to Mt. Tabor
  • Holy Land tour marches on
  • Holy Land: On to Nazareth
  • SNRAS professor shares Holy Land pilgrimage
  • Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Weather history at experiment farm

    The sign at the weather observation site at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

    When the 100th anniversary of weather observations in Alaska is celebrated at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm Thursday, a look back at the history of the site will be an important element.

    Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service sent this information about the history of weather observing in Fairbanks:

    Weather, being important for agriculture, was regularly recorded at all the early 20th century agricultural stations in Alaska (Kodiak, Rampart, Kenai, Matanuska), so it was to be expected that once the Fairbanks Ag Station was up and running that weather observations would be part of the duties.

    As the Fairbanks Station had been up and running for a few years, it is possible that the weather observations were being done before July, 1911. There is certainly nothing on that July 1911 form that indicates that this was something new. However, the original forms archived by the National Climate Data Center clearly show that the Fairbanks observations from June 1911 and before were being taken by staff of the Episcopal Church downtown. A summary of Alaska climate published in 1924 uses this same data, so if observations were being done at the Ag Station before July 1911, they evidently never made it to the Weather Bureau.

    The Weather Bureau would have wanted to maintain only one weather station per community, so my guess is that once the Ag Station was in business, the downtown station was closed.

    Incidentally, the reliable weather observations being done at the Ag Farm may have contributed to Fairbanks not having a full-fledged Weather Bureau Station until the summer of 1929. At a number of other communities (in northern /interior Alaska these included Nome, Barrow, Tanana and Eagle), part-time Weather Bureau stations were opened shortly after World War 1. Happily, when the Weather Bureau finally did open an office in Fairbanks, the Ag Station continued to take weather observations. This "duplication" was probably permitted due to the Ag Station status.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Farm improvements in process

    The weather observation equipment at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm has received a new look, thanks to the National Weather Service. In preparation for the observance of the 100th anniversary of weather observation at the farm, the NWS helped spruce up the area in front of the farm's visitor center.

    On June 30 at 1 p.m. a brief ceremony will mark the anniversary. UAF Vice Chancellor Jake Poole will be on hand to help mark the occasion, as well as SNRAS and NWS officials. The site is the oldest continuous weather observation post in Alaska. It was moved from downtown Fairbanks to the farm on July 1, 1911, several years before the university existed.

    (Photos courtesy Brad Sipperley, National Weather Service)

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Temple Grandin wows ACE attendees

    Temple Grandin signs books after her talk on June 11.

    By Nancy Tarnai

    I had years of previous work experience alongside people with autism but I didn't have an inkling about how their minds work until I heard Temple Grandin speak at the Association for Communication Excellence conference in Denver June 11.

    Dr. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, has always had a certain acclaim for her groundbreaking work with livestock and the books she has written, but her fame spread further with the 2010 release of a movie about her. Simply titled Temple Grandin, the film stars Claire Danes. What little bit of the Emmy awards show I saw last fall featured Dr. Grandin in many scenes, so to meet her in Denver was quite a treat.

    She told the audience of writers, editors, and IT folks who work for land grant universities across the nation that she wanted to explain different kinds of minds. She demonstrated by asking her listeners to picture a church steeple in their heads and projected a still photo of a typical steeple. Then she said that when "steeple" enters her mind there is a fast moving collage of specific steeples. There is no generic steeple for her. "I'm into details," she said in her plainspoken way. "And I want you to think about different ways of thinking."

    Born with autism and unable to speak for years, Grandin defied the odds and earned a B.A. in psychology at Franklin Pierce College, a master's of science from Arizona State University and a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois. Because she can think in a manner somewhat similar to animals she has designed humane methods for treating livestock and her inventions are used around the world. "Animals and people with autism are bottom up thinkers," she said. "Way too many things get abstract."

    She developed an objective scoring system for assessing handling of cattle and pigs at meat plants. This scoring system is being used by many large corporations to improve animal welfare. Other areas of her research are: cattle temperament, environmental enrichment for pigs, reducing dark cutters and bruises, bull fertility, training procedures, and effective stunning methods for cattle and pigs at meat plants.

    Openness and honesty are the keywords Grandin wants the agriculture industry to live by. She even tells ranchers to put videos on YouTube to demonstrate how they treat their animals or how they prevent soil erosion. "People want to see normal things," she said.

    In comparing animals' minds to those of people with autisum, Grandin explained that the animal world is sensory based. For her, math comes much more naturally than words. "Verbal thinking tends to get vague," she said. Projecting images of a "regular" brain and her brain onto the screen, Grandin showed how "normal" people ignore the details while she is practically consumed by them. "Animals notice details too," she said. Little things that people might not notice, such as a flag waving in the breeze, a shadow or a funny noise, may frighten an animal to the extreme.

    When designing new systems of cattle chutes, in order to comprehend what animals see and think Grandin traveled through the chute herself. "I can't see generic; I can only see specifics," she said.

    She compared the way she thinks to assembling a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the box and the picture of how it should look. "I would maybe get 20 percent of it put together," she said.

    Breaking down the way people think into categories, Grandin said there are four general types: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and auditory thinkers. "We should appreciate these different ways of thinking," she said. "Different kinds of minds can work together."

    Further reading:
    Person of the Week: Autistic Scientist Temple Grandin Inspires Children, Champions Animals, ABC World News, Sept. 3, 2010

    Books by Temple Grandin:
    Animals Make Us Human
    Animals in Translation
    Humane Livestock Handling
    Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach
    Thinking in Pictures
    Livestock Handling and Transport
    Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Holy Land: Tourism, security, and religion

    Latin Patriarchate Street in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem - sign in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, supported by donations from around the world, is a major sponsor of schools, forums for dialog, and charitable activities for all people in the Holy Land.

    By Professor Glenn Juday

    Events of Saturday, May 28, continued (see previous post)

    The Scale of Tourism

    Everything about this part of the world is complicated, often controversial, and frequently debated. But two things are clear: (1) In both Israel and Palestine, tourism has grown rapidly and become a major economic factor, and (2) tourism is dominated by the religious theme. Unlike the Muslim hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), there is not a particular season for the travel, although the major Christian and Jewish feasts do generate peaks in visitation.

    In 2010, the number of incoming tourists to Israel reached a record 3.5 million according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Foreign travelers to Israel contributed about $4.4bn to the national economy, compared with the 2009 figure of $3.3bn. Travel to Israel experienced 26% annual growth in 2010 compared to 2009. It is expected that the number of visitors to the country could approach 4 million in 2011. According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, 66% of tourists arriving in Israel in 2010 stated that the purpose of their trip was a pilgrimage, recreation, or an excursion. Only 32% were in Israel to visit friends and relatives or for business purposes.

    Religious tourism is a competitive advantage in the market for Israel and Palestine, in contrast to the resort or recreation trade of even nearby areas such as Turkey or Cyprus. Publicity produced by the Israel Ministry of Tourism explicitly markets Israel as the Holy Land, with Jerusalem at its center. Tourists from around the world have been flocking in. Russians have been coming in record numbers. For 2011 the ministry is focusing its marketing efforts for travel to Israel in the expanding Christian communities of India and South Korea and in the currently underrepresented market of Poland.

    Steve Ray, middle with author, right, and Mary Beth Juday. The Israel Ministry of Tourism is funding a series of video productions on the Ray pilgrimage route to increase tourism in a targeted market.

    Aboard the coaches Steve Ray announces to the Footprints pilgrimage group that he has just received an e-mail from the Israel Ministry of Tourism agreeing to fund the production of a series of 15 to 20 half-hour video segments based on his pilgrimage route. The ministry has been looking for ways to reach the Catholic market, and the projected series is secured for EWTN, the biggest Catholic television network (160 million television households in more than 140 countries—the largest religious media network in the world). The tradition of organizing Catholic pilgrimage groups at the level of a parish or diocese led by the local priest is so decentralized that the ministry is looking for tools to reach greater numbers of this audience.

    According to news reports:
    “Surveys carried out by the ministry among visiting tourists included a poll rating visitor satisfaction from one to five. Among the services receiving the highest marks were archeological sites (4.6), tour guides (4.4), airports and even security checks (4.3). The lowest marks went to cab services (3.8), stores and cleanliness in public areas (3.9). It should be mentioned that the issue of filth and neglect in tourism sites in many cities around Israel has just recently been brought up in the state comptroller's report.
    Trash on streets, vacant lots, and other visible spaces is an issue in rural areas of Israel but not as much in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The issue is acute in many areas of the Palestinian Territories. Further growth in tourism is likely to be increasingly constrained by simple lack of hotel beds, bus and motor coach loading and unloading spaces, and publically accessible restrooms.

    The Palestinian news agency Ma'an reports that tourism in the Palestinian Authority areas is also booming compared to recent years. In 2010 tourism accounted for an estimated 15% of the economic activity in the Palestinian administered areas, which was a 10% increase over 2009. It is estimated that tourism in the most recent year produced $885 million in revenue for the Palestinian administered areas. There are about 90 hotels and 40 hostels operating in the Palestinian territories, and destinations for tourists registered 2.7 million local visitors in 2010, double the number of visitors for 2009. When combined with the count of tourists who arrive from outside the Palestinian Authority borders (primarily day trips from Israel), the numbers reach about 5 million travelers.

    The Palestinian Authority is particularly sensitive about Christmas, because the Church of the Nativity (site of Christ’s birth) in Bethlehem is one of its single biggest draws, and guarantees a huge live global television audience. Recently initiated Christmas commemorations and festivals in Israeli-controlled areas are seen as infringement on the proper venue and market. Official Palestinian statements steadily protest Israeli occupation/control, of course, and in particular point out how it is detrimental to the local tourism industry. Of particular concern are the established tourism features and facilities in east Jerusalem, including Bethlehem. And our pilgrimage group is headed there now.

    Through the Security Fence

    The Israeli government calls the wall structure, towers, observation points, intrusion-prevention fencing, tracking zone, and patrols that divide the Israeli-controlled territory (whether internationally recognized Israeli territory or not) from Palestinian Arab-administered territory the Security Fence.

    It’s an integrated system made up of all these elements, depending on the setting and perception of threat. In the dense urban area of Jerusalem the separation barrier includes a continuous solid wall.

    Wall section of the separation fence on the main road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, taken from the Palestinian side.

    Two points about the barrier or fence are objectively verifiable. First, the barrier has been effective in halting a concerted campaign of mass murder by bombing against the population in Israel. Second, the existence, placement, and operation of the barrier profoundly and negatively affect the life of Palestinian people. Beyond those facts, the debate begins. Where does the Catholic Church stand in all this? Obviously it would be extremely helpful to either side to have such a large organization support their position.

    The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization, states:
    “The Roman Catholic Church['s] official statements strive to be diplomatically balanced and defend the interests of both parties in the conflict.”
    The Catholic Church’s position is that it advocates justice and peace, is not a party to any particular factional or partisan goal, recognizes a responsibility to provide practical assistance to all those in need, attempts to represent the legitimate interests of the communities in which it finds its members, and in particular it is responsible for supporting the Christians of the Middle East. Our pilgrimage group is about to engage in a practical exercise in support of Palestinian Christians—by shopping.

    Many businesses in the Palestinian territories that sell Christian objects and mementos have experienced a severe reduction in access to their long-term customer base because of the Fence. Steve Ray’s pilgrimage groups try to assist, essentially by carrying on as if the Fence wasn’t there. The pilgrimage tour schedule includes Palestinian destinations. The Israeli authorities who operate the crossings through the Fence can be very arbitrary. Occasionally the coaches will not be let through. No explanations. Creating hardships for people who are not a security threat is not an obvious concern and on a few occasions the results have been tragic, such as cases of people seeking medical care.

    Our coaches slowly approach the gate through the separation wall on the main road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is within one of the Area 'A' zones of the Oslo Accords—full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority, with entry forbidden to Israeli citizens. (See Wikipedia, Administrative Divisions of the Oslo Accords).

    We stop. There is a parley up front. More waiting. Then we glide through a curving entrance. We are in Palestine.

    Our first destination is Bethlehem New Store. In much of the Middle East, business relationships are built on personal relationships of reputation, integrity, and trust because the civil institutions are so weak. The brothers who operate the Bethlehem store have built their business on strong relationships with Christian pilgrimage leaders, a high quality line of products with minimal kitsch, and reliable financial services. There is even the tax angle—the Palestinian sales tax is significantly less than the Israeli level. Not all rivalry and competition in the Middle East is negative.

    Members of our Footsteps pilgrimage group now have a couple of hours to shop for the folks back home. There is an abundance of olive wood items, many clearly the product of genuine craftsmanship. The Jerusalem Cross is available in great variety of forms and materials. The most striking items are museum-quality olive wood tableaux of biblical scenes. I ask one of the proprietors how long it takes to produce one of these. He shakes his head with a smile and says that most of the artisans complete one to three per year. I wonder about the stocking of items with prices set at levels appropriate for this amount of work, and then I discover that priests and church staff or lay leaders are sometimes looking for items for their home parish, and so have brought a collective purse that may be equal to the challenge. The style of bargaining is a hybrid of Middle Eastern (individual item negotiation) and Western or global (store-wide discount) approaches. Some icons are exceptional, including genuine antique Russian icons whose route to this place must represent quite a tale.

    The Christian presence today

    The Catholic Church is well known for historical church buildings, and for sponsoring sacred art, music, architecture. But the Church reminds pilgrims that people are more important than the buildings in which the worship takes place. As a result the Church calls upon its pilgrims to maintain solidarity with and support the Christians of the Middle East. Who are these Christians?
    “The great majority of Christians in the area are either Catholic or Orthodox. Most of the Catholics belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, a church of the Byzantine tradition whose patriarch resides in Damascus. There is also a sizable Latin-rite community under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The local Orthodox Christians are part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It has possession of many of the major Christian Holy Places. It shares custody (with the Franciscans and the Armenian Apostolic Church) of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, known to Greek Orthodox as the Church of the Resurrection. There is also a significant presence of Oriental Orthodox Christians, especially the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has a local patriarchate ... A number of smaller Protestant groups complete the mosaic of Christian churches in the Holy Land.”
    Despite some real tensions and sore points between this diversity of Christians, relations between individual Christians are very good compared to some parts of the world. The common problems and challenges of being a disadvantaged or even targeted minority has stimulated a sense of greater unity. The leadership of these various Christian bodies and communities have begun to find ways of living together in the Holy Land in serenity and even starting to cooperate. In one sense the Catholic Church, as the largest and most international body, has a unique capacity to be a catalyst for dialog and to obtain financial resources. Nearly all of the many Catholic pilgrimage churches are well maintained, particularly in contrast to some of the historic Churches under shared jurisdiction.

    Many people in the west speak of the “Roman Catholic Church.” Usually they mean all Churches in communion with the pope, who is the bishop of Rome. But this includes Eastern Rite Catholic Churches such as Melkite Greek or Ukrainian that originated with the Apostles but have distinctive traditions, administer themselves, and do not have Latin as their liturgical language. In the Holy Land and Middle East, members of the Roman or Latin Rite of the Catholic Church are generally called “Latins.” The Latin Rite Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem, currently Fouad Twal, has the title of Latin Patriarch, and a substantial number of the institutions, buildings, charitable and public works in Jerusalem are identified with signs as “Latin Patriarchate.”

    Lunch at the Christmas Tree Restaurant

    Christmas Tree Restaurant in Bethlehem, a short distance from the separation fence. Large tour group business is helping to keep businesses like this open, formerly dependent on access from Jerusalem.

    By prior arrangement we have lunch at little cafĂ© with enough space for seating the group. In keeping with the city of Bethlehem’s theme, the place is called the Christmas Tree Restaurant. The name is an obvious play for the foreign tourists that formerly had free access from Jerusalem. Now it is literally in the shadow of the separation wall, and on the wrong side for the former clientele. It’s a perfectly ordinary eatery, but the enthusiasm with which the pilgrims spend their money and fill up the place brightens up the staff and proprietor. It’s so normal that it’s poignant, a small gesture of solidarity.

    Basilica Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

    Sign describing the restoration project for the Basilica Church of the Nativity, the biggest tourist/pilgrim attraction in Palestine.

    We load up the coaches to head to the Basilica Church of the Nativity. A modern and spacious parking garage relieves the narrow, sloping streets of Bethlehem of the burden of large vehicle blockages and congestion. Well equipped Palestinian security forces are present and the group moves out onto the street to walk the final distance.

    The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The location is also accorded honor by Muslims. It was built over a cave which very early tradition holds as Jesus’ birthplace. The earliest available surviving identification of the site comes from Justin Martyr (b. ~100, d. 165). In his publication Dialogue with Trypho he says:
    “Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.”
    It’s another case of cave dwellings. It is easy enough to go on the Internet and find a passionately argued account, usually by an independent Christian preacher, of why the birthplace of Jesus had to be above ground, or not here, or some other variations. But the cave theme certainly is coherent: Jesus was born in a cave, naked and wrapped with a simple cloth (“swaddling clothes”), and after a life of never taking anything, at his death he was placed, naked, in a cave tomb with a cloth (the shroud) to wrap him.

    Our Arab guides explain the phrase “… no room for them at the inn.” This is another case of weak translation into English. The word “inn” suggests to English speakers a commercial establishment of late medieval or early modern times for dispensing food and accommodating travelers. The actual word in the original Greek is kataluma meaning an “upper guest room,” a regular feature of most cave-associated houses of the time, not pandocheion, which would be closer to the commercial type. The lower cave levels were reserved for family livestock, which were a main source of wealth and kept close to the family for protection. Apparently at the birth of Jesus, because of the crowded circumstances (upper guest room was taken) and for privacy, Mary went to the stable to give birth because there was no room in the inner chamber.

    The first basilica on the site was begun by Saint Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine I) with the supervision of the Bishop of Jerusalem in 327 and was completed in 333. The first church was burned down during the massacre of Christians at the time of the revolt of the Samaritans in 529. The current basilica was rebuilt, essentially in its present form, in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I (Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus Augustus), otherwise famous for the Justinian legal code still in use.

    Of all the churches in the Holy Land, this was the only one not destroyed during the Persian (or Persian/Judean) conquest of 614. Why? The tradition is that the Persian commander saw a mosaic that depicted the Three Magi (“three wise men from the east” Matthew 2:1-12) in distinctive Persian clothing, and so did not wish to destroy it in case this site was somehow honoring his people. Further repairs and additions to the building were made during the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 12th century with assistance from the Byzantine Emperor. The first King of Jerusalem was crowned in the church. This is another of the shared custody churches, jointly administered by Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic delegates. The other two are the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

    As recently the middle of the nineteenth century the great powers included control over the Christian holy sites as an item in their jostling for power. In particular, Imperial Russia claimed rights to represent the interests of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire, including custody of holy sites. France, before the time of the strictly secular republican government, took the role of advocate for Catholic custody at the sites. The pressure was directed at the Ottoman Empire, the power in control of the Holy Land then. To avoid becoming a target for further manipulation, the Ottoman government adopted the “Status Quo” agreement on custody of the three holy sites in 1852, which is complex, but has been adhered to ever since. Rights and control at the sites are strictly assigned to defined Christian groups.

    In general relations and contacts between the Christian communities governed by the Status Quo are cordial, but there are certainly strains. The past decades have seen ecumenical dialogue that has reduced, although not completely eliminated, historical conflicts. Today decisions about control and occupancy of the three holy sites are made by mutual agreement between the communities without direct external political interference, and with minimal government involvement. Regular meetings of the communities focus on optimization of scheduling the different worship services, and on restoration of the basilicas. The Church of the Nativity was placed on the 2008 watch list of the World Monuments Fund. Issues identified included rotting roof timbers, water infiltration and damage, risk of electrical fire, earthquake reinforcement. A Palestinian government restoration program is now underway.

    Fourteen-pointed star at the Church of Nativity. Pilgrims can reach through the opening to touch the stone floor of the cave where early records and testimony claim that Jesus was born.

    As we enter the nave of the main basilica and line up we are cautioned that silence or whispering only is enforced. Orthodox and Armenian clerics attend the entry to their administrative sections and frequently re-direct casual visitors or photographers out of those areas. We are very slowly, almost imperceptibly, funneled into a narrow entry that leads to an underground passage. Immediately there is a small altar with a marble slab under it. A silver fourteen-pointed star is embedded in the stone with the inscription “Hic de Virgine Maria a Jesus Christus natus est.”(Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary"). The fourteen points of the star are said to represent the fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen from the Exile to the birth of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17). Those sensitive to Biblical numbers will see that birth will initiate the seventh set of sevens. A center opening in the star allows the pilgrim to reach through to touch the original stone floor of the cave below. In the complicated jurisdiction of the site, this one altar and slab are shared. The Catholic Church has custody of another altar in the grotto marking the traditional site where Mary laid the newborn Jesus in the manger.

    To accommodate the need for worship areas given the reality of the control of space that evolved, in the late nineteenth century the Catholic Church constructed the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria attached to the Church of the Nativity. A narrow stairway from there leads down into several caves and rock-cut chambers that contain several chapels. One of these is popularly identified as the room in which St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Latin Vulgate, starting in the year 384.

    Shepherd’s Field Church and Cave and Chapel

    We load up the coaches and head to the outskirts of Bethlehem. As the roads east of Bethlehem descend, they wander through the Christian village of Beit Sahour. The fields at the edge of the village are the place traditionally identified where the shepherds saw the star on the night of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-10). There are Greek Orthodox and Franciscan sites proposed to be the location of the event, and both places have had churches and monasteries since the fourth century. This may not be an event with the discreet coordinates of some others. This is also the area where the biblical women Ruth and Naomi gleaned in the fields behind the harvesters on their way to Bethlehem from Moab (Ruth 2-4). Ruth married Boaz, and they became parents of Obed, who was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, who was born in Jerusalem. Bethlehem became known as the "City of David" and the prediction was that the Messiah would be born there (Micah 5:1-5).

    Overhang shelter cave with a constructed wall entrance at the Franciscan Shepherd’s Field Cave Chapel. The cave is prehistoric and used by shepherds well before recorded history. The site has been used as a chapel since at least the fourth century.

    After the line-standing and close quarters of the Church of the Nativity, the pleasant, park-like atmosphere of trees and grass and space at Shepherd’s Field is most welcome. It’s still hot though, and entering a cave or overhang with full shade seems to be a normal reaction. The broad opening of one of the overhangs has been walled off and the interior carved out to make a chapel. Surprisingly, the entire group of 130+ fits within it. The ceiling is covered with a thick layer of soot, reflecting many, many years of campfires, then candles and incense. With the large number of bodies in a relatively small space, the temperature starts to climb.

    Supper at Samer’s

    The Footprints Pilgrimage group has arranged dinner at Samer’s restaurant. We’re joined by Raji, another local Christian, who serves as the local professional travel agent for Steve Ray—arranging hotels, drivers, guides, Mass schedules. He is a Lutheran and the son of a Lutheran minister. Samer’s is a venue for an interesting talk by Dr. Scott Hahn. He was trained as a Protestant minister before becoming a Catholic theologian, and his personal trajectory has been the springboard for him to approach his theological writing and teaching in a unique way. Now comes an excellent lamb and rice dinner, accompanied by two complementary glasses of wine. The evening ends with some local music and an invitation for the visitors to try an Arab dance.

    The mood is festive. A certain solidarity starts to emerge. Solidarity against the disorder and gangs that prey on the local Christians, against the discrimination they experience in their daily lives, against the restrictions in movements that hem them in, against the indifference of the governments that have built a peace process focused intently on most other groups in the region for decades but not this one, against even the seeming indifference of Christians in the rest of the world. Of course, a life free of commitment is also largely devoid of meaning. Conversely, those whose commitments entail the greatest hardship live lives that seem to really matter.

    Back Through the Separation Fence

    In the early evening darkness our coaches approach a crossing through the separation fence and stop. This one is not routine, as the entry was. There is a brief conference up front. The Israeli guards look things over carefully. Finally two of them, one male and one female, come aboard and walk down the aisle, performing a count. They have good weapons discipline, with the muzzles of their automatic weapons pointed down, trigger finger parallel to the barrel at the top of the trigger guard so that they can move safely, and yet deliver a high-power round very quickly if they feel they need to. The pilgrimage group is completely silent, mostly looking forward, hands still. The female looks a bit self-conscious. The guards exit, and one calls out to the other in American English, “See, I told you they were all there.”

    A Knight is Presented His Shell

    Dr. Scott Hahn, Member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, receiving pin in the form of a shell, sign of completion of a pilgrimage, from Jerusalem Bishop William Shomali. One of the main goals of the Order is to provide practical assistance to Christians in the Holy Land, which often involves travel business and services.

    As we arrive back at the Notre Dame guesthouse, we assemble in the Chapel for a special ceremony. Dr. Hahn is a knight, a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. The auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, William Shomali (born in Bethlehem), is to present him with his shell, the traditional insignia that indicates a member of the Order has completed his or her pilgrimage in the holy land. What is this organization of knights all about?

    “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The contributions made by its members throughout the world are therefore the Patriarchate's institutions' main source of funding.
    The Order's support for the Christians in the Holy Land does not just take the form of financial contributions and prayers, … (but also) formal pilgrimages, in the course of which Members do not simply view and explore the Holy Sites, but also have the opportunity to meet the people whom they are supporting and assure them that they are not forgotten.”

    Since the beginning of the twentieth century the Order has financed the construction of 40 Patriarchate schools in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and continues to provide part of the operating costs. About 19,000 students attend these schools, where on average, the enrollment is 60% Christian and 40% Muslim. Many leaders of the Moslem community were educated in the Patriarchate's school system. The goal is to get people of different races and religions used to living in peace and mutual respect, so that tolerance and cooperation are encouraged from an early age in order to become a habit in adult life.

    Bishop Shomali delivers an extremely fluent talk on the situation in the area, with a particular focus on the recent Vatican Synod of Catholic bishops of the Middle East. The Synod invited participation by other Christian representatives, Jewish leaders and a Muslim. The diagnosis of the problem is not a great surprise, but the determined call for greater cooperation and respect for the rights of all has a particular tone to it—as if they judge that it actually might be possible to move forward in some ways.

    Confronting all the problems and the tensions of the Holy Land head-on is a chore. The ever-present neuralgic influence of the issues can be draining. All responsible people of good will know that they have to do it. But the weight of it all is like a set of chains that make every simple movement or action toward a harmonious society feel sluggish and restrained. Already, for this pilgrim group, the simpler-seeming life in the Galilee looks attractive. Already our experiences there are fading into memories—the quiet, the wildlife along the shore, the green uplands, sunrise over the lake, simple produce from the land. How hard it must have been, even at the purely natural level, for Jesus to leave Galilee and “… set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9: 51)

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