Welcome back to the story of my pilgrimage through the Holy Land of Jesus’s life and ministry, which I hope inspires you and serves as a useful guide for you. Today I took a bus to Bethlehem in the West Bank (pick it up outside the Damascus Gate). If you want to make sure you don’t miss any photos or blogs on my world trip LIKE svGuidingLight and please share this with anyone you want who you think will be intrigued and entertained.
Bethlehem is only about six miles south of Jerusalem and if you are like me you are envisioning a flat, sandy desert much like the Sahara in Africa. I learned this could not be farther from the truth. The reality is that while we are in a desert here it is quite hilly with canyons and cliffs. With that said you can understand why a six-mile trek was such an undertaking for Joseph and Mary (I know they came from much farther north, but work with me here).
The other thing you need to understand is that Bethlehem is in an area called the West Bank (as in the west bank of the River Jordan). This area was seized by Israel in the 6 Day War in 1967. It is also known as Palestine and is recognized by 75% of the world’s countries and the UN as a separate entity, but it is still de facto part of Israel. There is quite a bit of security when you cross over, but I felt safe with my taxi driver Basim.
We first drove to Jericho near the Jordan border. Here I was able to see the site of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist (this was featured as yesterday’s “photo of the day”). There is another site further north near the Sea of Galilee that is within Israel’s control, but most scholars place his actual baptism here. Interestingly this whole area is controlled by Jordan and they have
a fenced off road from Palestine to the site. All the way down the fence you see land mine signs (I did not venture to see if they were accurate).
From here we drove into Jericho and I saw the 2400-year-old sycamore tree that Zachariah climbed to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed. Next I saw the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. There is a cable car you can take to the church built up there, but I chose instead to walk among the ruins of the ancient city being excavated and imagined the Walls of Jericho falling down.
The next place Basim took me to was Herodium. This was Herod the Great’s hilltop palace/fortress and something I did not even know about. It was very cool to see this round fortress at the top of the hill that also doubled as a palace. There are tunnels in the hill that go through the old cisterns. You can also see the remains of his tomb. I highly recommend you go here if you can.
I ended my tour with Basim back in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. This is the traditional site of Jesus’s
birth. Inside the church there is a cave (not a barn) that served as a stable. As with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre this cave has been highly decorated and remodeled, but you do get to see where he was born and where the manger was. Again another moving experience.
Once I rode the bus back to my hotel I realized if I hurried I would have enough time to catch the evening bus to Nazareth (as far as I could tell there are two buses and both are in the later afternoon). I found the bus station and figured out the bus time and which stall to catch it at. When the bus pulled into the right stall at the correct time I hopped aboard. WHOOPS!!!! Turns out I forgot to verify I was on the correct bus and ended up in a town 30 km away from Nazareth at 9:30pm. I was told there were
no rooms here (I thought this was ironic given I was in Bethlehem just a little bit ago) and I should catch the bus to Akko on the coast. On the bus I asked where I should stay and after some discussion a Jew and Muslim had me follow them as they led me to a hostel. Of course neither of them spoke English, but I was so grateful for the help and kindness between all three of our religions.
So out of a mistake on my part I now have a new city to explore tomorrow because as Bob Bitchin, the publisher of Cruising Outpost (my favorite magazine), says “the difference between adventure and adversity is attitude”. So the wind changed and I am adjusting the trim of my sails. I hope you come back to see what I discovered in Akko.
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