Thursday, May 28, 2009

I have gotten through about one-third of my trip so far. I hope that you find it interesting. I am trying to write in reasonable detail because this blog is also my journal of sorts because I do not have time to write everything twice. I encourage you to read the Egyptian postings in numerical order even though they go down to up on this page. I'll be back whenever I can, and I'll try to get some pictures up soon.

Egypt 4

Let me tell you a little about modern Egypt. I will return to the account of my travels in a bit. Life surrounds the Nile. 94% of the country is desert, on either side of the Nile. There are people who live in those areas, but not nearly as many as by the river. Bedouins are nomadic desert-dwellers that the government is trying to get to settle down with gifts of water and homes, but they continue their nomadic ways, leaving their government-subsidised homes to their cattle. Cairo is a large city, with little to no municiple trash collecting. Thus it smells and there is trash everywhere, often in burning heaps. There are modern elements and very outdated elements. Most of the dwellings are brick cubes in large buildings, most of which are unfinished, with rebar sticking out the top. I hear that this is because of taxes on finished buildings are higher than on unfinished ones. Basically every brick structure is unfinished, all are surrounded by trash, and most have laundry hanging out the windows. The water is unsafe for foreigners to drink. Almost everyone in our group got sick notwithstanding our efforts at not drinking the water and taking careful showers. I still feel a little ill after I eat and find myself running to the restroom at random times, and it has been a few days since we got back. Pre-med majors keep prescribing me stuff that sounds iffy, hahaha. I think I will see one of the two real doctors on staff here today, to get my stitches out and see what I can do about my stomach.

Oops, stitches. That happened before Egypt playing volleyball. It was a really good play, but there was a wall in the way of my really good play, and it did not yield to my elbow. Four stitched later, I'm doing great.

Back to modern Egypt. The Nile is really a beautiful river. There are farms running up and down its sides wherever there are no buildings. There are canals all over the place, bringing Nile water to wherever farmers and anyone else needs it. There are hundreds and hundreds of mosques everywhere, and when the call to prayer sounds, there is no escaping the sound. It is a drone over the entire city, and a sort of eery drone at that, because of allof the different mosques all playing different songs at the same time. Individually, they are each very, very cool--I love the system of music they used to create those songs, it is just so different from western music.

The people are generally poor and kind, and generally think of Americans as money bags to be pilfered any way possible. They are still kind, I promise, just trying to get by. The men wear American style cothing in the cities and galabeas in the country areas. Galabeas are basically thin man-dresses. My roomates picked some up. They are not flattering on the white guys, haha. Women cover all of their skin except for their faces and hands while in public.

There are guns everywhere. Every block has bored gaurd in a white "tourist police" uniform sitting next to his assault rifle or directing traffic with a pistol on his hip. Every once in a while, at the most important places, there are either regular army forces or special forces, I am not sure which, standing or sitting next to trucks and behind bullet-proof barriers in their dark green uniforms. THe heat must be terrible, it was tough for me in light pants and a t-shirt.

Egypt is an amazing place that is loaded with history. Around every corner there seems to be a run down building, and they are all important historical markers. I remember passing a random set of ruins on the road, unmarked, ungaurded, and unkept, sitting between a building and a field; a student asked what they were and what era they were from to a guide or professor, and he explained that these remarkably well preserved walls once held government offices . . . three or so thousand years ago. Absolutely incredible.

Egypt 3

Our next stop was an indoor/outdoor collection of important artifacts from the . . . can't remember which dynasties, sorry. Ramses II was there, so it must have included the 19th dynasty, which was 1300ish BC and later. There were some incredibly well preserved artifacts and statues among the items there, including one massive Ramses II with his feet missing due to erosion from the annual flooding of the Nile (which stopped once the Aswan Dam was built, the first built in the early 1900s and the final one built in the fifties).

An interesting sidenote: Words in languages from this area come in three-consenant roots that are altered to change the meeting slightly. Therefore words life book, page, paper, and desk might all have the same root and then vowels are changed between the three letters to specify the meeting. So the root "mss" means "son of" or "son of the god __," with the blank being filled by the prefix to the mss. Thus, "Ramses" or "Rameses" [Ra-mss] means "son of the god Ra." (Ra is the head of the Egyptian pantheon, the most powerful of the gods). And "Moses" means "son of the God . . ." They did not know who Moses' god was when he was drawn out of the water. In Hebrew, "Moses" means "drawn from the water." Fascinating how the roots work.

Back to Ramses II. Some people think that he is the Pharoah of the Exodus. He was the greatest of the warrior Pharoahs and has some astonishing niches in his belt: He built one of the greatest empires of Egypt, walked into the first recorded ambush in the history of warfare in a campaign against the Hittites (and then turned the battle in his favor), and signed the first peace treaty known to mankind, also with the Hittites, who lived in the Syria to Turkey region. He built tons of new things, treasure-cities, incredible stonework, and temples. It is kind of hard to tell what is his and what he stole from previous pharoahs because he often etched out their names and placed his own in their place. Pharaohs put their names deeper in the stone after him, haha.

A word about names of Pharaohs. They were each given new names in temple ceremonies, after a washing and anointing. The dipictions in the Luxor and Karnac temples show a washing or anointing followed by a covenant made between the pharoah and the god Amen-Ra (same as Ra, he merged with a local god Amun or Amen and stayed at the head of the pantheon); the god has his hand to the square and is pronouncing a promise to the king. Other depictions have the god's hands or hand on the king's head--our Egyptian guide said that represents an investiture of authority from god to pharoah. Finally, the pharoah was caught in the sacred embrace with Amen-Ra and promised godhood in the hearafter.

Dang. I just realized that Ihave been spelling "pharaoh" wrong, and I do not really want to go through and fix them all. Oh well. You'll just have to suffer with my lack of strictness in that regard. I am learning Hebrew, and vowels don't really matter all that much, so I am beginning to get lax in my vowels, mixing them up and around. Alas.

Egypt 2

Our first night was spent at a middle quality hotel on the Israeli side of the border. The shower worked (although it had no seperate floor, there was just a drain in the middle of the bathroom. An interesting innovation, perhaps), the beds had no bugs, and we were safe. It was a fun night playing games, and some people took taxis to the Red Sea. Word is that there was some skinny dipping. Let it be known that I had nothing to do with that, haha :D

After crossing the border, which I explained in "Egypt 1," we went to Cairo and saw the Pyramids. It's funny, I always thought that they were in the desert a ways, but that is just because the pictures we see of them are facing away from Cairo. In reality, they are very close to residential areas and downtown Cairo.

The Pyramids were more impressive in person than I possibly imagined. Millions of tons of stone stacked perfectly, each block 2.5-5 tons, with hundreds of thousands of blocks. The pyramid of Khufu was the tallest man made structure in the world for 3800 years. They were built in about 2600 BC. Incredible. The inside was less than spectacular, a shaft running upwards to the middle, where and empty tomb room sat. No circulation of air, and thousands of tourists coming through is bad news. The gaurd out front offered me two hundred camels for the girl I was walking in back of. I declined the offer.

Egyptian religion surrounded the afterlife with an obsession that seems intense to me. Every aspect of the pyramids represented resurrection or eternal life or the afterlife or judgement, and as we learned about Egypt in our Ancient Near East class (from Professor Andrew Skinner, a well known scholar and Egyptologist), it was clear that life was good and fleeting and the afterlife was better and permanent for Ancient Egyptians. Everything revolves around judgement day, and having your heart weighed against the feather of Ma'at, which is truth, justice, goodness, balance, well-doing, and all sorts of other things like that. If your heart is heavy with mistakes and misdeeds, you are consigned to the underworld. If your heart is light, you enjoy the embrace of Osiris, the god of resurrection, and you may return to your body (which was why mummification and statue building was so important--either would work) and enjoy the afterlife and becoming one with Osiris, becoming a god yourself. If your body is destroyed, so is your afterlife. Bummer.

Anyways, the pyramids were incredible. So this is random: we watched a light and sound show at the pyramids, and there was an Egyptian bagpipe orchestra that performed there. Awesome. And I have a video of me dancing in front of the pyramids. Yes, ballroom in front of the pyramids. Woot.

The sphinx was cool and a bit smaller than I thought it would be, but I was not feeling very well at that point and do not remember anything. "Awesome: A big lion with a man's face," were my feelings at that point. Lots of people were lining up carefully to get pictures that looked like they were kissing the sphinx, positioning themselves just so that their heads looked similar in size and the lips were just right, and I almost stole a kiss from and unsuspecting Emily Page as she lined up her picture just right, haha. Fortunately I had mercy (and wisdom) enough not to engage in such frivolity :D

Egypt 1

The first site we stopped at on the trip to Egypt (we were still in the state of Israel at the time) was an overlook/park/memorial for David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. It is a lush little park overlooking the Judean wilderness in the area that the camp of the ancient Israelites probably stayed for 38 of their 40 years of wandering. It was desolate, utterly devoid of water, with few plants and lots of rocks. It was beautiful, in its own way, and I am thinking of putting up pictures against the rules of the center, because this diaogue really could use some multimedia and everyone else is putting up pictures on their blogs. Hrm.

Anyways, it was beautiful and not as important or interesting as some of our other stops. The second one was a stop at the ruins of a fortress that was built in the third century BC on an important trade route. I do not recall the civilization that built it (and consequently got that question wrong on my quiz today), but the Romans took it over when they got into power and then it became Byzantine when the Roman Empire split. It remained Byzantine and an important waystation for travelers because of the aridity of the climate and complete lack of water. The ruins were massive, because each new group built onto the existing structures and built their own to complement them. The most impressive were two large churches built by Byzantine Christians-- they were large and had much still standing from about 1700-2000 years ago. We were still in Israel at this point.

The border crossing going into Egypt was not difficult at all. About 90ish people in our group (79 students and a dozen or so adults) got through together in about an hour, maybe a little more, without mishap or standing in too many lines. Both sides were kind and willing, and US airport security is probably a little bit tighter than what we had to go through to get into Egypt. Once accross, Egyptian security for tourists is intense. Much of their economy relies on tourism, and when there was a terrorist act against a fairly random bus many years ago, GDP was affected in a huge way as people stopped coming to Egypt for a time. So now, the buses travel in caravans for long trips, guarded by a dozen men in trucks ahead and behind, each man with an AK-47. On the bus, there was a handsome gentleman in the front with a larg submachine gun at his hip, poking out under his suit coat. This is standard for all tour busses in Egypt. Ironically, travel in Egypt is very safe compared to travel in many places around the world, and places like Los Angeles have many, many times the homicide rate as Egypt does for tourists, even without security. There are two professional drivers on each bus, and how professinal they were. Driving is . . . crazy in Egypt. There are no stop lights and many busy intersections, and bus drivers treat their vehicles like taxis, pushing into traffic and flooring it and driving against traffic on the freeway (no kidding, I have video footage of us doing it) and doing whatever else they need to do to get people where they want to go on time. Everyone was incredibly nice to us. Touching of women was rarer then we expected and not at all as bad as it could have been (unwanted shoulder contact is better than contact elsewhere), but that could have been because we were diligent and very very loud when it did happen. A small part of me wants to have an excuse to punch someone in the face for something like that, but I am very glad I did not have need to resort to such drastic measures.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back from Egypt!

My goodness, what a trip. Unfortunately I do not have time to go into depth about each of the tombs, temples, and ruins we visited or all of the modes of transportation we used and all of the illnessess and craziness that happened, but I hope I will soon. What an intense trip.

We spent one night on the Sinai peninsula on the way down, then into Cairo, then Luxor, back to Cairo, back to Sinai (this time the mountain), and then back here.

One thing I must mention: I fee like a new man. This trip has given me a new perspective on life in the real world, outside my posh existence. My opportunities are endless and odds are if you are reading this, so are yours. Most are not so fortunate, and it really isn't their fault, the opportunities simply do not exist for them. One small example of what I mean is that there seems to be no municipal trash collecting in Cairo, or perhaps there is for the few who can afford it. This means that there is trash everywhere, in burning heaps or moldering heaps, floating down the canals and the Nile, right next to children playing in the water and a farmer washing his produce (which we were not allowed to eat, of course, no water from the tap, no fresh fruits or vegetables, nothing that hadn't been cooked, and nothing that looked iffy, meaning we had bread, meat, and rice for eight days. Mm-mm :D Almost all of us got sick anyways, and I still am).

And life is amazing, I am so happy to be back in Jerusalem in my own bed. It's funny that coming back from Egypt was coming home. Jerusalem is home now. I love it. Have a great day, and I will try to find time to tell you about Egypt and answer all of the questions I've recieved; alas I have a seven page paper (single spaced, a warm welcome to Palestinian essays) I have to do today.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ask and you shall recieve

Please, ask me anything you want to know about the holy land, my classes and curriculum, and the places that I mention. Or anything else. I would love some pointers as to what you find interesting and what I should go into a little more detail about.

Life in the Holy Land, Near East 347, and Near East 349.

After talking to a few people, the impression I get of education here is that citizens of the state of Israel are educated in state run schools and members of the Palestinian communities go to their own schools. (Note that some Palestinians are citizens of Israel, and a great many are also under 'permanent resident' status in and around East Jerusalem; I do not know how schooling works for them.) Interestingly, many people believe that Palestinians may actually get a better education than Israelis because theirs is more linguistically and thus internationally comprehensive; Palestinian schools teach math and other subjects only in English, so English is learned from a very young age, a great help for many Palestinians (and perhaps a cruel irony for the great many who are denied passports--their good English is not as useful if they never see the outside of the West Bank or Gaza). Three foreign languages are mandatory in many schools, from Kindergarten or the equivalent grade and up. Israeli schools teach mainly in Hebrew because that is the national language, and that is, perhaps, to their detriment in the world community. English is no doubt taught in some capacity at Israeli schools, but the nationalism and pride that accompanies Hebrew is certainly a factor in what is taught.

There is a Palestinian school just at the foot of the hill on which the Jerusalem Center sits, and we often here the kids at play during recess. They're cute.

I took my first two midterms yesterday and today. It has been an intense first two weeks, let me tell you. The Judaism (Modern Near East 347) test went well, I got a 92% on it. I love that class-- we just finished the antiquities and basics unit, so we know about basic Jewish customs and history, from the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586 BCE until soon after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE. We covered a lot of ground in good detail in that time period, ask me anything you want to know about Judaism during that period :D . . . And I might know the answer. We sped up through the first few centuries CE and then spent 25 minutes in the medieval period, because the course is actually about Judaism in modernity, from 1917ish to today. So the first two weeks were an overview of basics we need to understand about Judaism to understand Zionism, the State of Israel, and modern Jewish beliefs and customs. Good show.

The complementary course, about Islam (Modern Near East 349) in modernity, is equally incredible, and a great deal more riveting on a personal level. While we haven't yet reached modernity in Judaism, we have already in Islam. I shouldn't call the course 'Islam,' it really is a course about Palestine and Palestinians from WWI to today, and Islam is an integral part of that history. Anyway, today is the 15th of May, and that marks (on the Gregorian Calendar) the date that Israel declared independence (in 1948), a date called "Al Naqba" by Palestinians and Arabs. That means "The Tragedy." 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted soon after that date, in the War for Israeli Independence. A tragedy indeed, of epic proportions. And Israel was born admist a war that killed many and uprooted many more--perhaps not so tragic for a great many people who were just on the wrong end of a genocide of six million of their fellow Jews in Europe, a number not matched, not even close, in the holy land.

Professor Musallam (the Islam teacher) has a unique perspective on current events in the holy land, because he lives in Bethlehem, inside of the West Bank. He grew up in the US and served in the US Navy for many, many years before moving to the West Bank to take over the Humanities Department of the University of Bethlehem. He understands life and the world outside of the West Bank, and he understands life and the small, small world in the West Bank, and speaks his mind freely about the oppresive conditions and lack of autonomy therein. But he is not belligerent or hostile towards Israel, he is an active peace seeker. An amazing man with a uniquely educated and suprisingly unbiased approach to the current situation in the holy land. That is most certainly not to say that Professor Yardin (of Judaism class) is biased, he is so far from it. But it remains to be seen in both men, as the semester goes on and the topics become more and more devisive. I am excited to learn.

Becca, Eric, Kristi, Savanah and I went to the pools of Bethesda today, and it was really, really cool. Just outside the walls to the Old city lies a set of fairly well kept ruins that you can walk through and feel and crawl into the underground places of. The foundations are from the third century BC, and the pools were around in Jesus Christ's time, and fed the temple with water. Perhaps He walked those same steps when He visited the pools. Perhaps not. In any case, I think it is a far greater glory to Him to live His teachings than to walk in the physical place where He did. But it is still cool.

Have a great day :D

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pope's security and Governor Huntsman

The Pope arrived . . . on Monday, I think. With his visit, Israle mobilized 66,000 police officers and soldiers for his security. Can you believe that? 66,000! Because he is staying next door, the south side of our building and grounds were taken over by Israeli soldiers, and a headquarters of sorts (I'm sure there are more and bigger ones elsewhere) was set up inside of our center, in one of our southernmost rooms. Whew. There are soldiers everywhere. They block off the streets that the Pope is to use several hours before and one after he uses them, so every time he moves, basically the whole city is at a standstill for three or more hours and students outside the center can't get back in unless they go all the way around the block, which is quite large, basically around and up a small mountain.

I was watching the sun go down on the terrace with Brad (and a few Israeli soldiers) when I looked down for a moment and saw a commotion on a side street about two hundred yards away, about one hundred yards from the lower gate of the center. It was riveting, for me: A group of twelve or so Palestinian men (I couldn't really tell their ages, but none of them were younger than 16 or 17, I think) ran toward the street blocked by Israeli soldiers. I did not see why. Ten or eleven soldiers formed a barrier, and a great deal of pushing and shoving started, followed by a great deal of shouting. The groups sort of broke away from each other as the Palestinians backed away, and then someone shouted something I assume was very rude and provocative, and the soldiers began moving up the sidestreet, about ten or fifteen yards, pushing all of the men back and yelling at them. One Palestinian man tried to hit a soldier and was immediately beaten and patted down. He was released, and another younger man started kicking a soldier. He was likewise beaten down and then arrested. It looked as though they drove him away. The groups parted, and the soldiers stayed where they were.

My heart aches to see the conflict in this land. Politically, I have no opinion as of yet as to the justice of each sides' claims, I am reserving making that opinion until I live here for several months and learn what is really going on here, for myself. Theologically speaking, I believe each of the sides are the sons of Abraham and are all entitled to the blessing of living in this land. There are good people on both sides, trying to live according to their faith and tradition, and it is just heartwrenching to see the animosity first hand.

But alas, such is life, until we fix it.

Governor Huntsman of Utah spoke to us on Tuesday, and his message was pretty inspiring. He talked of optimism and hope and faith in the next generation and the people in the room. He answered a good question about his support for homosexual domestic unions very well and did not evade as much as many politicians do. He was very personable, and I got to speak to him alone for a minute or so in my capacity as a host for the center, which was fun. His entourage was great; we split each of his staff up at dinner time and had each of the twenty-five or so eat with students. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. I know very little about the governor, I am much more involved with CA politics than I am with Utah politics, so it was nice to know more about the government of the state that I went to school in.

Life is good. Two midterms this week; one of them is tomorrow. Hoorah.

Monday, May 11, 2009


We went to the ruins of Biblical Jerico today, and it was awesome. The ruins themselves were relatively unimpressiver at first glance, but it is astounding to see them. Jerico has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years and houses the oldest known manmade structure, dated at 10,000 years old.

The stories behind the excavations are rich. The first archeologist to study the site was a man whose name escapes me in the 1930's. He had an agenda-- he was there to prove the biblical account correct, and he did. The next archeologist was a woman whose name escapes me, and she was there a little more objectively, but seemed to want to disprove the Biblical account, and she did. The third and last archeologist was the reknowned Israeli Yagial Yadin of Dead Sea Scroll fame, who went even more objectively and proved that the results were inconclusive. The main argument surrounds the composition of the wall that came down and the debris around it; the first gentleman found debris from a wall that was dated to the right general time period and called it the wall that God tore down for Joshua and company. The woman found a still-standing wall from the same period and building materials and concluded that the wall never fell. Yadin said either was plausible, and new civilizations often built walls out of materials from older walls that have crumbled (including the present walls around the Old City in Jerusalem; many of the stones were taken from the wall Herod the Great built fifteen hundred years before, during Christ's time).

We also went to (and into) the ruins of Herod's winter cottage near Jerico. It was massive and ornate in its beginnings, and the materials from it were pilfered over time into neighboring communities.

The most suprising thing about this trip for me was the lack of protection or fencing or officiality about each site; the Palestinian Authority (Jerico is in the West Bank) just does not have money to upkeep these sites. The splendor of Jerico was protected only by an ankle-high cord that streched along the edge of the escavations, and Herod's palace was literally on the side of the road. No signs, no fence, nothing to keep people like us from taking pictures inside of it, so we did. The oldest building known to have been created by man, in Jerico, can be walked on by anyone who wants to. Ahh, it hurts me to think of the damage done by little kids and curious tourists to that timeless treasure, the tower of Jerico. Alas, there is nothing I can do. That I would be willing to, anyway. I suppose there is always a way to do something if you devote your life to a cause, but I do not feel that strongly about it.

And now I bid you adieu, I have loads of homework beckoning.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls

THIS IS BORING TO MANY, I warn you now. Not to me, I love it.

Let me tell you about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brother Skinner spent almost two hours presenting a bit of what he knows about them, and I took pretty good notes that I feel are effective in capturing the gist of the presentation. Cool stuff.

The phrase "Dead Sea Scrolls" has become almost adjectival, synonymous with "incredibly important archeological and historical find" in recent years, i.e. "I just found the dead sea scrolls of Pakistan," meaning "I just found the key to understanding Pakistan's history." They are pretty important, and it was amazing to learn all about why. I think I want to talk a little about the background/geography, the discovery, the people who wrote/maintained them, and then the documents themselves and what they mean to us. I hope to do justice to Brother Skinner.

The region by which they were found recieves less than an inch of rain per year, making it incredibly inhospitable to human habitation, but where there is a will, especially a deeply religious/motivated one, God provides a way, in my opinion. The region is called the Judean Wilderness and it is a rift valley, where the African and Asian tectonic plates have collided and then spread, creating a 'rift' that constitutes the lowest place on earth (above water). The National Geographic magazine said that this area was a geographic near-twin to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.

The scrolls were found ignominiously. A shepard and his buddies were throwing rocks and threw one into a cave. There was a shattering sound, and it scared them and they all ran away. The thrower came back the next day and discovered some of the greatest literary, archeological, and historical documents in the modern era, up there with the Rosetta Stone. There were three original scrolls inside of clay jars (hence the shattering): one Isaiah text, one on the rules of the community, and one that was a commentary on the Book of Habbakuk. They were sold to a document dealer for . . . one hundred dollars. Best deal made in Jerusalem, ever. After someone realized their importance, the cave was searched more thoroughly and four more scrolls were found, one I didn't catch the name/contents of, one more Book of Isaiah, a war scroll describing Armageddon, and a Genesis Apocraphon. The scrolls went to the Syrian Orthodox Church. Further escavation was put on hold as Jews and Palestinians fought in 1949, the Israeli War for Independance. The scrolls were transported first to Lebanon and then to the US for safe keeping.

The son of a reknowned Israeli archeologist who was randomly visiting the States giving a lecture saw an add in the Wall Street journal. Someone was selling some old scrolls that would be a "great gift" for an educated colleague. He checked them out, and a few months of bargaining and underhanded deals (to keep enemies of Israel out of the deal) later, a quarter million dollars changed hands and the scrolls were reunited in Israel, where they still are today.

This man and his father then went back to the cave and to others in the area (11 out of the 200 caves in the area had documents in them) and escavated them, searching for more scrolls. Eventually, 820 documents were found, on more than 40,000 separate pieces of parchment dicovered. It is believed by some that locals, catching on that these scrolls were of great value, tore some of them into smaller pieces so they would be able to sell more artifacts. Sad day, huh?. These scrolls date from 200 BC to 70 AD. All of the books of the KJV Old Testament were found except for Esther, and some scholars believe one of the texts found predates that book; that is, early scholars compiling Esther took material from that scroll to record it. Thus the entire Old Testament, and hundreds of additional texts, was found. 80% of the scrolls were leather parchment, 20% were papyrus, and one of them was copper, which legitimized, in the minds of many scholars, the idea that Semitic peoples would record their history or other things on metal and then bury them, so they would be preserved for another time. But we already knew that, right?

There were three types of scrolls in the Qumran findings; Biblical, Apocryphal, and 'Indiginous.' The Old Testament was there, almost in full (minus Esther) and there were nine additional Psalms, all of which were attributed to King David. Three of them have been found elsewhere, and one in the Septuagint Bible. These people saw King David as a prophet, and treated his writings as on par with the writings of the other Old Testament prophets, something that perhaps Christians do not do. One of the greatest scholarly findings regarding these scrolls is that they are the oldest documents ever found that record the Old Testament, and they are extremely similar to our own Old Testament, something which is completely miraculous in my mind. The previous oldest copy of those books available was from 900 AD, and thses are from 100-200 BC, a thousand years difference and incredibly similar text.

One of the coolest things about the Dead Sea Scrolls for members of my faith is a certain scroll, the longest found in the set of caves nearby (27 feet, 5 feet longer than Isaiah) called the "temple scroll." It talks about ordinances that go on in our temples, apparently, and indirectly talks about Jacob recieving his endowment or other temple covenants at Beth-el. Marion G Romney also stated that "The temple is to us what Bethel was to Jacob." I have no reference, I apologize, I was writing as fast as I could at that point. The people of Qumran apparently thought of this scroll as the sixth of the Torah; they saw it as on par with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Dueteronomy, and thought of it as having been revealed to Moses on Sanai. Incredible. Temple covenants in the days of Moses, and a record of it. Or, maybe just crazy religious zealots making stuff up. I do not think so.

Yesterday I went to the Western Wall and danced with Orthodox Jews to welcome the Shabbat. Amazing! They are so devoted, and the wall is such a sacred place to them. I absolutely loved the experience of praying against the wall that contains Mount Moriah, on which the temples of Solomon and then Herod once stood. Hmm, maybe an explanation is in order: The temple mount, named Mount Moriah, is a very small hill in Jerusalem. The temple of Solomon was built on it, with the Holy of Holies at the peak of the mount, over a stone. That temple was destroyed when the Babylonians took the nation of Judah into captivity. The book of Ezra talks about the return of the Jews (in the 500's BC) and the construction of the second temple, which lasted until the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD. The second temple was much more modest than Solomon's. It underwent a moderate change that I am ignorant of some time between 500 BC and Herod the Great in 10(ish) BC. But it is called the temple of Herod for a reason: Herod expanded the building, making it more magnificent than any building around, and more than any building many had ever seen. He housed the entire of the Mount Moriah in a retaining wall and put a roof accross the top of the wall to place the temple upon, then expanded the temple on top of this grand, mountain-containing structure. When the Romans destroyed the temple in the siege of . . . 70 AD, I think, they completely sacked the temple. All that is left of the temple mount structure is portions of the retaining wall of Mount Moriah, and the portion of the remaining wall that is closest to where the Holy of Holies was is the current Western Wall. And thus it is the most sacred spot in all of Judaism, even though it was never even part of the actual temple. The Western wall was encorporated into the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, so (ironically) the Western Wall now supports the current structure that houses Mount Moriah, on which sits two Mosques, the Dome of the Rock (same rock of the Holy of Holies in the temples of Solomon and Herod) and the Al Aqsa. Whew. Finished with that. I love learining this stuff :D

That was a lot of boring stuff, wasn't it? I'll add a warning at the top.

Life is exciting. Live it up, no regrets. Haha, do not misunderstand me, that means "don't do anything you will regret" as well as "don't leave out anything you will regret not doing," so I am not going to do stupid stuff here under the guise of "no regrets." Have a great day :D

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I have visited the Western Wall, David's proported tomb, Samuel's proported tomb, the airspace of the last supper, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, around the Mount of Olives, Mary's proported tomb, and have learned about a great many more places, including the Dome of the Rock/the Temple Mount, where many people believe many things, including that Adam's dust came from the rock under it, Cain killed Abel there, Abraham almost sacrificed his son there, Solomon and Herod's temples stood there (and possibly Melchizedic's temple as well?), Mohammed ascended to heaven there, and thus it is a very important place . . . and it's few hundred yards from where I am typing this. Pretty crazy.

I also visited the Bejamin Plateau, where most of the Old Testament took place. We visited the vicinity where Jacob had a vision on the way to find his wife (Gen:28 . . . 10-19, I think. Read it and then the words to "Nearer my God to Thee," and imagine a large field with rocky plateaus all about, flocks of sheep every few miles, and a small city (Gibeon) nearby. "Bethel" is the modern city located on the ancient city "Beth'el" that Jacob named. Beth-el apparently means "near God," giving added meaning to the song. That is, I guess, a good example of the kinds of things we are learning on our field trips and in class.

The Old Testament is already becoming more accessible and understandible/meaningful, both because of the brilliance of my professors and the locations of the events. We studied the captivity of the Jews in Psalm 127 and the return of the Jews in Ezra in our Judaism class, and it was amazing how much clearer it was to me.

The leadership of the Jerusalem center contains no members of the LDS church, which suprised me. The manager is a secular Jew, his right hand man and head of security is a Christian Palestinian, and the few others at the top of the totem pole are mostly Israeli Jews. The security team is entirely Palestinian, I think. The cooks and other staff are also Israelis and Palestinians. Two of the teachers on staff are Palestinian and two are Israeli. It shocks me to think that these people-- not these specifically, but Israelis and Palestinians in general-- can't find a way to settle their differences. Perhaps that may seem naive, but they are all kind to each other and the students, and each professor is welcoming and understanding of differing viewpoints and belief systems. Every time we pass the Palestinian homes lining the Kidron Valley heading into Jerusalem, we get shouts of joy from cute little children running around, and the Jewish folks in West Jerusalem are no less accomodating (except for the deeply orthodox on both sides--they talk little and avoid looking at you). Why the killing?

Yes, I know the truth is a great deal more complex than nice people saying hello to students, and I have made myself familiar with the eccentricities of the issues that currently forbid a steady solution, but at the bottom of the problem, there are selfish people on both sides who do not trust each other enough to give an inch. Alas, if they would just put my professors in charge of diplomacy.

Anyways, life is good, I am safe, and I'm excited about going to Egypt next week. It is going to be amazing, I think, and I hope I do not catch a crazy virus or parasite-- most of them aren't curable. Whew. Exciting business, hmm? We are not supposed to touch the Nile or any water, including hotel tap water, for fear of parasites and disease. Haha, quick story: Last semester, a student did not believe the experienced people's warnings of what lurks in the world of the Nile, and while a professor's back was turned, he leaned over the side of the boat and dunked his entire head in the filthy water, then threw his head backwards (speckling his friends with Nile water) and proclaimed, "See? There's nothing wrong here." Right as he finished his statement, a bloated, dead cow floated by. I'm excited.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Good times

Navigating this blog gets difficult because everything is in Hebrew. But don't cry for me, I'll manage.
So, I need some feeback from the viewers now. I don't know what I should call this place I came to in writing. I do not want to call it Palestine or Israel because those are politically charged names, and just using them can indicate a political/religious preference, which I do not currently have. I was thinking I should call it the holy land to keep it neutral, but a great many do not think the land is holy, and I do not want to offend them, especially if "them" is one of you. I could call it The Levant, which is what the French used to call it. I think I'll use "holy land." If that bothers any of you, message me on facebook or send me an email.
It's an incredible thing to look out the window in the morning and see the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock/all of it's other names, the place where many believe Abraham almost sacrificed his son (which one is greatly debated in this city) and Mohammed visited the seven heavens. It is perhaps the most wanted plot of land in the entire world, where different major religions have prophecies regarding temples and the coming or return of a Messiah or other such things, and it is a few hundred yards away from where I sleep. I can see it out the window from this very room in as I type this message.
The Mount of Olives is rather unimpressive in size. It looks like one of the foothills of Mount Diablo, and one of the smallish ones at that. The valley of Kidron as well is not much of a valley, as well. But their significance in the world's history and the lives of many is vast. A little bump and dip that people love and fight over and covet and try to set foot on, if just once.
Rats. There is so much more to say, but alas, it is dinner time, and I have certain priorities, haha. Have a great day :)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Airport security

I forgot to mention in my last post that the very first Israeli security member I saw stopped me and demanded my passport and purpose for being in the country. A fantastic welcome. I think I was stopped because I was wearing my wallet in a pouch around my neck (so I don't get it pickpocketed) and it looked like I was hiding something more sinister behind my jacket. Sweet. I think I will consolidate my stuff and not bring a wallet that looks like a bomb bulge. Cheers!