Archive for September, 2012

Madrid’s Art Neighborhood: The Good, the Bad, and the Picasso–Part, 1

September 30, 2012

When one thinks of great art in the world, your mind usually goes to the Old Masters of the Renaissance, and especially the Italians. But Spain had its share of Old Masters, too: El Greco, Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Murillo. However, when it comes to modern art, Spain wins the prize with heavy hitters like Picasso and Dalí. We were able to see a healthy sampling of them all in Madrid’s famous art museum neighborhood. Part 1 of our tour of art through the centuries will focus on the classical works at the Thyssen and Prado. In part 2, we’ll have a crash course Spanish Civil War-era modernism.

Our artistic warmup was the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. The Thyssen collection was begun by Baron Thyssen and his wife and former Miss Spain, Baroness Carmen. After the baron’s death, she opened the gallery to the public and continues to add to the collection today. While you do have a couple of Titians and a Caravaggio, you will mostly only see the artistic B-list here. Now, that’s not a bad thing, as even bad classical art is still pretty good (unless it’s German, and bad German art is, well, bad). The Thyssen’s main strong point is its collection of Impressionist works. As the Renaissance drew to a close, Velázquez and Goya spearheaded a movement in which intricate details started being “faked” by broader brush strokes and “blotches” of color, giving you the “impression” of the picture–and from far away, they look very realistic. Just don’t get too close.

The next day, we visited the A-list, beginning with the world-famous Prado. We used our guidebook to take us straight to the big guys (it is a very good idea to always enter an art museum with some kind of plan, saving you literally hours of confused wandering). We began our artistic journey with the Renaissance fledglings, Fra Angelico and Bosch. Both were religious artists, but frontrunners of the movement. Bosch (1450-1516) also gives us the first peek at surrealism, especially with his Garden of Earthly Delights, a discomfiting three-panel depiction of what happens when God’s creation devotes his life to pleasure rather than spirituality. Short answer is eternal torment with a creepy self-portrait of Bosch staring at you reproachfully.

Fra Angelico Annunciation

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) was next on the list. His most well-known painting is Las Meninas, a lovely snapshot of the royal family. This is a beautiful 3-D painting, drawing you in as the action happens all around you. Mom and Dad are sitting somewhere behind you as Diego paints their portrait, but you can see their reflection in the mirror behind the artist. Their little princess watches them as her meninas, maids of honor, play with her. The court dwarf and the family dog seize the opportunity to relax.

Velazquez Las Meninas

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas

Next up was El Greco (The Greek, 1541-1614). The nickname is understandable, since his real name was Doménikos Theotokópoulos, and that would have been very difficult for the lisping Castillianos to say. El Greco specialized in religious art, but mixed a bit of impressionism with spirituality and a touch of mysticism. His saints are long and thin, guiding your eyes up their bodies and to heaven–which is usually where their large, expressive eyes are pointing, too. El Greco’s Christ bears His cross, blood running from His pierced head and down His neck; but His face is serene, looking towards His deliverance and the sinful world’s redemption.

Christ Carrying the Cross El Greco

El Greco, Christ Carrying the Cross

Rubens, a Flimmand, was next. And really, it’s safe to just go ahead and lump Rubens (1577-1640) and Titian (1490-1576) together, especially since they reside next door to each other at the museum. Both of their works center mainly on sensualism, with a focus on mythological themes. Titian’s big patron was Philip II, who was apparently not as rigid of a saint as he would have you believe. But when they were being serious, they both presented some beautifully executed portraits, making even the “let’s marry within the family” Habsburgs look almost normal.

Rubens Habsburg Portrait

Peter Paul Rubens, Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma

Our last stop at the Prado was Goya (1746-1828). And wasn’t he quite the character–he began as a court artist, albeit a facetious one. He painted his royals like they were, rather than flattering them. Now the world saw the arrogance, the stupidity of their nobles shining through. Habsburg underbites jut out viciously and eyes stare blankly and dumbly ahead. He ended his royal portrait career when Napoleon put his brother on the Spanish throne, spurring a mob to gather in Madrid in protest on May 2, 1808. Napoleon’s brother was brutal, and rather than end the protest peacefully, he sent his Eqyptian mercenaries into the plaza to make an example of the rebels. The mob was too big, and no one could escape the massacre. On May 3, the ringleaders were rounded up and executed before a firing squad. Goya watched it all, and produced his quintessential works Second of May, 1808  and Third of May, 1808. Some legends say the screaming young man in white in Third of May was a friend of Goya’s that he watched die. He retired from the public eye when he became too deaf and riddled with disease to continue. This began his Black Period, where he smeared the walls of his house with nightmarish visions of flying demons, witches, and satanic rituals.

Francisco de Goya Segundo de Mayo 1808 Second of May

Francisco de Goya, Segundo de Mayo, 1808

Francisco de Goya Tres de Mayo 1808 Third of May
Francisco de Goya, Tres de Mayo, 1808

All photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and are public domain images.

El Escorial and Valle de Los Caidos

September 27, 2012

We were in Madrid a couple of days ago, and decided to take a daytrip out to the town of El Escorial. There were two main sites here we wanted to visit, the palace of San Lorenzo del Escorial and Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen).

King Charles V, Isabel and Ferdinand’s son, built a palace next to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, but when his son Philip II took the crown, he began the 40-year construction of El Escorial. The complex served many purposes: a royal retreat, a basilica and mausoleum for the royal family, a place to “safely” learn humanist ideas, and a slap in the face to the rising Reformation movement headed by Martin Luther. The stoic, foreboding palace also became Philip’s headquarters for conducting the bitter Inquisition, in which suspected heretics were tortured and publicly executed.

San Lorenzo del Escorial Philip II Inquisition

San Lorenzo del Escorial

The palace itself has several interesting features. We toured the Royal Living Quarters, centered around the basilica’s high altar (the focal point of a cathedral). Originally, both Philip and his queen Elizabeth’s beds (on opposite sides of the basilica) faced the altar through open windows. But Elizabeth died before construction was done and their daughter took her room. The Royal Pantheon below houses primary, secondary, and a few tertiary royals, as well as infantes (royal children) who died before confirmation. A fascinating library houses 40,000 priceless books in many languages, including Arabic and Hebrew. A sign over the door promises excommunication to anyone who leaves without properly checking out their tome.

Our other stop was Valley of the Fallen, a Spanish Civil War memorial. The 33-month war claimed 500,000 victims split along ideologies rather than borders. Neither side was innocent, both committed unspeakable atrocities. In 1936, the military rebelled against the democratically elected liberal government. Two parties emerged: The Nacionalistas lead by Generalisimo Franco (ultra-conservatives and nobility) and the internationally-aided Republicano militia (liberals and socialists). The next three years resulted in a starved and broken nation–many older Spaniards are actually very small, their growth stunted due to these hungry years. Mussolini and Hitler both lent their aid to Franco. The last of the resistance fell in 1939 and Franco ruled with a religious iron fist for 37 years, allowing only “safe” ideas to cross his borders.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Franco Spanish Civil War

Franco’s Valle de los Caidos

He almost immediately began construction of Valle de los Caidos, a basilica, mausoleum, and war memorial. There is a great deal of controversy over this site, which was built at least partially by POWs, either forced or voluntarily. Around 50,000 fighters of both sides rest here with Franco himself. The nave is 300 yards long, but only 262 of those are blessed by the Vatican, keeping it smaller than St. Peter’s.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Nave

View Through the Gates and Down the Nave in the Valley of the Fallen Basilica

It’s hard to repress a thrill of horror as you pass beneath the giant Pieta, Mary cradling her dead Son, and walk down the chilling underground granite aisle to the high altar. You wonder how mothers and wives felt as they made the same passage on their pilgrimage to the urns of their sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands in two rooms marked “RIP 1936-1939, Died for God and Country.” Franco lies in the middle of it all in a flower-strewn grave at the altar. All the while, stern bronze angels in niches stare at you as you slip by.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Angel

Armed Angel in the Valley of the Fallen Monument

It is an interesting irony that two brutal religious dictators are both buried in this town, separated by 300 hundred years. Does history repeat itself? Over and over.


September 24, 2012

Where can you scratch a baby camel under its chin (until it lays its head on the ground, because it likes it); see the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans at the same time; enjoy a four, five, or maybe seven course meal for just a few euros (we lost count, as it just kept coming and coming); visit street markets with open air meat and fish; the same markets with fruit and vegetables from the Atlas mountains; see a few stars of David where you would not expect them; visit an archeological museum with local finds from the Greeks, Romans, and some more modern items; and do all of this in a day trip coming from another country? Welcome to Tangier, Morocco. From Tarifa, Spain, it’s only a 35-minute “fast ferry” ride across the straight of Gibraltar.

Berber Market

Berber Market, Tangier, Morocco.

Morocco–as with many places in Europe and the Near East which had contact with the Greeks and Romans in early times, and the Moors, Spanish, French, and English in later times–has had an interesting history of religion, change, and control.

There are Roman ruins at the city of Volubilis  (115 miles south of Tangier) which harken back to the time when Rome controlled all shores of the Mediterranean. Before that, just outside of the city of Tangier was a Phoenician colony at one of two potential sites for the ancient Pillars of Hercules. In more recent times (19th and 20th centuries), Morocco went through an interesting era as an “international city” where its ownership was shared between multiple countries and it was designated a tax-free zone. This, as you can imagine, attracted everyone from thrifty billionaires to con-men, and caused the Moroccan government to leave Tangier by the wayside. Times have now changed for the better, and in 1956, Tangier was returned to full Moroccan control. The Moroccan government is now investing in Tangier again, trying to bring back the “world-class” city status it once had (minus the con-men).

City of Tangier, Morocco.

City of Tangier, Morocco.

As mentioned, here you will find the strange mix of church, mosque, and synagogue that you might expect to find in Jerusalem. The mosque and church histories are not that hard to fit in, given the Moorish and European influence, but the synagogue is a tougher fit.  As is the case with many pockets of scattered Jewish populations, Morocco at times opened up to receive Jews. Some even came to the area in Rome times. These patterns solidified a Jewish presence here, which has declined in modern times. This helps explain the occasional Star of David you see in Tangier, as on stair rails from a popular Jewish hotel in the 50s near the port in Tangier.

Star of David Morocco Tangier Jew

Star of David on a Popular Tangier Hotel

Unfortunately, we cannot show pictures from the archeological museum, because, as with some museums, they do not allow photos. This is a pity for this museum in particular, since they do not sell books, nor do they have a website. Allowing responsible photography, as many museums have found, is a great way to promote themselves.

Last but most important, petting baby camels. They appear to have a sweet spot, just under the chin. Once you find it, you appear to have control of them. Who would have thought a camel could be so adorable?

Petting Baby Camel

The Sweet Spot on a Baby Camel Is Right under Her Chin

Gibraltar: Buses, Rocks, and Apes

September 22, 2012

The other day, we meandered from Spain into British territory by taking a turn around Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is a unique mix of British stuffiness and Spanish chaos–no one tells you where to go or how to get there, but they expect you to be there on time.

The first recorded settlement in Gibraltar was a Phoenician colony in 350 AD, but there is archaeological evidence of earlier human communities. The Rock of Gibraltar is also known as one of the pillars of Hercules from Greek mythology, in which Hercules left a pillar here and one in Morocco to mark the end of the known world. Carthaginians settled here, and then, as usual, Rome came along and kicked everyone out. Then, in 711 AD, Turiq ibn-Ziyad and his Muslim followers landed on what they called Jabal Tarik, or “Mountain of Tariq,” which eventually slurred into “Gibraltar.”

King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosqueof the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques

King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Mosque in Gibraltar

Gibraltar eventually passed into Spanish hands during the Reconquista; but as Spain declined, Britain invaded and took Gibraltar during the War of Spanish Succession (1704). After that, Spain besieged Gibraltar fairly regularly, especially while Britain was having a bit of a kerfluffle with a savage little colony on the other side of the Pond. Britain would use the Rock as a strategic military base through several more wars and a couple of modern Spanish sieges lead by Franco, who cut off border crossings, communication methods, and water. However, with their English tenacity, the Brits have clung to their Rock.

Britain Gibraltar Airstrip

British Territory of Gibraltar

Our experience in Gibraltar involved us first getting lost in the bus system, but we did eventually make it to the top of the Rock and began our hike down. We encountered the peerless Gibraltar Apes (barbary macaques), with their serious and intelligent little faces. Rebekah had an especially close encounter with one. She was delighted.

We hiked the Mediterranean Steps trail down one side of the Rock and up the other, and were able to enjoy spectacular sea and ocean views away from the tourist crowds, including the spot where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. We explored Homer’s gate to the underworld (St. Michael’s Cave) and visited the siege tunnels built over the course of 200 years and several wars.

Mediterranean Steps Gibraltar

Mediterranean Steps Trail on the Rock of Gibraltar

In celebration of the long and rigorous hikes we took, we decided to close our excursion by negotiating the bus system again, going in two and a half circles, and then simply walking out on our own two feet.

Gibraltar Ape Barbary Macaque Family

Gibraltar Ape Family

Granada, Land of Blood and Sun

September 18, 2012

We spent yesterday in the city of Granada, Spain and centered our time around the exquisite Alhambra.

To understand Spain, and especially Granada, you have to first understand the roots of Spanish history. Phoenicians founded Cádiz in 1100 BC, Iberians came in 800 BC from across the Pyrenees, and the Carthaginians settled in 250 BC. Then came Rome, who mastered the land in 20 BC, making fertile Hispania an agricultural provider for the Empire. This united the people under the common language of Latin (which would later form what we know as Spanish in all its regional dialects), and under the common religion of catholicism in 300 BC. Biblical history tells us in Romans 15 (around 60 AD) that Paul hoped to journey to Spain with a stop in Rome to visit the Church there. In 711 AD, Spain slipped into new hands. Around 12,000 members of a new religion, Islam, invaded the peninsula and established a very tolerant rule from Córdoba for around 700 years. The Reconquista (catholic reconquest of the Spanish lands) ended this period. The last Moorish stronghold in Granada fell under Ferdinand and Isabel’s hand in 1492, while Columbus sought the Indies. When Boabdil, the last Moorish king fled Granada, he wept. His mother sneered, “You weep like woman for what you could not defend like a man!”

Granada Moorish Quarter Alhambra

View of the Moorish Quarter (Old City) from the Alhambra

The Alhambra was the king’s palace in Granada. It contains all of the intricate architectural details of the Moorish style: horseshoe arches, stalactites, vibrant colors, and the geometric tiling that showcased the Moor’s mathematical prowess and inspired artist MC Escher. But the main decoration at the Alhambra is water. In the arid lands of Islam, water was life and wealth–a precious commodity. As all kings since time in memoriam, the sultans flaunted their riches and thus, here, threw water away on plants, ponds, and fountains like it was just dust.

Water Feature Alhambra Fountain

Water Decorating the Alhambra

The centerpiece of this palace is known now as the Patio de Leones. The Jewish community got along quite well with the sultans, and presented them with the huge and beautiful lion fountain, a large basin resting on the backs of 12 lions (representing the 12 tribes of Judah). This brings to mind another Jewish symbol–Solomon’s molten sea, a great basin resting of the backs of graven oxen (II Chronicles 4:2-5).

Patio of Lions Leones Alhambra

Patio de Leones

Off of this court is the Hall of the Abencerrajes, the sultan’s living room. Boabdil’s father once took a new wife and wanted a new heir through her. To achieve this, he decided to cut off the children of his first marriage. Quite literally. At one time, he had 36 heads piled in the room’s fountain. The savage brutality is shocking now, though commonplace then. But, sic simper tyranus; his plan failed and Boabdil ascended to the throne.

Abencerrajes Alhambra Boabdil

The Living Room, Abencerrajes

There were many other interesting niches and corridors here. One door would lead to a 1200 AD bathroom with full plumbing, the one directly across from it led to the harem. Insets in the wall face Mecca for prayer. Windows peek out at the white-stucco city or the luxurious gardens inside the walls. And everywhere is heard the lush gurgle of water from fountains, pools, and irrigation tunnels.

Gardens Fountains Alhambra

Gardens and Fountains at the Alhambra

Sunday in Sevilla, and Columbus

September 17, 2012

In Israel, we covered history from 2,000 B.C., to 30 A.D., to 70 A.D., and a little later, as you have to dig through the later years to get to the earlier years.  However, today we jumped up to 1492, when someone sailed the ocean blue.

Giralda Cathedral Sevilla Spain

Giralda Cathedral in Sevilla, Spain

This cathedral is one of the largest that exists (size-wise), and is purported to be the third-largest cathedral in Europe. The reason we’re here is one of the cathedral’s inhabitants, one Señor Cristobal Columbo. Ok, so the massiveness of this cathedral and its detailed Gothic design is part of the reason as well. It is hard to comprehend how much detailed stone carving and fashioning this building contains, as every square inch seems to have figures or designs carved into it.

Gothic Detail Giralda Cathedral

Even the Waterspouts Are Intricate

And here lies Mr. Columbus.  Columbus was quite the traveler, as we’re all aware.  However, he also did a bit a travel after his prime, actually, after his death. Posthumously, he visited Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and then back to Sevilla–where he received a DNA test in 2006 to prove that the Seviilans really did have a reason to throw his 500th anniversary party.

Columbus Tomb Giralda Cathedral

Tomb of Columbus

Other interesting tidbits about this cathedral: the Renaissance artist and Spanish master Murillo debuted here with the first Madonna paintings–the source of art inspiration even today. Also, Spain’s most valuable crown is housed here, glittering with 11,000 jewels and the worlds largest pearl.

Spanish Crown Giralda Cathedral

The Most Valuable Crown in Spain

And for those with a strong cardiovascular system, the 300-foot Giralda Tower. Originally, this entire complex was a mosque, which the catholic church repurposed and renovated into a larger cathedral (you can pick up the moorish influence in much of the architecture–especially note the horseshoe arches, such as in the windows of the bell tower). The minaret became the bell tower, but you can still take the ramp to the top, up which the muezzin would ride on horseback 5 times a day to call the faithful muslims to prayer.

Moorish Architecture Giralda Bell Tower

Giralda Bell Tower with Horseshoe Arches

We will be back in Sevilla next Sunday, but next up is Granada!

Through the Shephelah and Beyond

September 15, 2012

On what was one of the most exciting days of the trip so far, we finished up our Israel leg by winding our way from Jerusalem down to Gath, and up to Tel Aviv through the Shephelah (or Shfela). This is the lowland area of southern Israel in Biblical Judea.

It’s interesting to note the difference between the two sides of the ridge in Judea–on the west is the Shephelah with rolling hills of fertile agricultural land, which you can see in the Sorek Valley photo. On the western side of the mountains is the wilderness of the hill country with its rugged and barren land.

We stopped at the tell of Beth-Shemesh first. This was originally in the Danites’ territory, which was abandoned when the Philistines became too aggressive for Dan’s sensibilities. God allowed their territory to be overrun because they violated His command to utterly drive out the inhabitants of the land (Judges 2:2-4). This city was at an important passage through the Shephelah and the old stomping grounds of our friend Samson. His birthplace and his wife’s hometown are both visible from this tell. The Philistines would later send the Ark of the Covenant up the Sorek Valley on a cart drawn by two very miserable milk cows.

Beth-Shemesh Samson David

View from the Tell of Beth-Shemesh into the Sorek Valley

Another stop on our way was the tell of Lachish. This was a geek-out site for us. The British Museum has a beautiful display of Sennacharib’s siege against Lachish (note the siege ramp on the right of the mound), from the beginning to the brutal end when the rebels were impaled or skinned alive as the rest of city was led into slavery. The Assyrian army was slowly moving through Judah, ravaging the land and conquering the fortified cities–cities which communicated to each other by signal fires. There’s an emotion that lands somewhere between heartrending and chilling when you read one of the final letters to the military governor saying, “…we cannot see [the signal fire of] Azekah.” Lachish was alone.


Tell at Lachish, Showing Siege Ramp

The last site was Gath (Tell es-Safi). We know this best as the mighty giant Goliath’s hometown. Ironically, the brook of Elah runs at the foot of the city, the same brook from which, further along, David likely lifted the smooth stone that would be Goliath’s bane.

Gath Goliath David Elah Brook

Tell at Gath, Goliath’s Hometown

Now, for the weird note for the day. In Tiberias, across from our hotel, we snapped this photo of a creepy bit of graffiti. Creepy, because that buck-toothed teddy just seems to stare into your soul.

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare Graffiti

The Creepy Teddy Bear, Part 1

Much to our consternation, we stepped off the bus 10 days later at a random gas station in southern Judea near Lachish, and there–staring into our souls–was Creepy Bear. Again.

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare Graffiti

Creepy Teddy Bear Stare, Part 2

This is our last post from Israel–we’re heading to Seville, Spain next. We hope you enjoy the next step in time to the Renaissance and beyond!

Corrections and the Israel Museum

September 13, 2012

So, to start, a quick correction for the last post. The Bethany mentioned in John 1:28 (Bethabara in the NKJV) is where John was baptizing beyond the Jordan.  This was where Jesus traveled from when he went to the other Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was.  So he when from Bethany beyond the Jordan to the Bethany two miles from Jerusalem.

Now, explanations on the videos. Rebekah used two of my videos on the last post. Just a note about those. The video of Masada shows the view beginning from the Dead Sea and then the fortress itself so you can get a feel for its relation to natural defenses and its size. I might also add, you get a feeling for it’s height and steepness if you walk the “snake path” to the top… me on this one.

The Jericho video is taken from the top of the tell, beginning with the mountains of Moab across the Jordan and then panning to the mountains beyond Jericho, showing the Israelites’ path as they approached the city (Joshua 5-6).

Yesterday, our biggest stop was the Israel museum, which just recently began allowing photography. There were many exciting finds displayed here.

One of the most exciting would be the Caiphus ossuary, who may have been the high priest during Jesus’ trial.

Caiphus Ossuary High Priest

Caiphus Ossuary

The other is the Pilate Stone we referenced a while back. This is a stone dedicating something to Tiberius from Pilate.

Pilate Stone TIberius Pontius Piltate

Pilate Stone

Adventures in the Wilderness of Judea

September 11, 2012

Today was the hot-day-in-the-desert day. And we certainly don’t say that to complain–we’ve have rarely seen the kind of wild beauty like we saw today. The wilderness of Judea is almost painfully exquisite.

If you have plenty of water and a hat, that is.

Wilderness of Judea Judah Dead Sea Desert

Wilderness of Judea

We drove out into the wilderness and across a checkpoint into Bethany beyond the Jordan, where some translations say John the Baptists baptized at the Jordan River. Our visit was primarily at the Jordan River, and it looked quite lovely, regardless of how it smelled.

Bethany Jordan River John the Baptist

The Jordan River at Bethany

From Bethany, we drove along the Dead Sea and past the oasis of En Gedi, whereunderground springs provide a rare bit of moisture. But these hills are also riddled with caves (this is not very far at all from Qumran–we’ll get to that in a minute). This was where David hid for a time, when Saul pursued him in I Samuel 24.. So it makes sense that this would be a place David would hide, in the middle of nowhere with food and water available and an excellent line of sight. It is also completely feasible to think of David hiding in a cave here, since they were everywhere.

En Gedi Oasis David Saul Cave

En Gedi

The next stop was the mountain fortress of Masada. For the history fan, this is an exciting stop. Herod the Great originally built a sumptuous palace here, complete with swimming pools and a sauna. It’s quite a logical place for a fortress, a huge isolated plateau that gives you a view for miles. No one could approach without being seen. This realization gives you a pang, when you think of the last of the Jewish rebels who fled here after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. They would have watched the Romans march in, seen the runners come and go, as the ramp grew higher and higher until they were able to break down the gate. That night, around 960 people died–the men killed the women and children, and then themselves. When the Romans entered, they found 2 women and 5 children who had survived the self-massacre by hiding in a cistern.

After Masada was the site of Qumran, where we explored the remains of the Essenes’ community. This was one of the religious sects from New Testament times, who was camping out near the Dead Sea while they waited for the Messiah to come sweeping over from the East and scoop up the faithful. The Romans came instead, and the Essenes fled to Masada. But first they hid nearly a thousand scrolls containing Old Testament scriptures, community laws, and eschatological philosophies. Quite some time later (like, 1946) bedouins hiding from troops happened upon the first cave. Fun times ensued, and archeologists have uncovered 11 caves now with scrolls, jars, and fragments–some of which Romans used in an impromptu confetti party while they were raiding the area.

Qumran Essenes Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 4

Cave 4 at Qumran, Where the Dead Sea Scrolls Were Found

Jericho was the last stop of the day. Ah….Jericho. We could wax eloquent on the history, the controversies, and the details that makes this one of our favorite stories; but that’s for another time. The site has been rather neglected, and it was a bit sad to see beautiful ancient mud bricks deteriorating in the open air. Again, this is similar to Masada, in that one can see all around. Here, you can see across the Jordan River all the way to the mountains of Moab. Imagine the people’s growing terror as they watched around 2 million people moving across the river and towards the city, and only one woman in the city had nothing to fear.

Bethshan, Harod, and the West Bank Sites

September 9, 2012

Today saw lots of exciting sites from Bethshan down to Samaria.

This morning, we packed up and headed to Bethshan (called Bet-she’an). The most important area to the Bible scholar is probably the tell, where there was an ancient Israelite fortress. More notably, however, was that this was where the Philistines hung the bodies of Saul and his sons after their deaths on nearby Mt. Gilboa.

Bethshan Bet-she'an Tel Bet She'an Scythopolis Saul

Tel Bet Sh’an Rising over Scythopolis

We had a pleasant stop at the Spring of Harod. Gideon and his large army had encamped here while God sorted the army out. This was the spring in which God had Gideon administer the famous test to whittle the numbers down. The spring, however, is dry right now, so we will never know if I was cut out to be a warrior or not. I like to think I would, though.

Spring of Harod Gideon

Spring of Harod

All along, we had beautiful views, especially from Jezreel, where Ahab and Jezebel had their palace. Naboth’s vineyard would have been nearby, and you could easily see the path that Elijah would have run on his sprint from Carmel. Jezebel would have been especially familiar with the terrain, since she had a rather speedy and permanent encounter with it (II Kings 9:30-37).

Ahab Jezebel Jezreel Naboth Vineyard

View from Jezreel

We were fortunate to be able to cross over into the West Bank, as well. That was quite exciting. We stopped by the ancient site of Samaria first. When you stand on the hill and look around, Amos’ prophesy comes to mind–that Israel’s enemies would gather on the mountains to watch Samaria fall. It is actually nestled in the middle of an enormous natural theater, and on a terrible stage. Assyria destroyed Samaria and conquered the kingdom in 721 BC.

Samaria Destruction Amos Prophesy

Samaria Is the Stage of a Natural Theater

Jacob’s Well was our last stop today, housed inside an exuberantly flamboyant Greek Orthodox building. It was at a well like this that Jesus would have sat and conversed with the Samaritan woman about a water she could taste that would cause her to never thirst again.

Jacob Well Samaria

Jacob’s Well

Our evening ended in Jerusalem, and so we hope to have more experiences to share tomorrow.