A couple of days ago, I kissed my fiancée goodbye, boarded a plane in Philadelphia, and began the nearly 24-hour process of traveling to the Middle East for a two-week long trip to Israel and Palestine. Today was Day 1 (I’m 7 hours ahead, so while I’m about to go to bed, most of my readers are probably getting this in the afternoon).
I’m part of a team of students in my seminary program who are engaging in this Intercultural Immersion trip, where we will be spending time throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Anyway, I’m sitting here at the end of the first day. I’m exhausted physically, as well as emotionally. I had no idea just how disconnected my religious faith has been to the real world. I love historical things and enjoy walking in others’ footsteps and inhabiting their space once more. And yet, for the most important part of me, I have never had any material interaction with the physical, tangible stuff of my faith’s own story.
I realized today that I have learned to live my Christian life in such a way that I have no mental frameworks for how I’m processing this. I took for granted that I could have a thriving, deep, spiritual existence without having seen and walked the lands and places from which the beliefs were born. And yes, we can have such thriving spiritual lives without visiting this land.
But (to overuse a phrase people use all the time when they come back from this region), I feel like the Bible has transitioned from a silent, black-and-white movie, to a full HD Imax one. It’s crazy. I’m still processing it all. It’s surreal, to say the least.
Anyway, every day’s itinerary is inhumanly packed. It’s Day 1, and I feel like I’ve nearly got my money’s worth already. I want to give regular updates of what’s going on, as I wish I could share this with so many of you. So here’s what happened today.
This is the site of the ruins of a Roman harbor on the Mediterranean sea, built by Herod the Great. We know Pontius Pilate, Paul, and Cornelius, the first fully non-Jewish Christian hung out here. If Paul died in the imprisonment that we read about at the end of the book of Acts, then this place would have been the last spot in Israel he ever was. This is where he had his argument with Festus in Acts 25-26. The sickness which killed Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12) struck him while standing in the stunning amphitheater which still stands.
This is typical of an ancient city (please zoom in on that picture!). When one settlement is destroyed, the conquerors flatten out the city and build a new one on top. Over time, this raises the city higher and higher until it’s like a little mountain. Megiddo has the remnants of at least 32 different civilizations within the archaeological layers of this one site, going back nearly 5 millennia! They unearthed, a Pre-Israelite Canaanite sacrificial altar, which was so incredible to see.
Also, according to the Revelation of John, the valley at the foot of this settlement is where the world’s final battle “Armageddon” takes place. This single valley has had more battles fought on it over the millennia more than any other stretch of earth on the planet. Everyone from King Tut to the Iraqis in 1948 have fought in this valley. It’s a huge plain, that also gives one such a stunning view of the landscape. A survey of the mountain ranges and settlements in the distance is like a hall of fame of biblical sites—all seen from one spot on one hill in Israel-Palestine.
This was an interesting trip. Mount Carmel doesn’t feature much into the Bible; mainly in the stories of Elijah and Elisha, the prophets. It’s where the story with a battle against the prophets of Ba’al happens (1 Kings 18-19), among a few other minor things. But, this mountain (which we hiked for 4 hours or so) has on it so much that is vivid within the Hebrew imagination. Olive trees dot the landscape, acting as a light to the world in their post-harvest silvery glow. New olive shoots were coming out of barren trunks. We saw a barren fig tree, farmland, pasturing, and some stunning views of the countryside.