Today is a cloudy day in Jerusalem. I am sitting in my favorite off-campus area to study, a small coffee shop adjacent to Dormition Abbey, a beautiful structure built by the Germans at the turn of the 20th century. It's a good example of the kind of diversity I've discovered in Jerusalem -- who would have guessed that I would find myself frequenting a German-run coffeeshop that plays Beatles music five minutes from my college in Jerusalem? I certainly didn't expect it! This place is like a mosaic, they say, and it's true -- each little piece of a mosaic is purely one color, but contributes to a larger colorful and diverse image. Jerusalem is like a living mosaic, with lots of little contributing pieces.
What I want to share today is how I spent last weekend: on a field study for my Physical Settings class, we traveled to Herodium, King Herod's magnificent hilltop "fortress palace" that he constructed to impress the Romans (and to create a perpetual commemoration of himself). After Rome laid claim to the area of Judea (63 BC), Herod apparently got right to work trying to make a good impression. When the Roman emperor's son, Marcus Agrippus, paid him a visit to check out the province, Herod had a lot to show him. Here's a picture from our day at Herodium:
Wow. I learned that this structure used to be several stories high, and included a bathhouse, a central living space, frescoed staircases, gardens, towers... It was an architectural masterpiece. I can't imagine the kind of work that must have gone into a project like this in the first century B.C.
The view from atop Herodian was breathtaking. We had a beautiful warm, sunny, breezy, and mostly clear day. Here's a picture I took, looking east:
I could have sat on the top of that hill for hours. The warm Israeli sun and soft breeze balanced one another perfectly, and we were so high up that all we could hear was one another's voices and an occasional sound from the small towns below -- bells from cattle and sheep going out to graze, or occasional vehicles making their way slowly along the road. The expanse of chalky-looking desert beyond is the Judean wilderness, a sight that I never got tired of gazing at. Dry, hot, and desolate, but somehow very beautiful. Beyond the wilderness, you can just make out the Dead Sea and the plateaus beyond it.
The way the make-up of the land shifts is incredible here. The greener foreground in the photo is the very outer edge of a harder limestone base -- one that holds water and therefore supports vegetation and life. Beyond that, the desert's base is a softer dry chalk that doesn't hold water; the only water sources in the wilderness are dry stream beds (wadis) that filter rainwater down to the Dead Sea, and occasional small springs. From this spot on Herodium, my class and professor read Psalm 23 aloud together; David, as a shepherd, would have known this kind of land very well:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul...
Only a few lines into the psalm, we have a lot to think about! Green pastures: where? Closer to Bethlehem, where David lived, there certainly were green pastures, but I learned that in the winter when the ground was being plowed for crops, shepherds had to take their sheep out toward the wilderness area to graze on whatever scrub or brush they could find. Wow! David must have known how tricky it was the find good green pastures, how precious it was to find "quiet waters" in these desolate canyons, and how dedicated a good shepherd had to be to supply these things for his sheep...
Here's a picture of a wadi that a group of us hiked on Sunday (it was amazing! This is Wadi Arugot by the Dead Sea) -- steep chalky canyon walls, with a little stream of water running through the bottom. We followed the wadi upstream to some small waterfalls and even found a little spring feeding into the wadi! It was beautiful -- pure, flowing, refreshing, living water. What a treasure. Moments like that have helped me connect to the characters in the Bible better as actual people (David, for example), beyond their recorded names in history. It's like getting to know family members better -- long lost relatives, I suppose...
Well, I'll stop here for now. When I blog, it's difficult for me to decide what to share. My mind is often overwhelmed (in a good way, but nonetheless overwhelmed) with all the academic, spiritual, cultural, relational, and other experiences that I'm having here... I only hope that what I choose to share somehow blesses others as it has blessed me.