Any Excuse to Travel

The oldest city in the world

Billed as the oldest city in the world, Jericho was one of the few places that saw little action during the two intifadas (Palestinian uprisings, 1987-1993 and 2000-2005)  As a result, the Israeli presence is notable by its absence.  Translated by the Canaanites as the Moon, in Syriac the name Jericho meant scent and odour. Today, the city is known as both The City of Palm and The Garden of God. Ruins discovered here date back 10,000 years, depending on whom you listen to.

I’m a little annoyed at myself that I didn’t find the sycamore tree which the tax collector Zacchaeus climbed to get a better look at Jesus when he entered the city. But then, that’s always a reason to go back.

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We visited the city to see the Monastery of the Temptation perched on the side of the Mount of Temptation. This particular Greek Orthodox Monastery allows women in … which was a relief.

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To conserve time rather than energy, we opted for the 5-minute cable car ride rather than the 30-minute hike up a steep path. The monastery is built over the cave in which Jesus is supposed to have spent his 40 days and 40 nights being tempted by the devil. The cave is tiny – with barely room to stand up inside. The hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who have trooped through it have left their mark. It was mentioned as far back as 326 when Helena of Constantinople identified it as one of the holy sites she visited on her pilgrimage that year and the present monastery was built at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Interestingly, it was the first holy place that actually felt any way holy. I touched the actual rock on which Jesus is supposed to have sat during his fast and wondered, not for the first time, why we are so obsessed with tangible things. Why do we need rocks and relics and statues and churches? Why isn’t it simply enough to be in the place that it all supposedly happened, to commune with spirit that’s present, to soak up the memories and take time to reflect on what has been.

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I’m as guilty as anyone of taking photos and perhaps not spending more time in silent contemplation, but this monastery, like so many other places I visited, didn’t allow time for rumination. It’s like being on conveyor belt – with priests pulling you in one end and pushing you out the other. And yet perhaps because of its situation, perched as it is on the side of a mountain, this monastery felt just a little closer to heaven, to what I had expected of the Holy Land.

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8 responses

  1. Several thoughts: 1. I always thought Ur was the oldest city, figuring in novels of gods and pagan altars. It seems a lot depends on your definition of ‘city’ as opposed to ‘settlement’, but then again, how will we ever know? 🙂 2. Your comments about the need to anchor our ideals to tangible objects or places resonates with me. How can we imbue objects we have never held with history we have never seen? It’s not like a keepsake or memory, it is almost a fantasy. 3. The most ‘sacred place’ I have ever been is the hypogeum in Malta…. which you barely mention in http://stolenchild66.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/chapel-chasing/ Interesting to see what strikes us strongly and what doesn’t…

  2. I was going to ask if any of the sites that you had visited, on your trip to the Holy Land, had felt sacred or spiritual rather than ‘historical’ ……….but ginger beat me to it!
    I have to say that whilst I have loved seeing the pictures of the sites and reading the stories, I have been dissapointed………..I naively expected them to have some ‘all singing all dancing’ quality to them…..even after 2000+ years! It amuses me to think that the long forgotten religions of Egypt are still celebrated by stunning structures whilst the cradle of Christianity appears to be something of a damp squid……….perhaps that is what it is all about, Christianity dosn’t need them to be………

    Ps You have been traveling through one of the worlds major conflict zones……….did you feel threated? Did you gain an impression of how the Israelis and Palestinians really live together?

    1. Haven’t finished yet Peter… have a few more posts to do and the final in the series will be a recap on my thoughts on the P&I situation… keep reading 🙂

    2. Peter (and Mary), how about the ‘sanctity’ and personal/historical essence of wine, in Canaan (where Jesus turned water in to wine) of all places! A 1700 B.C. wine cellar, with the remains of 40 three-foot tall ceramic wine jars was found this past summer as part of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/science/in-ruins-of-palace-a-wine-with-hints-of-cinnamon-and-top-notes-of-antiquity.html?_r=0 ?

      1. Ginger……….I like that idea, one for the Israeli tourist board ………a guarantee that visitors to that site will (after having sampled expensive replicas of the original wine) enjoy a ‘spiritual’ experience at a ‘sacred’ site that Jesus was known to frequent! Your imagination begins to run wild about how they could sell the ‘spot’ where John the Baptist fully immersed Jesus in the river………..:-)

        1. But which spot, Peter…. first they’d have to agree on that… would be interesting to make up a new site where someone supposedly did something and see how long it would take to catch on as a pilgrimage spot…

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8 responses

  1. Several thoughts: 1. I always thought Ur was the oldest city, figuring in novels of gods and pagan altars. It seems a lot depends on your definition of ‘city’ as opposed to ‘settlement’, but then again, how will we ever know? 🙂 2. Your comments about the need to anchor our ideals to tangible objects or places resonates with me. How can we imbue objects we have never held with history we have never seen? It’s not like a keepsake or memory, it is almost a fantasy. 3. The most ‘sacred place’ I have ever been is the hypogeum in Malta…. which you barely mention in http://stolenchild66.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/chapel-chasing/ Interesting to see what strikes us strongly and what doesn’t…

  2. I was going to ask if any of the sites that you had visited, on your trip to the Holy Land, had felt sacred or spiritual rather than ‘historical’ ……….but ginger beat me to it!
    I have to say that whilst I have loved seeing the pictures of the sites and reading the stories, I have been dissapointed………..I naively expected them to have some ‘all singing all dancing’ quality to them…..even after 2000+ years! It amuses me to think that the long forgotten religions of Egypt are still celebrated by stunning structures whilst the cradle of Christianity appears to be something of a damp squid……….perhaps that is what it is all about, Christianity dosn’t need them to be………

    Ps You have been traveling through one of the worlds major conflict zones……….did you feel threated? Did you gain an impression of how the Israelis and Palestinians really live together?

    1. Haven’t finished yet Peter… have a few more posts to do and the final in the series will be a recap on my thoughts on the P&I situation… keep reading 🙂

    2. Peter (and Mary), how about the ‘sanctity’ and personal/historical essence of wine, in Canaan (where Jesus turned water in to wine) of all places! A 1700 B.C. wine cellar, with the remains of 40 three-foot tall ceramic wine jars was found this past summer as part of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/science/in-ruins-of-palace-a-wine-with-hints-of-cinnamon-and-top-notes-of-antiquity.html?_r=0 ?

      1. Ginger……….I like that idea, one for the Israeli tourist board ………a guarantee that visitors to that site will (after having sampled expensive replicas of the original wine) enjoy a ‘spiritual’ experience at a ‘sacred’ site that Jesus was known to frequent! Your imagination begins to run wild about how they could sell the ‘spot’ where John the Baptist fully immersed Jesus in the river………..:-)

        1. But which spot, Peter…. first they’d have to agree on that… would be interesting to make up a new site where someone supposedly did something and see how long it would take to catch on as a pilgrimage spot…

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