Day 5: Bethlehem and the Passion Week

Well the last few days have been crazy and have not included much internet access. We started out our day at a high rise view of the Temple Mount from the top of the Palm Sunday Road. We then worked our way do the Palm Sunday Road until we got to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a beautiful place filled with olive trees. Our tour guide told us an interesting thing about olive trees. Apparently, they live for about 60 or 80 years then die and lose all their branches and leaves. Yet then after about 50 years new olive branches spring out of the dead trunks. The olive trees resurrect from death. They also found that about six of the trees in the garden presently are more than 2,000 years old which means they were there on that fateful night. Next to the Garden stands the Church of All Nations, which (according to tradition) contains the rock on which Jesus prayed to the Father. It was a very dark church to give the effect of night time.

Some early Messianic (or Christian) coffins were found near the Palm Sunday Road. They were from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. One night a while back a Canadian stole a few of the coffins (they are very small coffins because they only contain certain bones of the people as in Jewish custom). After he got into Canada, he found that one of the coffins was inscribed saying, Ya’aqov bar Yosef akhui Yeshua’ (“James son of Joseph brother of Jesus”). It cannot be tested for sure if it was authentic or not because of tampering done by the thief, yet recently experts believe it is authentic.

Then the group traveled to the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest where Jesus was kept overnight after being arrested. It was marked by the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. Many ruins were found underneath included a cistern in which they believe Jesus may have been kept. It was a solemn moment spent in that cistern imagining what it was like for Christ. We could not go to the Temple Mount because it was a Muslim holiday and so only Muslims were allowed for the day, but it did open up the streets a little because the Muslim Quarters was not as crowded as usual.

We then went through the tradition path of Christ on his way to Golgotha. It started at the uncovered place where Jesus was taken before Pilate. We then walked down the Via Delarosa until we got to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was an experience I will never forget because it was INSANE! The many different groups such as Catholic and Orthodox literally fought over this church so they ended up splitting it up in weird sections. There were so many people but I think the funniest thing is that Church is actually owned by a Muslim, whose family was given the location by Saladin centuries ago.

To finish the day, we got back on the bus and headed into Bethlehem in the West Bank. There we visited the Church of the Nativity which had an interesting door. The door (called the Door of Humility) was made small so that every person has be bow as they enter. Afterwards we went to the Christian store in Bethlehem. There used to be a huge community of Christians in the town but after a huge decrease in tourism from 2000-2008 because of conflict many people had to leave. Now only 20% of Bethlehem is Christian.


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