Sunsets on the Mediterranean

Well, friends and family (Hiebert clan, we’re looking in your direction), we made it to Nethana on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We made our last 2 visits and then headed down to our hotel. We finally have awesome internet. Go figure. We just finished dinner and our final meeting complete with communion and now we are all coping in various ways with the impending flights coming our way. It’s about 9pm here and at 1:30am, we’ll be heading down to Tel Aviv for our flight to Frankfurt and then on to Chicago. My roommate and I are prepping for the flight by napping and watching the Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber MTV Israel marathon on cable. Apparently they are still mourning that breakup. But on to more important things.

This morning we began with a visit to Mt. Caramel to the most incredible and breathtaking views.

Paula reading to the class.

Paula reading to the class from the top of Mt. Caramel.

Just after sunrise on a crisp morning on the mountain.

Just after sunrise on a crisp morning on the mountain.

Then we headed over to our final site, Caesarea. This is the site where Herod built an incredible port to impress the Romans. While he impressed them, it didn’t do him much good in the long-run. But we do have some incredible remains to check out.

The theatre at Caesera.

The theatre at Caesarea.

Where Herod's lower temple would have been located in the water (apparently there was a upper one too!).

Where Herod’s lower temple would have been located in the water (apparently there was a upper one too!).

If you aren't jealous of this sunset, then you aren't really paying attention.

If you aren’t jealous of this sunset, then you aren’t really paying attention.

And that brings us here, to our hotel, on the eve of our departure. Right now our biggest issues will be how to get all of our goodies back to the States, but we’ll figure it out somehow. So, this is the end of our blog. At this point, its up to you, our wonderful readers, to check in with your loved ones who went on the trip and ask them lots of questions, insist on a slideshow, and to revel in your gifts from the Holy Land. See you in the States!

Lord of the Armageddon

Hi everyone!

We are slowly wrapping up here in Nazareth after some wonderful time checking out archeological sites and seeing the city. Now, some of you might think that we went to look at a bunch of really old rocks, and that is accurate. But, let’s not forget their significance for civilization as we know it. It’s easy to gloss over that sometimes.

Last time we checked in we were sailing along on the Sea of Galilee. So, let’s begin with Monday and work our way up until today, Wednesday.

We made our way to the Northern Galilee area where we visited places like Tabgha, Dan, and Hazor. At Tabga we saw the Church of the Multiplication which houses the famous mosaic of the 2 fish and 4 loaves under the altar of the church. Interesting facts about this mosaic: notice it only has 4 loaves in the basket. Guess where the 5th one is? (If you said on the altar, you were correct!) The fifth loaf is located on the altar for communion. Also, this and the mosaics throughout the church are the oldest Christian mosaics in the Holy Land.

The mosaic of the Loaves and Fish at the Church of the Multiplication.

The mosaic of the Loaves and Fish at the Church of the Multiplication.

Then we saw the most amazing ruins made of sun-dried bricks of mud at Dan along with some incredible Solominic gates.

Super ancient ruins at Dan!

Super ancient ruins at Dan!

Next we made our way over to the worship area of the god Pan.

Cave of Pan

Cave of Pan

Then we headed over to Zippori for some cave fun!

Caves at Zippori.

Caves at Zippori.

After our caving expedition, we then got to see the most amazing preserved mosaics, as well as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee.

The Mona Lisa of Galilee.

The Mona Lisa of Galilee.

After this we made our way to the Ibilin Church at the Mar Elias School which is a private high school for youth of any religion to come to.

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We spent our afternoon in Nazareth Village, seeing a real olive press and petting sheep. Ask us about that one later.

Today we made our way to Megiddo, which is where the Armageddon battle is predicted to be fought in the Book of Revelations. It has been destroyed and rebuilt 25 times.

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After a morning of archeological instruction at the future site of the Armageddon, we made a day of relaxing and shopping after visiting the church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. So, here we find ourselves, Wednesday evening, getting ready for tomorrow’s visit to Mt. Caramel and then to the Mediterranean Sea for some relaxation before packing one last time and heading to our overnight flight back home.

That’s all we have for now. We’ll try to check in tomorrow before flying out, but no promises. If not, we’ll see you in the states. It’s been a wild ride and we are worn out, but it has been worth it. There’s more than we have given you here, so be sure to hit up your local seminarian, board member, staff or faculty member and find out more about our adventures. I promise, the stories ¬†get better!

Good night!

Driving Across New Jersey

Good evening from Nazareth!

I know, you’re all wondering, “where on earth have you all been?” We ask ourselves that several times a day. Mainly because we’ve done so much. Since we didn’t have internet in Bethlehem, let’s get everyone caught up, shall we?

The last time we spoke, we were visiting museums. Let’s go south now. Remember, Israel and Palestine combined are about the size of New Jersey. We went from Jerusalem South into Lachish and saw an ancient stone ramp and then headed down to Beersheba and saw the well that Abraham built. Afterwards, we went and met in the town of Omar with Hagit Beck, a Jewish human rights activist with groups such as Women in Black and Maschom Watch. Then we made our way for the night up to the North to our hotel in Bethlehem. And yes, there was plenty of room at our inn. We called ahead. Modern technology.

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Students were pretty excited.

On Thursday, we had a West Bank day visiting Hebron and the tombs of the patriarchs: Abraham, Sarah, Leah, Rebecca, Isaac, and Jacob. Then on to the Christian Peacemakers, and then had an interesting and enlightening conversation with Ardie, a settler in the settlement of Efrat who is originally from Chicago. Afterwards we met with Imam Maher Assaf from Bethlehem who gave us a wonderful talk on the things he is doing to bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians in his community.

The Tomb of Leah.

The Tomb of Leah.

The tomb of Abraham.

The tomb of Abraham.

Friday, we had a heavy day. First, we began with the Church of the Nativity to see the cave where Jesus was supposedly born. Yes, Jesus was not born in a manger, but an actual cave. It was common to build your house with a cave in those days. Next, we made our way over to the Aida Refugee Camp and met with refugees there to hear their story of displacement and diaspora.

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The key of return. All of the people in this camp were only able to take themselves, some clothes, and the keys to their houses when they left their homes. 5 generations later, they still hold on to those keys in hopes of returning.

Next, we made our way to Bethlehem University and met with Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, and then a lawyer with the Catholic Society of St. Yves on family unification and the difficult process of reunifying families that have literally been broken apart because of boundary lines and giant walls. We also made a stop into the Hebron glass factory for some handmade ceramics and blown glass.

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Yesterday, we made our way north through the West Bank visiting Nablus, Samaria, and visiting with Jean Zaru, a Quaker activist and womanist scholar fighting for women’s rights.

Jean Zaru.

Jean Zaru.

Today we visited the Sea of Galilee (really a lake), the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and hung out in a First Century Boat. We also got to have worship together while on the boat. Anthony and Jay led us in an ecumenical and contemplative worship service.

The whole gang on the Sea of Galilee!

The whole gang on the Sea of Galilee!

Paula reading to us.

Paula reading the story of Peter’s denial and then Jesus’s instructions three times to “feed my sheep” to us.

So, now you are as up to speed as we are. Now that we have Wifi in Jesus’ home city, we’ll be broadcasting until we land safely in back home!

Ted looking contemplative on the Sea of Galilee.

Ted looking contemplative on the Sea of Galilee.

Honestly, at this point, we’re pretty wiped. Days are starting to run together as far as when we went somewhere or talked to someone. So apologies if your seminarian comes home and declares something different on the timeline. But for now, we’re having a blast and looking forward to tomorrow!

From Bethlehem to Nazareth

Sorry for the absence friends. We were hoping for better internet in Jesus’ birthplace, but alas, the Inn doesn’t get great reception. But we wanted to make sure and let everyone know we are doing great and that we are heading from Bethlehem to Nazareth this morning with our group and guide, Jorje (George). So, friends and family, if you’re wondering, yes, we’ve bought you lots of gifts and are attempting to figure out how to pack them without breaking them.

Sorry, no pictures as the internet won’t let us upload anything past a quick message. We’ll upload more as we can!

No Flash Photography

I know, you love the camel, right?! Let me confirm some of those rumors you always hear about camels. Yes, they are smelly. Incredibly. But if you were a large, hairy animal with poor teeth (as seen above), you’d be pretty stinky too. And, yes, they spit and growl. But they will let you ride them as some of our students found out.

Now that we’re all caught up, we’re going to try and stay on track, but no promises. Tomorrow morning (Wednesday), we leave for Bethlehem. And there’s no telling what the WiFi there will be, so don’t get too hopeful here. That’s enough about tomorrow, let’s recap today.

Today was a museum-based day. We spent most of our time at various museums in West Jerusalem, hence the reason there aren’t many pictures. Turns out, when it comes to rare artifacts and parchments, they don’t like you taking photos. So, you won’t see as many here. My apologies. But we’ll try to be as descriptive as possible.

Our first museum was the Israel Museum. This is where some of the Dead Sea Scroll stuff hangs out. The most impressive thing (well, at least according to my standards), was the building that was created as a reminder of the scrolls and the light and dark contrast that the Essenes (the gentlemen who wrote said scrolls) believed in. Oh, and we saw an incredible 1:50 model of the city of Jerusalem when the temple would have been around.

The tiny city of Jerusalem from Biblical times.

The tiny city of Jerusalem from Biblical times.

On to the light/darkness part. Now, when the Essenes were around, they considered themselves as light in the world and all others were in darkness. The Essenes were Jews who were ultra pious; they ritually bathed several times a day, lived in the wilderness, and etc. Remember, John the Baptist is thought to have been one of these for a while. When they made their jars for the scrolls to be stored in, they had these long tall jars with these domes on top, just like the dome at the museum (you’ll see what I mean down below). The dome at the museum covers the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls and opposite it (not pictured) is a black stone wall representing the Essenes against the world. To make it even cooler, there is a constant spray of water on the dome to represent the continuous ritual cleansing that they were doing multiple times a day. Now, if you’re confused, this is the part where you find your local McCormick student who was on this trip, and you quiz them about this. That might help.

The dome covering the display in the building made to look like the top of a  jar containing scrolls.

The dome covering the display in the building made to look like the top of a jar containing scrolls.

After this, we headed over to the Bible Lands Museum, a private collection that has been turned into a museum. Sadly, no pictures were allowed to be taken. But it was cool, just trust us. There were two bibles there that were deemed as “unusable” from after the time of the printing press. One was called the “cannibal bible.” In Deuteronomy 24:3, it changed the world ‘hate’ to ‘ate’, therefore making a man eat his wife.

“And if the latter husband [h]ate her, and write her a bill of divorcement…”

The other Bible that was considered to be out of commission was one that was simply lacking a comma, making Jesus something not so nice. The power of the comma, kids.

The third museum we moved on to was the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Essentially, it was build as a line that is broken, like the story of the Jewish people by the Holocaust, but eventually leads the viewer outside to a spectacular view of Jerusalem, the outcome for the Jews after their suffering.

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The view out onto West Jerusalem.

After our Holocaust visit, we made our way to Rabbis for Human Rights where we heard from a self-proclaimed Zionist rabbi who is head of a group seeking to ensure that whoever is living in the Jewish state is treated with the same respect and dignity as the Jews themselves. With Rabbi Abraham Heschel as their model, they seek justice for all and believe that “where some are guilty, all are responsible.”

Rabbis for Human Rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights.

Well, friends, that’s it for now. We’re heading to bed and getting ready to head to Bethlehem in the morning. We’ll check in again soon!

Catch up time!

Greetings friends. We apologize for the tardiness here. The Wifi is not what one would hope for, but we have it for now so we’re going to try and catch you all up on what’s going on with us! Let’s begin with Sunday.

Sunday was incredible. First we visited the Haram, a large complex located within the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. First, we were granted access to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, not something most outsiders, let alone Christians from the states, are allowed to do. It was incredible. After that, we were ushered over to the Dome of the Rock for a visit inside. These few sentences don’t do justice to the wonderful time we had and the incredibly beautiful places we were privileged to visit.

Course-Mates outside of the Dome of the Rock.

Course-Mates outside of the Dome of the Rock.

After our visits, we headed outside of the Old city to the St. George’s Anglican Church where we were welcomed with open arms and with an affirmation of our baptisms. Next, we headed over to Al-Quds University for a lecture from Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway. We were able to hear his incredible story of what his life as a Palestinian Muslim has been like under occupation for almost his entire life. He is also connected with one of our neighbor seminaries, Catholic Theological Union.

Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway from Al-Quds University.

Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway from Al-Quds University.

Now on to Monday!

We started the morning off with a pretty fun visit at the Mount of Olives to enjoy the view.

Our view from the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

Our view from the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

Next we headed down to the Siloam tunnel where several of us went through the old water tunnel that was built by the Cannanites to bring water into the city before David was king.

Students Katie, Shawna, D'Angelo, Jay, Maura, Shelley, and Alicia wading in the water all the way through!

Students Katie, Shawna, D’Angelo, Jay, Maura, Shelley, and Alicia wading in the water all the way through!

Next we headed over to the Church at the Garden at Gethsemane. It wasn’t quite what most of us expected, but it was beautiful and the grounds were filled with beautiful, old, olive trees. Next we went to possibly the best restaurant in the Middle East (we don’t know this really, but we suspect). This great place in Palestine’s West Bank right by the Shepherd’s Field (the Catholic one). I highly recommend it for the best falafel around.

Lastly, we had quite the afternoon talking with a young woman from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. She gave us quite the tour and helped give context to the things we were seeing. Also, she had great maps. We were able to truly see the living areas of those outside of the wall.

Outside the wall.

Outside the wall.

Overall, these last 2 days have brought up some serious questions and feelings about all we have seen, have yet to see, and what our role is as American Christians. Now that you’re all caught up with us, we’re going to get some well deserved shut eye before hitting up the museums tomorrow and then an afternoon lecture!

Also, just in case you were wondering, the weather here is fabulous. Sunny, warmish and cool. You know you are jealous.

McCormick Floats

Day 2 was a much different tone from Day 1 here. We relaxed more and took our time outside. While we explored the modern-day Old City, we focused on the ancient Biblical history on this excursion.

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Floating in the Dead Sea.

This wasn’t our first stoop of the day, but it sure was the most entertaining for many of us. Just in case you didn’t know, you can’t swim in the Dead Sea. You can only float. Try turning over on your belly, and it won’t work so well. Also, don’t drink the water. The salt content is 30%; in sea water it’s only 3%. So, if you were thinking of taking a sip, don’t. Also, the med of the Dead Sea is incredible for your skin. Many folks were covered in the dark mud from head to toe most of the time. Another interesting fact about the Dead sea, it’s dying. Literally. With the cutting off of the Jordan river to provide water for people moving in, it depletes the level of the sea. So, one day not too far int he future, there won’t be a Dead sea. And last but not least, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at around 1,400 below sea level. The weather was mild and the water warm and we had a blast.

Before our excursion into the Dead sea, we took our first stop down at En Gedi, our Southernmost stop for the day. It’s the place where David hid from Saul in Biblical history. We encountered possibly what David would have encountered, small beaver-like animals called a hyrax. They appeared quite ready for photos, even posing for a few for us.

They Hyrex are actually not rodents, but their closest know relative is the elephant.

They Hyrex are actually not rodents, but their closest know relative is the elephant.

After our encounter with these strange furry animals, we made our way to the waterfalls. Maybe the very same one that David encountered.

The first and smaller waterfall on our walk.

The first and smaller waterfall on our walk.

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Waterfall no. 2.

Hiking up to the larger waterfall.

Hiking up to the larger waterfall.

After our trip to En Gedi, we made our way over to the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or at least where they were found.

Cave no. 4 where the entire book of Isaiah was found hidden away, possibly from invading Romans.

Cave no. 4 where the entire book of Isaiah was found hidden away, possibly from invading Romans.

Our last stop before heading back to our lodging was to stop in at Jericho. Bet you didn’t know it was considered a vacation spot for those with a little extra cash? It is a lush area fed by springs and has incredible dates. We stopped in at a Bronze Age city that was discovered by an archeologist named Kenya. Did you also know that archeologists never uncover everything they find. For instance, only part of this civilization was unearthed, on purpose. This way, in case new techniques are discovered that are better for the remains, later archeologists can use those to improve the quality of the dig.

The site of a Bronze Age civilization found in Jericho, the oldest civilization known to humans.

The site of a Bronze Age civilization found in Jericho, the oldest civilization known to humans.

And in case you needed anything else to interest you, remember that song from when you were a kid?

Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he,

He climbed up in a sycamore tree to for the Lord he wanted to see,

And when the Savior passed that way he looked up in the tree and said,

“Zacchaeus, you come down!

For I’m goin’ to your house today!

For I’m goin’ to your house today!”

A sycamore tree as found in Jericho. Just imagine a tiny tax collector perched on a limb.

A sycamore tree as found in Jericho. Just imagine a tiny tax collector perched on a limb.

And with that, we are off to our next day of adventure!