How accessible are Biblical Sites from a 1952 Holy Bible ?
It’s Palm Sunday, and I am interrupting the current Far East Reminiscing. While leafing through my bible, I wondered how accessible are Biblical Sites at present – aside from the pandemic situation?
As we’re well into a “third” wave here in Germany with a moderate-strict lockdown and the government contemplating an even harder lockdown in view of rising infections, I am still grounded at home when I am not at work. After a cancelled trip to the Holy Land a year ago, it is very high on my wish list but far from reality right now. So, as I went to read some passages in my “household” Holy Bible, a New Revised Edition of 1952 bough tin a charity shop, I looked at the ancient-looking photographs, wondering what has become of these sites in nearly 70 years. What is their significance in the bible? Moreover, can you visit them?
How accessible are Biblical Sites – The Small Print
I will refer to picture plates in the New Revised Edition of the Holy Bible, which was printed in large numbers and may be present in many households. There are hundreds more sites in the Holy Land, and I appreciate some may have greater significance thean the ones mentioned here. I also appreciate some of these sites are revered in Judaism and Islam, but I lack the knowledge to go into detail and am still confused as to which sources provide a relatively unbiased view on them.
So, much of what is written here comes from my personal and Christian view point, but it does not mean I wish to ignore the significance these sight may have to believers of other faiths. Believing in a religion to me is a free act of will. I fundamentally believe in that everyone has a right to believe in what they choose, including religion – or the absence of higher powers. Please respect that.
This may be a sensitive subject, so please let me know if there is a better way to portray specific issues – I will happily revise. I also have not been to many of these sites, so some pictures are taken from Creative Commons Sources and are referenced accordingly. All names are either in original transliteration or anglicised and territories named according to the Oslo Accords.
The Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Palestine
The introductory photo opposite the title plate shows a rather bucolic view of the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives gets a lot of mention in the NEw Testament and is a station on the route to BEthany and also a place where JEsus Christ spent time teaching his disciples, as well as standing weeping over Jerusalem an event know as “Flevit super illam”, foreseeing the suffering awaiting Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
Today, the Mount of Olives os covered in large swathes by a Jewish cemetery, the Chapel of the Ascension and several Orthodox and Catholic churches. It is also a great viewpoint. I found the Mount of Olives a very easy site to visit in 2017, at times of relative peace. I took a bus from near Damascus Gate, which took about ten minutes, then walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Sunken Port, Caesarea, Israel
Caesarea Maritima was built by King Herod, a prolific builder, and was an important seaport city during the life time of Jesus Christ and the centuries that followed.
It is also the site from there the Apostle Paul set forth on his many journeys and where Peter baptised the Centurion Cornelius (Acts of the Apostles 9:30, 23:23-35 and others).
Today, Casesarea is an open air museum housing one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres, so well preserved that in fact, it is used as a concert venue during the summer. Fun fact: Morrissey played two gigs during his last 2016 world tour there. It is easily accessible by road from Tel Aviv and Haifa, not so easily on public transport – few km walk from any Tel-Aviv-Haifa bus involved.
Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, Palestine/Israel
The Via Dolorosa is an ancient procession route first coined in Renaissance by Bonifacius of Ragusa and contained four stations. The Franciscan Order developed the route as a procession route mainly for European pilgrims over the centuries that followed and now contains 14 stations, starting at the site of the former Roman Fortress Antonia (now a Muslim school) and culminating in the Hill of Golgotha inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ( John 19:1-16 and the Synoptical Gospels) .
The Via Dolorosa is firmly on the itinerary of Christian pilgrims from all over the world,and right in the centre of Old Jerusalem. It can therefore get quite busy. The Lions Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem makes a good starting point, leading you through a more mixed Muslim and Christian part commercial part religious neighbourhood with a mix of souvenir and antique shops and Christian convents through the bustling Arab market to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a very easy walk on flat even terrain, wheelchair-friendly in most parts and easily done in a morning if you spend little time in each of the stations. I found early morning the least busy time. While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre opens super early and closes late, many other sites may have more restricted opening hours.
I have written a separate post on visiting the Via Dolorosa a few years ago, with lots more practical advice, which you can find here.
Ancient Tyre, Lebanon
Tyre is a coastal city of Southern Lebanon of Phoenician origins. It was very wealthy due to trade and fabrication of dye, and is mentioned in the Old Testament where Ezekiel prophecised that Tyre would fall on hard times and be destroyed (Ezekiel 26:3-12)
I visited Tyre in 2001 and found a pleasant breezy mostly Muslim city with welcoming people and almost zero foreign visitors – it was two months after 9-11, after all. There are almost no Phoenician ruins left, but some impressive Roman ruins that you’ll likely to have to yourself. We had a car in Lebanon, but I understand there are frequent buses from Beirut. Nore that you are not permitted to enter Lebanon with an Israel passport stamp and, although Tyre is just 20km from the Israeli border, the borders are closed.
Site of the Sermon of the Mount, Israel
The site of the Sermon of the Mount, or the Mount of Beatitudes is a hillside on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ is believed to have held his Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12) . here are other contenders for that honor, including the nearby Mound of Attin or the Horns of Hattin, all close by in the Galilee Region, and due to the Sea of Galilee well below sea level, one of the lowest peaks in the world (25m). The Catholic Chapel on site is a fairly recent addition, having been built in the 1930’s only when the site also became a popular spot due to the views of the Sea of Galilee.
It is not easy to visit independently. In fact the site is said to be quite overrun by tour groups visiting the Galilee biblical sites, and Tiberias is not said to be the most attractive city of the Holy Land. However, Israel being a country with amazingly organised public transport, there is a way to visit: Either from Haifa Merkazit Hamifrats Bus Station by public bus via Tiberias. This will take you as far as the Sites on the Sea of Galilee and it’s a pleasant hike form there.
Also, consider staying a night in beautiful Safed (Tzfat in Hebrew, frequent buses from Haifa and Nazareth) , especially if you are interested in Jewish history or art, then take a bus from there taking you directly to the Mount (Ha’Osher in Hebrew) and continue to Tiberias and from there on to Nazareth.
Market in Nazareth, Israel
And on to Nazareth…the hometown of Jesus Christ. Today, it is a large city whose inhabitants are mainly of Arab descent and it is therefore quite Arabic in character and has some significant Muslim heritage. It is mentioned in the Holy Bible several times, most notably this is the site of the Annunciation, where Angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and announced that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26-38)
Nazareth is said to be a very pleasant city, well geared up to travellers, to spend a couple of days.
The main attraction of pilgrims, the Church of the Annunciation, is quite a recent addition from the 1960s standing on the ruins of no less than four now ruined predecessors. As for the market? Well, I don’t know, I think it is just a standard market!
Golden Gate, Jerusalem, Palestine
The Golden Gate, also known as the Gate ofd Mercy, isone of the Gates of the Old Citry of Jerusalem, leading to the Temple Mount. Some apocryphal biblical tests stipulate this to be the meeting place of the parents of the Virgin MAry and also that this is the gate through which JEsus Christ entered the City of Jerusalem on palm Sunday.
It may or may not have been one of the Gates leading to the Second (Herodian) Temple.
It was closed and bricked up several times in its lifetime, to be sealed finally under Ottoman rule during Sultan Suleiman the MAgnificent’s reign in 1541. Apparantly this was to be a preventative measure as in Jewish belief, the Messiah will also enter the city through this gate and wanted to prevent a “false Messiah” entering. The gate area was completely sealed in 2003 by the Israeli Authorities to prevent contruction on the site but its interior re-opened to Muslim worshippers in 2019/
It is easily identified as you stand in the Garden of Gethsemane
Solomons Pool, Palestine
These ancient pools, attributes to the rule of King Solomon (around 950 BCE) but thought to be more recent, are ancient water reservoirs that used to supply the city of Jerusalem. They are mentioned in the Book of Ecclesiastes 2:6.
IN recent years, they have been largely neglected but are quite accessible just off the Hebron Road about 5km south of Bethlehem and can be visited.
Joppa (Jaffa/Yafo) , Israel
Nowadays somewhat dwarfed by its 20th century neighbour Tel Aviv and united into Tel Aviv-YAfo in 1950, Jaffa is an ancient Mediterranean port city thought to be founded by the Kaananites around 1200 BCE. It is first mentioned n the Old Testament as the port of departure for Jon, who, instead of going to Ninive as directed, he went to Tarsis, got shipwrecked and swallowed by a whale .
Modern-day Yafo is huge and sprawling, with a pleasant old centre and a bustling flea market on weekends. It can get really busy, and it didn’t really gel with me – crowded, with no seats and long queues in cafes, and a rather touristy vibe altogether but honestly, I walked there on a Sabbat with not so much else to do and it deserves a second chance.
The place in the wilderness called Sela refers to either “a rock” when used with an article, or a Babylonian-founded fortress in Jordan about 20km North of Shobak.
Whereas, In the Holy Bible, Selah (Hebrew: “to lift up”) but also in use as a musical pause symbol does not refer to an actual place, but to Psalms 55:7: “Lo, then would I wander far off, I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah”.
So depending on how you read it,this may refer to the Old Testament Second Book of Kings 14:7 “He killed ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm; he called it Jokthe-el, which is its name to this day” or simply different wilderness experiences such as the People of Israel fleeing from Egypt and journeying through the desert, the Patriarch Job being tried on his faith, the Prophet Elijah sheltering in a cave after traveling for 40 days, the Apostle Paul spending years in the desert after being converted, , and last not least Jesus Christ being out in the desert for forty days.
Bethany of Biblical times is the place where Jesus stayed several times and where, after his resurrection, he raised LAzarus from the Dead. It refers to the modern day town of Al-Eizariya just east if East Jeruslaem in the West Bank. It us currently controlled by the Israeli Authorities being in an “Area C” under the Oslo Accords and being populated by Israeli settlers where any Palestinian development is controlled by the Israeli authorities.
If you feel adventurous you can travel there by public bus from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. The Tomb of Lazarus is not clearly signposted nor does it have official opening times. I have not been there but my brief trip to the West Bank definitely left me with an appetite to explore further holy sites and I personally felt safe there. I used East Jerusalem Bus Company buses a few times, and someone on the bus would always speak English and tell me where to get off the bus, and despite me being very obviouslyt a tourist, people were courteous and polite and seemed quite happy about some tourists taking on the checkpoints and visiting past the separation wall.
Vale of Jezreel
The Vale of Jezreel ( also known as Vale Megiddo) is a fertile plain between the Palestinian city of Jenin and Nazareth. The area has been contantly inhabited for the past 6000 years. It is the scene of the penultimate battle between good and bad as described in the Revelation to St John known as Armageddon.
It is a pretty and fertile valley, with scarce public transport links – but easily accessible if you have your own transport.
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee is the site where Jesus Christ is thought to have given the sermon of the Mount relatively early in his ministry, shortly after being baptized (see above) as well as the site where he performed many of the 37 miracles attributed to him.
The lake is easily accessible but can be quite crowded, with coaches and Holy Land pilgimage tours flooding the small sited north of Tiberias.
Mount Hermon, Golan Heights (Syria)
Mount Hermon is mentioned frequently in many books of the Old Testament, and even considered to be the Mount Sinai of the Hebrew Bible. It is considered by some Christian scholars a possible site for the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.
This is perhaps the only place mentioned here that is not easily accessible, located in Upper Galilee on the border with Lebanon and Syria. Its peak actually straddles the Lebanese-Syrian border, while its slopes on the Israeli-occupied site form the ski resort of Mt Hermon. Mount Hermon is part of the Golan Height which are Internationally recognized as Syrian territory occupied by Israel, except for the UNited States which recognized them as part of Israel in 2019.
And here is concludes our 1950s Holy Bible Armchair Journey! As I mentioned above, you are not able to enter Israel unless you are an Israeli citizen or have a permanent residence in Israel due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Have a good Easter Week, and Happy Easter!