Tom & I
I have to say that more than anything in this trip thus far, I’ve most enjoyed getting to spend time with N.T. Wright, who insists we call him Tom. So I’m going to be calling him that in this blog, not because I’m trying to sound more familiar with him, but because that’s how I know him.
Everyone knows Tom Wright is a brilliant New Testament scholar. And it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read his books or heard him preach that he has a great sense of humor and is quite witty in conversation. The thing that I can’t get over about Tom is how humble he is. Here he is, one of the leading authorities on scripture, a former Bishop of Durham (during which he lived in an actual castle and had a staff all similar to Downton Abbey) and yet I honestly feel like I could discuss almost anything with him and he would listen, engage, and respond. He’s been extremely generous to let me ask him questions and tell him about my life and my calling. Most encouraging for me personally, I’ve described my work at Frazer, he’s been nothing but affirming.
I could go on about Tom Wright, but he isn’t the only thing that’s been going on with this trip.
A shout out
I want to give a brief shout out to Matt and Karen Williams and to Ryan Emfinger, whom I should’ve mentioned in an earlier entry for taking me to the airport, and taking care of my dog, Zeus, while I’m gone. Matt sent me a few pictures of Zeus that assured me he’s being well cared for in my absence.
A few last thoughts about Jerusalem
Jerusalem is an incredible city and I didn’t mean to say by my last post that it is anything less for my impression of it. I only wanted to share my feelings. It’s funny how varied the different reactions that I got from my previous entry were. One friend even took it as a statement about the government here. I’m not talking about the politics, or anything other than my own surprise at how I didn’t feel welcome here, but as I thought about it – neither did Jesus, and I found a great deal of comfort in that thought.
We visited the Church of The Holy Sepulchre, the cathedral built on the supposed location of the Crucifixion – which I mentioned in my last entry. It is an interesting place in that it is very crowded with tourists from all faiths coming to see it. For me, I wasn’t impressed with it, and I don’t know that Jesus would want us toiling too much over the exact location of his death. After all, it was for this reason that God is said to have buried Moses himself, so that the Israelites wouldn’t return to that place to idolize it. The one thing I do enjoy about this is the idea that Rome, the most powerful empire that anyone at the time could even imagine, crucified a man and now their empire has long since fallen, but there is an enormous church built to worship the man they killed.
We also visited the garden tomb. While Tom Wright affirms that it is almost definitely not the actual location of the resurrection, it does give a reasonable facsimile of what the tomb may have looked like and is certainly located within the general area. There are many replica tombs around Jerusalem, but this one is based around an actual tomb that would have at least been from the same period as Jesus’ resurrection.
We also visited the Dome of the Rock on the temple mount. Ask me about it some time. The thoughts and politics of the situation are too sticky for me to post here.
We left Jerusalem a couple of days ago now, and I’m still processing all I saw and heard. It was a hard few days. The first day I logged seven miles of walking according to my phone and climbed the equivalent to almost 40 flights of stairs in the process. It was all quite taxing, but I’m sure there will be more grace poured out as God continues to work in this trip.
The Jordan River Valley
Yesterday we traveled to Nazareth along the bank of the Jordan river, past many major historical sites, stopping at two. We stopped at the Jordan River at one of the supposed locations of Jesus’ baptism by John.
See how small the Jordan river is this time of year? Directly across it is the country of Jordan. Also everywhere around it on the Israel side? Land mines. As if we needed another reason not to go wandering off into the desert.
We also stopped at Qumran, the location of a very old settlement where the dead sea scrolls were discovered in a cave.
There were several excavation sites around Qumran, some of which we could walk right into and look out over the dead sea. This was very interested as there weren’t many tourists around and the place felt really remote. (though the gift shop at the park entrance has a large section of dead sea-salt health and beauty products that are a little ridiculous.) The picture can’t really give you a clear idea of scale, but the space between me and the cave was a few hundred feet, and the mountains behind it were very far away. As we drove, Tom spoke in his distinguished brogue and said simply “It’s funny to imagine Jesus and his odd group of twelve making this journey on foot.” Before it was hard for me to picture any of this, but now It is hard to imagine them walking in the desert for several days to come from Galilee to Jerusalem, yet they and many others did.
Today we spent the day in a place called “Nazareth Village” a special place inside of Nazareth that is organized by a group of Christians to present an area that looks and runs similarly to the Nazareth of Jesus’ day. While they’re not claiming to be a Holy location, they do work hard to present what life might’ve been like for Jesus growing up in Nazareth by having several buildings built based on excavations in the area. They also have locals dress in period clothing and preform tasks that were common in that day, like herding sheep and baking unleavened bread. We shot a lot in this location as it was the most like the world Jesus lived in. While there they served us a traditional meal that had cabbage, lentil soup, bread, chicken, hummus, and several other awesome things that I’d have a hard time describing.
It was a long day of shooting, and the area is on a very steep hillside, making it a challenge to get cameras, lights, & all up and down, but the shots we got were pretty legit
While surveying the scene Tom commented that its entirely possible that Jesus as a boy might’ve sat in the shade of a tree much like this very olive tree and looked out across the valley south toward Judea knowing one day that his path would lead there.
Nazareth felt much more peaceful that Jerusalem. It is a compelling a thought that Jesus left this lovely, verdant place to traverse a desert and go to a hot bed of hostility knowing full well how it would end.
We’re currently staying in a hotel in Tiberius, a town named after the Emperor who was in power over Rome when Jesus was crucified. Funny to think that the average person in the west couldn’t call to mind his name today. He has a town named after him here because the Israelites were trying to show compliance and honor to their conquerors. Odd that now most people who would visit it are here to see the place where Jesus calmed the sea. I have to say it’s a beautiful place.
Tomorrow we have one more day of shooting in Israel that starts early and then we’ll fly out early the following morning for Athens, where we may be trading in chickens and cigarettes according to the news, so please say a prayer that it isn’t all too chaotic a time there. I hope to post again in a few days!