Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day 5 - 30th April - From the Muezzin's call to the Dead Sea

The central mosque in Petra is in the block next to our hotel and the minaret is at the same level as our bedroom window. At 04.20 the amplified voice of the muezzin calls the  faithful to prayer and rudely awakes the (presumably) unfaithful. I understand that this simply a wake-up call. At 04.30, just as the unfaithful has snuggled back under the covers and slipped back to sleep, the muezzin lets rip again with the prayers to which he had earlier woken the faithful. I have asked, and been told, that the prayers start with "Allah Akbar" or "God is great". I guess that one has to be one of the faithful to understand the prayer, because in this muezzin's case his P.A. system sounded like it was on its last legs and the sound was horribly distorted. The prayers continued for about five minutes and then ...... silence. Part of me felt that even the faithful rolled over at that point and managed to get back to sleep again. BTW - I found myself praying through the Trinity while the muezzin was doing his thing and found peace.

We the hotel and drove north to Madaba to see the most amazing mosaics created in the 8th century - really beautiful.

From Madaba to Mount Nebo which was the vantage point to which God took Moses for a sneak preview of the Promised Land. I was a tad disappointed as the heat haze meant that we could hardly see the Jordan River, even less see Jerico, Jerusalem and beyond. 

Then down to the Jordan to the Allenby Bridge and the border crossing back into Israel. What a mission!!!!!! Eventually we emerged from the post to find our bus, driver and guide waiting for us and ready to drive us south down the western side of the Dead Sea to our hotel at Ein Boket.

Stunning hotel, superb room and excellent meal tonight. Now ready to hit the hay so to speak before tomorrow's trip to Masada and Qumran.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 4 - 29th April - from Ramon to Eilat and on to Petra

Day 3 was a long day. We started with a visit to the crater of Ramon - Makhtesh Ramon - a vast crater created, not by a meteor, but by water. Here in the south of Israel everything is about water. Either the lack of it or the action of too much of it. In this case a huge inland sea covered a sandstone formation until levels dropped and the sea went pouring out. Subsequent flash floods and wind erosion ate away the sandstone leaving a desert within a circle of cliffs 25km across.
There is an amazing visitor's centre with movies and displays.
As one enters the visitor's centre one wonders if you are in the right place, because the whole place is dedicated to the memory of Col. Ilan Ramon, who, having been a jet fighter pilot hero, joined NASA as an astronaut and was one of the crew on the ill-fated Columbia mission which disintegrated on re-entry on 1st February 2003. He has hero status in Israel as the country's first astronaut. Sadly, there was more tragedy in the family. Asaf, Ilan's oldest son, followed his Dad into the air force and was killed in a accident in 2009 while flying an F16.
Ilan Ramon loved Makhtesh Ramon and spent much time visiting the desert there.

From Makhtesh Ramon we drove south through the desert to the southernmost point of Israel, Eilat. We had hoped to see the Red Sea, but it was not to be. We stopped in at a kibbutz which specializes in dairy herds. Their shop sells the best ice-cream, seriously the best. So we all had ice cream before heading to the Israel/Jordan border. Here we had to take everything off the bus and walk through Israeli customs and emigration, across "no-man's-land", trundling suitcases and carrying backpacks, to the Hashamite Kingdom of Jordan. All in a sun-blazing 40+ degrees.

Once through the border we found our bus and Jordanian guide James and set off up north along  the three thousand year old trading route, the King's Highway. The present road is laid on the road the Romans built on top of the camel paths.

This land has history going way, way back and it is not hard to imagine the Hebrew people led by Moses getting grouchy in all the dust and mountains, lack of water and HEAT. 
Note: Our bus has a fridge on board for water and air conditioning so we have all the creature comforts! At around 15.00 we arrived at the Amra Palace Hotel in Petra.

Day 4 started with a drive in the bus to the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. This is one of the seven wonders of the World. The city was carved from the sandstone gorges that make their way through the mountains by the Nabataeans who created their city on the great trade route between China and the Meditteranean Sea about 300BC. The city flourished until 106AD when the Romans took it over. The style of the buildings is influenced by Egyptian, Greek and Roman architecture and are all carved out of amazingly colored sandstone which draws its colours from the mineral deposits which leach through the rocks.

The visitor to Petra has to make a long walk - about 1.5kms through a narrow gorge running through the mountain. The gorge was formed during an earthquake which shifted the two sides apart, in fact there are places where one can clearly see where the two sides would fit together. At the end of the gorge the visitor suddenly comes into the huge open space in front of the Treasury.

Sarah and I realise that we are not as fit as we think we are and so when the tour leader offered to take tour members up to the top of the mountain (1000 steps) to visit a building called "The Monastery", we, and about half of the group opted to stay with the guide and walk out of Petra. In the end we also opted to hire one of the local taxis - a horse drawn buggy and so made our way out of Petra a bone-shaking speed. (That is Sarah in the buggy with the driver - Radar - and his 12 year-old horse).

Petra is referred to as Sela in the Old Testament - one interesting reference is found in 1Sam 23:28. The text is talking of the running fight between King Saul and David in the Desert of Maon; the chase is stopped when Saul is told that the Philistines are causing trouble ...... "and so that place is called Sela Hammahlekoth". The footnote translates the full name as "Rock of parting". One can understand perhaps a 'parting' of the ways for Saul and David; but after today's walk through the 1.5km gorge, I have to suggest the 'rock of parting' sounds very much like Petra!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Day 2 - 27th April - Moses strikes the rock

Today was one of those exciting days when I discovered something new about an old Bible story.

Here is the story from Numbers 20:1-13. So that you don't have to look it up, here it is.

Water From the Rock

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown,and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

That's the story. Today we went to En Avedat National Park walked up a long, hot, dry canyon which has huge rock walls on either side. Here it is -

At the bottom of the canyon is a river bed with a little trickle of water which comes out of the rock.. As you can see from the picture the rock of the canyon wall in the top middle of the picture iis heavily layered. These are soft limestone layers which are worn away by wind, rain and, strangely, birds nesting in holes, and ibex walking along the narrow ledges and wearing out grooves. However not all the layers are limestone, some are very hard flintstone. Here is what the bands look like close-up.

Rain water soaking into the top of the formation makes its way down through the porous limestone until it reaches the flintstone and there it stops and builds up until it forces a little hole and the water begins to run out. As most of you will know this sort of water is full of salts which begin to build up on the outside of the hole and eventually the hole is effectively plugged. What shepherds know is that to obtain water for their flocks all they need to do is strike the rock with his staff and ..... water will come rushing out.

When Moses ran away from Egypt what did he become?  A shepherd in the desert So it is highly probable that he knew of this method to find water.But it is NOT what the Lord told him to do. Moses was told to SPEAK to the rock. This story is not about Moses, it is about the Lord and what the Lord is able to do to provide for His people. God can do so much to provide our every need - in abundance - too often we take matters into/ our own hands. In this case Moses said to himself "I know what to do here, it it certainly isn't to speak".

To close here are two final photos - the first shows the laters of limestone, the layer of flintstone and where the water has run. The second is a detail from the first and shows the salt plug.

Well that's it for now. Bless you all

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Day 1 - 26th April - Arrival in Israel

WIt is amazing how one forgets so easily the really not-very-nice things that happen in life. Basically I had forgotten just how bad it was trying to get some sleep cramped up in Economy class on an international flight! However, we survived last night and landed in Istanbul at about 05.00. It was an amazing landing as the plane flies up the Sea of Marmera towards the airport and the final touch-down is just onto solid land.

We had a four hour layover in Istanbul and caught the two hour flight to Tel Aviv. Not too bad, and, being a two hour flight, was rather like a Kalula flight to Cape Town.

We all celebrated our arrival in Tel Aviv, as all the baggage arrived too - great way to start a tour. After meeting our guide, Jehuda, and bus-driver, Bichara, we loaded ourselves and all the luggage onto the bus and set off south for Beersheva. This first part of the tour is designed to take us into the Negev Desert and to follow the footsteps of Abraham. The journey was filled with Jehuda telling us the basics of Israel and a bit of its modern history. The dates to remember in recent history are 29th April 1947 when the United Nations agreed that a separate Jewish state should be formed, and the 14th May 1948 when thee Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, proclaimed the Stae of Israel. The following day the armies of the seven Arab nations rose up with the stated intention of pushing the Jews into the sea. Israel not only defended its borders, but fought off the armies set against it.

After a stop for lunch at a fast-food outlet (photo of menu above - go figure) we drove down to the home of the late David Ben Gurion, which is now a National Park and the place where he and his wife were buried. The remarkable story of the founder of modern Israel is that, after serving his term a Prime Minister, he retired into the Negev Desert where he and his wife Paula lived in a small hut and worked at making the desert bloom. The desert is a torrid, wild place and very dry, but he succeeded and started to make things grow. 

Here is an example of the road signs - Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Once we had paid our respects at the twin graves our next stop was at the Carmay Avdot Farm which is a little winery in a valley in the Negev. We were welcomed by the owner's eldest son who told us the story of how his parents had responded to an appeal from the government 20 years ago to move into the Negev and create farms. There were two reasons for this project - 1) The local Beduin tribesmen considered the Negev as theirs as they had been a nomadic people in the region for generations, and the Israeli Government decided that as the land fell in the State of Israel, it should be 'grabbed back' from the Beduin. Accordingly parcels of land were given to farmers willing 2) to try to make the desert bloom. At first it w tough going as the Beduin tried to get their land back, but in the end working on a win-win solutions all parties are working happily together. The farm produces about 5000 bottles a year and produces a rather good wine. 
When I asked where the water came from in the middle of the arid Negev, I was told that the  water is supplied by the Israel Water Authority from a massive pipe line which runs from the north down to the south! So much for farming the way the farmers of old did their farming.

At last the Ramon Inn appeared and we were able to get off the bus, find our rooms and have a shower, a quick meal and head for bed.

The end of a very long day!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lecture : Dead Sea Scrolls (Thursday 16th - Christ Church, Kenilworth)

Thursday evening we met with the Cape Town contingent of the tour for a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were shown a DVD  on the discovery of the scrolls and the research that has been done since 1947.
There is a very good write-up on Wikipedia on the scrolls and particularly the Great Scroll of Isaiah. Well worth a read for those of you who are sharing in the OT 101 evenings.
We will be visiting the caves of Qumran on the tour.

John Atkinson (our tour leader) had returned from Pretoria on Thursday afternoon with all our passports - he had been to apply for visas for us to enter the Hashamite Kingdom of Jordan. Seeing the visa in one's passports made the whole trip come 'live'!

Sunday, April 12, 2015


The background to the tour

Seven years ago we moved to Salt Rock and, among many new friends, met Yvonne Roberts. Yvonne had been studying Hebrew for some time and had started to share some very basic Hebrew with a small group. Sarah joined the group and in short time was `hooked`. 
In 2009 friends invited us to join them for a visit to Israel, specifically to attend the  ICEJ Conference In Jerusalem, but also to tour the Holy Land. This was a trip of a lifetime for us and one which had a huge impact on both of us.
In 2013 Sarah started to study Biblical Hebrew online with the University of Jerusalem and did so well in her studies that when we heard that John Atkinson would be leading a teaching tour of Israel I felt that it would be right for Sarah to go. At the time we talked about her staying on in Jerusalem after the tour for a few weeks to immerse herself in Hebrew, but eventually we decided to drop the idea.
With her tour booked, Sarah was ready to go!
And then we had a call from John to say that somebody had heard that Sarah was traveling on her own, felt it was not right, and paid for my ticket! We were bowled over - what a super surprise and what an amazing gift!

We fly to Cape Town on the 14th April, spend two weeks with Jeremy, Brenda, Ruth and Nici, then join the tour on the 25th April.