Tuesday, 9 December 2008

galilee (4) - highs and lows

Barluzzi's Church of the Transfiguration
Monday 8th December. After three enlightening and informative days in Galilee it was time to head back south. There was for a time much speculation that the Transfiguration of Jesus took place on top of Mt. Hermon because of its proximity to Caesarea Philippi, however, tradition finally located the site at Mt. Tabor and this was our first stop of the day. Up the mountain by taxi to another Barluzzi church. Again we were fortunate to be the only people there at that time of day so were able to spend time praying and reflecting on Christ’s transfiguration in the church undisturbed. The design of the church reflects Barluzzi’s knowledge of the scriptures and grasp of theology and it made me wonder what his church of the annunciation would have looked like. As you enter the church there are chapels to left and right and in each a fresco of Moses and Elijah. The focus, however, is on the sanctuary and this is capped by a representation of the transfigured Christ. Our guide claimed that on the 6th August each year (feast of the transfiguration) at 9am the sunlight strikes the figure of Christ and transforms it, such was Barluzzi’s skill and attention to detail. Unfortunately this was the first day of overcast weather and so the views from Mt. Tabor were not very clear.

The Mt. of Temptation outside Jericho.
Next stop was Jericho over two hours away. We drove down the Jordan valley with its plantations of date trees and other crops and then the scenery dramatically changed as we again neared the West Bank. This was desert land, with little growing in it and a harsh climate reflected in the living conditions of the small communities and dwellings near the roadsides; many are little more than tin shacks. And then in the middle of this desert is the oasis of Jericho, with its many springs gushing water and plants and trees blossoming. The town is 10,000 years old, some 396 metres below sea level and overlooked by the Mt. of Temptation. You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain where there is a monastery (these days with only one monk!) but we weren’t tempted and instead spent some time at the archaeological dig near the bottom of the mountain. This site is very important in terms of Biblical archaeology because it was here that Kathleen Kenyon after extensive excavation in the 50’s concluded that there was no evidence for the walls of Jericho at the time of the conquest, though there is a 5,000 year old watchtower. This research had a major impact on the way Biblical archaeology has been conducted since and introduced a much more sceptical approach. It also highlighted the way that archaeology is itself not an exact science, with its own set of religious and political presuppositions affecting funding and influencing the interpretations of stones, remnants of artefacts and other tells.

Mt of Temptation from Jericho.
After a refreshing lunch and cup of coffee we headed back to Jerusalem and St. George’s College. The desert terrain continues to the outskirts of Jerusalem, with occasional Bedouin camps scattered amongst the hills and valleys. The poverty of these places is quite shocking as this once nomadic people are prevented from moving around the region by the political situation. From this approach to Jerusalem one passes a check point and then goes through a tunnel, emerging with a fantastic view of the old city to the left.
Bedouin homes on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
The day was rather exhausting with lots of travelling. The contrast between the mountain top experience of Mt. Tabor and the glimpses of the hostile environment around Jericho; ecologically, economically and politically brought me down to earth. I was grateful for a relaxed evening with the chance to have a drink, something to eat and to phone home for a chat with the family. Tomorrow we head out on the Jericho road for a visit to Massada, a float on the Dead Sea and a look round Qumran.

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