Saturday, April 18, 2015

Family Restaurant - Jerusalem

One night as we were leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and on our way out to the Damascus Gate, we stopped at Family Restaurant in a little alley. It was quite large inside, clean and has a reasonably varied menu. 
We were offered some mezes which are small salad-type plates. The yellow peppers were extremely hot. Stan and Judy tried them and Chris and I learned to avoid them from their reactions. One plate was a bland salsa, one was a salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber and the best was an eggplant salad probably unlike anything I've eaten before. 

eggplant salad
I had a pomegranate juice which was quite good. Pomegranate is readily available in the Middle East, and often mixed with orange juice. I wish we had it as an option in the U.S.  
Judy got lamb kebab which was cooked well and had a nice taste. Stan got the mixed grill which was three kebabs, one of chicken, lamb and kibbeh. I got St. Peter's fish which is a whole grilled tilapia. It was kind of bony, not as meaty as many tilapia I've had and just a tad bit overcooked, but a nice flavor. 
mixed grill
lamb kebab
St. Peter's fish
It was not great food or a great atmosphere, but it was late at night (we started eating about 8:00 p.m. - they shut the gate as we left) and it still felt a bit adventurous on our second day in the Middle East while we were till developing our cultural legs. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mount Nebo - Jordan

Mount Nebo was a big disappointment for me. I've been on the name-sake mountain in Utah several times and it is spectacular. Nebo, Jordan, not so much. I envisioned something that stood out, perhaps a rounded top, but one with some elevation rise over its neighbors. Nebo didn't even look like the tallest peak in the vicinity as we were driving toward it. It is one of several bumps, this one 2,680 feet, along a ridge. The view is probably pretty good on a clear day, but it was smoggy. 
In Deuteronomy it says, “Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah [which is Hebrew meaning “summit” or “peak”], that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.”  (Deut. 34:1-6)
Looking out toward Jericho and Jerusalem. 
From below looking up at Mount Nebo. It is the bump in the top middle with the white object on it.
A closer view of the building on top of Mount Nebo.
A fourth century church was built on Mount Nebo to commemorate the place of Moses' death. It was enlarged in the fifth century and rebuilt in 597. The remains of the Byzantine church and monastery were discovered in 1933 and beautiful floor mosaics were found. A building was built over the mosaics, but it has been closed for renovation since 2007 and still is, as we found out. There is a tent which serves as a make-shift visitor's center which shows several mosaics. 
Building under renovation which is closed.
A serpentine cross sculpture, created by an Italian artist, was built near the building and symbolizes the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness. Numbers 21:8-9, states: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” The brazen serpent is symbolic of Jesus as those who look to him will live. John 3:14 states, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." 
Brass serpent sculpture. 
For a visit of Pope John Paul II to Mount Nebo in 2000, a sculpture known as the Monolith was created by Vincenzo Bianchi of Italy. The stone is a white limestone block more than 16 feet tall taken from a quarry in Hallabat, Jordan. The sculpture represents a large book placed on the mountain where Moses ended his life after viewing the Promised Land. It represents the Torah to the Jews, the New Testament to the Christians, the Koran to the Muslims, all of them people of the book, all who believe that Moses was a prophet. However, it also represents books on science, love, faith, the fruits of experience, sacrifice, tension, all synthesized together as the message for pilgrims of the Third Millennium in search of the Truth of Love which unites and binds. Thus it is the Book of Love and God is Love. The Latin inscription at the base reads, "Unus Deus Pater Omnium Super Omnes," which is from Ephesians 4:6, which in English is "One God and Father of all, who is above all." I loved this sculpture. It was my favorite part of Mount Nebo. 
Spine of the book. Picture from here
Side view. The right side profiles Moses' face.
Closer view of Moses' face.
Pages of the book. 
Individual books are shown: Mark, Virgil and others I don't understand.
Faces emerge from the pages.
More faces.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nazareth - Where Jesus Grew Up

Mary lived in Nazareth at the time of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visited her and told her she would conceive and give birth to a son, that the son would be called Jesus, and that Jesus would later be given the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob in a kingdom with no end. (Luke 1). However, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as recorded in both Luke and Matthew, in order to fulfill prophecy. But some time shortly after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. There Jesus lived, learned, worked and worshiped until he began his public ministry at about the age of 30. 

We know little about Jesus growing up, other than that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:52)

His father Joseph was a "teckton" in Greek, which is a builder. We typically think of him as a carpenter, but he may have been a stonemason. Buildings of that era were constructed of stone. Jewish father's began to teach their sons their trade at age 12, so Joseph probably taught Jesus his trade if he lived long enough to. We don't know how long Joseph lived: the last reference to Joseph in the Bible was when Jesus was 12. Some traditions believe Joseph was an older man when he married Mary. This is particularly so among the Catholics and the Orthodox, who believe that Mary was not only a virgin at the birth of Jesus, but remained a virgin throughout the remainder of her life. The siblings of Jesus are portrayed as children of Joseph from a prior marriage. My tradition generally assumes Joseph was a man nearer to Mary's age and that Mary had children with Joseph. Most, if not all traditions, assume that Joseph was not alive when Jesus began his public ministry. So there are a lot of blanks on the canvas of Jesus' early life. 

Little is written of Nazareth in the Bible, but the majority of the life of Jesus was spent there. So I found it personally very moving when we drove through Nazareth and went up on a beautiful hill and surveyed the area and had some time to contemplate. Unlike the Nazareth of my thoughts, the Nazareth of Jesus is very mountainous and rocky. Archaeologists have estimated the Nazareth was very small, about 400 or 500 people at the time Jesus lived there. I imagined Jesus as a boy roaming those hills, much like the hills I roamed when I was a boy. 
Nazareth as viewed from Mount Kedumim, also known as Mount Precipice. The next picture is a closer view of Nazareth above and just slightly right of center.  
The Basilica of the Annunciation, just a little left and up from center, where the Catholics believe the Annunciation took place. 
A much closer view of the Basilica of the Annunciation. I would have liked to visit, but it was not on our tour agenda.
More of modern Nazareth, to the left of the Basilica, likely just open space at the time of Jesus.
And more of modern Nazareth as the view goes even more left and towards the Jezreel Valley.
It is easy to envision herds of sheep and goats roaming the mountains and valleys, and Jesus watching the shepherds, perhaps even taking a turn. We saw other instances of shepherds watching sheep on hilly terrain. After our visit, it is now easier for me to think of Jesus as a stonemason than a carpenter. We saw so much stonework and so many stones. Nazareth is a relatively short distance from the very flat Jezreel Valley and from Mount Tabor where many believe the Transfiguration took place. Nazareth and nazarite, as in nazarite vow, are derived from the same word. The nazarite vow required the person making the vow to abstain from wine, refrain from cutting his hair and not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves. Samson and Samuel were nazarites and John the Baptist probably was. Was there more than a word connection of nazarite and Nazareth?  Could that vow have originated in that vicinity? Something interesting to contemplate.  

At about age 30, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness. Then he returned to Galilee and "went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down...[Then Jesus said to them], Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Some asked, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" Then Jesus went on: "[N]o prophet is accepted in his hometown." Neither Elijah or Elisha were accepted by their own people.  (Luke 4:14-27)

The "people in the synagogue were furious when they heard [Jesus say] this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But Jesus "walked right through the crowed and went on his way." (Luke 4:28-30)

We visited the hill where tradition holds that the Nazareans attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff. It was impressive, beautiful, scenic, a stiff breeze at times. For me, this was one of those little unexpected surprises of our trip. A place of personal significance that I did not anticipate.

From Mount Precipice, looking beyond the hills containing Nazareth into the Jezreel Valley.
Panning to the left, the Jezreel Valley opens up wide.
Panning further to the left.
Panning even further left, Mt. Tabor comes into view, the mountain in the top center. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Balad - Amman, Jordan

As we planned our trip and I looked at Amman, Jordan, a number of sources said to spend time in el-Balad, the old downtown in a narrow valley between Amman's seven hills. I read that the Balad, or Old Amman, is the bastion of traditional ethnic life and what Jerusalem was like before the Israelis kicked out the Palestinians. It is grungy, busy, has narrow alleyways and is a maze of streets with fruit, vegetables, spices, souvenirs, clothes and hardware. 

When I originally booked the tour with a Jordanian travel company with a list of requests, including the Balad, it came back from them with most of what I requested, but the Balad was missing. Rainbow Street was included instead. Rainbow Street is the trendy, rich part of town. I went back to the tour company and specifically asked for a change and got it. Then, months later when we got our guide and he mentioned the activities for the day, he said we were going to Rainbow Street. I'm thinking, "they really do not want to take us to the Balad" and I was wondering why? Is it unsafe? Are they concerned about us getting a bad impression? With some gentle persuasion our tour guide did take us on a quick tour of the Balad and I was very happy we got at least a taste of it.  

We walked through fruit and vegetable markets. Most of my pictures are blurry because we were walking fast and I was taking pictures while we walked. 

I believe these are almonds.
We also saw some fish.
My favorites were the spice stores with mounds of colorful spices. In particular our guide showed us a row of different types of Thyme, something he personally eats a lot of. 

This row of green is all different types of Thyme.
Then our guide stopped at a second-hand store and quickly bought a pair of shoes he liked that he just saw while we were walking. We stopped in front of the Grand Husseini Mosque and he wouldn't take us inside. "Too many foreigners," he said. I'm not sure if that was a reference to us or that there was perhaps a dangerous mix of patrons. He obviously was uncomfortable to take us in. The mosque is apparently the heart of the downtown. 
Grand Husseini Mosque
We took a look in from outside, but did not enter.
We stopped at a store that juices fruit while you wait, another place he frequents. I had grapefruit juice which was good. Others had a mix that I think was orange, banana and cranberry, or something similar. It was amazing. 
Fruits all waiting to be juiced.
Then the most amazing thing of all. He took us to Habibah sweets. Usually a huge line, at this time just a short line. We bought two kanafe, a dessert specialty of the Levant I'd never heard of before. It is a cheese pastry soaked in a sugar-based syrup. It varies by region. I believe ours had a crust of shredded phyllo dough filled with soft goat cheese and drenched in syrup and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It was AMAZING! Best dessert I've had in Eastern Europe or Asia. Very, very sweet, a wonderful mouth feel. Our guide mentioned he eats here regularly and can eat a whole one by himself. 

Habibah is a popular spot. People lined up on the other side to get in. Then they line the alley walls eating. 
Delicious, divine, fantastic kanafe. 
We went to Rainbow Street for a list bit of touring in Amman before going to dinner. It was meh, nothing worth spending a lot of time doing. In looking at our experience, the guide regularly went to Habibeh and got kanafe, he regularly gets juice at the shop we visited, we saw him buy shoes while we were with him, and he took us to the spice shop where he shops. So we obviously were in the regular peoples' part of Jordan. That is what we wanted to see. And it was great - dirty, busy, fantastic. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Israelites and the Golden Calf near Mount Sinai

This is probably my last of a string of posts on the Jebel Musa or Mount Sinai area. In a previous post I gave the portions of Exodus 32 dealing with Aaron and the Israelites building the golden calf and then worshipping it. It should be no surprise that there is tradition relating to this on the ground in the area. 

The broad valley away from the Saint Catherine Monastery side of Jebel Musa is known as the Plain of El-Raha (the resting place). Tradition has it that this is where the Israelites camped while Moses was dealing with God on Mount Sinai. 
In the distance is the valley where the Israelites camped.
At the mouth of the Wadi El-Deir is a small hill called Nabi Haruun or Aaron's Hill. Tradition has it that Aaron's Hill is where the golden calf was set-up and worshipped. Today there is a Muslim shrine and a small Christian chapel dedicated to Aaron. I did not have an opportunity to inspect them, other than from a distance. 
Aaron's Hill is in the background with the Muslim shrine and Christian chapel on top. Interesting structures are in the foreground which I have no idea about. 
A little closer view of the shrine and chapel. 
Nearby, closer to the Jebel Musa massife, is a rock in the shape of a calf. The Bedouin call it El-Bagara or the cow and believe it was the mould used for the idol which was made of gold from earrings collected from the Israelite women by Aaron. 
The golden calf in rock. I had a hard time seeing it at first.
This more closely cropped photo makes it a little easier. 
The information from this post came from