Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Historical Critical Pilgrimage

I made it safely to Israel late last night. Today, our group went to Tel Megiddo (the ruins of the ancient city of Megiddo referred to in John's Apocalypse by the term Armageddon). We also went through the Church of the Annunciation. Our Greek Orthodox tour guide is very similar to the Malkite Catholic guide I had a couple years ago. The place names and biblical stories are woven together in an allegorical and "orthodox" historical reading that doesn't exactly square with the latest that we know about biblical archeology and history. It has been a good trip, but I find myself catching my tongue at some of the simplistic stories told about the history of Israel. It is not that seminary has ruined such travel. I think that most tourists who come wish to see the holy sites, and perhaps don't like to be told that there is no proof that this or that church or site is the actual site of ______________ event.

When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, his Christian mother Helena must have been ecstatic. Shortly after Christianity became the official religion of the empire, Helena toured the Holy Land and heard the legends of what happened where. Now we have churches, shrines, and monuments built for the Beatitudes, a building where Mary was supposed to have been buried before her ascension into heaven, and a path that goes through modern streets of Jerusalem as the "via dolo rosa" – the pathway of the lord to his crucifixion – even though the original road was 3 feet lower and may or may not have followed the same path.

It is good to be here, don't get me wrong. I just wish that those sharing "the party line" about such things would also describe or take us to the other sites that claim to be the household of Joseph in Nazareth. But such honest tourism threatens other parts of the tourism trade. What if Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, a point which is added to the synoptic gospel tradition in Matthew and Luke in the 5th and 10th decades after Jesus died? Scholars believe that this story was placed here in order to make Jesus the Son of David. But what if he really was born in Nazareth? And even if it could be proven, would churches starting singing "O Little Town of Nazareth"?

It was good today to help put some of the Northern Tribe's stories into context at Tel Megiddo. Seeing its strategic place along the trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and witnessing the vast archeological evidence that this place had been inhabited from 9,000 to 400 BCE, all helps describe the resources Solomon put into the place in order to extract the taxes of goods going through this region. It also helps us understand why the place had been run over and rebuilt 28 times. Both Egypt and the Assyrians and their successor Empires would desire this key point in order to control the flow of goods and taxes back to their respective empires.

It was also good to be able to look across the Jezreel Valley at the Mt. Tabor (the supposed sight of the Transfiguration) and Nazareth. While Nazareth was so small in Jesus' time that it didn't need mentioning in most documents that survive, its proximity to Sephoris, Mt. Tabor and the Sea of Galillee help put Jesus into context. No wonder Jesus taught with agricultural parables. This is the bread basket of Galillee, and the beauty is astounding. It makes me wonder how our natural surroundings influence our cosmology and the stories we live by. Perhaps John the Baptizer did grow up among the Essenes, as many scholars now believe. It would account much for for his ascetic style and brash tone. But Galillee gives us a Jesus of Nazareth – who continues to give us a world of possibilities as we look out at the world.

I am happy to continue giving my own responses to the trip here, but if you want to keep up with the group's blog, please visit http://keephopealiveca.blogspot.com/

1 comment:

Anitra said...

I am sorry I am not on this trip. I just returned from Mexico which turned out to be a different kind of pilgrimage yet still contained historical and critical elements. I'll be following you in your journey.