After the River Jordan stop, we drove the surprisingly short distance to the oldest city in the world, Jericho. Here we saw a few little things while driving around, and stopped for lunch near the ancient tel.
Zacchaeus’ sycamore-fig tree, Jericho. Luke tells the story of this height-challenged tax-collector, who wished to see Jesus but was too short to see over the crowd. He climbed a tree so he could have a better vantage point. Jesus, seeing him, called him by name and told him to come down, because Jesus intended to dine at his house. Zacchaeus then gives half all his riches to the poor. (Luke 19)
The tree is reputedly 2000 years old, making it the actual tree Zacchaeus climbed. In reality, it is likely less than 800 years old. (Maybe even a lot less.) But still, I love this story and this tree.
The Elisha Spring–this spring is the entire reason Jericho exists. It is a year-round, pretty voluminous source of water in a vast, deep desert.
Jericho date palm, near the Elisha Springs
Buffet restaurant in Jericho, just across from the Elisha springs and the tel, and just over from the Mount of Temptation. Pretty good food, but I was still recovering from the stomach flu, so I didn’t eat a lot.
Absolutely GORGEOUS stained glass window at the Temptation Restaurant. The proprietor, who told me his name is Albert Einstein (he certainly had the look!) told me it was Day and Night, and was one of a kind–made by his Jewish friend from Jerusalem just for his space. It was beautiful.
Mount of Temptation, Jericho. There is a skytram to the top, but we chose not to partake (expensive!)
Our restaurant was also “View of Jericho”, and we walked up 280 steps to see over into the ancient tel. It was exhausting but definitely worth it. These beautiful tiles were on every landing.
View of Tel Jericho. Jericho has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years–it is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) village found. There is a stone tower that is dated to 8000 BC. In comparison, Joshua “fit the battle of Jericho” in ~1200 BC. Relative newcomer!
Zee, Keryn, Miri, with Tel Jericho in the background.
There was also a store in the restaurant building. Oh, dear. These gorgeous vases (the big one is mine and Bradley’s, both the moms got a little one) are being shipped to our house in the States–hopefully all in one piece!
Here we are, the lowest and oldest city in the world.
After Jericho, we wended our way through the West Bank. Driving through the West Bank cities is an entirely different experience than the Israeli cities. They are much poorer, but definitely bustling and busy. The license plates are white and green, instead of yellow and black. And I was somewhat surprised by the numerous formal dress shops–by the look of the dresses in the windows, I wouldn’t have thought most of the women would wear them. Sleeveless, short, low cut, etc.
Descending only to ascend–can you see the road we were headed for? It was…exciting. Narrow and crowded, with hairpin turns. Glad the taxi drivers were in charge!
Square Buks Coffee. We’ve seen Star Coffee, Bucks Coffee, Medusa Coffee–they are definitely trading on the Starbucks name.
The Shepherds’ Field, just outside Bethlehem. Of course, the shepherds wouldn’t have been in the city. In fact, according to our guide (Dia–a Christian, since our drivers are Muslim–arranged by our taxi drivers), the only shepherds that would have been that close to Bethlehem or Jerusalem would have been the temple flocks for sacrifice. I love the symbolism.
Gorgeous little church in the Shepherds’ Field. The herald angel statue.
I loved the frescos in this little chapel. There were three little naves or alcoves, with the most beautiful artwork.
The first fresco showed the shepherds scared, the middle showed the adoration of the Baby, and the last fresco–this one–shows their joy and happiness on having witnessed this greatest of all miracles.
Caves in the shepherds’ fields. There were actually numerous caves in the area–at least five in that little field alone. These were revered very early in Christianity.
My Yummy and me, cave at the shepherds’ field.
I love the door! I would so buy a plaque or wall hanging of this. Cave at the Shepherds’ Field, Beit Sahour, Israel.
Entrance to another cave, Shepherds’ Field.
I love that LaDonna and Yummy are holding hands–Yummy took a fall earlier in that same cave. And then LaDonna took a fall in the Church of the Nativity a little later. So I’m glad they are helping each other. Cave at the Shepherds’ Field, Beit Sahour, Israel.
Some perhaps slightly irreverent behavior in the cave, Beit Sahour.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. The original church was built by Constantine and his mother, Helena. It was destroyed in the Samaritan revolts in the 500s. Justinian rebuilt it shortly thereafter, and unlike many other churches, was not destroyed by the Persians when they conquered this area in 614 AD. (Supposedly because they saw the representations of the wise men in their Zoroastrian garb on the walls.)
I love this picture, mostly because of what our guide told us about the doors. You can see where the people are exiting the church–the tiny door that you have to hunch over to use. Above that is an arch, and above that is a lintel.
When the church was first build by the Byzantium Christians, it had a large, lovely door–the lintel. The Crusaders, a few hundred years later, wanted a slightly smaller door, and so they bricked it in to the arch (also they needed to bolster the side of the church with a buttress, which cut off part of the larger door). Years and years later, the priests of this church made the door much much smaller, to stop the Ottomans from riding their horses into the church, as they were wont to do.
It is called the Door of Humility.
Inside the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Our guide told us that pre-COVID, even while tons of restoration work was ongoing here, this area would be FULL of pilgrims. The line to see the grotto under this part of the church would be sometimes as long as THREE HOURS.
It took us maybe ten minutes, and that’s because we came in right after a tour group.
When Bradley was in Israel in 2000, he never got to come to Bethlehem because the Intifada began. But even if he had, he would not recognize it as it looks now, according to Dia our guide. Restoration of the church has been debated and argued for a long time. In 2008, it was placed on a watch list, because the risk of an earthquake toppling the entire building was very high. Finally, with the Palestinian Authority taking the lead (!), from 2010-2020 the work was undertaken. They cleaned and fixed and reinforced and reconstructed and made it a beautiful, airy, bright place. They even found a new mosaic angel (right angel) under the plaster and paint.
This church has been through a LOT. This is Crusader graffiti. Or something from a comic book or anime, I don’t know which. 🙂
Em and Keryn, Church of the Nativity.
The pillars have paintings of various saints–apparently Eastern saints on one side and Western saints on the other, showing a joining of the churches. Also note the giant Christmas ornament or bauble hanging from one of the candle holders. They were everywhere (and looked a little tacky to my Western eyes).
The ikon of the Virgin Mary. Apparently this one is super significant, because she is smiling and happy. All the Jerusalem ones show her sorrowful, because of the crucifixion.
Keryn and Gee
My cute girlies, waiting to see the grotto of the Nativity.
I am just fascinated by the scratched-in crosses everywhere. I believe they are all Crusader age. Right by the stairs (that LaDonna tripped on, but went down gently!) to the grotto of the Nativity.
Our guide smuggled Eva and Giro into the back way, because the stairs are better. Here they are waiting for the tour group to take their photos.
LaDonna touching the silver star marking the birthplace of the Savior.
The niche where Mary laid her newborn baby in the manger. The manger was taken to Rome by the Crusaders and never returned, even though they’ve asked many times. 🙂
Some more of the gorgeous mosaics on the walls of the church. I love this one, even if it is incomplete. Everyone is looking up at…well, we can’t see anything. And neither could they, because it was Christ’s ascension. I really thought it was beautiful.
The hallway outside the Nativity chapel. I just love these gorgeous vaulted ceilings–Crusader age, I think.
Going down into the other side of the grotto cave–it’s been walled off into two separate caves.
St. Jerome! Who was St. Jerome, you ask? Well, let me tell you–we owe him a great debt. He is the one who translated most of the Bible from the original languages into Latin–the Vulgate–and therefore preserved and saved it for later use by Martin Luther, John Tyndale, and others. He lived in this grotto for years, according to tradition, doing the translation.
But St. Jerome didn’t do it alone–he apparently would translate by reading aloud, and his words would be written down by Paula and her daughter Eustochium.
Shrine to the Virgin Mary–in the darker blue box below the main painting, there is a silver column. That silver column has a reddish part in the middle. In the middle of that reddish part is a small brown something.
Which, apparently, is all that Rome sent back of the manger.
I love the colors here.
I love arches and stone and beautiful architecture.
Our family, plus St. Jerome.
In the exit from the Church of the Nativity, there is the one saint I can always recognize: St. George slaying the dragon.
These are the stairs that almost finished us all. We were EXHAUSTED by the end here.
Famous Banksy mural, Bethlehem.
More Banksy, Bethlehem.
This is the Israeli wall. It is very colorful on the Palestinian side. We really love the fresh juice here, so we approve of that sentiment at least!
More gorgeous graffiti. Israeli wall, Bethlehem.
We were exhausted, but our taxi drivers sort of held us hostage–they absolutely insisted that we visit their favorite olive wood factory/shop. I honestly said “No” no less than five times, but regardless, we ended up at their shop. I was very frustrated, and it left a little of a bad taste in our mouths at the end of the day. But oh well! We still ended up spending about $60 there (insert eye-roll here).
It was a marvelous day, even with the end a little squirrely. We are very grateful for our drivers and their expertise.