8:56 pm

Not sure where rhe evening went, well, I do….it just flew by too quickly.  We didn’t get back from touring very early, had to bid Andre farewell, and then it was dinner.  Oh, and the after dinner excursion.  But, though everyone is completely exhausted, it was another great day in The Land.

We got off to a not-so-early start at 8:45 this morning.  That was nice (the last bit of nice from Andre on this trip for sure).  We did spend some time replenishing the cash flow for folks, but it is fairly simple to do.  We are tanked up with dollars again and ready to attack the day.

Tarek and the bus were waiting for us at the usual spot.  We boarded the bus and were off to Samaria.  The sun is bright, and the weather has heated up again.  Oh great.  But it is nice and clear and the views across Judah are amazing.

Our first stop is Shiloh.  I’ve never been, so I am looking forward to the stop.  By the time we were done, everyone was glad we had stopped in for a visit.  The tel is really part of the Jewish settlement, Shiloh.  It is located, of course, in the West Bank.  We went in to a rather lush reception area.  The tress provided some much appreciated shade for us.  It is really the first tel I think that has had some trees.  It sure makes a difference. 

Well, the trees didn’t last long – once we got going in our visit, the trees were long gone and the sun was pretty intense.  Andre didn’t get to guide us through the site, but an American member of the settlement (he’d lived in it 25 years) walked us through.  It was interesting to hear a completely Jewish perspective on things, especially their right to all of the land.  It colors everything.

The site was interesting.  They had a model of the Tabernacle, inside a reconstructed Byzantine Church.  The model was not too large (too bad they don’t have a full size replica – that would be amazing).  But he explained it well and it was interesting to see how each of the pieces of furniture taught them/us something about God.

From my perspective, Shiloh is a reminder about the presence of God in life.  We have always sought for the presence of God, and at Shiloh for 369 years, God lived in the Tabernacle which was located right there.  We retold the story of how the Ark was removed as a good luck charm to battle the Philistines, but then it was lost in battle and the Tabernacle destroyed by the Philistines. 

Anyway, we moved on in our search to find the location of the Tabernacle in the Israelite period.  We went up to the highest point on the excavation – where they have built a beautiful movie theater which tells the story of Shiloh.  Joshua.  Eli.  Samuel.  It was a great movie – and the air conditioning was refreshing.

It was back out into the heat to the spot where they do think the Tabernacle was located.  There were some walls in the exact size of the Tabernacle, and they think they may find some indications of its location if they keep excavating.  Which is what they are doing.

I never knew this, but the portion of the sacrifice made by a worshipper that he is allowed to keep and eat – it can’t be taken home to be eaten and it cannot be eaten inside the Tabernacle (it wasn’t nearly large enough for all the people who came for the festivals).  It was eaten in the surrounding hillsides.  As long as you could see the Tabernacle, you could eat that offering.  So the Tabernacle wouldn’t have been at the highest point, but in a space surrounded by hills – which is exactly where it might have been.  And I guess the plates on which you eat that meal are holy (the oil was holy from the sacrifice) and the only thing you can do with that plate is break it when you are done.  And all of the hills facing Shiloh have the remains of broken plates – but the backside of each of those hills has not a single cracked plate.  Interesting.

On the walk back to the bus we saw some Canaanite walls – and Israelite walls, between which they found 27 large stone jars full of food.  That was apparently left when the Philistines attacked Shiloh after they captured the Ark – and Eli, Hophni, and Phinneas died – on the same day.

A little shopping was done in the gift shop, but what else is new?  Then back to the bus where we headed to Samaria/Nablus.  We would like to see Shechem first, but the church would be closed for lunch when we arrived.  So we went to city built by Omri and Ahab first – before the site known for where Abraham arrived from Haran.

It was hot.  Really hot at Samaria.  And, there is not all that much interesting to see.  But Andre made sure we had some time to soak in the landscape.  It is stunning.  The rolling hills of Samaria laid out before us – and the hills were covered with terraces and olive trees, and well, it was really an Old Testament scene.  Beautiful.

We did visit the ruins of a Byzantine church which supposedly housed the head of John the Baptist (a long time ago).  I guess John would baptize in the area, not just in the Jordan, but in a river called Salem, 5-6 miles away.  So this was a bit of his home turf.  And I guess his head came here after it was removed from his body.  Who knows?

Back around the tel to the ruins of the palace of Omri and Ahab.  It is a bunch of really large stones all piled up – but to think that these evil kings ruled from here is an amazing thought.  On the back side of those ruins there are the steps to a pagan temple built by the Romans in the days of Herod.  Samaria was one of the cities he rebuilt during his reign.  There were 8 of them, by the way.

We passed the Roman theater, in fairly bad shape.  Even though this is an Israeli national park, the funding is not adequate….we are in the West Bank.  Hmmm.

On to lunch.  Sweet.  We ate at a similar restaurant as last trip – but in a different spot.  Not sure which I preferred, I think perhaps the other one.  But the meals were the same.  Delicious soup, salad, chicken on top of this amazing large flat bread (it has been soaked in olive oil with zatar and nuts – yummy).  Then makluveh (rice, chicken, broth…all cooked in a pot upside down – then flipped over to serve).  Delicious.  And not a bad lunch for $15.  We couldn’t come close to eating it all.

There had been some sad news as we arrived in Samaria.  Our bus driver, Tarek, was called home.  His dad was in the hospital and he needed to get home quickly.  So he dropped us off and headed back home to Jerusalem.  After our tour of the site and before lunch, we got word that Tarek’s father had died.  I guess it was earlier in the day but they didn’t want to tell Tarek until he got home. So sad.  We had prayed for Tarek, and now the worst outcome possible faced him.  A new driver arrived with our same bus by the time we were done with lunch at 2.

Back onboard the bus, we headed to Shechem (Tel Balata) and Jacob’s well.  We stopped first at the well, which is now located under a Greek Orthodox church.  It is a church with no services – just a beautiful church serving as a memorial to the well.  We actually got to meet the priest who designed the church – and who did ALL of the artwork inside the church.  It was lovely, actually, and a fascinating place.  And it was nice to meet the priest, Justinius.  He has even built his tomb outside the church with a mural of the church and him.  Nice stop.

Then our last stop in Israel was at Tel Balata (Shechem).  Another interesting stop.  It lies between Mt. Gerazim (south) and Mt. Ebal (north).  Mt. Ebal is the mount of cursing (it is bald on top) and Mt. Gerazim is the mountain of blessings.  We recounted the stories which took place in Shechem, and especially about the stone of commitment erected there.  They actually think they found the stone in the sacred precinct of the ruins.  Interesting – and a great photo stop.

Back to the bus – we love air conditioning – for the drive back to Jerusalem.  There was not much conversation on that trip.  When I was awake, I thoroughly enjoyed the views of the countryside.  Andre had commented that the road from Arad to Bethlehem was his favorite road in the country (we’d been there last week) and his second favorite was this road, from Jerusalem to Shechem.  I can’t disagree with him, though I might have enjoyed this one a bit more.

We eventually could see Jerusalem in the distance and the Judean desert, before getting close to that grey cement wall erected in 2002 to protect Israel from the terrorists.  It is ugly and a huge statement – but it is effective.  This is a land where this definitely more than one side to the story – and we can’t forget that fact.

Back to the hotel just after 5.  We bid farewell to Andre – he was going home tonight.  If he waited to take us to Jordan in the morning – he wouldn’t get home until Sunday (because of Shabbat).  So I freed him to go home to his family.  We’ll make it to the border – with a new driver, to boot. 

We had dinner at 6:30, then headed to the Western Wall at 7:15.  Well, we should have reversed those two agenda items.  As we left for the wall (we wanted to see the plaza as Shabbat begins) it was clear that we had missed the best part of the evening.  Hundreds and hundreds (no exaggeration) of black-clad folks were leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate.  We were fish swimming upstream all the way to the Wall.  There were still lots of people milling about in the plaza, and we went down into the area one last time.  But we needed to be there at sunset to get the full impact of Shabbat on the Western Wall.  I couldn’t believe all the people/families leaving the area. 

We stopped at the spice shop on the way back to the hotel – surely we are done shopping now on this side of the border?!  And then Christie and I repacked all our stuff (no simple task).  I think we are just about ready to head to Jordan in the morning.  We do have to bring down our own luggage (ugh).  But we will make it, maybe just not exactly on time.

Israel has been an amazing experience.  To see it through the eyes of the new folks is a huge blessings, indeed.  But, new adventures await us in Jordan.  We’ll be sleeping in Petra, Lord willing, tomorrow night.

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