Greeks learn in order to comprehend.
Hebrews learn in order to revere.

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A short recap

Despite the typical rain Jerusalem usually receives this time of year, the past several weeks have been beautiful. I know back home many of you are experiencing the winter wonderland of the Midwest already so it’s difficult to say that here the sun is shining and it’s currently 74 degrees! That has been pretty typical lately and it’s been great. This morning did feel a bit like fall though with a cool, crisp breeze. We definitely missed the beautiful colors of fall and we will miss seeing the land blanketed white, but we are enjoying this break from the harsh cold and winter for a season.

To take advantage of this beautiful weather, Denyon and I have been getting outside a lot. Brad spent four days in Jordan recently so we had to keep busy. One of Brad’s classmates, Larry, has an amazing wife (Erica) and daughter (Lylah) who we love to get together with when the guys are gone. Lylah is one month younger than Denyon, although much bigger, and she and Denyon just love playing together. During Brad’s time in Jordan, we had lunch at a couple different parks, dinner at our house, walked and shopped in the old city, played in a fountain in the new city, and enjoyed Shabbat meal together. The time passes much quicker when we all get together and play. Another friend, Winona, and her two children Samuel (3) and Elyanah (1) join us often for play as well. Her husband attends Hebrew University—another university here located on Mt. Scopus.

Awhile back, when the guys were in Galilee, we spent the day at the zoo and the kids loved it. Jerusalem has a great zoo with elephants, lions, tigers, camels, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, bears, rhinoceros, and many other animals. They even have a petting zoo for kids and one exhibit with kangaroos where you can literally walk right next to them in the yard where the frolic. It’s great. Denyon especially loved the penguins. It was one of the exhibits where you could see above and below the water. Denyon loved standing right along the glass to watch the penguins swim by and do tricks and flips. It reminded me of how much I used to love the otters when I was a kid for the very same reason! We got a membership to the zoo so we’ll be going many more times.

Brad only has two more weeks of school left for the semester so it’s rapidly coming to an end. He is busy finishing up papers and studying for exams. The beauty of this semester though is that he is loving everything that he is learning and benefitting so much from all of the assignments. I have tremendously enjoyed my two classes as well and because I’m auditing the classes I don’t have the pressure of final exams and papers. After the semester ends we have six weeks before semester two. During that time we plan on traveling to Greece for one week to do a Biblical study tour of that land. We are also hoping to visit Galilee again, Eliat—located on the southern tip of Israel and the Red Sea, the zoo, and the old city. Brad will spend four days with an Israeli guide (one of the best in the country) and friend that will personally show him places and sites he will need to know about for his future of leading trips here in Israel. And finally, Brad’s family is planning to visit in January so I’m sure we’ll be heading to many great sites to give them the grand tour! It will be amazing having six weeks together to travel, rest, explore, and enjoy being together as a family.

The sad part about our semester ending is that our great friends Erica, Larry, and Lylah will be heading back home to continue their education. We will miss them so much and it won’t be the same without them. They will be living in Chicago so they won’t be too far when we get back home. They have really made a difference in our time here and we’ve developed a lasting friendship with them in only a few months. What a blessing they have been to us!

There are some things to be praying for as well. We have some friends who recently miscarried twins so please think of them. Also, a friend’s dad is battling cancer. Denyon has been a little under the weather this week as well so please pray for his recovery. Otherwise, we have felt very safe, healthy, and well taken care of during our time here. Thank you for your continued prayer and support. Until next time!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lachish Field Study

Brad and I have enjoyed taking two classes together this semester: The Gospel of Matthew and Biblical Archaeology. This past Sunday, we were able to enjoy a field study together for our Archaeology class to the ancient site of Lachish. Our professor is world renown archaeologist—Gaby Barkay. He spent nearly fifteen years of his career excavating at Lachish so he basically told us everything he knew. Well, actually, it seemed like he told us everything he knew, but in reality, it was probably only about 20 percent—if that! He has so much knowledge stored away in his brain about the subject it is amazing! I don’t know how he keeps all of the information straight. Anyways, the city dates back all the way to the Calcholithic period through the time when the Babylonians conquered the city in the 605 BC. Although the site is quite overgrown, we saw impressive excavations and structures. Having someone there who knew what seemed like every stone on the site was such a great experience.

My purpose for writing this short bit isn’t to give you all the details, but just to say what a blessing it is to be learning from the best. We both feel very fortunate to have the experiences here that we have and this was no exception. It was also nice to spend the day together just the two of us (well, us and a bunch of other classmates…but no baby). Denyon enjoyed his day very much with his beloved babysitter, Miss Laura. She loves him dearly and they had a great day together! Who wouldn’t love a day with someone as cute as Denyon! Have a great day!

Off to the Desert!

Well, this weekend lent itself to yet another outstanding week of travel. This time, it was off to the desert to the locations of En Gedi and Masada. Again, we rented a car on Friday afternoon after our archaeology class and headed down to En Gedi.

En Gedi is a desert oasis located near the southern part of present day Dead Sea. I say present day because in antiquity and even just 50 years ago, there was a whole other southern basin of the Dead Sea that is completely dried up today because of lack of rainfall. We stayed at a youth hostel right near the park…pretty much the only place to stay there other than a campground. On Friday, by the time we arrived at En Gedi, we only had a little over an hour because of darkness, but we made the most of our time by playing in the waterfalls and small pools in the oasis. It was a wonderful way to cool off and as my dad would say, “…very refreshing!”

The oasis is home to a number of wildlife species including the Nubian ibex and little rock badgers (aka conies). These two species we saw in abundance. The ibex are amazing in their ability to climb the cliffs and mountains with grace and ease. The badgers scurry around on the paths, trees, and cliffs and are quite cute. The plant life is beautiful as well and the oasis is visible from quite a distance away because it’s the only green you can see for miles and miles within the desert. The En Gedi spring is what feeds this oasis and it runs off into a series of large waterfalls which are beautiful!

Unlike some of our other trips, this one was more relaxing and low key. Because we were in the middle of the desert, when the parks closed, that was it for the night pretty much. We enjoyed relaxing in our room as a family, watching the sunset and seeing the beautiful colors painted by the sunset on the mountains across the Dead Sea in Jordan. The meals at the hostel were delicious and I especially enjoyed them because it gave me a break from cooking!

One of the challenges of staying in a one-room hotel room is getting Denyon to go to sleep at his bedtime when we’re not going to sleep. It doesn’t work if he can see us. Typically we have to come up with some sort of contraption made of chairs and blankets/sheets to make a wall so that he can’t see us. Even then, he can hear us and we don’t like to turn out all the lights either, so it’s definitely a challenge. He just wants to know exactly what’s going on. So Friday night, he actually found a way to reach the sheet that we had put up and pull it back and play peekaboo! He thought it was hilarious and we actually couldn’t help but laugh either. He was just so happy that he’d finally found us! What a silly little guy! We made some modifications to the contraption and he did eventually go to sleep!

On Saturday, we headed south about 17 km to Masada…Herod’s large desert palace and city in the middle of the desert. The city was taken by the Romans in 74 AD after the Romans were able to build a siege ramp into the city. As Josephus tells it, to the Romans surprise, all of the people of the city were already dead by way of suicide once they entered the city. This Zealous group of Jews believed it was better to commit suicide than to die at the hands of the enemy. What remains today is one of the most impressive sites of antiquity and some say the most impressive site in Israel. Herod built two palaces here with a large bathhouse, including pipes and underground heating systems to create what we would call a sauna room. The palaces also included large storehouses, guest rooms, meeting rooms, and watchtowers. Many of the walls and floors were plastered and elaborately painted, some of which still remain in tact even today. Also, some of the floors were decorated with tile pictures. The tiles were tiny pieces of colored stone (maybe one square centimeter each) that were arranged in a way to make whatever picture desired. They are incredible and Herod was the first person to bring this type of art to Israel. In addition to this, Herod built enormous cisterns for water (one large enough to hold one million gallons of water) and was able to channel rain water to flow directly into the cisterns. Adequate water supply is obviously the biggest challenge to surviving in the desert and Herod was able to sufficiently supply water for the whole city (and even had enough left over to have a swimming pool that was 550 cubic meters)!

We spent the majority of our day at Masada before heading back to En Gedi. Again, we didn’t have too long at En Gedi, but enough to play again a little bit in the water, enjoy the beautiful cliffs and landscape around us, watch the animals, and just enjoy ourselves. After the park closed, we headed back to our hotel to rest (Denyon definitely was ready for a nap…we always seem to really mess his nap times up when we travel but luckily he just goes with the flow and does pretty well with adjusting), shower, watch the sunset, and eat. It was another relaxing night for us in our room.

Sunday, we got up and out the door as soon as we could to spend several hours hiking through En Gedi. We explored some areas that took a little more time and hiking to get to. We discovered one area that we remembered from being here two years ago. We looked for it the previous two days but didn’t really have time to explore well enough. One thing that Brad does when we go to places is scout out areas that would be good for teaching, hiking, and leading trips when he (Lord willing) gets to do so in the coming years. This is definitely one of those locations and the place we went to was a beautiful area in the cliffs with small pools and a cave tucked back under a waterfall. The place is absolutely gorgeous. We did some other hiking and happened upon a temple from the Calcolithic period (4th & 5th century BC), a tel that we weren’t sure about it origin (tel is a man-made mound made up of city upon city remains), and an ancient synagogue from 3rd-6th century BC. We are continually amazed at how these structures can still remain after all this time.

We left En Gedi at about noon to head back to Jerusalem. Brad had a short field study at a local museum that we had to get back for. The weekend was ever so enjoyable and quite relaxing. We were grateful to spend time at such a beautiful location as a family. I’m sure we’ll be back!
Until next time…Shallon

Monday, November 3, 2008

So What Have I Been Doing?

Over the last couple of months, Shallon has been doing a wonderful job of keeping you all updated on what’s going on. We kind of joke around saying that she is responsible for the written updates and I am responsible for all of the pictures (and their captions). For those of you who have been following the blog, you are aware that I have made a couple of “written update” contributions, but it has been some time since my last contribution. So I wanted to give you all an update on what’s been going on … and I am going to focus in on my Physical Settings of the Bible class. My other classes have been going exceptionally well, but it has been my Physical Settings class that has ushered me all around the country throughout this semester, and the class you may find the most interesting.

So what’s the class like? Well, we generally have two classroom periods in the course of the week. In these classes, we look at a particular area of the country and discuss all the various aspects of the area – such as history, archaeological evidence, climate (seasonal patterns), geological composition (rock type, associated soils, etc.), physical layout (mountains, valleys, wadis, water sources, natural passes, etc.), ancient routes, ancient and modern cities, and pertinent biblical stories. After we have become oriented to the particular region, we spend a couple of field study days in that particular region. We do these fields studies on the weekends. Thus far, we have had thirteen days of field studies and we have four days left for this class (in the country of Jordan). [I also have a total of thirteen additional field study days with my other classes, including an eight-day field study to Egypt at the end of the semester.] We average about four to five sites per field study day. So I have been to roughly 60 sites thus far with this class. As you can imagine, we (my class and I) have been all over the country! Nearly every major site or location you can think of, we have been there. Needless to say, I am gaining a good working knowledge of the biblical landscape here in Israel. It has been an incredible journey thus far. The Bible becomes more and more alive every day … and it is making so much more sense. I am daily reminded of the necessity of understanding the geography of the Bible in order to better understand the stories of the Bible … not to mention the brilliance of the writers and God’s intentionality with placing Israel in this land.

Anyhow, I just put together a picture slideshow entitled, “Brad’s Field Studies (Pics)” that captures a lot of the places I have been to this semester. I will be frequently adding more pics to the slideshow, so keep checking back. Enjoy!