Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology

 

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"A CERTAIN MAN WENT DOWN FROM JERUSALEM TO JERICHO AND
FELL AMONG THIEVES, WHO STRIPPED HIM OF HIS CLOTHING,
WOUNDED HIM, AND DEPARTED, LEAVING HIM HALF DEAD"
LUKE 10:30

              
                        

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

It's no coincidence that Jesus attached his parable of the Good Samaritan to a specific road – that dangerous, narrow, winding mountainous road (more like a trail or footpath) between Jerusalem and Jericho.  As the hymn goes, "On the Jericho Road, there's room for just two; no more and no less.…"

From time immemorial pilgrims traveling the route between Jerusalem and Jericho have been beset by robbers.  Even today, in the 21st century, the Israeli army forbids travel after sunset on the wider, asphalted Jericho road (first paved by the Romans in the late first century AD). During times of security unrest, there have been numerous incidents of knifings and shootings by predators upon individual hikers.

On the Jericho Road there's room for just two...(looking west)

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

On the Jericho Road there's room for just two...(looking west)

As early as the first century BC, General Pompey had to clear out the "haunts of the robbers" on the passes [of the Jericho road] leading up to Jerusalem in order to conquer the holy city.  This is according to the Roman geographer Strabo.  And shortly after the time of Jesus, Jewish rebels fled from Jericho to the uneven and uninhabited mountainous area in the direction of Jerusalem [i.e. the Jericho road] as the Roman army approached.  This is according to Jewish Roman historian Josephus Flavius.

For the first time in 15 years, I recently had the opportunity to lead a group along the eastern part of the road – from the Monastery of St George down to New Testament period Jericho.  And no – we weren't beset by robbers!

Sixth century St. George Monastery still inhabited by Greek Orthodox monks

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Sixth century St. George Monastery still inhabited by Greek Orthodox monks

The narrow path was just as I remembered – rugged, biblical, serene – the ideal venue for contemplating Jesus' take on, "Who is my neighbor?"

Our bus took us as far as the steep road leading down to the sixth century St. George Monastery.  Below the monastery we crossed a bridge over the Wadi Kelt which was nearly dry after winter rains.  Then we started on the footpath. I heaved a sigh of relief when I remembered the tricky part – a subtle fork in the path where the guide needs to take the upper route.

Jericho Road hiking east towards Jericho

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Jericho Road hiking east towards Jericho

It's not a hard hike, although definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted or acrophobic. And certainly not in the intense summer heat.

Sheep and goats grazing on the southern slopes of the Wadi Kelt

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Sheep and goats grazing on the southern slopes of the Wadi Kelt

On the steep slopes across from us, we saw lots of goats and sheep eating very yummy green grass, probably watered by holes in ancient aqueducts, either Herodion or Turkish period.  During the time of the second temple, it's said that when the priests waved incense over the altar and the wind was blowing towards the east, the goats in Jericho sneezed.  As I gazed at the goats perched so precariously, I wondered whether any of those sneezing goats in antiquity ever fell into the ravine below!
When the priest waved incense over the altar, the goats in Jericho sneezed!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

When the priest waved incense over the altar, the goats in Jericho sneezed!

Ancient Herodion and Turkish period aqueducts still carry water to Jericho

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ancient Herodion and Turkish period aqueducts still carry water to Jericho

After about forty minutes of walking, we come to a sitting area where we can comfortably open our Bibles to Luke 10 to consider the parable of the Good Samaritan.  And we want to make plenty of time for reflection.  There's a deep quiet, only broken by the occasional bleating of a lamb or goat.
Sitting area to reflect on the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10

 
Before we leave to continue hiking to New Testament Jericho, we can consider Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46+) who sat on this very road. As the hymn goes,

"On the Jericho Road blind Bartimaeus sat
His life was a void so empty and flat
But Jesus appeared, one word brought him sight
On the Jericho Road Christ banished his night."

First view of New Testament Jericho

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

First view of New Testament Jericho

 
After you hike the Jericho Road, you will never be able to hum, "On the Jericho Road there's room for just two:  No more and no less, just Jesus and you" without the memory of this biblical landscape invading your mind in all its colors and contours.
 
Are you tempted now to put the "holy land" near the top of your bucket list?
 

An alternate to hiking the old Jericho Road -- a holy land donkey!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

An alternate to hiking the old Jericho Road!

 

Copyright 2015 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 
"Let's hike the old Jericho Road" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was "Let's claim our heritage at the Temple Mount."  This month's highlight is "Let's overlook the site of Jacob's wrestling match."  The next highlight will be "Let's find the temple tax in St Peter's Fish."
 

SIGN UP for the FREE bimonthly e-letter:
"Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights"

While we're on the subject of thieves, Jesus claimed in Matthew 21 that the temple itself had been turned into a den of thieves.  Listen to the story as you tour the Temple Mount with Gila.  Gila's Temple Mount tour is now available not only in audio format, but also as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and ten recommended reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

Cleopatra, whose intellect and beauty were legendary even in her day, wasn't deterred by robbers on the Jericho Road.  She insisted that Mark Antony give her Jericho's lucrative well-watered plantations of dates and balsam perfume.  Read more about the ancient femme fatale.
When Mark Twain traveled along the Jericho Road during his 1867 pilgrimage, his party employed "two gorgeous young Arab sheikhs" armed with cargoes of swords, guns, pistols and daggers to protect them from imaginary Beduin marauders.  Mark Twain states that during his entire pilgrimage, he had no more need for the "guards" than he had for patent leather boots or white kid gloves.  Check out Mark Twain's tips for holy land pilgrims.
If the holy land is on your bucket list, don't wait too long!  And certainly don't pay attention to the media.  For a not-to-be forgotten half day customized tour of Jerusalem's Old City see book Gila.
More on Jesus' public ministry:

Let's focus on Jesus' Ministry from Mount Arbel

Let's consider whether Jesus ever visited Sepphoris

Holy Land Heroines -- Mary Magdalena

Mt Arbel / Galilean ministry

Sepphoris / hypocrites   

Mary Magdalene

Let's imagine the Passover from Pilate' Praetorium

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Pilate's Praetorium   

Hippos / Decapolis city

Walk 1st C AD Bethsaida


GILA YUDKIN • TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A • JERUSALEM • ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin