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"
HARK ONE CALLS
CLEAR YE IN THE WILDERNESS THE WAY OF THE LORD,
MAKE PLAIN IN THE DESERT
A HIGHWAY FOR OUR GOD"
ISAIAH 40:3
 

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's ascend the Cliff of the Scapegoat

When you hear "wilderness," what do you imagine?  Barren desolation?  Demons, thirst, scorpions, snakes?  Or do you envision a quiet space for solitude, meditation, revelation?  Or perhaps a combination of all of these?
Christian and Jewish traditions alike have ambivalent attitudes towards the wilderness.  On the one hand, it's a place of nearness to the Almighty. Moses ascended the mountain in the wilderness of Sinai to receive "the stone tablets inscribed by the [very] finger of God." (Exodus 31:18)  On the other hand, the wilderness is a "land of fiery serpents, scorpions, thirst" (Deuteronomy 8:15) and other scary unknowns, provoking the darkest of fears.  And it was in the wilderness where Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights, struggling with Satan.

Sheep and goats grazing en route to Jebbel Muntar

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Sheep and goats grazing in Judean wilderness en route to Jebbel Muntar

One of my favorite sites in the wilderness is Jebbel Muntar, Arabic for "look out mountain."  Believed to be the Cliff of the Scapegoat, Jebbel Muntar is accessible only by safari vehicle.

Rock-carved cistern near Judean desert highway

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Rock-carved cistern near Judean desert "highway"

Wrapped in windbreakers with a stock of bottled water, we eagerly climb up into a 30-seater safari truck which picks us up early at our hotel.  East of Bethany we leave the black asphalt for the brown stony "ancient paths" (as in Jeremiah 6:16) bordered by fields of sprouting barley.

What are the camels grazing on

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Camels grazing -- on what???

En route to Jebbel Muntar we pass through dozens of Beduin encampments and note remnants of their once nomadic existence reminiscent of the Biblical wanderings in the desert.  We stop to observe the ancient lifestyle of the Beduin and their solutions to the one pervasive problem of the desert: lack of water.  Striking faces, dress, tents and animals provide lots of photo opps for us today.
Summit of Jebbel Muntar

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Summit of Jebbel Muntar

After a bumpy ride we reach Jebbel Muntar, the highest peak in the Judean Wilderness at 1625 feet.  This mount is associated with a ritual practiced in Jesus' day on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  On that most holy of days during the existence of the second temple in Jerusalem, a "sacred" lottery took place.  It involved two goats and two lots, one assigned to each goat.  One lot would read "for the Lord" and that goat would be sacrificed in the Temple.
The other lot would read "for Azazel."  The high priest would lay all the sins of Israel (and there were many!) upon that goat.  The goat would be led out of the Temple courtyard, through the Eastern Gate, up to the Mount of Olives.

The Scapegoat painted by William Holman Hunt

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Scapegoat painted by William Holman Hunt 1827-1910

Accompanied by the VIPs of Jerusalem, the goat would be led from the Mount of Olives along ten stations through the wilderness of Judea.  Once the goat carrying all the sins of Israel reached "the" precipice, it would be hurled over so that its limbs separated from its body, even before it reached the valley floor.  Today we believe that Jebbel Muntar is that precipice over which the goat was cast, taking with it all the sins of Israel.
This ritual was an adaptation of the earlier Israelite practice of releasing the goat out into the wilderness, as in Leviticus 16.  Maybe the priests feared that the goat bearing all the sins of Israel would wander back to haunt them!  So they hurled the scapegoat (i.e. the goat that originally escaped into the wilderness) off this precipice.

Desert landscape seen from Jebbel Muntar

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Desert landscape seen from Jebbel Muntar

Do you think, as I do, that the ritual of the scapegoat brings to mind the actions of the people of Nazareth who took Jesus "to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff?" (Luke 4:29)
The wilderness experience often ignites a heated examination of our attitudes (and fears) towards the wilderness, solitude, revelation.  In every group the discussion veers in a different direction.
Sheep in the wilderness

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

We may see something like this on our wilderness day

Spring wilderness landscape

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

If it's spring, we may see a scene like this.....

And at some point I'll quote Proverbs 21:19:
Better to dwell in a wilderness
Then with a contentious and angry woman!"
 
That surely will provoke a reaction!

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More Wilderness

 
Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Discovery of Herod's Tomb at Herodion

The Epiphany in the Wilderness of Judea

Cave #4 at Qumran   

Herodion & Herod's tomb

The Epiphany

     
Let's spy out Jericho

Last defenders of Masada

Old Jericho Road

Jericho / Mt of Temptation   

Masada

Hike the old Jericho Road

 
Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a former Connecticut Yankee living now in King David's Court, has been guiding wilderness tours for over three decades.  Gila thrives on showing veteran tour leaders new, authentic, biblical sites.  Give her an opportunity and your sermons will be enriched and your colleagues envious....
 
"Let's ascend the cliff of the scapegoat" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free quarterly 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" please contact Gila. 
 

Copyright 2017 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.


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

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin