This is pretty much a copy and paste of part of an email I wrote. Just thought it would be easy to post it on here, and that you might find it interesting.
We stayed at three places for the two weeks that we were in Israel. The first and last were hotels in the old city of Jerusalem. Picture lots of narrow streets with open shops on either side where shop-keepers are displaying beautifully-colored scarves, skirts, jewelry, and everything else a tourist might want. There are lots of stairs in Jerusalem. Plan to walk a few level steps, then up a few steps, followed by a few more level steps and a few more upward or downward steps. Lastly, there are lots of people trying to get you into their shops by trick or by treat. Sometimes they try giving you a free cup of juice if you step in, or sometimes they try pulling you in with clever words. One guy tried pointing at me and saying, “Hey! I know you!” I didn’t believe him for a second. They all promise that they have the best merchandise and the best price, and usually you’ll hear something like: “For you, I give you discount. Because I like you.” or “I give you student discount, 2% discount on everything.” They all expect you to barter for stuff. They start with a ridiculously high price and you start ridiculously low. Most of the time, if you’re good, you’ll end up closer to your price than theirs. I bought a skirt for $12 that the shop-keeper originally said he would sell me for $25. One of my friends managed to get the price of a little drum from $100 down to something like $18. It probably wasn’t even worth $18, but it was worth it for the story.
The other place we stayed was a beautiful resort on the Sea of Galilee. The food there (which was delicious!) was kosher. Which means that they wouldn’t serve pork. And they wouldn’t serve dairy and meat in the same meal, because that was the way they interpreted, “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” or as our guide kept accidentally saying, “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s goat.” I saw several McDonald’s in Israel, and our guide told us that when McDonald’s originally came to Israel, their menu was kosher as well. Not quite sure how that worked, but at some point they apparently gave it up, because it’s not kosher anymore. Another nice thing about our resort is that we were able to swim in the Sea of Galilee just a few yards from our room. I say our room, but it was more like our little house: two rooms and a kitchenette. The resort had a bunch of little buildings like this in a row.
I’d have to say that the trip far exceeded my high expectations! I was expecting to come back having gained a mental picture of a few biblical places. But, I got so much more out of the trip than that! I think this was mostly due to the fact that we had a great guide. We all liked Jack. Aside from his personable, positive personality, he did a great job of showing us how geography and culture greatly affect our understanding of Bible. Geography is so much more important than I ever thought. We also owe him a big thanks for helping us not just see the land of the Bible, but experience it. We swam in the Sea of Galilee, floated in the Dead Sea, got our feet wet in the Mediterranean, hiked down into the Sorek Valley, and wandered in the Judean Wilderness, to name but a few examples.
One example of the importance of geography has to do with the triumphal entry of Christ. To set the scene, we are on the Mt of Olives looking west. The Mt of Olives is much bigger than I imagined: Picture three very big hills in a row which are parallel to the Eastern wall of Jerusalem (in front of us) and run that whole length and beyond. The Mt of Olives is higher than the temple mount which we can easily see from here (it’s just inside the city wall). Between us and the city wall is the Kidron Valley and the Gihon Spring.
With that geography in mind, we read that Jesus and His disciples approach Bethpage which is near the crest of the Mount of Olives. Jesus sends his disciples to bring a colt for him to ride. A couple of interesting things to note here. First of all, this is the only time the Bible records Jesus riding a donkey. Secondly, there is an interesting parallel between Jesus and Solomon. When the people see Jesus riding down the western side (toward Jerusalem) on the donkey, they begin throwing palm branches in the road and shouting “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!” What caused the people to respond in this way? One possibility is that it reminded them of an event that happened here many years earlier:
When David was on his deathbed, he got word that Adonijah was plotting to make himself king. He quickly summoned Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the Son of Jehoiada and ordered them to put Solomon on his mule, send him to the Gihon spring, and anoint him there as king with much fanfare. Jesus is now riding in on a donkey within sight of where Solomon, years earlier, rode in on a mule to be anointed king. You would never think of that connection unless you paid attention to the geography!
A lot of interesting stories are tied to the day we were led up by Jack (our guide) into the wilderness to be tempted by the Bedouin people. That is, to be tempted to buy their merchandise. One thing that they were selling was a head wrap of sorts. Their favorite marketing technique was to walk up, wrap it on your head and say “five dollars.” You then take it off and say “no thank you” and walk away only to get wrapped by the next Bedouin that comes along! I think I got wrapped a total of three times, or was it four? I seriously considered buying the thing just to get them to stop wrapping me with it! Several in our group did buy them, and they actually ended up being pretty handy for keeping the sun off.
Then there’s Sarah Wingerd’s account of what happened there: “One minute I was looking at the donkey, and next thing I know I’m on the donkey!” They just picked her up and put her on! She was not the only one that this happened to. Several of us had a similar experience, but minus the “emergency dismount” that she described in her account. Not quite sure if they were expecting us to pay for the ride or what (we didn’t), but whatever the reason I don’t mind being able to say that I rode a donkey in the Judean Wilderness.
So, the trip was a blast and a half and I could tell you a lot more about it, but I have a few other things to do right now so I’ll leave it at that. I’m hoping to get more stuff written down about it for myself (just so I don’t forget it) at some point. So who knows, I may send you a few more details about things that I learned from the trip when and if I get that done.