Yesterday (or whenever it was), I was sitting out in my backyard with my son and daughter-in-law, taking simple pleasure in the blue Utah sky and the cool dry Utah evening air, and regretting that I had to leave soon. Why do I travel so much?
This is the view out my window today:
Something tells me we’re not in Orem anymore.
As always, we had to go through not one but two security checks prior to the New York to Tel Aviv flight, with boarding underway fully ninety minutes before scheduled departure time. (And then the flight was delayed.) Thirty minutes before landing, immediately upon entering Israeli air space, all passengers had to be in their seats with their seat belts buckled. But I understand this. Israel is probably the number one terrorist target on earth, and yet flights into Israel have a remarkably good safety record. (I’m told, incidentally, that, every time a plane takes off in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or Egypt, an Israeli fighter jet is scrambled for a potential interception; Israel is so small that no time can be lost.)
The fellow seated next to me was an American — probably, I’m guessing from his accent and profession — from the Gulf Coast. For the past year, he’s been working month-long rotations on an offshore drilling project that’s located in the Mediterranean just west of Haifa. The oil reserves there, he tells me, are potentially very large.
Israel has a strong economy right now, powered to a large extent by technical and technological expertise. (That doesn’t surprise me. Does it surprise you?) Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Likud’s free market economic policies, significantly different from those of the more or less socialist Labor Party that once had an unchallenged stranglehold on Israeli politics, have also helped. (That certainly doesn’t surprise me. And if it surprises you, you should probably study economics a bit more.) If significant oil revenues are added to the country’s current economic strength . . . well, perhaps Israel should be sending several billion dollars a year in aid to the United States, rather than vice versa.
Other than an initial conversation with the oil driller, I heard nothing else from him. He slept the whole time. Right through meals. That’s a gift that I envy more than I can express.
Enroute, I read most of Bart Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? Spoiler alert: Although Ehrman, a prominent New Testament scholar who began his college studies as a fundamentalist Protestant, is a self-described agnostic leaning toward atheism, his answer to the question is Absolutely Yes.
It was amusing, as ever, to hear Israeli Hebrew again. The Swiss like to joke that Schwyzerdütsch or Swiss German, with all of its gutturals, isn’t so much a language as a throat disease. The same could be said of Israeli Hebrew.
Finally, I sometimes think that the most dramatic evidence for the existence of God is the reappearance of a Hebrew-speaking nation of Israel. It’s a fitting analog of resurrection. Irish Gaelic isn’t doing all that well, notwithstanding the old hope of Irish nationalists that it would have a comeback against the language of the English imperialists. And nobody dreams of restoring Latin as the language of a renewed Roman Empire. But the tiny little Hebrew people, after two thousand years of dispersion and unspeakably brutal persecution, is back in Palestine, speaking its ancient language.
And I say this as an Arabist who is far from uncritical of Israel, and very sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians.
Well, Tel Aviv is very far from being my favorite city. But at least I’m off that @#$%&%$@# plane, and there are some very important sites to be introduced over the next few days to people who, for the most part, will be seeing them for the very first time. This experience will change the way they read the scriptures forever.
Posted from Tel Aviv, Israel.