Jerusalem and Bethlehem

We spent a couple of hours this morning at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, which is always deeply moving.  Going there (and to the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria) is, for me, a kind of pilgrimage, not only in memory of those who died in the Holocaust but in memory of my father.

The arch over the entrance to Yad Vashem is inscribed with the final verse of this passage, Ezekiel 37:11-14 (which I give here in the New International Version):

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel.  They say, “‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.  Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

From Yad Vashem, we drove through an Israeli checkpoint at the ghastly anti-terrorism wall into Bethlehem.  There, we spent time in Justinian’s sixth-century Church of the Nativity and in the grottoes beneath it (where, among other things, St. Jerome translated the Old and New Testaments into Latin, creating the enormously influential Vulgate Bible).  After the church, we went to lunch at an Arab restaurant overlooking the traditional “Shepherds’ Field,” which we walked over to visit afterwards.  Then we spent an hour shopping — or, at least, the others on the tour did — at a Christian olive wood shop.

Coming back into Israel proper — Bethlehem is in the occupied Palestinian territories — we spent a couple of hours at the superb Israel Museum.

We carefully studied the very helpful outdoor model there (which used to be at the Holy Land Hotel) of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period.

Then we spent time examining the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book, the top of which is designed to resemble the lid of one of the jars in which many of the scrolls were found.

Finally, we went to the newly reopened Archaeology section of the museum, which is spectacular.  Among many other things, we saw the ossuary of Caiaphas the high priest, the original of the stone from Caesarea that features the only contemporary non-biblical mention of Pontius Pilate, and, next to the ossuary in which it was found, the heel bone of a man who was executed by crucifixion — still with a large nail through it.

Posted from Jerusalem, Israel.

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