Curiously, perhaps, seeing and walking and experiencing the tangible reality of the Holy Land adds an important, satisfying, and yet intangible dimension to one’s reading of the scriptures. Visitors begin to put flesh on the skeletons provided by the maps in the backs of their Bibles that they probably haven’t paid much attention to before. They are, very often, surprised to see how close together things are, and how layered the history of the place is, with Old Testament and New Testament stories happening centuries apart at the same locations or very nearby, and important early Christian, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman stories and edifices built upon them. Just as there is no substitute for actually tasting a dish rather than merely reading about it, nothing can replace actually being in the Holy Land — with the important proviso that, if you don’t actually eat food, merely reading about it will leave you starving to death, whereas one can obviously still be saved without having ever set foot in Jerusalem or Israel. (“Feasting upon the Word,” in this context, of course means living by and according to the scriptures, reading them closely and with real spiritual intent, not hiring a tour guide.)
Walking the land can and often does also have the effect of strengthening faith, for the simple reason that encountering the actual dirt and rocks and olive trees and rough steps of the sites here takes them out of the realm of fairy tales from Junior Sunday School (“long, long ago, in a far-away place”) and gives them a definite, concrete, reality. The modern hard-plastic riot shields that we saw stacked up for use near the southwest entrance to the Temple Mount yesterday — I always point them out; they’re always there — bring the Antonia Fortress, with its Roman garrison stationed directly adjacent to the sacred precincts at the northwest (from which, among other things, they emerge very rapidly to break up a melee involved Paul and Timothy in Acts) directly into contact with today’s headlines. Just as in Jesus’s experience with the Jews in “Solomon’s Porch” in John 10, a spot on the Temple platform running along the eastern edge, the place has always been a flashpoint. It continues so today, as the bullet marks in the Dome of the Rock (from the days of Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount a bit more than a decade ago) plainly attest.
The history here is so dense, so thick, that no tour guide, not even an extensive scholarly written tour commentary, can hope to do it justice. But it makes visiting here a rich experience, even for somebody (like myself) who has been coming here since January of 1978, including two stays of six months each.
Posted from Jerusalem, Israel.