Category Archives: Palestine

The Innocents

Two events — unexpected and unplanned — happened during our long-term travel. We spent many days traveling in Palestine and Israel before heading to Italy. In Palestine, we spent time in Bethlehem where we saw Shepherds’ Fields, Manger Square, and the Church of the Nativity. While in the Grotto of the Nativity, we joined other faithful ones remembering the birth of Jesus. About fifty women from Brazil were singing in the grotto, and the sound of their voices reverberated throughout the grotto while we visited.

Numerous other chapels are located in or near the Church of the Nativity. One of these — the Chapel of the Innocents — commerorates the infanticide ordered by Herod after hearing about Jesus’ birth from the Magi. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, we read that Herod ordered the death of children aged two and younger in Bethlehem. The slaughter of the innocents is a difficult, and theologically challenging, aspect of the gospel story.

Chapel of the Innocents, Bethlehem

Chapel of the Innocents, Bethlehem

Under the Church of the Nativity, away from the Grotto of the Nativity with its crowds of pilgrims, the Chapel of the Innocents sat quiet and empty. Perhaps that was a fitting testimony.

After leaving Israel/Palestine, we traveled to Italy. While in Florence, we made the rounds of important sites such as the Ufizzi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Accademia di Firenze. While at the Accademia, I found an unexpected treasure. After seeing Michelangelo’s David, which at seventeen feet tall is incredible and awe-inspiring, I turned left to go into another gallery. There, in a room filled mostly with statues, a few paintings are on the wall. At the far end of the room, on the left side of the wall, I saw a painting that took my breath away.

Antonio Puccinelli, The Massacre of the Innocents (1852)

Antonio Puccinelli, The Massacre of the Innocents (1852)

Antonio Puccinelli painted The Massacre of the Innocents in 1852, and in it, he captures the terror of mothers whose children are to be killed because of Herod’s order. In the background, one mother cries out in anguish over her dead child, lifting her hands raised to the sky. In the foreground, another mother carries her child away, covering his mouth to keep him from making noise and being discovered. Her face is filled with worry as she flees.

Puccinelli (1822-1897), a Florentine painter, was best known for his realism. He depicted everyday scenes with special focus on regular people in normal settings. In The Massacre of the Innocents, Puccinelli captures the experience of a regular woman, a mother desperate to keep her child alive.

After looking at the painting for a long time, I rushed to find my wife and encouraged her to see it as well. Then, together, we looked at this painting, marveling at its depiction of the scene in a way that neither of us had ever seen before.

Jewels in Jericho

Monastery of Temptation

Monastery of Temptation

While in Jericho, we traveled up the Mount of Temptation to see the monastery on the site commemorating Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The trip is fast and easy today thanks to a cable car that whisks you up the mountain!

Like so many sites in Palestine and Israel, caves provided the setting for important events. Mary likely was told of Jesus’ coming birth in a cave, Jesus may have been born in a cave, and Jesus taught his disciples in caves.

View of Jericho from Mount of Temptation

View of Jericho from Mount of Temptation

The Monastery of the Temptation amazingly clings to the mountainside about 350 meters above sea level, and it encompasses caves in which Jesus is believed to have endured his temptation. From the monastery, you can view the oasis of Jericho in the midst of the dry land surrounding the Dead Sea. It includes beautiful icons well worth seeing.

In one spot, pilgrims are invited to see a rock on which Jesus is thought to have sat while tempted.Rock of Temptation

While in Jericho, we also stopped to see the old sycamore tree in town.

As a young child, I remember learning the song about Zaccheus, the tax collector whose short stature required him to climb a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed through Jericho.

Zaccheus was a wee, little man.
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For The Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree.
And said, ‘Zaccheus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.’

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Visiting the tree reminded me of Jesus’ audacious willingness to fellowship with people viewed as sinful and despised by others. It also reminded me of the change brought about in Zaccheus. After his encounter with Jesus, Zaccheus gave half his possessions to the poor and restored four-fold any money he had taken wrongly from people. You may read this story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, verses 1-10.

If you have the opportunity, make the trip to Jericho.

Naser Alawy, new friend in Bethlehem and Jericho

Like so many pilgrims to Israel/Palestine, we wanted to see Bethlehem and Jericho. Our time in these areas was wonderful because of our guide and friend, Naser Alawy, a native of Bethlehem.Naser cropped As we drove south from Jerusalem, Naser met us just before we reached Rachel’s Tomb and the check point to go into Bethlehem. ┬áHe showed us where to park our rental car and ushered us through the check point. Then, we shared a deeply meaningful day in Jericho and Bethlehem.

After working as a physical therapist in Spain, Naser wanted to return home. He graduated from the tour guide program at Bethlehem Bible College. I encourage you to contact Naser if you need a guide in these areas. His email address is NaserAlawy@yahoo.com.

In addition to providing historical information and helpful driving, Naser also took us to a Palestinian restaurant for lunch, helped us choose special dishes, and shared a delicious meal with us.

As our day ended, Naser accompanied us back through the check point and escorted us to our car. As I watched Naser walk back to his home in Bethlehem, I was both grateful for a wonderful day and sad to see a special man going to the other side of concrete fences and barbed wire.

Part of the joy of travel includes seeing important places, but it is even more touching to meet wonderful, caring people. Naser is one of the special people we have met during our travels, and I feel that we have a friend in Bethlehem.

I pray for his well being and that of his family, and I hope our paths will cross again.