I cannot tell a lie: when I am finally back home and telling tales from this trip, trying to recount from memory all that I did and saw, I guarantee that I will forget this day entirely! Why? Because it was a day of rocks; and, as should be patently clear to even the casual reader of this blog, rocks & their history are entirely uninteresting to me. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying they are inherently uninteresting--I am only saying they are uninteresting to me; and as proof of that, even after days of hearing the dates of different eras [Stone, Iron, etc.], and different empires [Canaanite, Assyrian], I simply cannot keep them straight in my head. I'm sure this is a moral weakness.
We did see some neat things, though--so let me give a quick run-down of the day, before I turn to other things. We went into the Negev today, which is the large desert that makes up the bulk of southern Israel. This was the first time we have been in the desert, and it happened to be a really, really windy morning [we had pouring rain this afternoon--that kept up pretty much on the bus for the latter half of the afternoon]. So, when we made our first stop, at Arad, we got out and climbed up to the ruins, you really got the sense of how vulnerable you are in the desert, and how powerful the weather is there. We all immediately were covered in a fine layer of grit: it was in our eyes and in our mouths; and the people with scarves wrapped them around their mouths, noses and faces instinctively--you got a sense for the practicality of desert dress! And thinking about wandering in the desert for years.....I don't know, somehow, I found the experience really meaningful, just being out in that environment, and FEELING the desert! In the ruins themselves, what was most interesting were the temple ruins from Solomon's time, which had a sacrificial altar and even a "holy of holies"--the ark of the covenant wouldn't have been there, of course, but it would have "held" the divine presence. Marty told us that this is the location of the only "sanctioned" temple outside of Israel that we know of--there were three, and the other two were in Egypt. What that means is that at some point, the chief priests in Jerusalem gave permission & sent items for the temple here, so that people did not have to make the difficult trip to the temple in Jerusalem. At some point, however, this temple was destroyed by either King Hezekiah or King Josiah, as part of their religious reforms, wanting to get rid of all other "high places" outside of Jerusalem.
Two other things of quick note: driving to Arad, we went into Palestine and then out again--that means checkpoints; as, as you might guess, it is the checkpoint OUT of Palestine back into Israel where you really get grilled. We had to have our passports, and they were checked by a young soldier who came onto the bus--that is the closest I have ever been to a semi-automatic weapon, and as close as I ever hope to be. Walid, our Palestinian driver, had to get out & was searched separately.
Second, we got a quick Hebrew lesson on our way to Arad, talking about the Negev. In Hebrew, the letter "bet" can be pronounced either "b," when there is no vowel in front of it, or like "v," when there is a vowel in front of it. So, sometimes you will see "Negev" written like that, because that is how it is pronounced; but sometimes it is written like "Negeb," because that is the actual spelling in Hebrew. Interesting, right?
Then, we went to Beersheva/Beer-Sheba [see above]--also not so much to my taste. The "tell" [the site of the ruins] is a little east of the modern city, which is called the "Capital of the Negev." We learned something interesting about the Bedouin people here: traditionally nomadic, of course, the Israel government has started pressuring them to give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle in cities [a control issue, apparently]. Many of them now live in the various cities/villages in the Negev, most notably Beersheva. There has even been a Bedouin elected to the Israeli Knesset, who is from Beersheva. For our purposes, the interest in this site is its connection to the patriarchs--we have clear biblical evidence that Abraham lived here at some point; and it was vrom Beersheva that Jacob & his sons went up to Egypt to meet Joseph. The word itself either means "well of the seven" or "well of the oath"--both Abraham and Isaac made an oath and dug a well here, according to Genesis, and Abraham traded seven lambs as part of the oath as well. We saw the ruins of a lovely well, but it wasn't from the time of Abraham. Oh well. [Get it?!]
Then, I must confess, boredom really set in, and I started reading my new Norwegian mystery in earnest. First, Lachish [I didn't take one picture here], an important biblical fortified city; then Bet Guvrin [it was POURING rain at that point, so I didn't even get out to see the columbarium cave, where pigeons were kept. I kind of regret that now], where we did see some very beautiful bell caves where they had been quarrying limestone--more about that below; then a stop on the side of the road at the Valley of Elah [where David fought Goliath--we even past the "wadi" where he would have picked up his "smooth stones]; and then a final stop on the side of the road at Beth Shemesh, where the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites, because it was bringing them bad luck in their temple. [I don't know much more than that--check out the story in 1 Samuel 6, if you want to read more!]
Now, to the animals, common and unique. First, the common. Everyone who knows me even a little knows how much I love animals, so one of the best parts about coming to another country, for me, is seeing the different wildlife in a new place. There are two animals we saw today that I just want to mention. The first is the bat. At Bet Guvrin, inside one of the deeper bell caves, we saw--well, really heard more than saw--a small colony of bats; and we even saw a dead bat on one of the stone stairs. Now, I love bats, always have; and so I thought I would look up what kind of bat it was. It turns out the Israel, despite its small size has 32 species of insectivorous bats, as well as the Egyptian fruit bat, which has been long-beleaguered and threatened. There are more species of bats in Israel than in Europe, and bats comprise 1/3 of the mammalian species in Israel. After doing a little poking around online [and realizing that different microbat species are really, really hard to tell apart from pictures], I am going out on a limb to say that the bats we saw [based on the dead one] were Long-fingered bats. Why? Because they are a little larger than other microbats, they are grey, and because they roost in caves. [I wanted it to be a Naked-rumped Tomb bat, just because I wanted to say I had seen one--what a great name, right? But the habitat was wrong.]
The second animal is the ibex. I think I have already mentioned that the ibex is the "Smokey Bear" of Israel's national parks--his name is Artzi, for "ha'aretz," which means "the land" in Hebrew. He is very cute, by the way--I continue to look for an "artzi" t-shirt in my size! Today was the second day we saw ibex--we saw them on our way down from Belvoir, too. They are small and VERY fast, and it is incredible to watch them bound up the steep, rocky mountains, the landscape for which they were born. The species here is the Nubian ibex, and they are beautiful. We are going into the desert tomorrow, too, so I hope we see more of them.
As a transition here, I want to mention that I have not seen one dog in Jerusalem--not one. TONS of cats, but no dogs [there were dogs on the Kibbutzim, however...]
Now to the unique animal--my little dog Henry. I miss Henry! Those of you who know me from campus especially know that little Henry is my constant companion, and we spend most of the days together--and he sleeps cuddled up next to me every night. [Perhaps more information than you wanted, but there it is]. So, I feel his absence keenly, and unlike John, we have not been able to talk or email! I made sure I had plenty of cute pictures of him on my iPad, and I look at them every day. So, missing Henry & thinking about him has me reflecting on a very interesting editorial that is coming out in the spring issue of Dialog [March 1st--mark your calendar], by Josh Moritz. In the editorial, he talks about our view of animals; and he begins with the question of whether or not animals will go to heaven. He quotes the wife of Rick Warren [I think her name is Linda, but I can't remember], who states emphatically that animals are NOT going to heaven--Jesus came to save humans, period. [Don't you love those people who make such emphatic statements about heaven? I mean, really? Where are you getting your information?] Now, there are actually lots of theological problems with such a statement [not least is the declaration that Jesus came to reconcile the whole world to God], but for me, what I find most frustrating in that statement is the complete and utter denial of the complex web of relationships that really make up and constitute our lives--not only human to human relationships, but the relationships we have with many animals, and, of course, the relationship we have with places, mountains, seas, countries, etc. To think that NONE of that is included in what "redemption" means, in what "salvation" means, in what "heaven" means is so incredibly short-sighted and narrow-minded. The salvific work of Jesus Christ goes way beyond the mere scooping up of a few individual souls & leaving the rest to rot. That's what the whole metaphors of the peaceable kingdom, the new creation, the new heaven and earth point to--redemption on a cosmic scale.
This is a quote from the article that I really like. Moritz pulls from a section in the Table Talk where Luther is talking about his own puppy Tölpel, "who taught him innumerable theological lessons. It is difficult for Luther to “believe that so faithful a beastie would be excluded from life eternal” or that other such noble animals would not be rewarded beyond this life. Thus, Luther concludes that animals must have a share in the resurrected life." Then, Moritz quotes Luther himself: "for there the earth will not be without form and void. Peter said that the last day would be the restitution of all things. God will create a new heaven and a new earth and new Tölpels with hides of gold and fur of silver. God will be all in all; and snakes, now poisonous because of original sin, will then be so harmless that we shall be able to play with them." If Luther's little dog gets to be in heaven with a hide of gold, so does little Henry! Wouldn't that be fabulous?! Maybe it is childish, but I love to think of a heaven with dogs, bats, ibexes, cats, crows, doves--every animal that has ever been, held, remembered & restored by God. Why not?