Monday, June 30, 2008

Tomato, Tomahto

Traffic is a constant in Cairo. No matter the time of day(or night), if you are anywhere near a road, you will hear the sounds of vehicles, horns, and music.

Ever seen a little kid pretend to drive a car? They have the imaginary steering wheel out in front of them, and will zoom around, "steering" the imaginary car around all kinds of obstacles, all of this generally accompanied by some kind of vroom vroom noise.

We were walking back to the apartment from an evening stroll on the Nile when we passed some little Egyptian kids "driving". The basic principle was the same, except there was no vroom vroom. The driving was instead accompanied nonstop by the two little guys going BEEP BEEPBEEP BEEEEEEP. Needless to say, we were amused.

Just one of those little cultural differences... :)


Saturday, June 28, 2008


Mashe (Mah-shee) is the Arabic word for anything that is stuffed. For example, stuffed vegetables or a pillow stuffed with feathers. It is a good description for how we have felt ever since we arrived in Cairo. Well-fed would be a massive understatement. In any case, the theological posts are on hold until we get back to Jerusalem. Right now we are just enjoying hanging out with family and lots of good food (with a few touristy things thrown in for good measure). A good time is being had by all.

We will get to attend church tomorrow (which hopefully will be translated into English). We will also probably visit some of the historic churches in Egypt and some of the markets as well later this week.

Will type again soon.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In Egypt

Thanks to everybody who prayed for our safe travel. We made it from Jerusalem to Eilat (the southernmost tip of Israel) without any Hamas rocket sightings. We spent two days in Eilat and one in Jordan, and crossed into Egypt several days ago. We spent our first night in Egypt at the St. Catherines Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai before taking a bus north into Cairo. Most of our time in Cairo has been spent regaining the pounds we lost hiking all over Israel, although we did go hike around the Pyramids today. I am writing from an internet cafe in Cairo, so no pictures for the time being.

Updates will probably be spotty until we are back in Israel (assuming they let us back into Israel, we've had some unpleasant experiences with border control after they see our arab last name. Add that to the prayer list.)

I would definitely like to know who all is reading though, so leave a comment. I will try to be back on before too long.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In my last post I touched on how reading the Bible in the original Hebrew can add a lot of depth to and potentially change the meaning of some scriptures. An interesting example. During our road trip to the Galilee area, we visited Megiddo, which is believed by many to be the site of a final battle, commonly known as Armageddon. This is based on Revelations 16:16. Armegeddon is the English derivative of Har Meggido. Har in Hebrew means mountain, so the phrase translates as "Mountain of Meggido".

A bit of geographical background: The city of Megiddo was a very important one in ancient times because of its location. Due to its location, whoever controlled the city also controlled the Megiddo valley. This valley was a major gateway in ancient times, and control of it would have important for waging a successful military campaign anywhere in that area. There is one problem though. There is no mountain of Meggido, just a large flat valley.

The Meggido Valley
This is where the Hebrew translation comes into play. The word Meggido is spelled in Hebrew with a mem, gimel, and a dalot(I wish I had the ability to show the Hebrew letters here). Another word that is similar to the Hebrew word for Megiddo is the Hebrew word for gathering, which is spelled with a mem, an ein, and a dalot. The Hebrew letter ein (pronounced ine) does not signify a consonant sound. It signifies a sound that is produced in the back of the throat(the closest description I can think of is clearing your throat). Hebrew speakers trying to translate this sound into Greek would have had a difficult time coming up with an equivalent since that sound is not present in Greek. They may have ultimately resorted to using the Greek equivalent of "G", since that would be the closest sounding letter they have, thus changing the phrase from "the mountain of gathering" to "the mountain of Megiddo". The significance? The Mountain of Gathering was a common reference of the time to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. However, this transliteration made sense to the Greeks, since the Megiddo Valley was known as a strategic place at the time.

In the era of intercontinental ballistic missiles and mobile warfare, the strategic value of a remote valley such as Megiddo is all but obsolete, but Jerusalem maintains it's status as one of, if not the most, disputed area in the world.

Note that this fits with the prophecy of Zechariah 12.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Brains...

Since we have arrived in Jerusalem, we have been receiving Hebrew lessons from Vern and Aubrey. Many of these lessons have consisted of Vernon randomly saying something to us in Hebrew and all of us giving him confused looks. We have slowly improved though(mostly due to his ability to act stuff out. Great times.).

Today we had a particularly long session and made it through the alphabet and some transliterations. The Hebrew alphabet is a strange beast. There are characters that represent different consonants, but no characters for vowels. Vowels are represented by markings that are attached to the consonant characters. Add to this the fact that the consonant characters can change sounds if other dots and/or dashes are present around them. Difficult, but it's a lot of fun to be able to look at a word that previously was gibberish and be able to match the correct sounds to the letters and then translate the word into English.

The Bible has been translated several times for us to the get the NASV, NIV, New Living, King James or whatever version it is that you read. The New Testament started out in either Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek, depending on which scholar you ask. Evidence suggests that regardless of whether it was first recorded in Greek, it was likely written by Hebraic minds. So, from Hebrew to Greek and from there to Latin then finally into English (and a myriad of other languages) and the many translations that we enjoy today. Although it has remained mostly sound, during each step of translation there are certain phrases, concepts, and sounds that do not make the transition. I believe to truly understand the Bible, it must be studied in Hebrew. Although it is highly unlikely that I will be able to read the Bible in Hebrew in the near future, I am inspired to continue learning when I return home from this trip.

We had a "Hebrew Dinner" tonight, during which nobody was allowed to speak in English. The conversation wasn't particularly deep, but credit goes to Vern and Aubrey that we were able to converse at all. They are terrific teachers.

Adria (the aforementioned awesome roomie) has composed a short song about studying Hebrew aptly titled "My Brains Are Fried". On that note, I'm going to bed.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Photo Tour of the Mt. of Olives

The Church of All Nations, which sits at the base of the Mt. of Olives.
The Traditional Garden of Gethsemane.
Note the thickness of the trunks of the olive trees. It is speculated the same trees were around during the time of Christ.
The church of Mary Magdalene. This church is owned and maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church. It is interesting to see which parts of Jerusalem are owned by whom. It is a hugely political situation. In any case, this church is one of the prettiest that I have been in.

Jewish graves on the side of the Mt. of Olives.
Dominus Flevit Church. Dominus Flevit is latin for The Lord wept. Luke 19:41-44
Phenomenal view of Jerusalem from the top of the Mt. of Olives.


I'm back

Sorry for the absence of any blogs over the past week. We have been staying busy, although not quite at the frenetic pace that we were going at when we first got here. We have taken several opportunities to explore Jerusalem, both the old and new city. The best way to learn a city is to get lost in it, especially in one that is as small is Jerusalem :) For a point of reference as to how small this city really is (area-wise), picture a town half the area of Edmond, but with 10 times the population (700,000+). Lots of fun to wander around in.

One of the cool things we have gotten to witness this past week is the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. This holiday commemorates the day Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The timing of Shavuot is linked to Passover, as it occurs 50 days afterward. It also traditionally marks the end of the wheat harvest. Dairy is traditionally consumed as part of the Shavuot celebration. In observation of Shavuot, beginning at sundown, Jewish families will stay up all night studying the Torah. They will read the book of Ruth in the early morning hours, and then they will go to the Western Wall around 2 AM, give or take. There they will study, sing prayers and praises, and pray amongst themselves. At sunrise they (in theory) all stop their seperate prayers and recite the 18 blessings in unison. In practice, there are so many different groups present at the wall that it is impossible for them all to be on the exact same schedule, but it is still a very cool practice. It has certainly caused me to reflect on how seriously they take their theological studies and religious holidays in comparison to the evangelical Christian culture from which I come. This is the tip of the iceberg of some of the issues I have been dealing with here, but that is another post(s) entirely.Among our other activities and outings:
We have taken part of several church services, lectures, and shabbat dinners and have been blessed to get to know some of the Christian community here.

We had our own Shavuot picnic (grilled cheese pitas, mmm...) in the Gehenna Valley. The Gehenna was where garbage was burned in ancient times, and is the metaphorical entrance to hell and/or the afterlife. The word gehenna is used in scripture to refer to hell. Thus, we can now say we have dined in hell. On a related note, it is watered daily and is quite green. Also pictured here is Adria, one of our awesome roomies for the duration of our stay in Jerusalem. (On another related note, our hosts saw the rare occurence of snow in Jerusalem this winter and Vern is now fond of saying he has seen hell frozen over. I will spare you any further jokes.) We also hiked up the Mount of Olives and explored the Church of all Nations, the traditional Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of Mary Magdalene, Dominus Flevit, the Tomb of the Prophets, and the saw the phenomenal view of Jerusalem from the top. Some more pictures and thoughts to come on that.

Took the bus and spent a day exploring Masada and the Dead Sea. Again, more pictures and thoughts to come later.

Took the Arab bus and crossed into the West Bank to visit Bethlehem. Security was stringent, but not a big problem for those of us with US passports :) On a related note, some of the graffiti art on the dividing wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank is pretty amazing.Somewhere in there, Vern gave us a tour and lesson at St. Annes.

Yesterday we visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum and memorial. It is a well done museum, and very thought provoking. We were all somewhat somber for a while after leaving there.

Today we are taking it pretty easy. Everything is closed for shabbat, so we have taken the opportunity to sleep in and get caught up on some stuff (like blogging). I have some other things to attend to now, but will try to update again in the near future.

Until then,

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A few Galilee Area Pics

The city of Caesaria, where the remains of Herod's main palace are located.
The Mediterranean Sea.Underneath an old Roman aqueduct.The view from Mt. CarmelSunset on the Sea of GalileeView of Syria from an abandoned Israeli Defense Force bunker.Another sunset on the Sea of Galilee. Katie is enjoying the water.Splashing around in the Jordan RiverView from the top of Mt. Arbel. That is the Sea of Galilee in the background.Climbing down Mt. Arbel

Friday, June 6, 2008

A couple things to chew on...

Here are some pictures and thoughts from our recent trip to the Galilee area. The first picture is of a structure that would have been representative of those that were built during Jesus time.The traditional Jewish structure during the reign of David through the Kingdom of Judah was a house consisting of four rooms. The main room was kind of a living area. Visiting guests would also stay in this room. Two other rooms would be devoted to the upkeep of the home i.e. preparing meals, housing the animals during the winter, etc. The last room would be the private family room, also known as the Inner Room.

During Jesus time, the traditional four room Jewish house began to cross over to the Roman concept of the insula. With the concept of the insula, rooms are added on to the house as the family grows and more space is needed. However, the homes maintained the Jewish four room model in the way the rooms were used. The tracline would be the main room, where most of the major happenings of the house took place. Visiting guests would stay in the tracline. Parallel or adjacent to the tracline would be a shed/storage room where they would keep any tools, supplies, etc. This is also where they would keep their animals in the winter when there was storms or bad weather. Above the storage room is the family room, or bedroom. Strategically placed so that the rising heat from the animals in the winter would heat the room while they are sleeping.
The baking/cooking area as you enter the house.
The Tracline, or main room of the house.
The storage room.
So why is this relevant? A couple of points...

Point #1

During the time around Jesus birth, Joseph and Mary are traveling to Joseph's ancestral home in Bethlehem due to the census. The Bible tells us that there was no room for them in the inn. Here's the probem: there was no such thing as an inn in those times(this discrepancy is due to a King James translation error). The hospitality rules of the time decree that if you are traveling you either stay with your family or another local family. So when the Bible states that there is no room for Mary and Joseph, it means that the tracline is already full of visiting guests(who are probably also there due to the census). However, we know that the flocks are out in the fields(indicating that is either the early fall or late summer). Since the flocks are out, the storage room would have been cleaned out and available for extra visitors. There would however, have been the facilities used for the storage of the animals left in the room(a manger, perhaps?).

So, from all of this, we can deduce that the nativity picture that we all have imprinted in our minds is probably historically false. Instead being born in a remote cave or stable with only Mary, Joseph and a couple sheep present, Jesus was probably born in a room surrounded by the women of the family with whom Joseph and Mary are staying with. Culturally, they would not have allowed Mary to undergo childbirth alone. Katie was quite relieved to learn this.

Point #2

Note the structure of the house. See any wood? No, and for good reason. There is very little wood in Israel. As such, why is it that we have the image in our heads of Jesus the Carpenter constructing things from wood? In reality, Jesus was a tecton, or a stonemason. The misconception here again comes from the European translation of the Bible in the Middle Ages. European's built houses from wood, not stones, hence the mistranslation.

Tectons were very skilled individuals. Joseph was a tecton, and as is the custom, Jesus learned his trade from his father. When a house was built, the tecton would come in and lay the foundation, making sure it was level, and would build it to a point until the family building the house could take over.

According to rabbinical tradition, the rabbi's almost always had a trade in addition to being a teacher of the law. As such, Jesus and the Disciples probably worked their day jobs in addition to teaching. I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but the stones in these houses are good sized. Imagine throwing those around all day. It'd be one heck of a workout. Jesus was, in the words of Vern, a hoss. A very built individual. It is speculated that this is what enabled him to withstand the Roman scourging. The romanticized caucasian Jesus of our movies would have been dead after 10 strokes.

There are all sorts of other fun scriptural tie-ins here, but I have rambled on enough for one post. I will post some more pictures from our Galilee trip later.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Back in Jerusalem...

Arrived h0me (for the next month and a half anyway) from our Galilee road trip a couple hours ago. Vernon, Aubrey, Jennifer, Katie, and myself squeezed into a Ford and took in the major sites of the Northern portion of Israel, as well as terrific views of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon (Not to worry, we did not attempt to enter any of them, we just looked). The past 4 days have been packed with sites and information.

Day One (Sunday):
Left earlyish on Sunday morning, after picking up the rental car. Drove a couple hours before our first stop at Caesaria. We then headed East to Mt. Carmel, where we had an interesting encounter with a Ray Vanderlaan (He introduced himself as RVL), none other than rabbinical teacher and mentor to Rob Bell. Perhaps more on that later. After Mt. Carmel we drove to Nazareth, and then ended our day by arriving at the Sea of Galilee just in time for the sunset. We stayed in a resort on the Sea of Galilee all three nights of our road trip. It was terrific.

Day Tw0 (Monday):
Drove up to a scenic outlook of the Sea of Galilee to start the day, and then headed to Gamla. After that we took in Caesaria Philippi (an old Roman city. It also has other significance, but more on that later.), Tel Dan (The northernmost city of old Israel and springs that feed the Jordan river), and Ben Tel (an old IDF outpost with phenomenal views).

Day Three (Tuesday):
Began the day with Capernaum, and then continued on to Kursi (A Roman colony that is believed to be the site of Jesus casting the demons into the swine. Mark 7) We took a quick stop to splash around in the Jordan river for a bit and then continued on to a reconstructed 1st century village. We then went to the traditional site of the Mt. of Beatitudes and ended the day by hiking down Mt. Arbel (Took us about an hour to go down this one, sometimes literally straight down the side of a cliff. Great times.).

Day Four (Wednesday):
Today was a short day. We checked out of En Gev (our hotel on the Sea of Galilee) and drove to Tel Meggido (Meggido valley), which is believed by some to be the site of Armageddon. We also took in Jezreel valley and Beit Shan while heading back towards Jerusalem. We drove up the border of Israel and Jordan on the way home. We also passed by Jericho, although we did not stop since it is in Palestinian controlled territory and the security would taken the better part of our day (There isn't much to see there anyway). We arrived back in Jerusalem around 2 in the afternoon.

We took too many notes and processed way too much information to post it all here. I will try to hammer out some thoughts in the near future, but for now I must go meet friends for dinner.