Jerusalem and John the Baptist

Our morning itinerary was light today.  Walking was less than usual, as was the heat.  Everyone seemed to enjoy both of those reductions.  Our guide today was Claire Pfann, wife to Steve, who led us to the Israel Museum last week.  She is a renowned New Testament scholar, occasionally appearing on religious documentaries, and I can hardly tell you how much I enjoyed listening to her.  A wonderful speaker with a sharp mind and warm spirit, Claire was a treat!  Today’s sights centered on the life of John the Baptist—two churches and a monastery.

The Church of St. John the Baptist marked a spot traditionally thought to have been home to Zechariah and Elizabeth when they received the shocking news that they would have a son, who would be anything but a normal man.  Aged Zechariah was stunned right into a period of silence!  At this point, Claire shared some wonderful thoughts in response to a question she often hears: Mary and Zechariah appear to have both expressed some level of surprise towards the angelic messages they received.  Mary gets comforted and commended, and Zechariah gets struck dumb.  Why?  Good question.  And Claire?  Good answer.  Maybe it’ll come up in a sermon sometime…

Walking up a lusher-than-we’ve-seen-in-Jerusalem hillside, we visited the Church of the Visitation next.  This was constructed to commemorate the visitation of pregnant Mary to pregnant Elizabeth, whose joy inspired Mary to utter “the Magnificat” in Luke 1:46-56.  A beautiful garden with a modern sculpture added some beauty to this quiet spot with its beautiful view.

A short bus-ride later, we were hiking down an isolated hillside towards a monastery named after John the Baptist.  To my knowledge, there was no linking of this place to the biblical story—just a place where people have sought God, with the name of John the Baptist on the sign.  Another “private area” was opened to us when guide and professor proved influential enough to gain us access.  It was a building out back, decorated with very unique icons of many of Church Fathers through the centuries.  Many wouldn’t appreciate such scenes, but Charles’ expertise and passion for the topics of early Christianity and its many strands opened some of our eyes to who these now-painted people were and how they contributed to the faith.  With some of that in mind, it almost felt like a Hebrews 11 “hall of faith” atmosphere.  We enjoyed the environment as we walked back to the bus.

Back to Tantur for lunch and a flexible afternoon.  I’d planned to head out, but our early Shavuot outing, which I have yet to blog about (but I will), has my tank emptier than I’d expected.  Some computer catch-up and a nap might be all that I take on before supper.

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