Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

I am as a stranger in a strange land

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I’ve been in Jerusalem for about a week. It’s sort of like my trips to Germany… I don’t speak the language (and unlike Germany I can’t really decipher the signage; except that most f them here are tri-lingual, so I can * but not with any rapidity). As with Germany I don’t mark as being foreign (I suspect the beard I’ve grown since Sept. last, married to my hat-wearing habits, has something to do with this. {photo}), so I get a lot of Hebrew tossed at me when I do things like go for my morning coffee. This means I don’t feel out of place when walking about (which I sort of did when in Korea), but am at a moderate disadvantage when dealing with random interactions (which was not true in trips to Ukraine).
Jerusalem. Setting aside any religious sentiment I might have, it’s a city pregnant with meaning.  I was reared in the USA. I am a grandchild of Europe and a student of history. That, in itself will color one’s views. When Reagan said the US was a City on a Hill, he was making reference to Jerusalem. When people use the metaphor of “Crusade” it refers to Jerusalem. For a good three thousand years the ability to control trade has meant people fought for control of the city on these hills.

That’s on top of the religious significance three different groups attached to it. Which significance led to Rome’s most troubled province, and the revolt it had the hardest time suppressing **. Jerusalem was seen as the center of the world for a large part of the history which shapes the culture Westerners grow up in.

The same way being a Native English Speaker makes London something of a mental homeland, so too does being reared with a European perspective give a strange sense of place to Jerusalem.

But it’s more than that. We are here to visit family. My wife’s cousin has a son who is turning thirteen. We are here for his Bar Mitzvah.  So Israel, which is more than just Jerusalem is place to which I have a direct connection. A connection to which my christian sensibilities also disconnects, in more than a few ways.

But I am also, in many ways, a Californian. How does that relate?  The landscape, and the weather, are like unto  that of “home” (where home is that place one feels innately at ease, just by virtue of being present).  We went to Qumran, and thence to Masada. It was a day of rarity. Neither of our guides had ever been to the Dead Sea on a day of rain.  In Jerusalem the rain came down in buckets. In the wild hills above the sea there we had some rain and the smell of water on dusty rocks. Setting aside my views of the interpretations of the totality of the Dead Sea Scrolls *** I could see myself living a moderately hermetic life in the area. The climate, the smell, the appearance are all of piece to the places in Joshua Tree where I was wont to retire to collect my thoughts, when I was living in South-ish California. The hill about Judea, are as those I lived in San Luis Obispo, and wandered when I lived in the San Gabriel, and San Fernando Valleys.  Israel looks like home.

The day before we were in the Old City; though we didn’t go to the Christian Quarter (and I am mixed on visiting it, as I was already seeing pilgrims heading into Israel last week, and next week is Holy Week; which means crowds, married to the decided risk of encountering the sort of Fundamentalist American Christians I don’t enjoy being around when they are home. I don’t know how tolerant I can be of them here ****). But we went to the area of the Hulda Gate, and wandered the layered ruins, running a mixed gamut from the Umayyids, to the Second Temple and the Byzantines, and the Outre Mer and some First Temple. My spiritual landscape piled in heaps; with bits of order in the rubble.

Standing on the far edge of the Valley of the Cross, looking at the geography all the military history I’ve read: from the accounts in Kings, and Numbers, to Josephus,  and then the Crusades, and Lawrence, and Allenby and the War of Independence; et sequelae… all of it made plain by the way the hills, and walls, control the valleys. It’s a nexus; all trade passing here is controllable. That, married to religion, has made this small patch of dirt a cockpit for not less than 3,000 years.

Which brings us back to Masada, not the Masada of landscape
It’s a lot to digest.

 

 

*which is, like a Rosetta Stone, helping me acquire the skills to decipher the signs
** which is a large, if not the greatest, reason for the anti-semitism in the Gospels. Rome was REALLY pisssed at Judea. They expelled all the Jews from the province, and renamed it Palestinia. They tore out all the trees, and gave it over to grazing, changing the landscape, creating desert and altering the climate. They were doing this while the Ur-text of the Gospels were being written. Sympathetic treatments of Jews weren’t going to be any help in converting Romans to Christianity, but I digress.

*** I don’t think they are all the work of the sect in Qumran.  I think de Vaux engaged in a lot of overreach as he ascribed all the discovred texts to Qumran, and tried to shoehorn some very divergent ideas into a coherent whole. I think either they were texts brought with candidates to the group, and so discarded as not relevant (with the option to be reclaimed if they decided the community was not for them), or they were the valuable objects of people who were fleeing the chaos further North as rebellion approached, then raged.

**** I already had to bite my tongue at Katros’ House where someone tried to engage me in the horrors of American Divisions; given that they were giving off a strong Fundamentalist vibe.

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