THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE BIBLICAL LANDS ; the New Testament Territories Are a Fascinating Destination for a Holiday. David Orkin Visits the Religious Sites of Israel, Jordan and Palestine
Orkin, David, The Independent (London, England)
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD?
That's for you to decide. But even though it's 2,000 years since the events described in the New Testament took place, many biblical locations are still recognisable from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
WHERE EXACTLY ARE THE NEW TESTAMENT LANDS?
Joseph and Mary briefly travelled with the newborn Jesus to Egypt and there are some other important sites in Syria and even Turkey: Antalya, formerly Antioch, in the south-east of the country was second only to Jerusalem as a centre of early Christianity. But if you exclude churches built centuries after Christ's death and the journeys made by Paul (which took him to modern-day Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Italy), the vast majority of biblical sites fall within the present-day borders of Jordan, and Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (I&PA).
Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have seen many changes since biblical times, and Israel's urban areas are all totally different. Intense building and farming have meant that vast tracts of land have changed remarkably in a few decades, let alone in two millennia. Parts of North Africa, for example, are much closer to how the Holy Land would have looked in ancient times - Monty Python's Life of Brian was filmed in Tunisia.
Many Christians are disappointed that the very sites they consider so important are marked by unsympathetic architecture and often ugly, gaudy shrines. Exceptions include the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem and - if they're not too busy - some of the shady stream- side paths at Bethany beyond the Jordan.
CAN I WALK IN JESUS'S FOOTSTEPS?
Yes, and see some sublime landscapes along the way. For example, the Mount of the Beatitudes (where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount) has peaceful well-tended gardens that overlook the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus walked between Jerusalem and Jericho, it is likely that he took the path through Wadi Kelt. Though the monastery of St George here dates from the 5th century, this valley has a strong biblical feel and is thought to be the location for the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In Jordan there are many wilderness areas and unspoilt places of natural beauty that are likely to invoke spiritual feelings: however awe-inspiring such magnificent areas as Wadi Rum may be, no substantial evidence has yet been found to tie them in with specific New Testament sites.
DID JESUS SPEND MUCH TIME IN JORDAN?
Yes. Christ often crossed the River Jordan from Galilee, Samaria and Judea into Perea, a region of present-day western Jordan roughly bordered by Pella in the north and Mukawir in the south. Jordan got a big boost as a destination for New Testament travel as a result of a papal visit in 2000. But most of the biblical action took place in present-day I&PA, and in particular Jerusalem - possibly the most significant city in the world.
WHY IS JERUSALEM SO IMPORTANT?
Because the city is at or near the heart of three of the world's great monotheistic religions. A settlement existed here at least 4,000 years ago (incidentally, Jericho, 15 miles to the east, has been dated back to at least 7000BC) and its recorded history began about 1,000 years before Christ's birth, when the Jewish King David captured the city from the Jebusites. To establish it as the Jews' holy city, David's son Solomon built the First Temple on the site where God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The building was finally completed in 950BC.
In 586BC Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians but they in turn were driven out by the Persians 49 years later. The Jews (they didn't officially become Israelis until the State of Israel was established in 1948) built the Second Temple on the site of the first in 515BC. The famous Wailing Wall is the western wall from the Second Temple.
Alexander the Great conquered …
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Publication information: Article title: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE BIBLICAL LANDS ; the New Testament Territories Are a Fascinating Destination for a Holiday. David Orkin Visits the Religious Sites of Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Contributors: Orkin, David - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 11, 2004. Page number: 16,17,18,19. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.