We are coming around the home stretch on our trip and there is still much to see and more to learn. The sheer amount of interesting cultural and contextual (1st century context) that we are getting is formidable. I'm only scratching the surface on the amount of info we are digesting. I'm not to the point where I can verbalize so much info succinctly, so pictures and short bursts will have to do. Here is what we did today, literally just a few hours ago. I'm writing this on Tuesday night at 6:00pm (Tuesday morning, 10am in Houston).
First off we went to Samaria. A place Jesus visited in John 4 where he met a Samaritan woman at a well and had a significant conversation with her, more on that meeting and the well in a second. During the conversation with the woman she mentions that her people (Samaritans who were half -breed Jews/Assyrians that the Jewish people looked down on) claimed that the true place of worship was at their temple in Samaria rather than the temple in Jerusalem. This hill is where her temple would have been, she probably pointed at this hill (more like a mountain) during that conversation. That building isn't the Samaritan temple, it's long gone. This mountain looked down over a huge valley where the ancient cities of Sychar (where the woman lived) and Shechem (which is fun to say). Lots of significant things happened in these villages that involve Moses and Abraham.
The well that Jesus met this woman in John 4 is called Jacob's well and it is a BIG DEAL. Jacob, who was later renamed Israel, dug this well around 1850 BC. Big stuff went down here. In John 4, Jesus sends his disciples to a nearby village to get food while he sits down and rests at the well, just like I'm doing in the picture. Oh yeah, THAT'S JACOB'S WELL! Jasob dug this, Jesus sat by it and all of John 4 takes place right there!!!!! It's inside a greek orthodox church now and the top of the well is different, but this is the actual well, and it is DEEP. We poured a bucket of water down the well and it took several seconds before we heard that water splash. Hard to comprehend sitting at a place I have talked about so many times.
Our next stop was the Jordan river, in the vicinity of where Jesus was baptized. So this is kind of what it would have looked like. The Jordan river was much, much bigger in the first century. Some of it has been diverted today which has resulted in a much smaller river. Several of our folks took the opportunity to get baptized, and I had the privilege of baptizing two of them. Great moment, but I'll let them post pictures of their baptism if they want to. FYI, the Jordan River is exceptionally cold in January. Numb from my waist down.
Our last stop of the day was the Judean Wilderness where Jesus went after he was baptized. He spent 40 days here in this very mountainous and arid region while he was tempted by the devil. We took about 40 minutes to be alone on a mountain looking over these 600 foot drops to consider this and just spend time with the Lord. It was great and much needed as we have been constantly with 50 people and in near incessant conversation. This is incredibly majestic to just sit and stare at, as is much of this country. It really is a fantastically beautiful country. So much more to say, but I need to head off to dinner.