Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.
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JERUSALEM, Israel – It’s the fourth touring day for our group of Christian journalists from the United States. A variety of experiences awaited us, but before diving in, I’d like to offer a comment about what some may consider a uniquely Adventist perspective on travel to the Holy Land, and how this well-known statement might be misunderstood.
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White’s towering treatment of the life of Christ, you can read the following statement on page 640: “Many feel that it would be a great privilege to visit the scenes of Christ's life on earth, to walk where He trod, to look upon the lake beside which He loved to teach, and the hills and valleys on which His eyes so often rested. But we need not go to Nazareth, to Capernaum, or to Bethany, in order to walk in the steps of Jesus. We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps.”
I agree! However, I don’t believe Mrs. White intended her assertion to stand as a prohibition against anyone visiting this marvelous country. What was a monumental and taxing journey during her lifetime – a long sailing voyage and conveyance around what was then called Palestine via a donkey or in a small cart – is now a relatively quick flight to a land where cars, taxis and buses cover much ground in a short time. Seventh-day Adventists, in particular, need to extend the Master’s love to those in need. But if one’s circumstances allow, I don’t believe a trip to this land would be out of order.
Now, to the day’s events: Waking up at the Mamilla Hotel, a new, “boutique” style of lodging in Jerusalem by the Jaffa Gate, we were off, first, to the Mount of Olives, overlooking the eastern side of the “Old City” and the Temple Mount. Both Jewish and Muslim cemeteries line opposite sides of the Kidron Valley looking down from the mount, and the Dome of the Rock, part of a centuries-old Islamic complex atop the even older Temple Mount, dominates the skyline.
From here, Jesus looked out at Jerusalem and wept, knowing, as He did, its fate. You can read it in Luke 19, verses 41-44: “As [He] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, [He] wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (NIV)
And, on this large hill, Jesus prayed before His betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion, as we read in Matthew 26: “[H]e fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from [M]e. Yet not as I will, but as [Y]ou will.” (v. 39, NIV)
In the church site designated as the “Garden of Gethsemane,” there’s a lot to see, including a fenced-off section of the garden in which some very, very old olive trees can be found. As they age, olive trees grow thicker in their trunk, not taller. Just how old are these olive trees? I can’t say, but it’s certainly nice to imagine that perhaps one tree on this mount may have witnessed the agony of Jesus.
After this, we were off to the Israel Museum complex, which includes a large, scale model of Jerusalem as it looked in 66 A.D., some 33 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and four years before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. The model, which is displayed outdoors, gives a tremendous perspective to historical views of the Old City.
Inside the Shrine of the Book, fragments of many of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” found in Qumran, Israel (where we expect to visit tomorrow), are on view, as well as a complete scroll of the book of Isaiah. The scrolls were copied by the Essenes, a Jewish sect, and are remarkably faithful to later manuscripts of the Old Testament books represented. This can give believers even more confidence in the authority of God’s Word.
We then crossed the street to the Bible Lands Museum. There, archaeological exhibits confirm and give greater context to many of the Bible’s accounts and histories. It’s another site well worth visiting.
Our last museum of the day wasn’t primarily a museum at all. It is Yad VaShem (“a memorial and a name,” from Isaiah 56:5), the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. On the grounds are a children’s memorial, remembering the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered at the hands of the Nazis during the “Final Solution” implemented by leaders of Adolf Hitler’s regime; a “Hall of Remembrance,” where an eternal flame burns in recognition of the 6 million Jews killed in the various concentration camps; and a Holocaust History Museum which details, in 45,208 square feet, the origins of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism and its culmination in the capture and murder of so many innocent men, women and children.
None of this is easy to view or to contemplate. But all of it is, I believe, necessary to see. In the decades since the end of World War II, millions have perished in genocidal atrocities around the globe. Learning to combat such hatred can easily begin at Yad VaShem.