Thursday, February 25, 2010

Central Benjamin Plateau with a Special Birthday Edition for Mom

Posted by Eric and Colleen 

Wadi Qilt

The other day, I went with Eric on his Field Study for his Physical Settings of the Bible class. We made stops at the Wadi Qilt, Jericho of OT and NT, Nebi Samwil, and ended at Gezer (each discussed in brief below). To visit these places on our own would be amazing, but with his professor, we are able to see them in their Biblical context. Before arriving in Jerusalem, Eric had over 20 large maps that he had to mark up for class. The markings were very extensive and time consuming. It is clear as to why this was a prerequisite because he has had very little time outside of class to work on them and they are used on these field studies. Today, I was able to look on with Eric and actually see the land these maps refer to.  With maps in hand, we looked out and were able to see it in 3-D. The professor would read stories from the Bible as we were able to envision the people who once were there.



In 30 years of studying the Bible, learning the events, names and -- more germane to this discussion, the places -- nothing could have adequately prepared me for the incredible views I saw firsthand in the deep canyons on the descent to Jericho from Jerusalem.  I have seen pictures, video clips, and interacted with 3D maps galore, I have probably traced over every square mile of the land of Israel in some virtual / digital form or another, but until I stood on the ridge over the Wadi Qilt, I could not possible understand this land and what it was like for the characters of the Bible to live in and on it.  The Bible in true 3D on a 1:1 scale cannot be simulated. I had the entirely wrong picture of the terrain of the Bible.                                        Eric


Our first stop was at Wadi Qilt.  A Wadi is a system of gullies that remain dry except for the rainy season (which is Oct to March) in which they can quickly fill up with water – flash floods kill several people, usually unsuspecting hikers, every year here as a result.  The Wadis are like the fingers of a hand that eventually come together to form a single  stream, the tips of the fingers forming at the peaks of the mountains and moving down. Most of the Wadi’s on the eastern side of the main North-South ridge through Israel run down and to the East where they eventually dump into the Rift Valley and ultimately the Jordan river below.  Over the ages, they have created exceptionally deep, rugged valleys that are nearly impassible except on the tops of the precious few continuous ridge routes.  We’re including quite a few pictures in a feeble attempt to help you grasp the vastness of this wilderness.  Following will be some significance of this stop.


Standing on the ridge above the Wadi Qilt.


Notice the main leg of the Wadi cut below us on the bottom right corner.


If you make one wrong turn here you’re toast.  The ridges are often  narrow with steep drops below.  The steep banks make traversing the hills nearly impossible.  Thus, the path we took is the same one Jesus and the disciples would have taken from Jericho to Jerusalem, the same path spoken of in the parable of the Good Samaritan, etc…  Note, if you click the picture you can see the flat broad plains in the background which is the Rift Valley and Jericho in particular.

Wadi Qilt 1

There’s Eric about to fall off the end of the world.

Wadi Qilt 2

A little more zoomed in, Eric’s standing at the same spot. Can you hear him yelling, “Colleen, the life insurance policy is in the top right drawer!”?


Same again.  Can you read his shirt?  It’s all true.

The Rolling Hills of the Wadi Qilt

Colleen loves the views, hates the edges. I keep telling her its not falling that’s the problem, its the landing.


We call that fellow behind Eric “Jesus”.  Speaking of the real Jesus, you can imagine the 40 days of fasting were made a little bit “easier” by his surroundings.  Kind of like when you go on a diet its easier to avoid Ice-Cream if you don’t have it in the house.  This is not to infer that Jesus had it easy mind you.


Dr. Wright, Eric’s Prof for this class standing.  He had us all sit still and silent for a minute to notice what we could hear.  It was dead silent wilderness.  If we had been there earlier we could have possibly heard the eagles and other large birds-of-prey rising from their homes near the bottom of the ridges, “Flying away on the wings of the dawn” (Ps 139).  Or at night – a very dangerous place to be – you could hear the jackals. In the time of David bears and lions roamed throughout.  Perhaps the most dangerous thing though – the white scorpions – get bitten by one of these guys and you’ve got 7 seconds. 

Look carefully, you can see the Bedouin boys coming on the donkey in the left-hand picture.  Zoomed in on the right.
Donkey on the Wadi Qilt

The Donkey was very popular as you can see by the shadows.

Bedouin boys showing off their riding skills.  One of the boys took off running down after this  on the very narrow ledge next to the cliff.


Alibaba and Collebaba.


Wadi Qelt, So What?

When we read of Jesus going into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days – this is where he was – not necessarily on this spot, but somewhere in the pictures above.  One of the 3 temptations afterwards was in Jericho, in view from here. As we stood here, I wanted so badly to run home (well, figuratively) and get the girls because we had just read this event in our daily readings. As stated above, you can see that the options are limited for travel through this area.  When people spoke about the “path Jesus took” I never understood how these paths could be known because the land is so vast but being here, you can see there’s really no alternative route.  I also assumed these were sand dunes that would shift with time, but these are actually limestone (Senomanian limestone, to be exact). Thus, this is the passageway since well before Jesus and continues to this day.


Psalm 139

O Lord, you examine me and know.
You know when I sit down and when I get up;even from far away you understand my motives.You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest, you are aware of everything I do.Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.You squeeze me in from behind and in front;you place your hand on me.Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it. Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn, and settle down on the other side of the sea,even there your hand would guide me,your right hand would grab hold of me…

We were also amused by the Bedouin children on their donkeys carrying their wares to sell. Interesting about the Bedouins—they are a nomadic people but because of the growing cities and roadways in Israel, they are beginning to build semi-permanent homes. While tents have been there dwelling for a long time, they are now setting up what looks like shanty towns. This is a common trend among nomads. Anthropologists liken this transition -- from true nomad to semi-nomad to permanent settler – to the transition the Israelites took from the age of the Patriarchs. Just as Abraham first dwelt in a tent and the later families had houses, so these Bedouins homes will one day be constructed with the white limestone of the area.


From the Wadi Qilt, we drove down (about 4000‘ in elevation) to the two Jericho settlements of the NT and then the OT. The NT Jericho was another of Herod’s palaces located about 2 miles from OT Jericho (more on the location change below). It was built from a previous Hasmonian structure, he just made it bigger and better as was his nature. Jericho was an important and popular frontier location for a couple of reasons. 

First, because Jericho (and the region near it) only receives a maximum of 4” of rain per year, and only 6 months of the year at that, it is not by rain alone able to sustain an agrarian life. However, Jericho is the site of a huge spring that to this day produces over 1,000 gallons of water per minute. Currently all that water is siphoned, processed and piped throughout the “modern” city of Jericho, while in Herod’s (and Jesus’) day, it would have spread out and created a beautiful green oasis on the edge of the desert.  Thus it was an important agricultural center and vacation spot for the rich and famous.

Secondly, Jericho is the gateway to the hill country of Israel to the West.  Major trade routes converge here, including the King’s Highway which ultimately connects Damascus, Egypt, Persia, Babylon through Israel at this spot.

Third, gateways need gates.  And Jericho was an important defensive point to the west. It was also the very South Eastern edge of the Roman empire, of which Herod was in charge of safekeeping. 

Now, wherever you have palaces and the rich you have the poor and destitute who hope to live off the scraps of those more fortunate.  Jesus spoke often of the poor.  While sitting at the palace we read the passage about the blind beggar in Jericho that Jesus healed. The palace lay right on the route Jesus would have taken to Jerusalem – you can clearly see the path that carries into the Wadi Qilt from here.  As we sat in the ruins of the once splendid palace in the once fabulous oasis we reflected on Jesus in his triumphal entry which took him from Jericho to Jerusalem.  What was Jesus thinking as He left the green oasis and walked past the palace into the very wilderness from which he had three years prior been tempted—all while knowing what lie ahead? 

DSC_0029 At NT Jericho. Behind Dr Wright is the remains of the worlds oldest bridge that spanned the Wadi Qilt to our right here.  At this point the land has flattened out considerably, and we easily walked down into the Wadi.
DSC_0030 This is one trick Eric uses to keep track of what various pictures relate to – otherwise rocks begin to look alike after a while. We’ve already taken over 2,200 pictures, most of them fairly well catalogued. And you thought we were showing you all our pictures!
IMG_0013 This is the bottom of the Wadi Qilt in Jericho near Herod’s palace.  Remember most Wadis are only wet when it rains or shortly thereafter. The hill behind is much more shallow and shorter than we saw in the high ridges earlier.  It all gets very flat here in Jericho and further East.

The son in the field was dutifully helping his father lay tubing for irrigation in one of their fields as the mom watched the other kids.
DSC_0039 Standing in Jericho looking back at the hills you see in the Wadi Qilt section above. Herod named this one Marisa after his mommy whom he loved.
DSC_0043 Herod’s palace.  It was quite, well, palatial. Again you can see the mountains that separate Jericho and Jerusalem in the background.  The Wadi Qilt runs along the left side, below where the guy is standing on the far left, about half way up the picture.
DSC_0042 Queen Colleen in the palace.
DSC_0040 Colleen pointing at a very important find at the palace. 
DSC_0041 Here you can see it better… what is it? Its the remains of a Fresco painting.  Wow. Amazing!  Actually, it is significant, as it tells us how beautiful it must have been.
IMG_0012 Notice the slanted bricks in Herod’s palace.  This was a new invention – slanting that is, bricks are much older. It made the structure much more sound.


At the palace we again were met by a sweet Bedouin family.  They were as curious about what we were doing as we were about what it would be like to have a Herodian palace literally in your front yard. I imagined how the kids must climb the ruins and play make believe in the different rooms not knowing a real king actually lived there.

OT Jericho

It was then off to OT Jericho where we climbed and studied the Tell of Joshua’s Jericho. This Tell is the most excavated sight in all of Israel. This Jericho is also the oldest known city of the world.  Some of which dates to the Neolithic Era, ca 8500-4500BC.  That’s before Moses, before Isaac, before Abraham, and by Young Earth folks, even before Noah.

The story of Joshua has a very important sequence of events that can be seen in the excavations here.  First, the falling of the city walls and the conquest (Joshua 6:1-23). Second, all but the gold was to remain – whereas normally you would take with you whatever you find (6:24).  Third, the city was burned (6:24).  Fourth, it was cursed and prohibited from inhabitation – thus creating a long span of non-habitation (6:26).   And finally, fifth, it was re-built by Hiel during the reign of Ahab, Heil’s sons die as a result of the curse (1 King 16:34). 

Well, the remains of Jericho match this sequence perfectly.  The pictures below partly “tell” the story (pun intended).

DSC_0046 I forgot to get a picture of the actual fallen walls, but at the bottom of this picture is the outer, brick wall that they found fallen when they excavated.
The picture also doesn’t show very well, but you could clearly see the burn line showing the total destruction of the city by fire.
DSC_0049 After the burn, there’s a large gap in the habitation of Jericho which matches the timing.

This picture is very important, detailed in the next one…
DSC_0050 This shows pottery as the archeologists find it when digging.  The pottery was filled with burnt rice.  Very, very unusual find.  You just don’t normally capture a city and burn it with everything inside without first taking the contents. This matches perfectly the story.
IMG_0019 Jericho was also once the home of a Neolithic age tower – at 6,000 plus years old, the oldest known existing building in the world. Eric climbed down and got a closer look and some of the students actually climbed in.
DSC_0060 Students in the 6,000 year old tower.


Why Two Jerichos?

Actually there are three. Old Testament Jericho, from the time of … well, forever ago, through Joshua existed in the same spot for, well, a really, really long time.  Then, for some strange reason, it moved south and was rebuilt by other people and fortified by the Hasmoneans and then Herod.  Why would a place that had been a perfectly good location for several thousand years no longer remain there?  I can’t think of any good reason except the fulfillment of Joshua’s curse. 

So, Herod’s Jerusalem, or New Testament Jerusalem too was eventually abandoned.  Why?  Not sure actually.  It could be that the location so close to the Wadi proved dangerous. People who build houses at precarious locations (I’m thinking of a “small” town in Louisiana built below sea level for example…) tend to lose them to nature eventually.  The Wadi Qilt could possibly be a 300 year flood plane or something, and it all washed away? That’s conjecture, and worth what I charged you for it. 

The third Jericho is “modern”, Byzantine era (300-400 AD) Jericho, basically between OT and NT Jericho’s.  It’s a very Arab town, in occupied West Bank today. It’s not a very pretty place, though for thousands of Arabs who have access to nothing better, the little bit of green here is like paradise.  Many flock to “modern” Jericho to this day because compared to the wilderness it neighbors, it truly is an oasis.  (There’s even a water park there, named Banana Land!)

Moving Westward

We moved from Jericho west, back through the plains above the Wadi’s but this time taking a leg further north, following the route Joshua took toward Ai, his second conquest. Unfortunately I have no pictures to show you but they wouldn’t do any justice to the roads and the incredible deep, steep valleys and cliffs, very narrow twisting, turning roads, which the bus driver had to honk before making the curve to alert possible oncoming traffic to beware.  It was some of the most intense landscape I have ever seen.  Again, reiterating the dire need for the people of all ages prior to automobiles to be certain of their route before they started – lest they make any fatal turns that could waste considerable time backtracking to the pass or worse yet, falling to their demise.  

imageFollow the Maroon markers and lines for this trip on the map (click it).

Nebi Samwil

The next leg of the trip, was onto west of Jerusalem to  Nebi Samwil. Surprisingly, the building we stopped at was both a mosque and synagogue. Now, tell me in a country that seems to be always at war, how can this happen. Well, Eric and I have seen that there are far more Arabs and Israelis trying to live together than the media would like us to think. Even the YMCA, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is an establishment with unity as its main goal between these 2 peoples. A good lesson is that it only takes a few bad eggs on either side to ruin it for everybody else. The media doesn’t help with its addictive need for drama.

Anyway, on the roof of the Nebi Samwil synogogue/mosque, we could see Jerusalem, City of David, City of Saul along with many other cities. We read about and imagined Joshua and the Israelites coming over the ridge with the sun rising behind them as the Canaanites ran for their lives by the surprise attack (story of Gideon). Then later in the Bible, when Saul is falling in power and David is rising in power, it doesn’t take on the same meaning until you see that their capitols were in view of each other—and both visible from the top of this place in which we stood. Again, it was all in 3-D.

DSC_0068 A view from the top of the Nebi Samwil.

This is the supposed, though unlikely location for the prophet Samuel’s tomb.

Short 360 Panoramic Video from the top looking around.


After leaving that site, Eric looked at me in the bus and said, “I might as well throw my camera away because I just can’t capture what I’m looking at.” It’s true, to be here, see it while reading it beats all! What a blessing we are living. As Tina rightfully said, it is like we have won the lottery. A gift we don’t deserve. The icing on the cake is we get to share it with you!

Last Stop, Gezer

Our last stop was at Gezer. This is the gateway to Jerusalem. However, arriving in Gezer was like driving from west Texas and arriving in East Texas in 1 hour and not the 13 hours it should take. Take a look at the plush green landscape.


Plush green of Gezer. Compare to the pictures of Jericho above. Israel has the variations of California (mountains and desert, beaches and plains) in the space of New Jersey.  Its truly amazing what contrast you see in 30 minutes of driving.

The reason the lay of the land changes so much is because of 2 things: rain and great soil from the type of limestone. Gezer was grassy, lined with tall trees and the part we saw, newer. We were at the ruins of one of Solomon’s fortifications after marrying the Egyptian princess.

DSC_0091 Colleen is standing in the sewer drain that went out of the city gates of Solomon’s fortified city of Gezer.
Colleen, they’re not going to let you back on the bus with those stinky shoes!

From Gezer, you can see Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast. Gezer’s location gives you access to the international highway on the West and Jerusalem and the Hill Country of Benjamin to the East, which is what makes it so  important. If you control this gateway you control so much of the land and the commerce that travels through it, including Egypt, Syria, Philistia, Persia and other international powers. Again, the Bible became 3-D as the prof. read from the OT.

Return Home

We returned home about 7pm. The girls had a great day with their babysitter, going to church, baking cookies and playing UNO. There is a family at their church that has 12 kids. Can you imagine if we moved here with 12 kids? I was impressed that we moved here with 3—to each his own. : )

Well, I sure love coming home and sharing these things with you, my family and friends. Thank you for your prayers and interest in our journey.

Special Happy Birthday
to Colleen’s Mom

We wanted to include a couple of special images for Colleen’s mom, it’s her birthday today.  Everyone say, “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Kelley.”


As requested, Israeli Music

We shot this on the popular Ben Yehuda street where (mostly young) people gather in droves at the end of Shabbat to celebrate. For those in Austin it reminds us of 6th street, though without alcohol.
Some local “musicians” jamming it up, looking for a few Shekels (Shekalim, plural in Hebrew)


Israeli Flaminco Dancing

DSC_0136 DSC_0133 DSC_0137
IMG_0022 And finally, yes, the soldiers do have faces.

Shalom. The world’s longest blog post.

Happy Birthday Mom!


midspoint said...

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Kelly!!!

Colleen, you could make this twice as long and I would be happy!!! I am savoring all of it and going to go over it again and again!!
Thank you so much for all you guys do for us poor folk back home... wish I was there!!!

Nanny said...

It's a Miracle!! It's a Miracle!!! I can see the writing now. What was once a dark background is now light and I can read the writing. Was I the only one with that problem? Thank you to whomever performed this miracle. It is a wonderful blog and I thank you for remembering my birthday with the men in uniform and the dancing.
Happy Purim to you all!
Love, Mom

Unknown said...

Heeeey!! It's Courtney! :) I just wanted to tell Tally happy birthday so... HAPPY BIRTHDAY TALLY!!!!!! :) And hello to everyone else!

Angela said...

This is amazing!! I love the desert looking sandy hill things, wow.. I failed didn't I? LOL!! These are great pics!!!