Unfortunately, in Israel, there are many questions about the true location of things like Jesus’ birth. For example, was Jesus really born at the location with the little gold star on the ground at the Church of the Holy Nativity? How would anyone know that answer? Mary and Joseph were on the run. The shepherds found them using light from a star, for crying out loud. Had the location of Jesus’ birth been known with certainty at the time when he was born and the legend passed down through this many generations, Jesus wouldn’t have survived his own childhood according to the myth.
Jericho was another place that left question marks in my brain. A tram took people to the place in the desert where Jesus supposedly wrestled with the devil. But Jesus was alone on his sojourn into the desert. So who, besides him, would know where he and the devil “talked”. I don’t think Jesus was probably the kind of guy who returned to his disciples and gave them all the “deets” on his 40 days and nights in the desert, talking them through a blow-by-blow of his experiences. But still, people hopped on that tram and went to see that spot in the desert.
The Via Dolorosa is marked with the Catholic stations of the cross, which brought back memories of the Catholic church for me. All those years as a kid, I never realized that the stations of the cross in every Catholic church I’d ever been to in the United States had a counterpart on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. There was something about that fact that was powerful in my brain and resonant as well as disappointing at the same time. The realness of the path made me feel instantly reverent, but it also made me wonder why no one in my Sunday school classes had ever shown me pictures of the real place (maybe in part because I was Lutheran and Lutherans work hard to not believe the same things that Catholics believe or to at least believe them in a different way). The second I started wondering about it, I realized I’d never seen pictures because no one who taught me about this place and those events had been there themselves or knew about the realness of the place either. They were just teaching me what they’d been taught. They’d never questioned it.
And of course, that brought up a whole new batch of thoughts about people and gods, religion and mythologies, that almost no one reading this would want to hear. It’s hard not to think these thoughts though in Israel where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rub shoulders every day…and to wonder about the value of these religions and mythologies when they create so much conflict and pain in people’s lives. Yep. Heavy thoughts, but that’s Israel. It’s not a good place to go if you don’t want to think a little.