Empty Nest: Dead Sea Scrolls almost became shoe leather

Photo courtesy of Curt Swarm

A 2,000 year-old boat extricated from the Sea of Galilee. Was Jesus in this boat?
Photo courtesy of Curt Swarm A 2,000 year-old boat extricated from the Sea of Galilee. Was Jesus in this boat?

By Curt Swarm, Empty Nest

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written on parchment that was bound in leather. When the first Dead Sea Scroll was discovered by a Bedouin (pronounced “Bed-a-win”) sheepherder, the leather was almost cut up for sandals. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and we now have today, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or most of them. There are still a couple missing. Are they in another cave or was the leather cover made into sandals and the parchment used for fire starter? Experts are still searching.

There are many oddities about the Holy Land of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel that are worth mentioning. For example: there are no clocks in the hotel rooms — forget it — like it’s Holy Land Time. It’s kind of tough waking up in the middle of the night and trying to figure out what time it is.

Most hotel bathrooms have a bidet. I had never seen one before, nor did I know what they were, let alone how to pronounce it. Ginnie had to explain.

There is no sales tax in most places, but you may be charged a duty on your purchases when you cross a border. Everywhere we went, American dollars were accepted, but change might be in shekels.

For those of you wanting to send postcards back home, many places have no mail service. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to send our Jordanian tour guide a thank-you note, but he said it’s almost impossible. The note would have to be sent to the town, then they would call him to let him know he had something to pick up. If gifts are sent, they are taxed at this point. I kept up my goal of sending a thank-you note a day, even while in the Holy Land.

I posted one thank you note from a shop in the desert. The clerk said it wouldn’t go out until the next week when they went to town. Really?

The deserts in the Holy Land are starker than anything I’ve seen in the American Southwest — lots of rocks and caves everywhere. I don’t know what the Bedouin sheepherders feed their flocks. There is nothing growing. I mean nothing. The sheep and goat herders do not use sheep dogs as they are considered unclean animals.

It’s sort of uncanny to see a sheepherder, out in the middle of the desert, talking on a smartphone. The USA is in the throes of conversion to 5G. The Middle East is still working on 3G in some places.

Cats are everywhere, but dogs scarce. The cats look just like American cats, except they don’t understand, “Here, kitty.”

There is a lot of public smoking throughout the Middle East, even in hotels, restaurants and airports, where they have “smoking closets” that barely contain the smoke. If you’re allergic to tobacco smoke, be advised.

Enough carping. There was considerably less roadside trash as we ventured into Israel and Palestine. It picked back up in Jerusalem.

There were so many memorable stops and historic sites, too many to mention. Having Holy Communion with our church group on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in the evening as the sun went down, was a special occasion.

We had a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and viewed the remains of a 2,000 year-old-boat (maybe one that held Jesus?) that was excavated from the sand and mud along the shores.

There was Jericho and the Mount of Temptation. At the Mount of Beatitudes, I was overcome with such a peaceful feeling that I thought if God wanted to take me right there, it was fine with me. We visited Tabgha, which is the traditional site of the “Feeding of the 5,000”; Nazareth; Bethlehem; Mount of Olives (there are olive trees there that are over 2,000 years old and still producing fruit); the Garden of Gethsemane; Mt. Zion; as well as New and Old Jerusalem.

We saw Jacob’s Well; Peter’s Rock — the Foundation of the Christian Church; a possible footprint of Jesus; possible “house” where Mary lived; the shrine for Jesus’ birthplace; Golgotha; Jesus’ tomb (it’s empty); “Room” of the Last Supper; shrines for the Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, and the Ascension.

In Old Jerusalem, we visited the 12 Stations of the Cross. At the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall), we witnessed bar mitzvahs taking place. In the old tradition, women are to the right, men to the left. I prayed at the Wailing Wall, and left a prayer written on a scrap of paper.

We wound up our pilgrimage with a stop at the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem Museum). Emotion overtook us. The architecture of the museum is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It represents a spike driven into the Mount of Remembrance, so the world will never forget.

Shopping in the Holy Land is fun and adventurous — cash and credit cards accepted! Tour guides and bus drivers know the reputable establishments. I now proudly wear a gold ring with a malachite Jerusalem Cross, and Ginnie has a cross necklace that transforms into a pendant. We also have numerous little Holy Land gifts for family and friends.

The food is amazing with excellent choices of everything from meats to salads, pita bread, lots of vegetables, and to-die-for desserts. I irritated Ginnie by calling hummus (which was at every meal), “pumice.” Most hotels have a short-order cook for omelets during breakfast. At a Sea of Galilee restaurant, tilapia is called “Peter Fish.”

Take-away for me: So many nationalities worship the same God, the same Christ. I sort of thought Americans or the English had a corner market on the Son of Man. Silly me.

This trip was definitely a pilgrimage for us, a life changing event. (I’m still high.) We came home different people, to prayers answered. Hallelujah! “All those who know me shall know that God is the Lord of all my ways!” Amen.

Next week: casualty of our Holy Land Pilgrimage.