This has been somewhat of a stressful week. I feel like they always try to cram in as much school as possible before we go on big trips because we leave for Galilee on Monday, and we will be gone for ten days. I've had to write three papers this week and take a midterm, so even though I only have two classes now, there's still been a lot to do.
So on Sunday I did something really interesting. I went to what is called the Temple Institute, and it is a Jewish group that wants to rebuild the temple on the Temple Mount (where the Dome of the Rock currently stands), and they have a lot of the kinds of instruments, decorations, and clothing that would be needed to rebuild the temple. I went and took a guided tour with some friends that they give the public of all of their stuff. It was really interesting. We weren't allowed to take pictures of their stuff, but I snuck one of their awesome model of Solomon's temple because it was just too good to pass up. Anyway, it was interesting because it was the Jewish perspective of worshiping in temples and what it would do for people today. I thought that the most interesting thing is that some of the doctrine behind why they want to rebuild the temple is spot on. They believe that the temple is the place for the individual to commune with God. They also believe that the temple brings people happiness and that it would make society much better if they rebuilt the temple. I walked out of that just feeling so grateful that we have modern-day temples and that there isn't just one spot where we can build them. I also feel like it was really neat to be able to see all of the things in person that we had talked about in our Old Testament class that were parts of worshiping in the temple. Seeing those things helped me to understand more about temple worship during the time that the Law of Moses was instituted and how representative all the parts of the temple are of the atonement and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though the Jews don't see it like that, I'm grateful that I was able to understand the symbolism and know the truth.
After visiting the temple institute, we visited Dormition Abbey, which is the main church in Jerusalem that honors the virgin Mary. It was very beautiful inside and out of the church. The coolest thing was that when we went in the church, we were the only ones in there, so we started singing some hymns. Then my friend Morgan and I sang some primary songs about Mary while we were in there. I have really come to appreciate Mary much more while I've been in Jerusalem. There are so many places that honor her and so many pictures of her everywhere. She truly was a chosen vessel of God to be the mother of Christ. I think her attitude that we see in the scriptures is really great because she says, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word." She trusted in Heavenly Father a great deal. I want to be more like her.
On Monday, we went on our second field trip to the West Bank, and we went to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is only about five miles south of Jerusalem. It was about a twenty-minute drive down there. It was an awesome day! The first thing we did was visit the Herodion, which was a palace that Herod the Great built. He built it on a natural hill and then put more dirt on the sides of it to make it artificially steep. The Herodion has a fortress along with a palace, bath house, and a pool. Also, Herod was buried here after his death in Jericho. His tomb and mausoleum was actually only found in 2007, and they have his sarcophagus on display in the Israel museum right now that I saw a couple of weeks ago. So that was really neat. His palace was such a contrast to the kind of circumstances that Christ was born into during Herod's lifetime. It was cool to see the ruins and go through the tunnels in the underground fortress that the Jews had used during the first revolt against the Romans in 70 AD.
After the Herodion, we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is the oldest continuously used church on earth. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine, and then the Byzantine Emperor Justinian added more to it to make it grander in the sixth century. It was dark inside, but it was very ornate. Everything was elaborately decorated. We got to see "the actual spot" where Christ was born that the church is built on. We also saw where the manger was. Three churches have holds on this church, just like the church of the Holy Seplechre in Jerusalem. So it is a pretty universal church. Lots of tourists go there, and there were a lot there the day we went. After going to the Church of the Nativity, we went to the church next door, which was St. Catherine's Church (a Catholic church). We sang Christmas hymns in there for a while, and all the people in there really liked it. It had great acoustics, and it was actually much prettier than the Church of the Nativity. After that, they let us shop in Manger Square, and I bought some Christmas ornaments of nativity scenes carved in olive wood that say "Bethlehem" on them. Then we ate lunch at a really yummy restaurant called "The Tent." Lots of pita bread and different things to dip it in. So good! Then we visited a few other churches pretty quickly that commemorate the shepherds seeing the angels. We went to a Catholic one that had some awesome depictions of the angels visiting the shepherds. Then we went to Mormon Shepherds' Field, which is a field that overlooks Bethlehem. We had a little devotional there, and we also had some musical numbers. The three other violinists and I played a quartet arrangement that we made up of "Silent Night" on our violins. It was so awesome to play that in Bethlehem. :-) Then we all went off by ourselves and had some pondering time. I thought it was really interesting that Rachel, Jacob's wife, had died in Bethlehem and that Christ was born there because she was one of the mothers of Israel. And even though Christ is not directly descended from her, the source of life of much of the world today died there, while Christ the source of spiritual life was born in the same city. David the king was also born in Bethlehem, and even though he was able to do a lot of good politically for the Jewish people, Christ, the king of all, was able to do so much for everyone who has ever lived. It was very special to be in the place of his birth and know that Christ had come to the Earth to save everyone. After studying the Old Testament, I think Christ's birth means so much more to me now because I now realize that Jesus was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. The Lord coming to the Earth to teach them, to perform the atonement, and to be resurrected seems so much more meaningful now. Jehovah loved His people enough to come to Earth and live a mortal life so that everyone could live again and have the chance to make it back to Heavenly Father. What a blessing!
I'm excited to learn more about the life of Christ while we are in Galilee for the next week and a half. And even though you don't have to go anywhere to know that Christ is the Savior of mankind, I think it will be an amazing experience. :-)
Me in front of a door at the church pretending to knock at the door of the inn in Bethlehem. We all wanted to knock on a door in Bethlehem and not get let in.
Me with my awful watercolor painting of the city and the sunset in the cemetery. Notice that all of the graves have rocks on them. That's what they do in this part of the world instead of putting flowers on someone's grave.