Friday, April 20, 2007

All Good Things

Three and one-half months ago, students stayed up till all hours of the night packing, trying to figure out what to take with them to Jerusalem. A few had lost the packing list, so they were left to their own devices and a little bit of luck. Well, last night, students stayed up till all hours of the night, trying to figure out what to take home with them. The amazing thing is, this is my last blog entry on the Jerusalem Center. It has been a wonderful experience, and it's been fun lettin you know about it as well. The memories constantly flood into my mind, the visit to Haram-es-Shariff, the beautiful view from each balcony of the Center, the peace of Galilee. So, while I am writing this from my home computer, I will do my best to not make it melancholy. The experience was too wonderful to end it off that way.
I thought that, since I'm sure that future JC candidates are reading this page, I will focus on a few things that will be important to them. First of all, never go into a shop like an uneducated tourist and say, "Now, is this one of those shops where you bargain for things?" It gave me pain to see an elderly couple from the States walk in and say that. Invariably the shopkeeper will suppress a smile and say, "No, no, I give you good price here. No bargain." Just know that, except in grocery stores and the mall, price is always relative.
Second, yes, the food really is that good. Just beware of a few things, "Beef Tang" is incorrectly named, but surprisingly good. Use your imagination to figure out what it might be, then comment on it. :) The mixed grill is also quite good, as long as you don't contract the dreaded "Liver Shiver," or "Chicken Heart Bop," both coveted moves on a dance floor, not in the cafeteria. Aside from those two menu items, the rest is perfectly normal and, in my opinion, quite excellent. The showers...Wow. I hopped in the shower at my parent's house this morning and was sorely disappointed. The water pressure at the JC all but left me completely bald. Don't turn it on all the way the first time, ease yourself into the best showers anywhere.
You're going to be spending a lot of time with these people. I absolutely love everyone that was there with me and hope to be their friend for life. However, there were times that I needed to get away. Take those times. Go out on the lawn by the second level. Spend time in the Dome or the Biblical Garden. Hide out on your balcony, play your harmonica in the bomb shelter (that's what I did). You'll find that if you don't you'll have a much harder time being happy with all your friends. After you take that time, take the time to do things for the other people in the group. If they need to go somewhere, accompany them so they can. It may be hard at times, but you'll never regret helping a friend out.
Breanne White is credited with this idea. Every night at dinner she took the time to tell everyone at her table an attribute or trait that she admired about each of them. I personally think that it's a tradition that needs to live on. Breanne rarely missed a night, and we all benefited from it.
You'll hear this fifty times before you leave, but if there is one bit of advice that I'd give you, it would be to hold of on judgement of the local cultures and people. Don't base your opinion of different groups on the actions of a few individuals. My opinion of different groups there has changed drastically. I love Jewish people and they have been through trials a pain throughout the centuries. They have been misrepresented, but the greatest misrepresentation of today is that which is directed to the Arab people. I don't know if it is possible for me to love a group of people more than I do them. I admit that once or twice I may have had a bad experience with a few, but I can't even believe what I thought before I left for Jerusalem.
Most of Jerusalem is underground, and I mean that literally. Many of the stones that you walk on today are 12 to, in some cases, 50 feet above where people walked in the times of the Old and New Testament. Enjoy those trips to the different sites and be sure to take good notes. You'll thank yourself later. Some people hated the "Field Trip Notebooks," but I can't think of anything more useful than an entire notebook dealing with facts, scriptures, and personal impressions from each site.
The Jerusalem Experience is life-changing. I know that for me, quite beyond the changes in the social scene and ideas concerning current events, the most significant changes have come in my understanding of the scriptures. Ideas and concepts in the scriptures come alive when you see the land where they were written. You gain different insights that simply amaze, but more importantly, you gain a greater understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ as God's divine Son, our Savior, and our Redeemer. You also come to realize just how blessed you are to be a member of His church. You come to realize that you have a certain light about you that people immediately recognize. So my final advice is to go, learn, do, serve, and love. Your life, if you let it, will never be the same.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Easter to the Tune of Prayer Calls

Easter in the Holy Land. I never thought this would happen to me. There were a lot of beautiful moments during the Holy Week. My favorite would have to be going Thursday night to the Garden of Gethsemane and reading all four gospel's accounts of the events in Gethsemane. We then read D&C 19 and some Book of Mormon accounts of Christ's suffering. After about an hour of scriptures, prayers, hymns, and meditation, the five of us that went came back to the center just before dark through the Orson Hyde Park, just a stones throw away from the Garden. It was beautiful being there on the anniversary of the exact night when Jesus took our sins upon him.
The next day, tens of thousands of people thronged the streets as the cross was carried along the traditional orthodox "Via Dolorosa." These pilgrims were then complemented by the thousand of Muslims getting out of morning prayers. These two groups were then complemented by the orthodox Jews that were in town for passover, heading all over the place, but principally in the area of the western wall. As I was walking back from the Ophel Archaeological park on Thursday, I counted 49 double-length busses bringing Jews from all over to the Western Wall. Suffice it to say, it was jam-packed.
My experience with the crowds came the next day. A few of us decided to go to the "Lighting of the Sacred Fire," a Catholic ceremony where the priest enters the Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and, supposedly, his lantern spontaneously lights. The amount of pilgrims was suffocating. Our group managed to be at the front of the crowd near the police officers and it was a good thing. There were a few people from the back that were constantly pushing forward, trying to break through the police line and get into the church--the police were trying to get everyone out before they let anyone else in. I, myself, being caught in the middle of push and shove started to feel seasick. :) I'm merely grateful that I stand head and shoulders above many there, as I got the occasional whiff of cool air. We stood there crunched-in for at least 45 minutes. I no longer have a personal bubble. It was funny when a guy in our group, who has an inch and 40 pounds on me, finally had enough with the people pushing from that back. He turned around and helped the police with a little crowd control. He honestly created about 4 feet of breathing room around him where there was no space to begin with--all with his football-like tactics.
Our last stop was the sunrise service at the Garden Tomb. For someone who has never been to an evangelical service, it was an eye-opening experience. All in all, the timing was right, and I think I could probably make a good evangelist, I can rock with the best of them. :) One interesting comment. It is interesting to note how different translations of the Bible imply completely different concepts. My KJV teaches some amazingly profound doctrine with regards to man's origin and destiny, but the Bible that the pastor uses completely changes the wording so that all the symbolism that I have come to cherish is lost. I'm so glad that we have leaders that are inspired of God to help us understand the scriptures and that we have additional scriptures to help clarify the plain and precious truths that Christ and his prophets taught.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


A wise teacher once told me that responsibilities are like juggling a bunch of balls. Some are made of rubber and some are made of glass. Some you can drop every once in a while, and some you absolutely can't. I figured that the finals that I just took today, plus the end of semester projects, were balls that I couldn't drop. So for those of you that feel like you've been bouncing up and down because I haven't done an entry in a while, just know that the rubber ball is back in circulation again. :) Honestly, I'm sorry I haven't had time to write more. It's always on my mind.
Well, I'm going to finish the Galilee field trip with a few comments on Caesarea Phillipi. For those of you that don't have an LDS King James Bible, I've included a picture of the headwaters of the Jordan located at Caesarea Phillipi. If you look at the picture, you'll see hundreds of gallons of water spilling over the different terraces. Just know that the wall you see along the back, plus some areas that are to the left out of the picture, is where all that water is coming from. The water literally emerges from the bedrock. It melts from the top of Mt. Hermon and flows underground for...well...I don't know how far. But it hits the thick layer of bedrock and just comes gushing out of the ground. Something similar happens at Tel Dan, several miles away to the northwest.
This area was once the capital of Herod Phillip's tetrachy in the North. When Herod the Great died, just shortly after Jesus' birth, his kingdom was divided between his three sons, and Phillip was given the Galilee. If you look in the background of the picture, you will see a large cave where, previous to a large earthquake, the water used to come from. Phillip built a temple to Caesar over the flowing water. He also built one to Pan, the little goat god with the pipes(He's the god of war), one to Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution, and to the sacred dancing goats...ummm...
Well, for those who would like to know why we went here: it's really pretty. But this is where, in Matthew 16, Peter declares "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is interesting to see the huge bedrock and hear Christ declare that the rock of revelation is what his church will be built on. From this rock of revelation flows huge amounts of living water. The imagery is amazing.
I will decline to comment on the bonfire that some students built our last night there, but I was the naysayer in the whole affair. Luckily it turned out okay, as my frantic babblings were swiftly ignored. :)
Anyway, after Phillipi, we dropped by Acre and a few other places, but unfortunately Caesarea (not Phillipi) closed early for Passover. Caesarea is a huge city down on the coast about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. Herod the great built it and, much to his Jewish ancestry's chagrin, here established the first example of emperor-worship, as the Romans worshipped their emperor. He also established an amazing port city that rivaled even Rome in it's splendor. We took some time in the bus outside the gate and enjoyed some little bit of the scenery.
When we got home, Jimmy was waiting there with the favorite meal here, chicken with some great barbecue sauce. He also managed to have some "chocolate pillow" cereal, as some people here would probably go into a coma if they didn't have it. :) Then we all managed to crash into bed.

Monday, April 9, 2007


When it rains, it pours. But luckily we haven't seen any rain since we got back from Galilee. It did pour on us the last day, though, when we went to Acre. But, if rain refers to schoolwork, then we've been drowning:). We just took our New Testament midterm, finished our scripture journals, and, well, some of us have finished the research paper (10 pages, so not too bad). I wrote my paper on "The Gates of the City of Jerusalem." It sounds really cool if you say the title in a James Earl Jones-like voice. Go ahead, try it.
Well, sorry about the personal indulgence there. I promised I'd tell you about Galilee, and I'll do it in chronological order. I'll try to make it not sound like a travelogue.
In the New Testament, there are various reference to the Decapolis. Well, Bet She'an is one of those cities, it also boasts one of the best Roman baths in the area. I'd always heard of roman baths, but I'd never really known what they were before I came here. Well, get ready for the history lecture.
The Romans loved to feel clean and they would have huge bathhouses dedicated to just that. In any bath, there would be three rooms, the caulderium, the tepidarium, and the frigidarium. You can tell easily enough what they are from the base words but I'll give a little background. The caulderium was hot, really hot, but they didn't exactly have a hot water heater to do that. The entire floor was built up on little, 4" wide columns that were about 18 inches high. Just outside the room was a huge fireplace that would force hot air underneath the floor and through the ceramic tubes in the walls. Suddenly, with a hot floor and ceiling, just add water and you get a smoke-free sauna. In this room, they would use blunt knife-like objects to scrape their skin completely clean.
After the caulderium, the tepidarium was an intermediate room with warm water. They would have stayed here for a little while to cool down before heading to the frigidarium, where they would take a nice, cold dip to finish off. After that, you could probably get a nice massage, and hopefully no one had stolen your clothes at the entrance.
Near the town of Nazareth you'll find the ancient city of Sepphoris. In the days of Christ this would have been a bustling metropolis, while the town of Nazareth would have had no more that 500 people, according to some scholars. Well the roles are completely reversed now. There is an interesting question that we should ask: "Why did Joseph, who's tribal inheritance was in Bethlehem(and hence, he went there to be taxed), end up in Nazareth, hundreds of kilometers to the north?" Some people have speculated that when Herod Antipas ordered the rebuilding of the city Sepphoris, which was destroyed when the city rebelled, Joseph may have come north for work. It's just a theory, but an interesting possibility. One thing that we learned here is that the actual Greek word for Joseph and Jesus' profession is better translated as "Craftsman" or "Master Builder," implying work in wood, stone, or metal. This especially relates to stone and metal. Since most construction was done in stone in those days, this makes sense.
I'm going to keep loading the new insights on you. :) Peter and Andrew, brothers, were both born in Bethsaida, but they didn't stay there too long. They moved to Capernaum, just a few miles away, and set up shop there. It is thought that between these two cities, on the northwest shore of Galilee, is where Christ issued the call "Follow me." This isn't because of convenience, but due to the fact that there are seven warm springs on a hill in this area. These springs flow down and cause slightly warmer water, which provides more abundant food for fish. We can see why Peter, James, John, Andrew, and other fishermen, would want to set up shop here.
Capernaum wasn't discovered until the 1800's. It is almost entirely built of beautiful black stone, with just a synagogue and what people assume to be Peter's home, built out of a lighter color. It is interesting to think that Christ spoke of people that dwelt in darkness, while the dark interiors of the homes in the area actually mirrored the spiritual darkness that he spoke of. It is here that he did some of the most memorable and important acts of his ministry. He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. The woman with the issue of blood was healed. He healed the centurion's servant. The 70 were appointed and sent forth. Peter caught the fish with a coin in its mouth for the temple tax. He discoursed on the Bread of Life. The list goes on. But Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Corzin, though they saw great miracles, were slow to have faith in Jesus, and they were cursed for their lack of faith. The evidence shows when you think that each city had at least 15,000 inhabitants, and they were all completely lost for thousands of years.
I'll tell you about Caesarea Phillipi, but there's a lot to do tonight (We have to finish our musical number for tomorrow night's concert). So I'll bid you adieu.
btw, that is my absolute favorite picture of Galilee. It's taken from Mount Arbel, and I think it captures it perfectly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Well, my back is red from lovely sun on the shores of Galilee. No complaints, though. Galilee was awesome. If there were two places in the world that could be more polar opposites than Jerusalem and the Galilee, I'd be hard pressed to find them. Less than a week before we left it snowed in Jerusalem, and less than a week after we left I was burned crispy because, for the first time in a long time, I refused to put on sunscreen. The palm trees provided just enough shade for those on land, but I really didn't leave the water much that day.
I'd say that the main difference between the Jerusalem and Galilee is the peace of Galilee as compared with the constant movement of Jerusalem. Where Jerusalem looks almost nothing like it did at the time of Christ, Galilee seems completely unchanged. It was so inspiring it even brought out the poet in had to dig reeeaaaalllly deep.
Our time in Galilee was by no means all fun and games. We had two religion class periods and one NES class every day but the sabbath and the field trip days. It might drive the point home when you realize that you are covering the entire gospel of Luke in two class periods...that means two reading assignments. However, the schedule was purposely set up to give us three entire afternoons free so that we could just spend some pondering time on the shores of Galilee. The New Testament comes to life in Galilee just way the Old does in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. It was amazing to sit on the shore of Galilee reading the account of Christ walking on the water or his different travels around the area and see the exact locations where he would have walked, sailed, and preached.
This is just a teaser entry. It's late right now and I really need the sleep, Elder Holland's orders. I will write again soon, though.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


There are so many "traditional" sites in the Holy Land. The traditional site of the burial of Absalom, the traditional site of the devils going into the swine, the traditional site of the burial of St. George's second-favorite dog, etc. The fact is, many of the traditional sites were established in the 3rd, 4th, 5th centuries, even later. So how can people know that an event occurred in a specific area 400 years earlier? Well, archaeological evidence often points to a site, but it's a science that is up to debate.
Just for Mormons, we can be relatively certain about a few sites. Two modern prophets have been to the Church of the Nativity and said, about the grotto, that it was close by that the Savior really was born. They have said similar things about the Garden Tomb. Well, it was really quite special being down in the grotto. I bent down and touched the silver star that marks the traditional birth place of the Savior. It was actually oily, as if there was a ceremony during which they annointed the star, and it tasted like olive oil...just kidding, no way was I going to taste it.
The church was absolutely amazing. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, having survived both Islamic and Persian raids. The old, Byzantine mosaic floor is visible through trap-doors in the current floor. The pillars are made of limestone but were polished until they looked like marble. There are actually 3 different churches that have their own little sections and they constantly squabble over who gets to do what.
Outside there are tons of tourist-hungry shopkeepers (the wall really put the squeeze on their source of income). Our group alone completely cleaned out the immediate vicinity of its Bethlehem Blankets. (They're beautiful little blankets. A lot of LDS people bless their babies in them.) My sister even bought an olive wood carving of her namesake, Rachel. Once again, my frugality complex shone through, and I limited my purchases to a few blankets. I'll have to get over that eventually, and I will, I just want to make sure I'm getting what I really want with my money. Oh, BTW, the picture is twilight over Bethlehem, from a shepherd's field. The mountain in the background that looks like a volcano is the Herodian, the huge stronghold that Herod the Great built.
After Bethlehem we spent several hours in a field that is still used by shepherds. After eating for a while and enjoying some quiet reflective time to read scriptures and ponder, we had a beautiful little program with Christmas carols, Luke 2, and testimonies. It was something else to sit on a hill where shepherds lived and worked at the time of the Savior's birth. You could look over the hills to the old city of Bethlehem and just imagine that the angels were appearing to the Shepherds. After the angels left, they might have just looked up and seen the candles in the windows of Bethlehem. They then would have run straight across the fields, maybe they took the road, but they went straight up to Bethlehem and worshipped the Babe in the manger.
This next week is pretty busy, we're headed up to the Galilee until a week from Monday. If I can get access to the Internet, I'll let you know what we're doing. If not, you won't hear from me 'till we get back.

Swimsuits and Sweaters

As I was looking for an open dryer yesterday, I found that one person had put just two items through the wash: a swimsuit and a sweater. Far from being perturbed by the amount of items, I found that this is a perfect depiction of a winter semester in Jerusalem, from Dead Sea swimming to Shepherd's Field freezing, all within 36 hours.
As you can tell, we went to the Dead Sea last Wednesday on a field trip. By far, it wasn't the only thing that we did that day, but it's about the coolest thing I've done in a long time. The Dead Sea is 1370 feet below sea level and, due to the diversion of river-water for crops, is falling quite rapidly, as in 1 meter a year. It is also the lowest dry place in the world.
If you've never swum in either the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake (well, there are a few more saline lakes), there really isn't a way to adequately describe it. As you dip down, you have absolutley no feeling of falling. I wouldn't even call it floating, I would call it suspension. We took turns curling into a ball and letting others in the group spin us around. If you push yourself up out of the water and try to sink down, you invariably don't get in past your chin, and all the time you can feel a film of salt and other minerals on your body. As long as you don't let it get in your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears (ears aren't too bad), you feel just fine, but if you swallow some, you'll have a sore throat for a month. :)
Before the Dead Sea, we hiked to the top of Herod's Fortress, Masada. If there is one word to describe Herod, it would have to be paranoid. He was constantly in fear of three things: his family, his subjects, and his nemesis, Cleopatra. To qualm these fears, he spent enormous amounts of time and energy to build several places of refuge, Masada being one of them. He even built a mountain. He built it. It's called the Herodian, and you can see it from the hills around Bethlehem. Many years after his death, Masada fell into the hands of Jewish Zealots, and the story has it that they held off Roman forces for months and, instead of submitting at the very end of the seige, they robbed the Roman forces of their victory by committing suicide. Kind of a gruesome ending, but every Israeli schoolchild is taught the story. The unofficial theme of the Israeli army is "Masada has fallen, and it will never fall again!" There were 2 women and 5 children that didn't commit suicide, and they preserved the story.
We also went to Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This area was the ancient home of the Essenes, a group of hyper-religious, insanely strict jews, who even went to the point, some scholars argue, to say that using the restroom on the Sabbath day constituted a Sabbath-day violation. They probably lived in Jerusalem until they got really mad at the High Priest, at which point they went to live by the Dead Sea. The most suprising thing about this area is that the scrolls that they had hid 1900 years earlier were not discovered until 1947. They were discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd boy who found a strange crevice in the course of a normal day. He threw a rock down, heard breaking pottery, and the greatest archaelogical discovery of the 20th century was unearthed. Go figure.
Well, I'd better break this entry off. Don't worry, I'll talk about Bethlehem, just in the next entry. :)
(btw, a huge shout out to Breanne White for giving me her pictures of the Dead Sea. I was too busy swimming.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

¡Baila Baila!

Even in times when finals are bearing down on you, you can still find time to have a little fun. Last Wednesday, just before our dignitaries got here, we had a "Western Night" at the snack bar (Did I mention that we have a snack bar? It's open every night from 9-10.) Well, the western night became a line dance party, the line dance party became a swing party, and then we just dropped the pretense all together and had a "whatever you happen to be able to do, or not do" dance party. I prefer to call my dancing "Raw, untamed talent" as Danica so aptly put it. Of course that was refering to my "Irish Dancing." The picture is of Jane and Carly. Jane was nice enough to let me snag her pictures, but on the condition that she got honorable mention. Well, here it is. :)
Aside from seeing an already exhausted Landon lift the great Matt Durham high above his head in a bird-like fashion, we've been busy both with finals and with making the most of the experience. Today we went to the Archaeological park that is right outside the Al-aqsa mosque. It was quite interesting walking around on ruins that date back to the time of the Second Temple, because most of streets from that time period are at least 20 feet under your feet.
That's another interesting thing about Jerusalem, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that the ground level from 2000 years ago is at least 10-15 feet below the current ground level. We all decided that the rocks and dirt in Jerusalem have actually evolved to the point that they reproduce, kind of like coral.
Anyway, tomorrow is our little float in the Dead Sea! We also get to go to Masada, a mountaintop fortress built by Herod the Great (well, his men built it, you know), and Qumran, where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Enjoy the rest of your day!!

Welcome to the Jerusalem Center!

Well, the people that we said that to are probably more qualified to welcome us, they've been here much more than we have. But this last week a breath of fresh air coursed through the building in the form of Elders Holland and Samuelson and President Kearl, as well as all their wives. We've had plenty of opportunities to interact with them and get to know them better. I've discovered that once you're in a conversation with them it's just like you're talking to your grandparents, you just don't know them quite as well.
It's a different experience living in the same building with an apostle and a member of the Seventy. Almost every student has a story to tell about a quick conversation when they ran into them when they were by themselves. For example, somehow both Elders Holland and Samuelson found out that I'm into computers, and each in their turn has called me a "techno-geek." :) Not in any disparaging way, just as a statement of fact. We all know that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established," and "whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same" so I guess that my being a "techno-geek" is doctrine now. The other students say "He hugged me, twice!" "He patted my head!" "He liked my broken-leg trick!" We all loved the District Conference, followed that evening by a Q&A session especially for the students. They got here Thursday, will be here on goodwill errands until Tuesday, and then they fly out again.
It's not too common that the Brethren would be able to come all the way out here, but when the Center closed, a lot of good relationships and ties were put on the back burner. Now that students are back, it's time to reestablish those ties, so the Brethren are happy to come out and see their old friends after a very long Sabbatical.
Just so people know, President Kearl, the dreaded Econ 110 professor, is one of the best men that I've met. He's direct, he lays the issue down as only he knows how to do, but you always know where you stand with him. He's also a very insightful and humble man. Well, no one likes a kiss-up, so hopefully he doesn't actually read this.
We have exactly a month left here. We're in the middle of our first round of finals that includes Old Testament, Arabic or Hebrew, Palestinian-Islamic History and History of Judaism. After this week, for the rest of the semester, we have double-time in our Near Eastern Studies class and, finally, the New Testament. We actually started the New Testament for class this morning and I can honestly say that if you want to understand the New Testament, read the Old. Whereas I normally would have just glossed over the first four chapters of Matthew, I found so many connections to previous reading that it took me at least three-times longer than it normally would have.
Well, I'd better sign off, but I can't do so without offering a big "Congrats!" to my cousin, Conrad, and his wife, Donica, who just yesterday became mommy and daddy. So congratulations, and I expect to be able to hold every one of my new cousins, nieces, and friend's babies when I get back in a month.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Safety, the Best Option

If I could choose one phrase that I heard more than any other before I left it would probably be "Wow, don't get blown up." Well, with all the trouble that we see on TV and read in the newspaper, I can hardly blame everyone for thinking that. For the benefit of the 88 students that will be coming here in the Spring (and, I should say, for the benefit of concerned parents), I think I should talk about the actual situation inside Jerusalem, inside Israel proper, and in the other countries that we visit.
I'll start by saying that I haven't met a bad person here. I haven't felt unsafe at any moment. I may have felt uncomfortable once or twice, but I was new and green (I wouldn't consider myself an expert after two months, but I'm not entirely ignorant). Jerusalem, a city of 800,000 people, actually has a lower crime rate than the Provo-Orem area. It isn't perfect, for example, just last week a young Muslim man died. But that was the first death in nearly 2 years. Even in the riots that occurred last month, there were no deaths, there were just injuries. Students spend 80% of their time in Jerusalem, if there ever are any problem, there are always rumors that precede it, and students are always kept clear of any areas that might be sources of contention.
Last week we were in Jordan. Jordan, just like most other places in the Middle East, is safer than most cities in the United States. We spent several hours wandering around Amman, Jordan's capital, after dark. Even Egypt, though chaotic at times, was absolutely full of people that loved to have you there.
I should stress, however, that all is not well in the Middle East. There are very specific rules that keep us students safe. For example, we always have to go out in groups of three, with at least one male in the group if we are going to be out after dark. This is principally due to the "curiosity" of young males around here. We westerners would call it sexual harassment. It has been known to progress to actual physical contact, but not when the rules are observed. I'm talking to Liberty, a friend of mine, and she says that there is a definite difference when there is a guy in the group, even during the day. Men aren't nearly as forward, teenagers tend to keep their distance, and the only comments are "One man, two women!! Lucky man!"
As far as physical security, we are well taken care of here. We don't act stupidly, and we don't really have much to worry about. Concerning security of the young ladies in the group, every guy here is ready and able to go with a group of girls and lend their presence. Basically, we recognize there are risks, there are risks to jumping off your bunk bed in the morning, but the risks are greatly controlled and the rules are specific. Aside from seeing Matt Durham eaten by a giant steel lizard, I feel safer than in Deseret Towers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Free Days, the Cure for Everything Else

As much as we love learning about the scriptures, studying Near-Eastern history, looking at tells and running around the area, the occasional free day is always a welcome break. Last time we went down by Gaza, but this Friday was a day unlike any other.
300 kilometers south of here is the northern tip of the Red Sea. This is Israel's southernmost border and a huge tourist town named Eilat has been built there. To tie it into the scriptures, Solomon built a navy, and they set out from that area, previously called Ezion-Geber. I was actually kind of shell-shocked when I went there. It was much more like a beach town in Europe or the South, and two months in a highly orthodox community leads you to expect that everyone must dress that way. Scandalous that people should wear shorts! :) I soon learned to ignore it and it turned into a relaxing day filled with, well, nothing that we had to do, just a few things that we wanted to do.
The few things that we wanted to do included, lying on the beach, playing frisbee on the beach, snorkeling (a first, for me) just off the beach, and lying on the beach. Coming from someone who's had a full-time job every summer since he was 13, this relaxation was a new experience, but one that I could get used to, every once in a while. :) There is a beautiful coral reef about 6 kilometers south of town in an Israeli National Park that is 3 kilometers long and 200 meters wide. I've long been mortified of deep water, but aside from the few moments of panic at the start, snorkeling alongside thousands of fish, sea snakes, and even a little octopus was one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had.
After several hours just taking it easy on the beach, swimming out to "Moses' Rock," the most beautiful area in the park, and enjoying the sun, we headed back to town to quench the obvious thirst in the group for largely inexpensive goods. The girls in the group, on average, bought at least 2 skirts each, and the sunglasses, interesting jewelry, and ice cream stands were frequented. Don't ask me what I bought, you'll be sorely disappointed to find that it was confined to dinner and an ice-cream bar. There's the frugality complex shining through. :)
I'll get a picture up that someone in our group took, but he hasn't posted on facebook yet. In the meantime, enjoy this picture from
Y'all have a great day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Well, it's been a few days since I've written, but that's because we've been in one of the few remaining monarchies on earth, officially called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It was one of the most incredible, yet rushed, experiences that we've had this semester. We saw everything from great Roman cities of the Decapolis (mentioned often in the New Testament) to Petra, an area that looks just like Canyonlands, if you ignore the huge monuments that are literally carved out of the sandstone walls. To orient you, I can mention that "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" was filmed in Petra. The huge facade in the sandstone that, in the movie, contains the cave where the Holy Grail was kept is about a mile down the canyon. All these amazing sites that we see make me regret not having an amazing camera (That's going to be my graduation present to me...It's official). You can honestly spend days at each site and still not see everything that you want to.
The thing that stood out to me the most about Jordan is the King. King Abdullah II has been king for over 10 years. His father was King Hussein. Everywhere you go you see pictures of him, on walls, bumper-stickers, postcards, everywhere. Honestly, most everyone in the kingdom seems to love him and he seems like a very good man. The term "Hashemite" comes from the name "Hashem," who was the great-grandfather of Muhammad. Every king of Jordan is a descendant of Hashem, and they all seem to love that connection to Islam.
One of the nights we were able to spend time with a bunch of members from the Greater-Syrian district of the church. The district president that we met is responsible for members of the church from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. The restrictions on proselytizing are mostly the same in those countries, except that if people ask questions, a church member can answer. If a Christian wants to be baptized in the church, in some countries they can. But it is against the law in all of those countries for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. After the meeting on the state of the Church in the area, we spent time in broken-English and broken-Arabic getting to know the members. It was so much fun!
Other places that we were able to visit include the traditional site of Jesus' baptism (it's on the border between Israel and Jordan, but it's easier to access from the Jordan side.), the traditional site of the miracle of the Swine, and several others. The site of Jesus' baptism is associated with several other events, the crossing of the Jordan River by the Children of Israel, just before their conquest of Jericho, and the crossing of Elijah and Elisha just prior to Elijah's ascension in the chariot of fire. These sites are all described in a similar manner in the scriptures.
Unfortunately for us, the river Jordan has been largely diverted away for agricultural purposes, so the height has dropped about 20 feet. Instead of being 40-50 feet wide, it is about 12-20. It also is very dirty, but I touched the river Jordan and saved 1/2 liter of water anyway. It's sitting on my shelf downstairs.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Church in Israel

When the Center was being built, there were protests all over the city of Jerusalem because of the "Mormon Missionary Center," as they called it, that was being built on Mt. Scopus. The students had been here for decades, but the thought of having a permanent residence for the Mormons was opposed by 80% of the residents of Jerusalem. All during construction, those in charge received threats of violence, censure, and foreclosure of the lease.
Even though the Church had previously agreed to a non-proselytizing (apparently the word "proselyte" isn't a verb, it's only a noun) condition here in Israel, BYU decided that a firmer commitment was needed. Jeffrey R. Holland, who was the President of BYU at the time, obtained a signed statement from Howard W. Hunter and brought it to Israel. After he arrived, protesters gathered outside his hotel, but rather than stay inside, he went out and talked with each protester individually. After his visit, instead of 80% of the people being opposed to the Center being built, only about 30% were opposed. The rest of the construction was still rocky, but bearable.
The non-proselytizing agreement is one that every member in Israel, and not just the students, abide by. Before we left, we were informed that the only correct answer to a question that dealt with our beliefs was "I cannot talk about the matter." The direct result of this agreement means that, to this day, there are only 3 known native-Israeli members of the Church. Up until yesterday we only knew about two, but a guy that was baptized in South America and came back to Israel finally found the church here after years of separation. His parents (his father was a Rabbi) and his mother were both killed for their beliefs in the church, and since then he's never told anyone that he's a member. I can't say his name, nor will I give any personal information past what I've already said, but he's a fascinating individual.
One more bit of AWESOME news! In two weeks there will a dedication of the first LDS chapel in Israel --in Tiberias by the Galilee. Jeffrey R. Holland is coming to dedicate it and will be staying at the Center with Elder Samuelson and Dr. Kearl for a while. We're so excited!! They'll actually be staying in the Center and even though they'll have a really busy schedule, we may actually be able to eat with them and talk with them for a while. Elder Holland will also be giving a fireside for the branch here.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

2700 years ago, the Kingdom of Judah was severely threatened by the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib. The Assyrian army, which had just twenty year earlier deported the Ten Tribes, attacked the kingdom of Judah and destroyed every single outpost. They even destroyed the highly fortified city of Lachish and the inhabitants were brutally killed. The Assyrian battle tactics were so brutal that, often, all they had to do was send a messenger to a city to tell them that they were coming, and the city would surrender without a single shot.
Hezekiah, however, had been preparing. During 5 years, he built a broad wall to extend around the newly-settled Zion's Hill, which is just west of the Temple Mount. He was faced with the dilemma of water, though, because the water sources were a weak point in the wall. During 5 years, his people had been digging a tunnel from the lower portion of the city, now called the Pool of Siloam, to the Gishon Spring. The tunnel winds around for 1700 feet, possibly following an existing karst in the rock, and provided a water source that was completely undetectable to the invading army.
The tunnel was finally rediscovered in the mid-19th century. It served at least until the time of Jesus, as He instructed the man who was blind from birth to go and wash in the pool, so that he could be made to see. Throughout the centuries, people have determined that the Pool of Siloam had already been found, but a site that casts a larger archaeological shadow has recently been found about 200 feet farther south. You can see it in the picture to the left.
Well, Thursday afternoon we all went deep, dark, down into the depths of Warren's shaft and accessed the Gishon Spring. From there we wound our way down underneath homes, streets, and markets to the Pool of Siloam. Being the nerds that we are, we did everything from, of course, splash the students in front of us, to sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," to convert the tunnel into a Slip & Slide.
It was unanimous. We're all doing it again. :-)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ridin' Hard in Gaza

If any of you read my entry on the political situation here, upon reading my title you may have dropped your Krispy Kreme into your Stephen's Hot Cocoa. (It pays to know your audience:-). But no cause for alarm, we're all back, mostly in one piece, and we spent a great day cycling in the area near the Gaza Strip. Every once in a while we have a free day. No classes, no homework, "No more rulers! No more books! No more teacher's dirty looks!!" Or at least 'till tomorrow. Today most of us went to a kibbutz that's right on the Gaza border. It offered some of the most beautiful riding that I've ever seen.
I should probably give you a bit of history about Gaza. I don't know much about the modern history yet, but I can start with its biblical significance. This is one of the five cities of the Philistines that was built on the coastal plain. It was strategically placed to intercept most trade between Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. It isn't too significant in biblical texts. There are a few prophecies about Gaza, but the only story that has focus there is Samson's. Samson, before his demise with Delilah, had recently taken the gates of Gaza and carried them away. The gate is the most important part of any city's defense, and Samson basically knocked it out singlehandedly(That's embarrassing...). Well, after Delilah he was taken to Gaza and tied between two pillars, which he collapsed on the three-thousand people that were there celebrating his capture.
It was interesting to ride through beautiful countryside and see peace and serenity but know that just 2 miles south an American can't walk anywhere. The distant booming noise was either thunder on a cloudless day, or heavy weaponry. The kibbutz that we rented the bikes from has 8' high, double barbed wire fences with German Shepherds stationed every few hundred feet. Border Patrol is constantly running back and forth along the Gaza border in Hummers, and the lookout never sleeps.
We had a man from the US Consulate come and give a forum about Palestinian and Israeli security. He said that the Gaza strip, instead of really being controlled by Hamas or Fatah, it is controlled by clans. Once you know this, you'll notice in the news that those that are killed in Gaza rarely are governmental leaders, but members of families that have attacked someone else's family, so the blood feud goes on. Hopefully things can calm down, but in Gaza, peace doesn't seem to be an option.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Galilee

We have a trip to Galilee planned in about a month to visit a ton of New Testament sites, but because of our inability to visit certain places in the West Bank, Hebron, Beth-el, and Ai, we were able to go to the North for two days and visit non-New Testament sites, such as Mt. Carmel (site of the showdown between Elijah and the priests of Baal), the Castle of Nimrod, and the Golan Heights. Quite a few of the sites are near the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
I've never seen so much green! The Galilee is in the Jordan Rift Valley, just like Jericho, and while in Jericho things grew well as long as you irrigated, here you can't stop the "circle of life" from spinning. Galilee is also below sea level. Compared to the south, it is sparsely populated. It's surprising that arid areas like Be'er Sheba would be settled more rapidly than Tiberias, because there seems to be space for all. Apparently the property prices had something to do with keeping the area free from many settlements-- well, that and the fact that before the 1967 war the Syrian border used to be right on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.
If there is one thing about Galilee, however, it's the peace. Many of the students just got off the bus, took a beach chair down to the edge of the water, and spent time with their thoughts. What's amazing is that I wouldn't doubt that Christ walked right along that very place that I was sitting and reading about the scriptures. I can see why Christ loved the Galilee.
Well, there are a lot of OT sites that we visited. One thing that some people don't know is that Armageddon actually comes from two words: Har, which means Mount, and Megiddo, which is the name of a tel that we visited. So the anglicized phrase, "The battle of Armageddon" means the battle of Mount Megiddo. In ancient times, it was said that taking Megiddo was like taking 100 cities. The Israelites themselves didn't conquer Megiddo until the reign of King David, at least 250 years after coming into the promised land. It controls all traffic going north and south through the plain area, so it makes sense that it would be the place of "the final showdown," shall we say.
Even though we saw many cool sites like the Golan Heights (two girls and a professor accidentally went into Syria, barely. For some reason the road wasn't patrolled at the time), and the tribal home of Dan, our favorite site was Nimrod's Fortress. The fortress was built by crusaders and added-onto by Muslims. It sits high on a mountain top and is everything someone would want a medieval fortress to be. We found areas that look just like a scene out of "The Swan Princess" and deep, dark stairways where the unprepared use their cellphones to light the next step and you weren't sure if the bats would be offended by your intrusion (actually, we didn't see any bats, but they're supposed to be there). The fortress would have been nearly impossible to take, but it seems to be a playground for college students now :).
BTW, the picture that I included is a panoramic shot of the Valley of Jezreel, the valley just below Mount Megiddo where the armies of the earth are supposed to gather for the battle. Be sure to click on it so you can see it bigger. If you want to see it even bigger you'll have to save it to your computer. Keep in mind that this is a 180-degree panorama. It just shows you that there really is room for all out there...
Till next time then,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Joshua fit the Battle

Jerusalem and Jericho. You wouldn't believe the difference between these two cities that are just a bit more than 20 miles from each other. The most obvious difference is the drop from the Judean Wilderness to the Jordan Rift Valley, from 2500' above to 1350' below sea level, the lowest point on earth. (Actually, Jericho is only 1200' below. The dead sea is 1350'.) Suddenly, instead of 48 degrees with wind and rain, we stepped out of the bus into 85 degree, sunny, balmy weather. You could buy bananas just off the bus or fresh-squeezed orange juice a few steps later(squoze and squozen aren't words, apparently).
A tel is an archaeological dig. The actual tel of Jericho is quite small. I would guess that it's no more than 1.5 acres. The population was a lot bigger than what would fit into 1.5 acres, but most people would have lived outside of the walls until they needed protection. The point is, the children of Israel would have had a lot of access to resources in the Jericho area once they all retreated to the city. The other point is, marching around the city would have been a mere 20-minute stroll (if that). So the common idea of a huge city with walls hundreds of feet high isn't feasible. You probably shouldn't have walls that are taller than your city is wide. There were, however, both an outer and an inner wall for additional protection. This city couldn't be taken lightly.
Jericho is considered by many to be the oldest, continuously-inhabited city on earth. Archaeologists have found the bottom of a tower that dates to Neolithic times (New Stone Age, 8000 BCE). It's still sitting there, large as life. Today there are about 19000 inhabitants.
The highlight of the day was the Greek Orthodox Monastery that overlooks Jericho(pictured above). It is literally built on the face of the cliff that hangs over the Jordan Rift Valley. Quite often, while walking along the back, you'll come to a place that you have a bedroom door on one side and a cliff wall on the other that you have to duck under, or you'll hit your head. For some reason or another the monks took a liking to us and we were the first tourist group in about 10 years to go out the back door and hike to the ancient monastery that's on the top of the mountain. Talk about a view! Wow. Some students sang "High on a Mountain Top," only to realize that this mountain top is still below sea level.
Because of the beautiful winters in Jericho, Herod frequented his wintertime palace. It's just a few miles south of Jericho and is scarcely visited. You can still see some of the pillar bases and all the roman baths. The motifs have disappeared in recent years but you can still see some on the rocky floor. Ironically, instead of Herod's palace, now it's become a place where little Palestinian kids (pictured here) play tag. They have no idea that their playground is a place rich in history.


We've been told since we got here that the Beitar Soccer fans are nuts. Well, in the soccer game that we went to, I think it would be a toss-up between the Beitar fans and the newest addition to the Jerusalem Soccer Arena: Us.
The interesting thing about soccer games here is that there are no bells and whistles. Usually if you go to a sporting event in the states you have your cheerleaders, halftime shows, and a JumboTron to see all your instant replays.
Here you have a stadium, 22 players, several thousand fans, and a ball. Well, you could probably add the guys that walk around selling coke, bread, and sunflower seeds, as well as the guys that enter with big plastic bags full of merchandise that they sell whenever stadium representatives aren't looking. I have scarf.
The fans are something else. They seem to spontaneously break out into song. There are cheers where one side shouts to the other and then they answer, like in high school football games. (We've got spirit, yes we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you??!!). Our little group, after a failed attempt to start a wave (we got the strangest looks...), decided to contribute volume wise. Sean (totally nuts, btw) decided to yell "WE ARE, WE ARE!!" After which the rest of the group would reply "BEITAR!!" It wouldn't have been embarrassing if it weren't during that rare moment when the other fans weren't singing, but we let our unculturedness shine through.
One interesting thing is the security precautions that they take here. They're obviously accustomed to it, but every bag was searched and every person was patted down, twice. I was barely able to take in extra batteries for my camera (I never realized that the AA's are very close in size to a bullet). The good thing is that you felt very safe, even though there was violence in the Old City that day.
The picture is of Jane and Jill, two girls who have been best friends literally their whole lives (they were born one day apart in the same hospital, next door neighbors, etc.). I promised Jill she would be on the blog. She'd better say "thank you!" :)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Day in the Life

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of travelogues. In order to remedy this inevitability, a few weeks ago I wrote down several ideas for blog entries. I lost the paper. But it occurs to me that, while I may talk a lot about the different places that we go and the people that we visit, I haven't told you what the majority of our times consists of.
What many of you may not have guessed is that the Jerusalem Center supports a very challenging academic program. We take, from what I know, 2 of the only 3 - 3-credit-hour religion classes offered at BYU. We read most of the Old Testament in the time frame that would be alloted to a block class. We will do the same thing for New Testament later in the semester. My only regret is that we don't have time to even touch Isaiah. Shame. Aside from religion classes, we have an Ancient Near Eastern Studies course. It deals mainly with archaeology, geography, history, and a few other topics. This and religion are the only two classes taught by BYU faculty. History of Judaism and History of Islam are taught by native Israeli and Palestinian faculty members, as are Hebrew and Arabic. (We only take one of the two language classes.)
Because of this challenging class load, I hit the alarm clock at the bright and early hour of 5:30. My roommate, Tadd, always manages to get up five minutes before me and be getting in the shower at that time. I then justify my staying in bed until 6:00 when he's completely done. This is a daily routine. Breakfast starts at 6:30, and is therefore the least-frequented meal of the day (Food here is great, BTW). We have classes at different times throughout the day. They vary from morning to afternoon in order to let us visit areas in the city that are open at different times, so while you get used to the schedule, it's nothing like the Provo campus' scheduling.
After a day's worth of classes and sightseeing (which we get graded for in ANES), it's off to finish the huge amount of reading due for the next day. Don't tell Brother Whitchurch this, but even though we always finish it, we spend more time talking and laughing than we do studying. The main topic of conversation: Relationships. When you stick 16 boys and 28 girls into one building for a period of 3.5 months, don't allow them to leave unless they're in groups, and then impose a strict, no-dating rule on them, the most amazing thing happens: they talk about nothing else. :) There's also plenty of things to do in the center. The snack bar is open every weeknight, there are a lot of activities in the center, and the gym is open from 5am to 11pm. They even have some nice bean bags to chill on while you watch movies or DVD's. As for my principal use of time: blogging, what did you think? :)
As a final note, it occurred to me that many of you don't know my sister, nor have I included her in any pictures on here. Well, on the right is the kindest person I know, Krystina Davies. The beautiful redhead on the left is my little sister Rachel. She's even available, but you'll have to go through me first. (She's going to kill me when she reads this. Enjoy this paragraph while it lasts, it probably won't be here in a few days).


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Samson and Goliath..errr, I mean...

I wonder how many people, when they first see the title think "Hey, it should be Samson and Delilah," as compared to "Hey, it should be David and Goliath!" Well, whatever the first reaction, I'm telling you about both of them today.
Any story about either of them would have to start with the Philistines. The Philistines weren't native to Palestine, it says that they came from the sea. After a failed invasion of Egypt, they settled in five cities on the coastal plains of Canaan and the Israelites, up in the Judean Highlands, became their next potential conquest. Each of the five cities is positioned near the entrance to one of the five valleys that access the Judean Highlands. With that bit of background, we can talk about some interesting characters. . . and this is starting to sound like a geography lecture. :)
Most people don't know the whole story behind Samson and Delilah. Samson was a Nazarite, or a person who's life was dedicated to the Lord much like Samuel was. In addition to obedience to the Law of Moses, a Nazarite couldn't come in contact with a dead body, have anything to do with grape products, or cut their hair. Samson's power came from this pact that he had with God. He was married at one time, but his wife's philistine countrymen killed both her and her father in response to Samson's burning of their crops. Samson was a great support for the people of Israel until Delilah. In his hometown of Beth Shemesh, which lies in the valley that leads to Jerusalem, he was deceived into divulging the source of his strength and taken to Gaza where he died in quite the dramatic way. He's such a colorful character, and yet so indispensable to Israel, that I think he has only one "kindred spirit,"as it were: Orrin Porter Rockwell. Gnaw on that for a while. :)
The fortress of Azekah is located on a high, steep hill that offers a commanding view of the surrounding valleys, especially the valley of Elah which leads to Bethlehem. The interesting thing is that it actually lies only five miles from the city of Gath, Goliath's hometown. It was below this fortress that the famous standoff of the two armies took place. Goliath came out and challenged the Israelites for many days. When David challenged him, we have to wonder what each was thinking. I think I can offer a thought on David. He knew that if he were to fail and if the Israelite army were defeated, then there would be nothing between the Philistines and his family back home in Bethlehem. I think that offers sufficient motivation. Goliath, however, I think knew he was in trouble. He was armed with a sword and heavy javelin, neither of which were any good for long distance fighting. Even though he was many times more dangerous than David in close combat, he didn't stand a chance because David didn't offer him one. From probably a good fifty yards away David took him out with one stone, and he was gone. I'd just like everyone to know that I now have the exact stone that was used in this infinite battle, it's sitting in my desk drawer. I got it just after my epic battle with an authentic Israeli David, shown above (granted, his name wasn't David, but at least he's Israeli). I lost.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By Popular Demand

Well, people have asked for two things, pictures of the temples and a depiction of the obelisk's construction. Here goes:
The obelisks were cut to the south of Luxor. The actual transportation, then, was easy because the Nile flows north. They were transported onto large barges and floated downstream, hopefully they don't miss the landing. :)
All around a large granite base, workers would have built huge mountains of mud bricks, creating a volcano-like structure, and filled in the cavity to the very top with sand. Off one of the sides they would build a large ramp out of the same brick, and then transport the obelisk, base first, up to the top of the mountain. With the obelisk horizontal and the base resting on the sand, they would then tunnel a hole in the side of one of the mountains and allow the sand to escape. As the sand level went down, so did the base of the obelisk, until it gradually became erect. After all was said and done, the obelisk was perfectly straight, the bricks were removed, and a beautiful obelisk was in place. The story of the pillars is just as impressive, but I have a Judaism test today :S, so I'll slide you some pictures and tell you about our good friend Samson next time.

BTW, Happy Valentines Day!


P.S., a word about the pictures. I've included at least one person in every shot. In pictures they just look like an erector set. I thought you should at least get an ides of the enormity of the place.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Boats, Alluvial Plains, and Passenger Trains

How many of you have ever slept on a passenger train? I think I've finally found a form of transportation that I can actually come out of feeling good the next morning. As a continuation of the Egypt entry, after the day's activities in Cairo and Giza, we spent the night on a train and arrived at Luxor early in the morning. Immediately after checking in at the hotel, we all piled into carriages and went down the street to the temple of Karnak.
If there is one word to describe the temple of Karnak, I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with it. It is honestly the most magnificent structure I've ever seen. I was awestruck by the enormity of the pillars, obelisks, and its sheer size (64 acres). Tell me, how does one carve a 90-foot obelisk out of one solid piece of granite, transport it 100+ miles, and then stand it up in a position that aligns perfectly with the buildings around it to within a hairbreadth? Too heavy for pulleys, too tall for manpower, too awkward to transport 150 Goliaths from Palestine. Well, I know the answer, but it would take a while to explain. If you want to know, you'll have to comment on it. :)
Something interesting about Luxor is the annual rainfall: exactly 0.00" Honestly, there are still mud brick walls standing in the exact position that they were in 2000 years ago. Our guide, Rifatt, has lived in Luxor for 55 years and he's never seen rain there. It would seem that the principal reason for this is because all weather patterns, from west to east as normal, would have to cross the Sahara. Enough said.
The temple of Luxor, while nearly as impressive as Karnak, wasn't quite as well received. This is probably because of the amount of time the group had already spent in the sun, so we weren't there as long. After some R&R at the hotel we went to the Luxor Museum (it opens at 4:00 after a little siesta). The statues, mummies, ancient chariots, and artifacts there are immaculately carved and preserved, and it's pretty fun to make up meanings for the carvings that adorn every single object. :)
After another good night's sleep we were off to the valley of the kings, the burial place of dozens of Pharoahs. Probably the most popular inhabitant of the area is Tut Ankh Amon, known in the non-Egyptian world as King Tut. His mummy has been removed from the Cairo museum and replaced in the tomb (with guards on all the surrounding hilltops), and one of the three sarcophagi (coffins) is still there. Most of the rest of the thousands of artifacts are in the Cairo museum. The interesting thing is, the most well-known citizen of the valley of the kings is probably the least influential in Egyptian History. He only ruled for ten years, died before the age of twenty, and his tomb is only one-twentieth the size of, for example, Rameses II's.
After other popular places such as Queen Hatchepsut's palace to the Sun God, Amon Ra, the Valley of the Queens, and Rameses III's Esana Temple, we wandered the streets of Luxor until evening when those who wanted to went on a feluca. A feluca is a small sailboat meant basically for tourists, but for us it was a great opportunity to see the sunset from the Nile.
Finally, after some last-minute shopping, it was back to the train station. The next day we arrived in Cairo and spent time in the Cairo museum. We actually found some great hydrocephali (aka: similar to the facsimile in the Book of Abraham), oh, and you could hardly miss the tens of thousands of priceless artifacts. The ownership and subsequent sale of any one would cause the owner to retire, plus all his great-grandchildren.
Following lunch it was off to the mosque that I mentioned in an earlier entry, and then off to the bazaar. I've never seen so many people crowded into one street before. Yet, even though there were 44 students among thousands of shoppers, we were still the most popular (US Dollars still pack a punch). The sights, sounds, and smells of a bazaar are completely indescribable, and I have no pictures to give you a correct sense, because I purposely left my camera on the bus.
Egypt is a country unlike any other, well, unlike any other country that I've visited (so three...and counting). Non-natives don't drink the water, unless they want to risk a severe case of Pharaoh's Revenge (aka. the runs). The bartering often starts at a markup of at least 800% (I had a guy try to sell me a thimble for about $20. I offended him when I laughed, hard), and you pay the porter in any public restroom. The cultural differences, however, just add to the experience. Aside from that, many of the readers of this blog (from a totally LDS perspective, sorry about that) can call this country home through Ephraim and Manasseh. Give that thought a bit of a chew while you plan your next family vacation. Until next time, then.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Trouble in River City

It is about 5:00 in the morning in the Midwestern United States, so most of you are now sleeping. When you wake up you may wake to news of further conflicts in the middle east. To be specific, in Jerusalem. Now don't you all panic, we're all perfectly fine, I just wanted to fill you in on what is happening.
One of the antecedents to this story I already wrote about. The wall that is being built between Israel and the West Bank has caused high tensions and high tempers. A new development occurred last Saturday when we were driving back from Egypt. About two years ago, during heavy snows, an earthen walkway leading to the temple mount was damaged and considered unsafe. There are several different ways to access the mount, but this is the only one that non-muslims are allowed to use. It is principally used for tourists and as a police entrance for crowd control during Friday prayers. In order to accommodate the need to access the mount, a temporary ramp was constructed. Everything that I'm talking about can be seen in the picture at the top.
The temporary ramp, however, is becoming dilapidated, and the Israeli government saw fit to create a permanent structure(for which they need to install 5 large pylons as a foundation). Last Saturday, a backhoe was rolled into the city, right near the temple mount, and violence was threatened by local Islamic leaders. The weather cooled tempers for a few days, but today, the Muslim prayer day, the spark fell into the powder keg. The 1000-strong police force, plus 2000 backups, answered hurled rocks and bottles with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun guns. So far there have been a few injuries on either side, but no casualties.
In speaking to the Center's director, he said that this type of incident doesn't happen every day, but only time will tell if this will all just blow over, or if it will escalate. Let's hope for the former.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


I don't really know if it's supposed to be "travelog" or "travelogue." It probably depends on if you're from Britain or not. :)
Anyway, I promised I'd share some of the things that we did, and I've determined that it will have to be on multiple entries, or it won't work. There was simply too much to see.
After our first day on the road(Sunday, January 28), we spent the night at a kibbutz in the Negev Desert (I talked about kibbutzim in the "Rehovot" entry). It was amazing to see desert sands all around and have huge patches of green where they were growing potatoes, onions, dates, mangos, and hundreds of others. The ice cream shop, I'm sorry to say, puts Ben and Jerry's to open shame. It simply melts in your mouth. . .er. . .oh well. After a traditional Bedouin dinner and amazing music from the kibbutz' singing group, we played games until late with a Jewish guy about our age and then turned in.
Bright and early we got up and were on our way to the border. After passing through, we encountered the largest stretch of nothingness I've ever seen, the Sinai Desert. When we made it through (a feat achieved with plenty of singing, improvised rap, and stand-up comedy, complements of Matt Durham), We encountered exactly what we thought Egypt didn't look like. In Cecil B. DeMille's movie "The 10 Commandments," Egypt is all desert. But in reality it's green and lush wherever it's irrigated (the ancient egyptians used irrigation techniques, though).
Cairo is, in a word, indescribable. I'll try, though. The houses are principally in apartment buildings that, in our opinion, wouldn't have move-in permits yet. The roads would drive any westerner nuts. As a Mercedes flew by, 3 10-year old boys were whipping a cart and mule up to a roaring speed of 15 miles per hour. People crossing a crowded freeway don't even bat an eye, and a grand total of 5 traffic lights twinkle bright red and green. Surprisingly, this chaos is accepted and there are very few accidents. When off the major intercity roads, people rarely go faster than 30 miles per hour. We always seemed to have a police escort and at least one armed security officer on the bus.
The next day, it was off to the pyramids. We were actually able to go inside the second one. The egyptians have constructed a second entrance to the burial chamber. Even so, it wasn't made for the average 6'3" Matt Thomas. I'm sorry to say (you have to report the bad with the good) the inside wasn't all that impressive. I'm sure it would have been better had we not been on the average tourist tour, but I'm not sure how to get any other one. The sheer size, however, was astounding.
We also hit up the sphinx, rode some camels (I didn't think Danica would ever stop giggling), were shown the tour of good shopping districts, and overall, had a great time.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


I'm sure people want to hear about amazing sites that we visited like the temple of Karnak, the Great Pyramids at Giza, and the Valley of the Kings. It was absolutely incredible to be in the places that we've studied since we were children. Those topics, however, will have to wait until my next entry. I want to share with you the highlight of my trip, pardon the soapbox. :)
Whenever a person from the west, I was included in this, hears the word "Arab" they automatically think of radical fundamentalist Islam, al-Qaeda, and civil unrest in the middle east. With a slightly different perspective, I thought of pushy vendors, 5:00 am prayer calls, and young men that I keep away from my sister. But Friday, just after noon-time prayers, I had the opportunity to go to the Muhammad Ali Mosque, the principal Mosque in the Cairo area. There were thousands of Arab Muslims there and, just as every other time, I was on my guard for an inevitable pushy sales pitch or a request to marry one of the girls in the group. What I got was polar opposite. I have never felt more welcome by any group of people at any other time in my life. Random people came up to me and asked me to take pictures with them. A man wanted me to play with his little kids while he took pictures of us (That's me and Megan with Ahmed's Kids). I'm surprised that the girls in the group didn't suffocate with all the hugs they were getting. The Arab people are of the sort that will instantly be your friend, feed you dinner, and give the you the shirt off their back. Then they take down your email address and make sure to send you their wedding invitations.
I asked Sean, a member of our group that has lived in Arab Countries, if they were all that way, and he answered with a resounding yes. Whatever anyone else says, know that there's not another group of people in the world like the Arabs. I hope that when we hear the word "Arab" from now on we think of genuine hospitality, wonderful friendship, and some of the most Christlike people on earth.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Land of the Patriarchs

Every week, we all climb aboard a bus (we leave promptly on the hour, if you're not five minutes early, you really do get left behind) and head off on a field trip to see different important sites from the time periods that we're studying. Last time we went on the geography trip, but yesterday we went to what many call "The Land of the Patriarchs." This is the area that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob spent a lot of their lives.
Our first stop was Gerar. If you look in Genesis 20 and the following chapters, you find the stories of Abimelech, the birth of Isaac, when Hagar was cast out of the tent of Abraham, and many others. There were all sorts of old archaeological digs around but the interesting thing about this site was the absolute serenity. I took about 15 minutes to lay down in the grass, even if it was a little coarse, and just think about my time here. It was beautiful and green as far as the eye could see, and, even though in a few months it will be bone dry, you could see why the patriarchs would have wanted to settle here. Interestingly enough, even though both his father and his son traveled far and wide, Isaac never went more than 100 miles from this spot.
Next on the list was Be'er Sheba. The name of this site literally means "Well of the Covenant," or "Well of Seven" because of the covenant that Abraham made with Abimelech that they would get along peacefully with each other. From this vantage point, it seems strange that anyone would want to live here. There seems to be very little water for irrigation, and the deep well outside the city appears to be the only source of water for miles. Even the position of the well is quite uninspiring, as during a siege it would provide water to the opposing forces, but not to the people within the city wall.
The strength of Beersheba, however, comes in the yearly rainfall, and when it rains, it really rains (we've seen that already). The city is designed so that most of the water would flow to a point and collect in huge, underground cisterns. The cisterns(the entrance is shown in the picture) could hold 500 cubic meters of water which sustained the city through the coming 10 months of drought.
While the first two sites were at least habitable, it would seem that those who settled in Arad were gluttons for punishment. This city, just like Beersheba is designed to catch the rainfall that it received. The fascinating aspect about this city is it's religious worship. Three Canaanite temples occupy a central location in the city, just across the street from the palace (probably about 60 feet square). These temples, according to modern values, would be pagan and similar to houses of prostitution, but they were fascinating all the same. The fourth temple in the city was up on the citadel, and this one was Israelite. The layout of the temple was quite interesting, with a sacrificial altar in the outer court, a holy place, and a holy of holies in the back. On each side of the holy of holies, oddly enough, there are storage rooms. We don't know if the temple was authorized or apostate, but either way it was cool.
Just to let you all know, we leave for Egypt on Sunday. There is no way I'm taking my laptop, so I'll be talking to you after we get back, but I'll have plenty to write, so check back!

Thursday, January 25, 2007


On Wednesday we had our first free day. No class, no scholastic obligations, we just got into groups and left Jerusalem for a day. Earlier in the week we divided into groups according to where we wanted to go, Tel Aviv, Rehovot, or Soureq Caves. I went to Rehovot and my sister went to Soreq caves. Everyone enjoyed their prospective trips. Those who went to Tel Aviv enjoyed a Mexican dinner on the beach and a lively atmosphere. The caves were beautiful and they went to the Tower of David Museum afterwards.
Rehovot was actually more of a historical trip, but entertaining just the same. We saw the house of Dr. Weisman, the first president of the State of Israel. We also went to the Weisman Institute, one of the leading research and development schools in the world. They are working of cancer, diabetes, microchip technology, and thousands of other projects. They even have their own particle accelerator. The last place in the Weisman Complex that we visited was the Science garden. They have all sorts of hands-on scientific experiments. It's principally made for pre-college students, but toys are toys no matter what our size :) . They have those whisper dishes like in the Eyring Science Center, but they actually work. My favorite was an exhibit to simulate the gravity one would feel on the moon. Apparently I could be a great gymnast on the moon.
After the Weisman Complex we went to a historically important orange grove (sound's strange, I know), picked our own oranges (Most of us hadn't done that before), and squoze orange juice. I was amazed that some members of our group had never squozen oranges before. Oh well
The next destination was really a highlight of the trip. At first glance, the Ayalon Institute is just a kibbutz, a jewish settlement in which everything is communal. In a kibbutz, food is eaten together, clothes are much the same, even children are raised by the community and not the parents. Well, underneath the kibbutz is an ammunition factory. It was created before the 1948 war for an independent Israeli state. At this time, the Israeli's couldn't make arms openly, they had to hide production or be found out by the British. They therefore built a tennis-court-sized production facility deep underground. It was responsible for 16,000-40,000 rounds of ammunition a day, and all the while, the other members of the kibbutz didn't know that there was a factory under their feet. The opening was covered by a washing machine in the kibbutz laundry and 40+ people worked down there 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.
The last destination was a beekeeping facility where we found out more about bees and honey then we ever thought possible. The highlight for most of us was having him open up a hive, extract a section completely covered with bees, and then stick our fingers in and enjoy the honey with bees crawling all around. It was amazing.