A Travellerspoint blog

Bethany, Jericho and Dead Sea

Day 3

Day 3 - 7th September 2014

Bethany - Tomb of Lazarus, Mount of Temptation, Jericho, Sycamore tree, Baptismal Site and Dead Sea

Today we started our tour visiting Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus from dead. Bethany is just few kilometers away from Jerusalem. When Lazarus was dying, as John’s Gospel(11:1-44) recounts, his sisters sent for Jesus. But Jesus delayed his arrival until four days after Lazarus had been buried, “so that the Son of God may be glorified”.
In the days of Jesus, a man thought to be dead could gain consciousness and come out after two or even three days. But after four days a person is declared dead for certain. That is why Jesus delayed his arrival for four days, to eliminate all possibilities, “so that the Son of God may be glorified”.


Inside the tomb of Lazarus
Church of Lazarus - another design of Berluzzi made to represent a tomb without any windows large_DSC_0289.jpglarge_DSC_0290.jpglarge_DSC_0293.jpglarge_DSC_0295.jpg

From Bethany we travelled to the Mount of Temptation.
On the way, in more desert-like land we saw number of Bedouin encampments.
Even in the desert-like land we witnessed new cultivations taking place.


Mount of Temptation:
We ascended the mountain by Cable Car
Far away you can see the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab and Gilead
The Mount of Temptation, with a gravity-defying monastery clinging to its sheer face, is traditionally regarded as the mountain on which Christ was tempted by the devil during his 40-day fast. The summit of the mount, about 360 metres above sea level, offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab and Gilead.

3rd Temptation : Matt. Ch 4
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

From the Mount of Temptation we proceeded to Jericho.


The Oldest City of the World – 10,000 Years Old

The Lowest Place on Earth – 1300 feet below Sea level

Elisha Spring Fountain



Note the writings on the floor tiles

Luke 19 New International Version (NIV)

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

This sycamore tree may not be the very same tree that Zacchaeus climbed. But it is old enough to be from that era.

Baptismal Site

There are two sites that claim to be the location where Jesus was baptized by John. Here the water and the river bed is muddy they say. The other location at Yardenit is cleaner. In any case water in River Jordan is not potable as the display board says.

Israel/Jordan/West Bank

The Dead Sea is 67km long, 18km across at its widest point, and 420 metres below sea level. (Salt content 33%)

The Dead Sea, which shimmers like a blue mirror under all-day sunshine, is one of the most unusual bodies of water in the world.
It is set in the lowest dry land on earth, so it has no outlet. It is so loaded with minerals that no fish can live in it. It is so dense that bathers can lie back on its surface and read a newspaper.
The Dead Sea is located about 25km east of Jerusalem, along the borderbetween Israel and Jordan. About half of it is actually in Jordanian territory.
The ancient Hebrews called this body of water the Sea of Salt. Other ancient names include the Sea of Solitude, the Sea of Arabah and the Asphalt Sea. TheCrusaders called it the Sea of Satan.
The Dead Sea’s therapeutic qualities attracted Herod the Great. Its minerals and sticky black mud provided balms for Egyptian mummies and cosmetics for Cleopatra.
Now its health resorts treat psoriasis and arthritis, its skin-care products are marketed worldwide, and its industrial evaporation pans harvest potash and other minerals.

Wicked cities were destroyed
(We did not go to this location. The photograph is copied from seetheholyland.net site. With the exception of this picture, all the other photographs were taken by me or where ever I pose for the picture, somebody else took them with my camera)

Pillar of salt, on Jordanian side of Dead Sea, known as Lot’s Wife (© Visitjordan.com)
The region has many biblical connections. Here, though their locations are unknown, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God with “sulphur and fire” and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction (Genesis 19:24-26). Among the salt encrustations around the sea is an unusual column at the southern end called Lot’s Wife (though it is 20 metres high).
On the eastern side, the highest peak visible is Mount Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. Further south stands the fortress of Machaerus, where Herod Antipas imprisoned and then executed John the Baptist.
On the western side, from north to south, are Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (and cut off a corner of the king’s cloak when he entered the cave to relieve himself); and Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada.
Evaporation concentrates the minerals

Because it has no exit, water is lost only through evaporation, which leaves behind the minerals. The Dead Sea is nearly 10 times as salty as the open seas. The high concentration of minerals (predominantly magnesium chloride) provides the buoyancy that keeps bathers suspended — as well as a bitter taste.
A low promontory of land called el-Lisan (“the tongue”) projects across the sea from the east, dividing the southern third from the northern section.
At one time the Dead Sea covered four times as much land as it did in 2006, when its surface was falling by up to a metre a year.
Much of the water that once flowed into the Dead Sea is being diverted for drinking water and agriculture purposes, so there is not enough to offset the high evaporation rate.
Rescue proposals to prevent the sea drying up have included canals to bring water from the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea.
If the Dead Sea becomes rejuvenated with fresh water, this could fulfil aprophecy in Ezekiel 47:8-10, that it will “become fresh . . . and there will be very many fish”.
In December 2013, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority agreed on a long-term desalination project in which brine would be piped about 180 kilometres from Aqaba, Jordan, to replenish the Dead Sea.


This was a unique experience. I don't think there is any other place like this on earth. You can read a book floating on this sea. The water is so salty it has a bitter taste and when water gets into the eyes it feels like burning.


Posted by MILROYW 08:09 Comments (0)


Day 2

Day 2 - 6th September 2014


Morning: Mount of Olives, Chapel of Ascension, Pater Noster church, Dominus Flevit church, Garden of Gethsemane, church of Agony / All Nations, Mount Zion, Hagia Zion, Upper Room, Dormition Church, church of St.Peter in Gallicantu, house of Caiaphas and dungeons

Wake-up call rang at 6.30am. Breakfast was at 7.30 and we were all in the bus by 8.10. Our Guide John, a Palestinian Christian, joined us while we were having breakfast. By the way, John, we found, was a very pleasing character with a vast knowledge and experience in his career. He spoke English, Hebrew and Arabic. His explanations were lively, full of history, back-ground, traditions and meanings of words. I believe he is one of the best in the trade in Israel.

Our driver Haleem and the Guide John

Our first visit was to the Mt. of Olives, Chapel of Ascension (now a mosque), which is of crusader origins and was taken by Saladin in 1187 and converted into a mosque and remains such today. It contains what is traditionally known as the last Footprint of Jesus on earth before he ascended into heaven.

Entrance to the Mount of Olives

Church of Ascension

Foot print on the stone

Next we visited the Eleona/Pater Noster church. A grotto where the tradition says that Jesus taught his disciples the Pater Noster (Our Father...). The prayer is written here in many (some 100 odd) languages including Sinhala.

A beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem and the Kidron valley. In the fore-front is the Jewish and Muslim cemetery. They believe that the Last Judgement will take place in this Kidron Valley. The high wall in the centre is the Wall of Old Jerusalem built many centuries ago. The most imposing Golden Dome is the Dome of the Rock. Jews believe that this is the location of the 1st (built by King Solomon which stood in the days of Jesus) and 2nd Temple of Jerusalem.

Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem’s iconic symbol is the gleaming Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof has dominated the Temple Mount for centuries. This Islamic holy place stands on a site that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

• To Jews, this is where Abraham, in a supreme act of faith, prepared to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is also the place where the Temple once stood.

• To Christians it is where the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple; where he was found among the teachers as a 12-year-old; where he later prayed and taught — and drove the money-changers out of the Temple precincts. For most of the 12th century, when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was actually a Christian church.

• To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back to Mecca on the winged steed called Al-Burak.

Here a group photograph was taken. There was a cameraman whose business was taking group photos and delivering the orders at a later point on our route one or two hours later. I did not think of buying one from him as I carried a very good camera with me. But I regretted it later because to pose for the photo myself I had to entrust the job to someone else and the product is not satisfactory. DSC_0083


The Russian Orthodox church of Mary Madelyn

Church of Dominus Flevit

Inside the Dominus Flevit


Dominus Flevit: Designed by an Italian architect Anntonio Berluzzi, built in 1955 to commemorate the Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem.
Excavations during construction of the church uncovered a number of ossuaries (bone boxes) from the time of Jesus with numerous inscriptions.

Garden of Gethsemane

The Church of Agony / all Nations
When we visited the church of Agony, a Holy Mass was in progress and we could not get very close or take a good photograph of the place where Jesus prayed. It is the grey area between the people and the Alter.

Adjoining the outside walls of the church there is a place traditionally considered as the place where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying.

The Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane are very old, they say at least 1000 to 2000 years. There age cannot be determined as olive trees do not have rings. It is recorded that when Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem in 79-80 AD they cut down all the trees in the surroundings. Although these trees are not the same trees that stood at the time of Jesus yet they are very very old as can be seen by their trunks. Surprisingly these trees bear fruits to date as you can see in my pictures.

Next we visited the area known as Mount Zion.

Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is the broad hill south of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. Several important events in the early Christian church are likely to have taken place on Mount Zion.
• The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, both believed to have been on the site of the Cenacle

• The appearance of Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas, believed to have been at the site of the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu

• The “Falling Asleep” (The phrase used is Mary fell asleep-not died) of the Virgin Mary, believed to have occurred at the site of the Church of the Dormition

• The Council of Jerusalem, around 50AD, in which the early church debated the status of converted gentiles (Acts 15:1-29), perhaps also on the site of the Cenacle

0Hagia Sion (Holy Zion) known as the Mother of all Churches was a Byzantine church which covered the entire area now occupied by the Cenacle (Upper Room), the Tomb of David and Church of the Dormition

The Cenacle or the Upper Room is the place where Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples. In the Gospel of Mark Chapter 14:
13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.

14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the good man of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?

In those days it was the duty of a woman to bring water from the well. So a man carrying a pitcher was quite distinguishable so that Jesus' disciples would not have had any difficulty identifying the person.


Statue of Kind David with his Harp and the Upper Room (Cenacle)

Dormition Abbey and the church

Sleeping Mother Mary

Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
On the south eastern slope of Mt. Zion is the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (meaning cock crowing) where the tradition says was the house of the High Priest Caiaphas. Inside the church are the Dungeons where Christ was held prisoner.
Interior of the church large_DSC_0157.jpglarge_DSC_0155.jpglarge_DSC_0158.jpg
The pit in which Jesus was held prisoner large_DSC_0163.jpglarge_DSC_0166.jpglarge_DSC_0169.jpg

Lunch at a restaurant on the waylarge_DSC_0174.jpglarge_DSC_0173.jpg

Afternoon: Shepherds' Field, church of Nativity, Milk Grotto

The Shepherds’ Field
Somewhere in this area the shepherds were watching their flocks by night and the Angels of the Lord appeared to them and announced the Good Tidings of the birth of the Messiah. Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Church of Angels: Another of Antonnio Berluzzi church designs

Inside the grotto where the shepherds took shelter in the night while they watched their flock

From the Shepherds' Field we proceeded to the Church of Nativity and Milk Grotto. We visited the Milk Grotto first. Tradition says that when Herod sought to kill the child by slaughtering all infants below two, St. Joseph hid Mary and the Infant here in this grotto before they escaped to Egypt. It is also said that while Mary fed the Infant few drops of milk fell on the rock below turning it to white. Now, would be mothers who have difficulties in getting conceived, with faith and prayers to Mother Mary, drink a bit of powder of this rock mixed in water and experience miracles of being real mothers. There are numerous testimonials with photographs of infants, hanging in a room adjoining the church, which are being sent by those who have experienced them.

There is a rare picture of Mother Mary feeding the Baby Jesus.


A bit of History before I proceed. By the way, the sections in Italic are extracted from other sources in the Internet, very specially the
seetheholyland.net or the Holy Bible. I am ever grateful to the authors of those articles.

History of the Church of the Nativity The first evidence of a cave in Bethlehem being venerated as Christ's birthplace is in the writings of Justin Martyr around 160 AD. The tradition is also attested by Origen and Eusebius in the 3rd century.
In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commissioned a church to be built over the cave. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. In the center, a 4-meter-wide hole surrounded by a railing provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaic survive from this period. St. Jerome lived and worked in Bethlehem from 384 AD, and he was buried in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity.
The Constantine church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today. The Persians spared it during their invasion in 614 AD because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi — fellow Persians — that decorated the building. This was quoted at a 9th-century synod in Jerusalem to show the utility of religious images.
Muslims prevented the application of Hakim's decree (1009) ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar (639), they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.
The Crusaders took Jerusalem on 6 June 1009. Baldwin I and II were crowned there, and in an impressive display of tolerance the Franks and Byzantines cooperated in fully redecorating the interior (1165-69). A Greek inscription in the north transept records this event.
The Church of the Nativity was much neglected in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but not destroyed. Much of the church's marble was looted by the Ottomans and now adorns the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 destroyed the furnishings of the cave, but the church again survived.
In 1847, the theft of the silver star marking the exact site of the Nativity was an ostensible factor in the international crisis over the Holy Places that ultimately led to the Crimean War (1854–56).
In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity.

see illustration given below (copied from Google Images on Church of Nativity)





Door of Humility
A small rectangular entrance to the church was created in Ottoman time to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the Holy Place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also been seen above the door.


The main altar at the east end and the one on the south (Altar of the Circumcision) are the property of the Greek Orthodox Church. The main altar includes an Orthodox iconostasis, which is crowned with gilded angels, icons, gilded chandeliers and lamps (presently under renovations).


The Grotto of the Nativity, a rectangular cavern beneath the church, is the Church of the Nativity's focal point. Entered by a flight of steps by the church altar, this is the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ's birth since at least the 2nd century.


Entrance to the Manger and Birth place of Jesus

A silver star in the floor marks the very spot where Christ is believed to have been born. The star's Latin inscription reads, "Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717." The floor is paved in marble, and 15 lamps hang above the star (six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins).[/i]

[i]Where Baby Jesus was laid in the Mangerlarge_DSC_0222.jpg



In Holy Land many places of religious and historical significance are shared by different Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Greek & Armenian Orthodox .......), Jews and Muslims. Church of Nativity and Church of Holy Sepulcher are two of such.

Posted by MILROYW 20:12 Comments (0)

My Pilgrimage to the HOLY LAND, where Jesus lived

How it all started

sunny 29 °C

It was something I desired to do for a long time. In fact my wife Chitra and I were to make this pilgrimage together. We did go together, to other places like Lourdes and Vatican in year 2000 and more places before and after. She is no more with us but resting with the Lord God. She departed in 2008. I miss her. Since then I did not go out of the country till now. Finally I made up my mind to go alone.

Two couples who are very close to us, Lionel + Indrika and Lionel + Nalini highly recommended this tour group. They did the same tour in April but I was busy then. That is how I opted to go with Global Connections Tours and Travels. The director Chris who joined the trip with us happened to live in my own home town.

I did a bit of research before the trip. But when I started writing this blog I realized I was learning only now. Having experienced those places, read about them now and look at the pictures I took, I get a better understanding of the land where Jesus lived.

So this is my experience. I hope you too will enjoy reading it.

I said goodbye to my little grand daughter Shenara (who is just three) before she went to bed. When I told her that I will be flying by a plane she said; "Seeya (Grandpa), I have a snow cap, take me with you and drop me near the Snowman." I consoled her saying that we will make a trip to a place with snow one day. Contended with my reply she kissed me good night and went to bed with her mother. large_DSC_0009.jpg

This is my Family now, Dilini, Shenara and Malinda.


Later on, my son dropped me at the Bandaranayake International Airport, (Katunayake) Colombo at 2.30am, Friday, the 5th September. I did not know any of the other members of the group except the Tour Leader, Chris. I met them all for the first time at the Airport. All together there were 16 of us in the group. Only four of us were directly from Sri Lanka. Others were from Melbourn, Australia, 7 Sri Lankans living there, 2 Australian ladies, 2 New Zealanders, a father and a son and a South African married to a Sri Lankan lady and living in Melbourn.

Day 1 - 5th September 2014

Our flight took off at 6.00 am. We were flying Kuwait Airways and landed in Kuwait at 8.45am local time. Next connection was at 10.15 arriving in Amman at 12.30 pm. There we were met by a local agent who escorted us to a big tourist bus for the onward journey to cross the border to Israel at the Allenby Bridge. Although we drove without stopping, a Guild explained the surroundings as we travelled. Border crossing was a bit of a hassle. We had to change buses. Once it was over we drove direct to our hotel in Bethlehem, about 2km from Jerusalem. We retired early as we had had a long journey.

It was a 4 star class hotel with comfortable rooms and delicious meals. I was given a triple sharing room with two young men, Shoan, a Sri Lankan and Morton the S. African, both of them married with children but joined this tour single. We got on very well through out the tour.

Posted by MILROYW 19:01 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

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