Scrolls and Golden Domes
Sunday, 11:59 pm local time
Two things need to be noted: first, the header for this post is a picture of the group in front of Qumran Cave 11; Emma and Matt unfortunately got cropped out of this shot, but you will be able to see the whole picture on the Day 9 pictures page. Second, I’ve waited to post pictures from Days 7, 8, and 9 in anticipation of contributions from other people. It’s been a long trip, and we’ve all been going to sleep earlier in the last few days. I’ll post all three days’ worth of pictures tomorrow.
After worshiping outside the Church of the Holy Whatever, we met up with the rest of the group in the American Colony and headed to explore Qumran with Dr. Jim Charlesworth, New Testament scholar and sometime professor at Princeton Seminary, as our expert guide. Dr. Charlesworth described the living conditions at Qumran and walked us through the ruins of the Essene community that produced what we call the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The most fascinating part of the tour was the long hike up to Cave 11, which is about 2 kilometers north of the official Qumran site. It was here that some of the largest and most important scrolls and scroll fragments were found. Chip commented that the scroll called Q 11 Psalm A (I think I got that right) contains significant differences from the Psalter found in our modern Bibles, including whole new Psalms. The site is fascinating, and I hope to describe it more at length later on.
After Qumran, we had the opportunity to visit the Temple Mount, or Harim al-Sharif, in the Old City. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we were going to be able to get up there; the site is one of the holiest in the city, particularly to Muslims at the moment, and I was sure that non-believers would be unwelcome to the site. I was wrong. I was also wrong about what it would look like – for all intents and purposes, it’s a giant, rectangular, mostly concrete park. The al-Aqsa Mosque stands at the southern end of the park, and a set of steps leads up to the Dome of the Rock, the building with the golden dome that is most prominent in any picture of Jerusalem.
Non-believers actually used to be allowed inside al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock; Matt visited there when he was last in Jerusalem 11 years ago. The site is impressive for its architecture, its religious significance, and its solitude; there were hardly any people up there. Chip commented that before the intifada, the place was just as lively as any other part of the Old City; now, it’s as quiet as a national park. Both Chip and Gordon lamented this action; if nothing else, it’s a bad PR move. It illustrates the same problem that runs throughout the Old City, though, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on down.
The whole country is afraid. You can see it on the faces of people in the street. I could hear it in the voices of Sharon and Martin, of Elias, even of the three women who sat on the interfaith panel we attended tonight. They closed the Dome of the Rock for fear of violence from The Other; the security checkpoints in and out of the West Bank serve the same purpose. Fear drives every decision, every bit of dialogue, every action taken.
I will endeavour to write more later, but for now: what is fear? Why is it so hard to overcome in a land that produced some of the most powerful writings on hope and love? What are we to do in the face of overwhelming fear? I welcome your insight, as this land holds little of its own.