We heard severl times today the references of Bethlehem in the Bible. Foremost is the birth of Jesus and 14 generations earlier, King David. So we headed for the cave where Jesus may have been born. Our teacher, Dr. Monte Luker, a professor of Biblical history, says that it is possible and likely that Joseph and Mary actually were at the home of Joseph's family. Many other relatives were also there creating chaos and crowded conditions in the house, so Mary chose to find privacy for the birth in the adjacent cave where the animals were kept. After the birth the baby was placed in a manager in the adjacent barn.
The church, actually churches, over the birth cave are Greek Orthodox (their altar is over the cave), Syrian and Armenian (their altars are to the left) and Roman Catholic. The congregations take turns with worship on Sunday morning, and we were there on Sunday morning, and the cave was closed when we arrived. So we went worship at the Christmas Lutheran Church and returned for about an hour wait in line to see the actual location in the cave. I'm afraid all the ornaments and tapestry made it hard to impossible to envision a cave. But they all have good intentions and we hope they are correct. I didn't get a respectable picture so I will include a commerical image.
Worship at the Lutheran church was in Arabic, and some English. The bulletin was in English and Arabic with English pronunciation. The hymnal were interesting, at least to me. Page one is located where we would call the back of the book. The music was written as we know it but from right to left, but still top to bottom. Pastor David greeted the congregation and read one of the scriptures. One of our team estimated that we, 20 in number, represented about one fourth of those attending the service. The hymns are familiar, the pastor played guitar and there was a great pianist.
After the cave we went to the traditional shepherd's field, where the shepherds who came to see Jesus that first night cared for their flocks. There was a restaurant there called The Tent, The service was a modified family style serving. First were flat bread, salads and several delicious dips for the bread: hummus, a spicy garlic hummus, cucumbers in yogurt and a green one. All great. Then they brought the huge trays of chips (French fries) and shikakob (sp?) of several kinds of meats but they served us and filled our plates. All was good costing us $17. Lunch is always a surprise both with regard to menu, service style and cost.
Our last adventure of the day was a drive through a Jewish "settlement" with a local resident as our guide. We stopped by his house and continued to learn his point of view and ask questions. He has worked for the Israeli government and explained the justification of Jews' desire to live in the West Bank and to have one government, an Israeli government where all and any persons can be citizens. If his goal was to stimulate conversation, he was successful. If it was to persuade us, he wasn't all that successful. With the killings in Paris and Beirut on our minds, the conversations continued intently through the evening meal. Now we lie down to sleep, asking for peace and hoping for wisdom among our leaders.