Israel Trip Journal- Day 1: Bethlehem

Saturday, March 12, 2011



After arriving in Tel-Aviv, we loaded up the bus and headed to Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, we had to enter via a check point from Jerusalem. Our first stop was the Shepherd’s Field. Though many Christians probably already know that shepherds were considered the lowest ranking people in society, this was not always so. According to Raouf, our incredible tour guide, shepherds didn’t lose their status until after the Babylonian captivity, when the Israelites started ranking people in Jewish society according to their occupation.

This is when shepherds began being considered unclean and unreliable (in a court of law).
I had always wondered how this shift in status occurred when you consider that David, Rachel and even Moses were at some point in their lives, shepherds. We listened while one of our group members read a scripture passage from Luke chapter 2 about the appearance of the heavenly host to the shepherds. Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord redeems the lowly?—the last will be first. The very people considered to be ‘unreliable’ witnesses were chosen to be witnesses to Emmanuel’s birth. By the way, notice that despite the famous Christmas hymn, scripture does not say that the angels ‘sang,’ but that they said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
After exploring the cave and chapel on the premises, we took a short bus ride to have lunch at Shepherds Valley Village– a Bedouin tent restaurant. We enjoyed typical Middle Eastern fare, including goat cheese, red cabbage, humus, several different sauces and lamb & beef kebabs.
West Bank Barrier Wall

Next, we went to a wonderful little souvenir shop near the West Bank barrier wall in Bethlehem. It had many beautiful olive wood products, as well as mother of pearl and malachite jewelry. The shopkeeper, an Arab Christian, explained to us the significance of the Jerusalem cross — also known as the Crusader’s cross–which consists of the large Greek cross with four smaller Greek crosses, one in each quadrant. The four smaller crosses are said to symbolize the four gospels.

Our next stop was at the Church of the Nativity. Raouf spoke to us while waiting outside in Manger Square. Every year pilgrims and locals gather in Manger Square to sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. Since the Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar, Christmas falls on January 7th, where Catholics and Protestants celebrate on December 25th. Thus there are two Christmas mass services each year.
Inside  The Church of The Nativity

The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The church is actually comprised of two churches: the Basilica of the Nativity– maintained by the Greek Orthodox Church–and the church of St. Catherine, a Roman Catholic Church.  The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave beneath the basilica and the place where tradition holds that Jesus was born. It is marked by a silver 14 pointed star set into the floor beneath an altar. Adjacent to this star is another altar maintained by the Roman Catholics which marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn king in the manger. We entered the basilica via a tiny opening in the west side wall called the “Door of Humility.” While waiting in a very long line, we were able to see the original Roman style mosaic floors which are now covered, but can be viewed via a trap door. Lastly, we left Bethlehem and drove to a vantage point overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem called the Haas Promenade. The views of Jerusalem from this location were breathtaking.
Up Next: Day 2: Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumram, Dead Sea