Two Days in Jerusalem


We’ve spent two FULL days in the holy city of Jerusalem, under the expert guidance of Dr. Monte Luker, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, in Columbia, SC. (The two other professors along provide occasional commentary.)

We have spent time on Temple Mount (where the temple was during Jesus’ time; Dome of the Rockwhere the Dome of the Rock is now), at the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, on the original temple “teaching steps” where Jesus did his teaching when in Jerusalem, at theWestern Wall Augusta Victoria Hospital (run by the Lutheran World Federation, which Chris Punchard prays for often on Sunday mornings), on the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and at the sites of the crucifixion and the tomb. Some of those sites are “10s” — meaning that we can be sure Jesus was right there. For instance, one of the group members took a picture of me standing in the Pool of Siloam (John 9)! Other sites are at least CLOSE to where Jesus was! It’s all holy ground.

Me standing in the ancient Pool of Siloam!

Me standing in the ancient Pool of Siloam!

I am impressed by how compressed is the geography; in other words: how close everything is. The Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the temple, Pilate’s headquarters, Herod’s palace, Golgotha, the tomb — they are all in sight of each other! I had no idea.

See how close the temple area is from the Garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron Valley.

See how close the temple area is from the Garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron Valley.

Ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

Ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

The Kidron Valley is very  narrow.  The temple area is to the left; the Mount of Olives to the right.

The Kidron Valley is very narrow. The temple area is to the left; the Mount of Olives to the right.

On the Mount of Olives - the graves of those awaiting the resurrection.

On the Mount of Olives - the graves of those awaiting the resurrection.

I’ve been reading the gospel stories yet again, now that I have walked the geography. That really helps the stories come alive!

I’m surprised how quickly I’ve come to take machine guns for granted. Even the security guard in front of our hotel carries impressive fire power. I am struck by how often I see a gorgeous young woman, with flowing hair — in an army uniform, with a machine gun on her shoulder. (As one of our group members put it, “They carry machine guns like they’re purses.”) I told a small group how I was struck by all these gorgeous young women carrying machine guns, and Leslie Scanlon (a 2008 graduate of William and Mary who’s now a second-year student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) said, “The guys carrying machine guns are pretty gorgeous too!”

It’s all understandable, I guess, considering that everyone in the surrounding countries would like to see Israel obliterated.

Augusta Victoria Hospital sign

The Augusta Victoria hospital is the main medical care facility in the whole country for Palestinians. (There are many hospitals available for Jews.) Since the “separation barrier” is now going up, 85% of the hospital’s staff and patients must pass through check points to get to work/receive medical care. And the check points are very unpredictable. Sometimes it takes no time at all;

August Victoria Hospital entrance

August Victoria Hospital entrance

sometimes it takes hours. So, for instance, imagine a surgery scheduled for 8:00 AM. Will the doctors, the nurses, the therapists, even the guy who’s responsible for the emergency power generator all be in place in time? It’s a great hardship for the Palestinians. On the other hand, there are now no suicide bombings in Jerusalem. I am convinced that I will return home knowing much more about the whole conflict, and feeling much more confused. What a complex problem. (Of course, all the Christians in Israel are Palestian.)

We’ll have more experience, up-close with the “separation barrier” tomorrow, because we’ll all have to be approved at a check point, to get to Bethlehem. We’ll all have to have our passports and be approved, to get to the (now Palestinian) town where Jesus was born.

I’m deeply impressed with how many religious people are identifiable by their practice, their facial hair, their dress, how they cover their hair or heads. At home, if we saw a single person that identifiable, we would stop and stare!

Today, when we visited the Garden of Gethsemane, one of the seminarians read the gospel story of Jesus in the garden, and while she was doing that, the Muslim call to prayer sounded across the city. There is so much different religious practice occuring at the same time, each day. I’m having to process all of this!

Keep up with my itinerary, please, and continue to journey with me in prayer. We’ll be moving on to our next stop the day after tomorrow. I’ll post another blog in a few days, if there is Internet access!


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!