Day 4: Old Jerusalem

We have spent several days gazing over the old, walled city of Jerusalem and today was finally our chance to get inside and explore. We got off the bus at Dung Gate and waited in a long security line to enter the Dome of the Rock compound where the Temple of Solomon once stood. The sun gleams off of the golden dome and makes the building truly spectacular. We wound our way up the Via Dolorosa, the street that Catholics travel to mark the path of Christ when he carried the cross, and ended up outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Catholics believe that this is the location of Golgotha and the tomb where Christ was placed after the crucifixion. There is a ladder outside the church that has remained in the same place since at least the 18th century. There is a long feud between six Christian denominations about who should move the ladder and who should have ownership of the church and the ladder is a visual reminder to every visitor that this tension has not been resolved.

Faces at the Western Wall

Faces at the Western Wall
We enjoyed some free time for lunch and shopping in the Old City before visiting the Wailing Wall—a site venerated by Jews because it is the closest that they are allowed to the temple mount. On Monday the Jewish community celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, the coming of age ritual for boys when they turn 13. We observed many Bar Mitzvahs in and around the Wailing Wall, and they were fascinating to watch. The men and women are separated when they visit the Wall, so women stand on chairs to be as close to the celebration as possible and throw candy over the dividing line. Finally, in the afternoon we had a chance to visit the Israel Museum, see a model of Ancient Jerusalem, some original Dead Sea Scrolls, and a replica of a 700 BC altar that would be similar to the one built by Lehi and his family in the wilderness.   

The Western Wall - you can see the dividing line between men and women in the foreground. The women are standing on chairs to see their sons/brothers etc. as they do their Bar Mitzvah.

The Dome of the Rock

Ladies at the Dome of the Rock

Via Dolorosa

Tasty food on display in the Old City
At the Western Wall

Prayers crammed into the Wall

Bar Mitzvah

Jewish boy leaving the wall with his mother

Day 3: By the Sea of Galilee

We had an early start this morning to drive 2.5 hours north to the Galilee region. Israel is a fascinating country. In many ways it looks modern, with cities and infrastructure everywhere you look, but then you realize that you are actually passing by biblical locations—real places where miracles happened. Where ancient wars were fought. Where Jesus and his disciples walked. To your right—Mount Tabor, believed to be the site of the transfiguration of Jesus. To your left—the Valley of Armageddon where the final battle will take place. Right now you are driving through the Valley of the Doves, where Jesus walked between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. It takes constantly readjusting your mind to look beyond the modern buildings and remember the stories you have grown up with.

Inside the Church of the Annunciation

We first stopped to visit two churches in Nazareth that commemorate the Annunciation. We also stopped by a Palestinian farm to see the pure green olive oil that they make every October. Next, we drove down to the Sea of Galilee (700ft below sea level) to board a Jesus boat and sail on the peaceful waters. In 1986 a boat was discovered at the bottom of the sea that dates back to the time of Jesus. Since then, all of the boats on the sea have been modeled in the same style, just bigger, to accommodate more tourists. Sailing on the sea was peaceful. We contemplated the many miracles that occurred there: when Jesus walked on water, when he calmed the stormy waters, when he called his disciples to become fishers of men. A tasty lunch of St. Peter’s fish topped off our experience. In the afternoon it was time to visit Capernaum. Although the Synagogue there was rebuilt a few centuries after Christ, the basalt foundation dates back to the time of Christ, and we know that Jesus taught there many times. Next, we remembered the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter sits right by the seashore and holds inside it the stone where tradition says that the miracle took place, where the baskets of food were multiplied. We had a chance to dip our feet into the cool waters before making our way up to the Mount of Beatitudes to enjoy sweeping views over the sea and remember the important teachings of Christ in Matthew 5.

Sailing in a Jesus boat on the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee

A delicious lunch of St. Peter's fish

The Synagogue ruins at Capernaum


Dipping into the Sea of Galilee

Reading the Beatitudes together

Day 2: The Garden and The Tomb

The LDS church observes the Sabbath on Saturday in Israel, to align with Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. We began our Sabbath at the holiest site of all, the Garden of Gethsemane. Tradition holds that the witness tree, old and gnarled, with roots that extend under the neighboring Church of Agony, may be descended from olive trees present in the garden during the time of Christ. Just a short way up the hill from Gethsemane we gathered in the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden to reflect on the Atonement away from the crowds and the noise of the city.

The morning sun over Jerusalem

We enjoyed sacrament meeting in the Jerusalem Center before eating lunch at the only Kibbutz in Jerusalem. Next, we enjoyed a brief stop at the Upper Room—the traditional site for the Last Supper, and we gazed over the city as Aladin, our guide, taught us about the widow’s mite and the Pool of Siloam. In the afternoon we toured Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. It is incredibly sad that a noisy bus station has been built at the base of Golgotha, but it is powerful to be able to see the ancient Jerusalem wall close by. It matches the Bible’s description that Christ was crucified very near to the city, but outside of the walls. Although we often picture the crucifixion occurring on the top of a hill, Roman tradition tells us that crucifixions at the time of Christ were done at ground level, often by busy streets, for maximum exposure to passing travellers. The site that has been identified as Golgotha (and there are no plausible alternatives) sat at a busy intersection between two roads: one leading to Jericho and the other leading toward Bethany. The Garden Tomb site was unearthed in 1867 and sits in what was once an ancient vineyard. It is only a very short distance from Golgotha in a quiet and tranquil garden. While it may or may not be the tomb that Christ was laid in (some archeologists suggest that the tomb predates Christ by over a century and thus could not meet Matthew’s description that Christ was laid in a “new” tomb), the place has a special spirit and we know that the resurrection happened not far away. The important thing is that the resurrection did happen.

The Golden Gate - Jesus passed through here on Palm Sunday

Art work in the Garden of Gethsemane

Olives in Gethsemane

Olive tree in Gethsemane

Reflecting on the Atonement in the Orson Hyde Park

Golgotha, skull hill

Sign inside the Garden Tomb

Day 1: Up To Jerusalem

Over a year ago we were approached by a couple who wanted to give their family an incredible gift—the trip of a lifetime; the chance to walk in the land of Christ and discover Lehi’s trail together as a family. This group of 25 (11 children, 10 spouses, two parents, and two family friends) departed from across the United States to rendezvous in Jordan . . .

After only a few hours of rest we set off to cross into Israel. The Jordan River Valley and King Hussein/Allenby border crossing are far below sea level and well-known for having many flies. We got our first glimpse of the Jordan River—barely more than a creek in parts, and successfully entered the West Bank. Our first stop— Yardenit—is one of the traditional sites for the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. This area was closed for many decades and has only recently become accessible to tourists. We observed the baptisms of some Christian pilgrims and dipped our feet into the cool water of the river. Next, we journeyed into Palestinian-controlled Jericho, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. There is a very old sycamore tree in town that is rumored to be the same tree climbed by Zacchaeus in the bible; however, when street vendors started to place Arabic headdresses on people in the group, this quickly became the lead attraction. Jericho sits at the base of the Mount of Temptation—where Christ was tempted and fasted for forty days and forty nights, and a monastery and hermit holes still attest to the religious devotion present in the region.

The Jordan River

As we ascended up the mountains toward Jerusalem we were reminded of the language Nephi uses in the Book of Mormon. To the careful reader, small, sometimes subtle textual references can serve as powerful reminders that the Book of Mormon is indeed a historical text. In 1 Nephi, Nephi very accurately describes going “up to” and “down from” Jerusalem on several occasions (see Warren’s article here for more: This level of geographical accuracy could only have come from someone with first-hand knowledge of the region—and it was surely something that Joseph Smith could not have known. In Jerusalem we enjoyed our first panoramas of the city and happily gazed over the starting point for the Book of Mormon, the beginning of Nephi’s incredible journey.

The Mount of Temptation

Finally, in the afternoon, we were hosted by the BYU Jerusalem Center. The center is architecturally magnificent and perched in a strategic location to get some incredible views. We listened to an organ recital and toured the grounds while enjoying the atmospheric afternoon call to prayer. After a quick visit to Bethlehem to see the traditional shepherd’s fields and appreciate the rocky landscape, it was time to return to Jerusalem for some well-deserved rest.

Christian pilgrims at the Jordan River

Arabic headdress demonstration

The oldest Sycamore in Jericho

Organ Recital at the BYU Jerusalem Center

The BYU Jerusalem Center Grounds

Practising an ancient technique: how to make olive oil