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: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/9319). 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|