Following the Road to Emmaus (before it’s too late)

It was the first Easter, two thousand years ago. Two confused, disheartened disciples are on their way out of Jerusalem, encounter a stranger on the road, and quickly find themselves as students in the infant Church’s first Sunday School class! — taught by the risen, but as-yet unrecognized, Jesus no less! That never-to-be-forgotten encounter — as “he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” — captivates us, as it has believers down through the ages, with both its mystery and immediacy, in a way that we easily imagine ourselves there!

But where is — or was — the Emmaus of Luke 24? From the recorded beginnings of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least 1700 years ago, it has remained one of the classic conundrums of sacred geography, with at least four sites being identified over the centuries. With a little effort, we can discern how the vexing confusion arose.  For various reasons — because certain places can flourish and then disappear over the span of a few centuries, because the names of places change over time, and common place-names (like “The Springs”) are sometimes affixed to different locales — the church fathers as early as the 4th Century may have gotten it wrong. One of them apparently even altered the gospel text slightly to comport with what they thought they knew!

And what about the Roman road itself, the other focus of this post? Well, the remains are still there, descending from the western outskirts of Jerusalem — if one knows where to look. (In all my years in Jerusalem I never had a good fix on the location, thus never ventured out in search of them.) What’s interesting, too, is that this stretch of ancient roadway “works” as the road to Emmaus for most of the various places identified over time as the site of the NT village.

Emmaus Road remains

Western outskirts of Jerusalem, near Road 1. The pink shading indicates where traces of the Roman road can still (with difficulty) be found. (Map: Jerusalem Perspective)

My real purpose here is to point you to a fine new article published on-line by David Bivin and the folks at Jerusalem Perspective. (Most JP content is by subscription — well worth digging into — but this piece has been made available to all, free.) Bivin Continue reading

Posted in Antiquities, Easter, Jerusalem Antiquities, Josephus, New Testament, Roman Period, VIDEOS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netanyahu’s Laugh

Did you see it, and hear it? I did, and thought I could forget it, but I can’t. So here I am.

The scene is the joint press conference held by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister in the East Room of the White House on February 15th, 2017. In response to a question, Trump is blathering on about one state/two state, formulating U.S. foreign policy on-the-fly as if such things hold no more importance than what he might order for lunch: a turkey sandwich or, no, maybe the corned beef, or whatever…  God help us.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.  (Laughter.)  I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.  I can live with either one.

I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.  But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

And “Bibi” is laughing. Benjamin Netanyahu, in his public persona, is not known particularly for displays of jocularity, so when he lets loose an unscripted laugh during our president’s frighteningly inane comments on Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects — a realm fraught with issues of justice, human rights and international law — perhaps we should pay attention. It was unnerving, and chilling, for what it portends.

Here’s what it looked and sounded like [click on image below for a 19-second out-take— but promise to come right back]:

press conf Trump + Netanyahu


If you want to view the entire 26-minute press conference, or just want more context, go HERE (the key segment starts at 10:45)– but come right back!

So, my first thought was Continue reading

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Occupied Territories, Palestinians, Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

UPDATED | The Bars Come Down! Restoration of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre nears completion

After many months of painstaking, professional restoration work, the Edicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the 19th-century monument enclosing remnants of the original bedrock Tomb of Jesus — has finally been freed from its protective cage of iron girders. That bracing, installed by the British in the 1940s, provided much-needed reinforcement to the distressed 1810 structure, which is built largely of marble.

The Edicule represents the centerpiece of the ancient church and serves as a focal point for the devotion of Christians worldwide. Now, following the thorough reconditioning, both structural and aesthetic, the Edicule’s original beauty is revealed once again — and the view of it wonderfully unobstructed.

restored edicule

The restored Edicule, viewed from the northeast. Here, a barrier screen still keeps visitors at a safe distance; throughout the work actual pilgrim access inside was interrupted only briefly, however.

See the story as reported by NPR, from CBS News (with more photos), and from Reuters.

For background, see my previous posts tracking this project HERE and HERE.


UPDATE / 26 March 2017

Good news / bad news: A day or two after my post (above), the barrier screens seen above were removed and an official ceremony was held marking the completion of the restoration project. At about the same time, the project’s director made the striking announcement that the Edicule was still at risk of “catastrophic” collapse unless an additional multi-million dollar program of stabilization is carried out on the surrounding sub-floor areas.

edicule ceremony MAR 2017

The dedication ceremony for the restored Edicule, March 2017. Photo: Reuters, via

The full story, from the National Geographic web-site, including several brand new photos, is here:

Now, a 5-minute VIDEO report from the Franciscans‘ Terra Santa News about the March 22nd ceremony, which included representatives of all of Jerusalem’s Christian communities (no mention of the needed follow-up stabilization) :

Posted in Architecture, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, JERUSALEM | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What to Expect from America’s New Ambassador to Israel: The Worst of Everything

US ambassador to Israel: ‘Great advantage’ to Netanyahu

David Friedman is known for his support for the most extreme elements in Israel’s settler movement

The choice of US ambassador to Israel has never before incurred such scrutiny or provoked such controversy.

Usually, the appointment is approved by the Senate’s foreign relations committee by consensus. But David Friedman’s confirmation vote last Thursday split largely on partisan lines, with Republicans backing him and all but one Democrat opposing him.

Tens of thousands of liberal American Jews signed a petition opposing his nomination, and major Jewish organisations and hundreds of rabbis also objected.

FriedmanBut then, Donald Trump’s envoy to Israel is no ordinary ambassador.

Rather than climbing up through the diplomatic ranks learning the arts of statecraft, 57-year-old Friedman has been propelled overnight into one of the world’s most sensitive diplomatic posts.

No honest broker

An Orthodox Jew and the son of a New York rabbi, Friedman is a bankruptcy lawyer who has worked on Trump’s behalf for the past 15 years. He joined the presidential election campaign last year as Trump’s adviser on Israel.

But it is not Friedman’s lack of experience causing the greatest concern. It is  Continue reading

Posted in Israel-Palestine Scene, JERUSALEM, Palestinians, Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sealed in a Jar for 3,000 Years: Traces of Earth’s Magnetic Field!


The tax-man cometh: Iron Age Israelite jar handle with royal seal.

They didn’t call it the “Iron Age” for nothing!

It turns out that, locked inside the ceramic fabric of bits of ancient pottery, are the fingerprints of our planet’s magnetic history. Newly detectable via scientific technology, the patterns of magnetic field fluctuation now emerging have proved more “choppy” — indeed inexplicable — than we ever imagined. It is truly one of the least understood of all geo-physical processes.

The magnetic minerals present in the potters’ clay were frozen in time at the moment when each piece was crafted and fired, creating a unique record.  The same phenomenon is present in rocks, of course, at the time of their formation, but those datum points are measured in eons. With ancient pottery, however, the relatively rapid evolution of styles, plus the impressed seals of a progression of known rulers, makes possible a rather precise timeline.

Among the authors of the just-published source article (in the journal PNAS) is Erez ben-Yosef, an Israeli archaeologist from Tel Aviv University. For the full story and all the connections, see this piece published today on the NPR web-site:



Posted in Antiquities, Archaeology, Science | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

When Jews Act Like Nazis: Israel’s ‘Alt-Right’ is alive and well

Independent journalist Jonathan Cook highlights what is not a new phenomenon at all but has simply re-emerged in recent years under a new flag and different leadership. With Israel’s mainstream political discourse taking on an ever more fascist tone, such groups only grow in legitimacy — and are winked at — as they become mirrored by the society-at-large. It is worth noting that, while the incitement and attacks are aimed mainly at Israel’s Arab citizens and residents, it extends to the country’s Christian communities as well.

The article, found on-line, is reproduced in its entirety below; the title of this post (above) is mine.

NEW (Feb. 2017):  A related article by Jonathan Cook highlights the surge in Israeli on-line hate speech, a phenomenon often driven and encouraged by the country’s right-wing leadership, including Netanyahu.

* * *

Lehava: Israel’s ‘racist lynch mobs’ attacking Arabs

The far-right group stokes hatred and incites followers to violence against Palestinians, say analysts

Four youths in black T-shirts, bearing a distinctive yellow-flame insignia, approached “A” in July as he got out of a taxi in central Jerusalem to meet friends. They asked him the time. Suspicious of his accent, they confronted him directly: “Are you an Arab?”

“The moment I said, ‘yes,’ one of them punched me in the eye. The others jumped on me and started hitting me all over my body. There were many people in the area, but no one took any notice or tried to help.”

“A” managed to break free and fled to a nearby restaurant, where a friend worked, and hid inside. “If I hadn’t been able to run away, they would have killed me,” he said.

His filmed testimony is one of several taken of Palestinians in Jerusalem who have been violently assaulted recently by far-right Jewish activists. Fearing reprisals, most of the victims agreed to testify only on condition that their real identities were not disclosed.

The attacks were carried out by an extremist group called Lehava, or Flame in Hebrew, an acronym for the Organisation for the Prevention of Miscegenation in the Holy Land. Run by a rabbi, Ben-Zion Gopstein, Lehava rejects any interaction between Jews and Palestinians. Continue reading

Posted in Israel-Palestine Scene, JERUSALEM, Palestinians, Politics, Racism | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

VIDEO: The Rock of Jesus’ Tomb Exposed

As a follow-up to my previous post, the ongoing restoration of the Edicule within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has seemingly reached something of a climax: the removal of the marble cover-plate protecting the bedrock burial bench of Jesus’ Tomb. The present Edicule was built in 1810 following a destructive fire; the previous major restoration was carried out in 1555. Thus, it is a historic unveiling.

This latest development is featured in a short video released by the Friancscans this past Friday, November 4th (click on the link below). What the restorers and technicians have documented is an earlier, partially broken marble slab (or two?), presumably from the Crusader period, inscribed with a cross. Beneath that, the surviving bedrock of the original tomb chamber is visible.

Below are two screen-capture images from the Terra Santa News video: The first is an overhead photo by National Geographic (reportedly producing a special to be aired next year) showing the removal of the top-most slab in progress. The second image is of a detailed drawing of what was revealed underneath.


Removal of the marble cover-plate. (Photo: National Geographic)



Artist’s rendering of the broken Crusader-era marble slab(s) and the bedrock surface beneath. [CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]

The question remains: how much further can or will the researchers go? It seems that full documentation of what remains of the original, rock-hewn tomb structure lies well beyond the scope of this generally conservative restoration of the 1810 structure. Some pertinent questions–ones that will probably never be answered–are: How was the original bedrock tomb configured; what kind of burial niche(s) did it feature, if any (as a “new”, perhaps unfinished, tomb); and how/how much was all that altered in the creation of Constantine’s 4th century church? Related: How much damage was actually done to the exposed rock by over-eager pilgrims over the course of several hundred years, before the walls and superstructure of the shaped bedrock tomb-shrine were demolished in the year 1009?

For more background on these terms and concepts, see my extended article on the history of the church, HERE.

To view the 5-minute video, click on the following link:

UPDATE / 10 DEC 2016

More good information on the exposure of the rock is found in an article published on-line by National Geographic on 31 OCT.

UPDATE / 25 FEB 2017

The restoration reaches its final stages with the removal of the working scaffolding (but not the 1940s-era iron girder “cage”– still to come, presumably). Here’s a 4-min. VIDEO from the Franciscans of the latest developments.


Northern facade of the Edicule, sans scaffolding, Feb. 2017. Screen capture: Terra Santa News/ Christian Media Center.


Posted in Antiquities, Archaeology, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem Antiquities, VIDEOS | Tagged , , | 1 Comment