Perhaps it is somehow paradoxically true that anthropology comes before theology and theology comes before anthropology. That is, knowing ourselves comes before we can know God while knowing God comes before we can know ourselves. Perhaps this dilemma just recognizes that the 2 go hand in hand. They build and feed off of each other. My journey as a man seems to be marked with moments of knowing myself as a human being with human desires, emotions, weaknesses, etc and this helps me to know God a little bit better. My journey as a Christian seems to be marked with moments of knowing God by understanding his identity, power, emotions, etc and this helps me to know myself a little bit better. If man is made in the image of God, this makes sense. Overall, knowing myself and knowing God help me know God and know myself better…This sounds basic but how does one begin?
This is quite the epistemological question. But a very simple place to begin is to appropriately understand the past.
Consider this notion: “If you don’t know where you came from, it is harder to know the reason for being where you are.” …Is this true for your life? Consider getting to know your family. Have you had talks with your grandparents or parents about why they moved to a certain region where you grew up? What brought them there? Why did you grow up the way you did? Why were you raised in this church or parish or whatever? I recently had a long talk with my father about these very points. It was very enlightening to me to learn that due to his frustration working as a warehouse forklift fetcher (a person who rides on the forks of the lift up and down to fetch boxes) in college, he decided to change majors from English to Accounting and move further from Los Angeles to raise a family. This ensured a better paying job upon graduation and safeguarded against a crappy job relapse. My father’s history is what led us to the city, local neighborhood, church, and lifestyle 1 hour’s drive east of Los Angeles. I would have never known why I lived where I lived if I never knew where I came from.
Or if you like: “If you don’t know where you came from, it’s harder to know why you live the way you live.” For example, a friend of mine, who loves licorice and can eat it by the 1 lb package, recently traveled to Arizona to visit her father who was vacationing there. During her road trip there, she stopped to buy one of her token 1 lb licorice packages to consume as her breakfast on the journey. For her entire life she has had very little contact and interaction with her father. Upon arrival at the vacation home she noticed that he had the same 1 lb package of licorice sitting on the coffee table – half consumed. She came to understand that this knack or instinct, as well as other likes and dislikes, mannerisms, and of course physical features, resembled her father’s. Although living distant from her father, the very source of her life in a genetic sense, she lived her life with similar characteristics of him. She would have never known why she lives the way she lives if she never knew where she came from.
In many ways, shapes, and forms, by knowing where we come from we can know why we are where we are and why we live the way we live.
In the case of my trip to Israel, this was the case in a most reorienting way. One can go to Israel and see the churches built over the sites of Jesus’ miracles and understand why we are where we are (spiritually speaking) and why we (as Christians) live the way we live. There is so much archeological and historical evidence that supports what the Biblical writers wrote. On my trip, for instance, it was easy for my faith to be built and strengthened when perusing around in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, cruising around Meggido where Josiah was slain by pharaoh Neco, and peering into the grottos of Nazareth. My Christian walk is tied to actual historical events and places.
At the same time, on the same trip, I actually felt disconnected from my Christian origins and I could not understand a bit how people could derive such Christianity and Catholicism – throughout the years of Christendom – from such an ancient culture. Christian life was hard then. But it was also simpler. But our modern churches, worship services, congregational dynamics, programs, non-profits, retreats, dress attire, monks, nuns, buildings, etc. are so complex. What a vast contrast. I can’t help to think that the modern Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches are missing the point in a very scary way. So, this disconnection – comparing a lifestyle of western Christianity with that which I learned had existed during the early church era – was disenchanting.
Overall, these 2 sides of the same coin describe my experience in Israel – bittersweet. I was able to get to know myself and God better as I was reoriented to the past. The present looks differently in the correcting light of the past. Not strange but just…different.
Additionally, the present nation of Israel is quite correcting.
Israel is such an interesting place in that, the place that gave birth to Christianity shows no upfront obvious indication of Christianity today. Out of a nation of 7 million, there are only 200,000 Christians in Israel today, where 50% are orthodox and 50% are catholic. There are virtually no Protestant believers. Except for the via delorosa, with almost hidden roman numerals on some walls in the “old city” Jerusalem, there are no signs indicating that this is where Jesus did this or that. Except for the tour buses and hard to find historical churches, the entire country seems virtually clueless to the places & life of Jesus.
I found myself thinking, “The Holy Land”? Really? Is that what this place is? What is Holy about this Land?” In my point of view there is nothing Holy about the land. But there is something indescribably raw about this place on planet earth called Israel. Tensions in the streets of Jerusalem are completely obvious. The preaching over the loud speaker at the nearby mosque can be heard by everyone within the few adjacent blocks – including the orthodox Jews as they get on and off city buses. Of course no one can miss these Jews, as their attire is striking. From the strange looks from young Arab teens as I cross the street to the passing of several casually armed chatty 18 year old girl soldiers, I can quickly see that these people are not only unique to me, but unequally passionate.
Passion is what describes the Israelis or Jewish people. Passion is what describes the Arab Muslim Isreali citizens and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Passion is what described the first Apostles and the enraged crusaders!
Passion for what? Passion for God and passion for the land. The land of Palestine is the battle ground for God. It is the birthplace of the world’s monotheistic religions. So, the heirs of the land, sons and daughters of Abraham, all want it for themselves.
Why? This goes back to the original paradox of anthropology and theology mentioned above. The God of Abraham is the ultimate origin of why this place is the way it is and why the people live the way they live. All branches stem from him. The Ishmael lineage, the Isaac lineage, and the adopted-in Christian lineage all stem from Abraham’s God. To be the people of God – to get in touch with their history, to live there, to thrive there – is the ultimate way to capture their true destiny. By physically being there, where it all started and their history erupted, they can very easily embrace their history. This enables them to know their true identity and know their God. Have you ever been back to the place you grew up years later? The sights, sounds, and smells trigger the memory and one can almost go back in time, reliving an event. Many times emotions erupt again as if the painful or joyful event was happening at present. Thus, the passion.
Furthermore, the people of the land must defend the attacker to contend for the place that is God’s and thus maintain their inherent identity. The fighting, wars, occupations, and all invasions make sense in light of this.
As a result, the people of the land resemble their God. Passionate. I like how C.S. Lewis put it, “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver…’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.'” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis). Our God is passionately good. Our God is not safe – He wants His ways by any means. Even and especially pain. “For He wounds but He also binds up…He injures but His hands also heal.” (Job 5:17-18). We Christians often forget that the God we serve is a passionate, vengeful, and just God. We have a tendency of “nicing” the Old Testament with clever theories to reconcile a wayward conversation with a non-believer. He is unpredictably real and raw. The people of the land of Israel are unpredictably real and raw. They have been through a lot. But they resemble the real and raw God they came from. How well do I resemble the real and raw God I came from?
On the other hand, an unquestionable Christian resemblance, which is not quickly noticed to the naked eye, appears in Israel upon a deeper look. In order to find my connection in Israel – in order to find the source for the reason why I live how I live – I had to consider why God is not limited to a location on this planet. Because of Jesus, the floodgates of all of humanity – Jew, Muslim, Gentile, and Infidel – can know God anywhere on the planet. This is true across the pages of New Testament. Although I have no claim to the land or any passion for it as my inheritance, I have a passion infused by the Holy Spirit. Because of my adoption I am “joint heirs” (Romans 8:17) to a royal destiny and identity. Thus I am related to the Jew…(but not so much the Muslim). Thus, by embracing my heritage, I invigorate my passion and defend against the attacker of Christianity to contend for the place that is God’s – spiritually and intellectually.
Overall, Israel is intense to say the least.
At this point we will take a turn and move a different direction. No report on a trip to Israel would be adequate if it did not contain accounts of the archeological finds that validate the reality of the Jews that live there and Christians abroad.
Some Interesting apologetical items:
Byzantine church Mosaics
In the 4th century, after the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity, Helena, Constantine’s Mother, went to Israel to discover the sites that were important to the Christian faith. She designated holy places and venerated many particular sites where a significant New Testament miracle was performed, including where Jesus was born, died, and resurrected.
At many of these places, Helena ordered a church to be built. These Byzantine churches were usually small, perhaps the size of a modern house. On the floor a beautiful tile mosaic was usually laid depicting fish or something of historical relevance to the Christian site. Throughout the centuries of invasions, wars, and earthquakes, the original church was destroyed. But the ornate Byzantine mosaics still exist beneath the later crusader floor mosaic or later modern era mosaic which repeated the same design. Additionally, some churches were rebuilt in such a way that the new mosaic floor connected to the original Byzantine mosaic, interwoven to produce the same design. The only difference one could tell between the Byzantine mosaic and the later mosaic is the Byzantine mosaic is faded.
It was really amazing to be standing on the same floor that early Christians and church fathers stood on. You know that saying “Being there is everything”, well it was true in this case. At many moments, with the help of our good tour guide, I felt like I traveled back in time and could picture what it was attend a church service at that ancient Byzantine basilica. These moments were not just limited to the Byzantine church ruins. I found that I could easily imagine what it would have been walk in Caesarea, Capernaum, Nazareth, Skythopolis, and Meggido. It is hard to describe but going back in time is somewhat close.
Continuing Archeological Finds:
During our trip, President Obama was visiting with the King of Saudi Arabia and making a speech in Cairo, Egypt. So we picked up some local magazines and newspapers to catch the local response to the Obama visit. While learning about the different political extremist views of the West Bank PLO, Gaza leadership, and Israeli left, we stumbled upon some articles of recent archeological discoveries in Israel. By the look of it, these were common entries in the local news. On any given day, there could be news of a different amazing artifacts dug up around Israel.
I knew Archeology has always been a major point of national pride for the modern nation. But I came to understand that there were significant continual efforts being made by the Israeli government, through many benefactors and the Hebrew University, to reclaim the history of Israel through archeology. In the last several years, there have been increased efforts and funding for more digs in regions and settlements in the West Bank recently annexed by the Israeli army. Last century, scholars in Israel and around the world have been mesmerized by monumental discoveries such as the dead sea scrolls and the walls of Jericho. Scholars are hoping that the discoveries of last century will pale in comparison to those of this century.
Some not so recent discovered archeological finds that we saw, such as the tunnels under the ancient Canaanite city of Jebus (Jerusalem), ancient high walls in Jericho, horse stables in Meggido, inscriptions of Pontius Pilate in Casearea, grottos in Nazareth, and many others, are still continual reminders to Israel and the world that the Christian faith is built on solid epistemically verifiable foundations. These and other frequent gem finds provide evidence that the description of places in the historical records of the Bible are in fact accurate. They show that the words on the pages of Scripture cannot be categorized in a myth genre. Rather these finds give readers and scholars alike continual confidence that the Bible represents historical literature that maps out historical places that actually existed in a space time reality. If the places existed, it is also highly likely that the people and events described in those places were real.
Compare the history written in the Old & New Testament to the book of Mormon. While reading Joseph Smith’s famous work last year, I was thoroughly convinced that this book, if not historically accurate, represents the greatest lie in the history of mankind. It would be infinitely more slimier in fictitious deception than the Da Vinci code, even more disgusting than any the modern suicide cults, because it is the life altering constitution of millions of good people. It is the Bible beyond the Bible of the called “Christian” Mormons. This ever growing population of brainwashed souls has been led astray by a book that speaks in a historical genre but is entirely fiction. Not one archeological find has ever been unearthed. Not one city wall, inscription in stone, temple, church, mosaic, painting, hand tool, pot, coin; nothing, nothing, nothing at all has been found that relates in any way shape or form to the places, peoples, and history described in the book of Mormon.
Thus, it is easy to conclude that if no archeological discovery has been made, the places described in the book of Mormon did not exist. If the places that people walked on and the places where events occurred did not exist, than the people and events described in the book of Mormon did not exist and were never real. It is absolutely sickening to read the book of Mormon, because it is clear that its sole purpose was to provide a believable history, written in the same genre as the historical books of the Old Testament, in order to deceive people away from true Christianity.
After reading the Old Testament for the last 20 years and knowing that there is archeological evidence that show the places written of do in fact exist, I can rest assured that my belief system is not founded on a myth or lie. Until an archeological discovery is made contradictory to Scripture, which there have not been any valid ones that I know of, I will continue to read the Old and New Testament as historically reliable documents.
In light of all of the above, I have 2 new points of growth in my own Christian walk.
First, acknowledging and learning archeology is very important.
Archeology is such an important component to our Christian apologetics. I hope that myself and other apologists dive into the realm of archeological discoveries and perhaps even participate in some digs. Roger, a fellow tourist in our group and graduate from Yale Divinity school, mentioned to me that archeological finds are a big part of the historical curriculum at Yale. Apparently most students from his Master program are required to participate in digs every summer to meet the degree requirements. I found that to be fascinating. While I would hate to be out digging in the Israeli desert all summer, it would definitely drive home the fact that an amazing and powerful history really did take place there. The dirt is waiting to give up more and more facts, it is waiting for us to learn more about our Christian heritage. So many keys of our past have been unlocked by digging in the ground. Thank God for archeology.
Secondly, learning the fascinating current and post-Christ history of the Jewish people is very important.
On this trip, I was definitely enlightened to new avenues of thought in Old Testament apologetics for my own personal Christian walk. Let me say this for the new Christian, because the word of God is alive, the reader of the Bible can be pierced to the core at the many hundreds of different types of foreshadows of Jesus that the Old Testament makes. Hopefully you know what I am talking about. If not, I beg you to begin to read the Bible.
But not only the Protestant Old Testament. What about the OT Apocrypha? Although this mainly concerns the history of the Jews, it is important for every Christian to know where the original branch has headed since Nehemiah. Why? Well in what little time I was there, I have found that as I learned to see the world and history from a Jewish perspective, I have been strengthened.
I hope that I continue to learn the history of the Israeli people by reading Josephus and the Old Testament Apocrypha. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus gives a parallel account of much of what is written in the OT, through the inter-testament period. Judas Maccabeus, a leader of the Jewish people around 300 B.C., was such an important figure, but I know nothing about him. This is partly due to the fact that the OT Apocrypha is non-canonical, so Protestant Bibles do not read the Apocryphal books. But it is also due to the fact that the pastor of my church growing up preached that there were no books written between the time of Nehemiah and Christ, thus the silent years. This was obviously not true as the Apocrypha as well as other books were written during that time.
This essentially is just getting to know myself in a different way by getting to know my Israeli half-siblings more. Interestingly, the same friend I mentioned above with the Dad/licorice encounter, had a similar encounter with her half sister that she had never met. One day, upon learning from her grandmother that she had a half sister, she quickly got in contact with her. When the half-sisters met, it was love at first sight. They were both around 20 years old and were ecstatic to experience almost a mirrored image of themselves. From cheeks, to eyes, to hands, to motions, to concerns, to passions, to the way they laugh, etc. The 2 were made similarly and had definitely come from a similar source. The 2 quickly became close friends. Throughout the last several years they have realized so much truth about themselves in getting to know each other.
In the same way, I hope I can meet and get to know today’s Jewish people – the Christian’s half-siblings. Because by getting to know our family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and parents, and siblings we will see our lives in a different light. A light that makes sense of why we live the way we live.
So, I hope to seek out some American Jews and get to know them on a personal level. Although most Jews are completely in the dark about the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, they are still the first children of God. They are, in a sense, our older estranged brothers and sisters. Perhaps we can teach them something new about Jesus and they can teach us something new about our Father.
“And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches , be grafted into their own olive tree?….
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.”(Romans 11:23-24; 33-36)
Unto the King,
Jeremy David Livermore, P.E.
Some additional items for the curious reader
Quick fun facts on modern Israel:
· The population of Israel is about 7 million. 6 million Jews and 1 million Arab Israelis. 90% of the Arab Israelis are Muslim.
· Water is the #1 problem in Israel. I found this hard to believe, not because of the how dry the climate is, but because there seems to be constant warfare, suicide bombers, and lurking enemies of the jews all around waiting to attack.
· $6.50 for a gallon of gas.
· 2% per year population increase. The average number of children per family is 3.
· School is 6 days per week.
· 90% of the water used is recycled/reclaimed water.
· The landscape, terrain, and climate is similar to central and southern California with deserts, irrigable valleys, and rolling hills.
· There is a great variety of fruits and vegetables, which are all produced from the Israeli farms. The Israelis enjoy salad and fruit with every meal. Perhaps it is still the land flowing with milk and honey.
· McDonalds and KFC are in all the major Israeli cities.
· The via Delarosa is now home to an Arab street market of vendors, clothing stores, butchers, and general markets.
Highlights of the trip:
· Because of the thick accent, little brother didn’t understand a word that the tour guide said. Ok well other than perhaps 1%, I found myself translating.
· Before we began our tour each day, we ate as much as we could pound into our stomachs. The mass quantities of Jewish dishes were pleasing to the body and soul. Although, strange and weird at times, the food satisfied.
· You can buy 2000 year old ancient Roman coins in most souvenir shops and sometimes street vendors.
· Apparently, from the history, tradition, and the massive Cathedrals built, Jesus grew up in a grotto in Nazareth and was born in a cave in Jerusalem…the reader can research this more and make up his or her own mind.
The breakdown of the sites toured:
– Jaffa – where Simon the Tanner lived.
– Caesarea – where Pontius Pilate lived most of the time he was procurator.
– Meggido – where about 20 cities were built on top of each other. Many, many, many wars were fought over this city including the battle between King Josiah and Pharaoh Necho.
– Yardenit – This is Hebrew for Jordan. The Jordan is the place that Jesus was baptized. There is some sort of touristy building on the south side of the sea of Galilee where tourists and pilgrims can be baptized. There are changing rooms, ticket counters, a series of concrete steps down into the river, and of course a gift shop. There are plenty of extremely large catfish that swim up to the baptismal entrance. On the walls of the baptismal compound the scripture of
– Sea of Galilee – The sea of Galilee is so peaceful. It is now a vacation resort area where people jet ski and ride water boats. It has a very calm and relaxing atmosphere with campgrounds and hotels galore in Tiberius which is a major city right on the lake. You would never have noticed the churches & historical places if you weren’t taken there by the tour guide. It looks like any other lake with hills surrounding it. Jesus cast many demons out, preached, and performed many miracles here, but you would never know it by the looks of things.
– Capernaum – where Jesus tought at the synagogue and stayed at Peter’s house.
– Caesarea Phillippi – where Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom and declared that upon this rock He will build His church. A temple to Caesar was built there next to the temple to the god pan, which was a roman deity.
– Golan Heights – an Israeli hideout fort on a hilltop with a panaromic view. Mount Hermon (+6000ft above sea level) and the Syrian border just is within view.
– Mount of Beatitudes – where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount.
– Beit Saida/Tabgha – where Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves of bread.
– Nazareth – where Jesus grew up. Currently, 35% of the population is Christian. This is 4 times more than any other city in Israel. It is a major metropolitan Israeli city. Interestingly, this birth city of Christ sits on a hill across the valley from the place where the famous last battle of Armegeddon is to be fought. It is a very busy city with lots of people. There is no sign of Jesus, no indication that he was here except for the big church built over the grottos where Jesus grew up. Over these grottos, early Christian basilicas were built. Presently, a monumental catholic church spans over the uncovered grottos.
– Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water to wine.
– Valley of Hetin – in June of 1187, Solodin won a famous battle beating the crusaders. Crusaders were then forced out of the area to the coast.
– Beit She’an – an incredible Roman city, Skythopolis, was built here. Many telling ruins compel a reorienting of ones perspective on the impressiveness of the Roman empire. The city was destroyed in the great earthquake of the 8th century. The great Roman city was unearthed by archeologist last century. The the great Roman columns lay in the middle of streets and houses. Indicating the
– Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth (-1200 ft below sea level). When swimming, you float on the water. It is impossible to drown but there are lifeguards.
– Masada – where the last remnant of the Jewish zealots maintained a stand against the Roman army which crushed Jerusalem in AD 70. The stand was later
– Qumran Caves – where they found the famous dead sea scrolls.
– Jerusalem – you know the one.
– Eilat – where we rested and wake boarded at a beach resort town near the border of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.