This is the travelogue of Nathanael Shelley who is currently studying, so this blog is on hiatus until his next trip begins. To read about the previous trips, see the following:

France and Tunisia




Note from Israel

I spent the last couple days visiting sites around the West Bank.  It is a surprisingly beautiful landscape with fascinating tectonic features.  It is narrow valley bounded on either side by beautiful mountains that turn various shades of red as the sun rises and sets, but it is a harsh, dry terrain.  I was pleased to discover that my language abilities have progressed enough to have real, meaningful exchanges in Arabic at last, and the single best thing about the West Bank are the Palestinian people.  Never in my life have I met a nicer or more friendly people, and while there may be extenuating circumstances because of my obvious foreignness, I cannot ever remember meeting so many kind people in a single place.

The poverty is abundant and obvious, and it is one of the only ubiquitous things I found there.  There are substantial cultural differences between different cities, which every Palestinian is happy to describe if you ask them, and this includes political and religious variations.  Ramallah seems to be the most religiously intense place, while Hebron (Khalil) seems to be the most politically charged.

It was an interesting experience to visit the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but my favorite site was the 9000 year old fortification tower at Jericho, the oldest known defensive construction in the world.

I would like to write more about this, but I need some more time to process everything.  It is an intense place.

Alas, I remain in good spirits and health.  My feet have seen better days, but I feel great and have a awesome tan.  I leave Israel tomorrow with my small bag, and after a few days rest in Europe, I will be back in NYC.  Check back in about a week when I will upload some pictures with some lengthy analysis of the whole trip.

Note from Israel

So then on blistered feet I trekked to and fro about the boundaries of this, the City of Peace (Jerusalem means “city of peace” in Hebrew).  I visited museums, yay verily, and it was good (the Bible Lands Museum of Jerusalem was particularly well done).  I saw some pretty incredible things including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex (oldest complete Old Testament), and the Dead Sea Scrolls (the oldest biblical fragments).  I saw many of the objects that were found in the sites I had visited in previous weeks, and I learned.

I learned about this city and its people.  I learned about the myriad complexity that has folded in on itself to make this place possible in precisely this form in this moment of history.  Of course it was exciting to see the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but it was all the things in between which I had not known about that I received an education in.  I began to see how all the pieces fit together and the people who make it all work.  These were what I found the most  surprising and interesting.

It goes without saying that the Haram ash-Sharif, the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, is easily the most beautiful part of the city, which makes sense on multiple levels.  I liked the austerity of the traditional Christian architecture here, and the unusual fusion of Eastern and Western Christian traditions was informative.  Finally, in walking around, one quickly learns that the cultural differences between the neighborhoods is often stark and immediate.  As with Nazareth, the Arab “side” felt more familiar to me, but this is likely to have more to do with language than anything else.

Jerusalem was once (and sometimes still is) believed to be the center of the universe, of creation, but I think that even today the rays  of its influence shoot outward in all directions.  I feel like a I have gained a valuable piece of insight into human beings having seen this place.

Note from Israel

It has been a couple days since I stopped moving long enough to write anything.  I am back in Jerusalem now, marking the end of the second phase of my journey.  I am fatigued and my feet are ravaged, so I am rather thankful to be in one place for a few days.

Most of the last four days were spent trekking to and over archaeological sites, but more on that in a moment.  Last Sunday night I arrived in Nazareth.  Nazareth is largest Arab city in the primarily Jewish part of the state of Israel, so in addition to its historical significance as an important site in Christianity, it is also a unique community at the intersection of the contemporary cultural and political landscape.  I enjoyed the city very much.  Part of the reason for this is that I do not speak much Hebrew, so there has been a kind of linguistic barrier that was not present for me in Arabic speaking Nazareth, but there is a very different feeling in the city that I enjoyed.  I visited the Church of the Annunciation, which contains the remains believed to have been the house of the Virgin Mary.  Although it is very modern, I appreciated the simplicity of the sub-chamber beneath the church where the grotto is.  All the maternal imagery reminded me of my own mother, who I am certain would have liked this church very much.  From the massive church, I toured the rest of the city and eventually made my way to the top of the hill overlooking the city.  This trek was especially interesting because I stopped to ask directions from a couple families whom I saw dining on their balconies, and without fail, each of them insisted that I join them for coffee and conversation.  Finally, that evening I stayed in what is almost certainly the nicest hostel in Israel: the Fauzi Azar Inn.  The hostel is a renovated Arab mansion and the staff is almost entirely volunteers who are a mixture of backpackers and pilgrims.  They too were very welcoming and kind to me, and the entire experience there was a very positive one.  I had some of the best conversations of this trip with the occupants of that house that night.

From Nazareth I tried to catch a bus out of town but ended up sharing a taxi with an old man going in the same direction as I.  The taxi ride was interesting in its own right.  The driver was playing an Islamic sermon on the speakers about the importance of having many children.  Later, we picked up a Jewish woman who very clearly did not feel comfortable in the car and she got out after just a few miles.

The rest of my time recently has been spent trekking out to and over archaeological sites.  Although there are hundreds, if not thousands, of archaeological sites in Israel, I specifically chose a list that are the most relevant to my studies and research.  This week's batch included Beit She'an, Megiddo, Be'er Sheva, and Tel Arad.  Some of my favorite things included the Egyptian house at Beit She'an, the triple gated city gate at Megiddo, and the Canaanite/Judean religious precinct at Arad, which is unfortunately in a very sad state of maintenance.  The treks in the Negev were especially challenging.  I probably walked over 15 miles yesterday, with my pack, in nearly 100 (F) heat, and often up-hills, but honestly, the treks were one of the best parts of the whole experience.  The hikes make the geographic importance of the sites far more tangible.

Jerusalem looks strange to me after the last two weeks.  When I first came, I only had my expectations to compare it to, but after seeing the rest of Israel, Jerusalem looks very different to me.  It feels less Israeli, more international.  The massiveness of the place, physically, culturally, sensually, all leap out at you immediately upon arrival.  In its ancient context, its role is clearer to me than ever, but in its modern context, all I have gained so far is an awareness of how interwoven the various components of this place all are.  I am sure that I will have more to say about this after I spend a couple days here.

The next couple days will be dedicated to museums, and I hope to get a little rest.

Note from Israel

Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee

The “plan” for this trip was conceived of in three parts that break down as follows:
  • The first week or so would be dedicated to meetings and visiting major cities to familiarize me with the country.  This would serve as a kind of orientation tour, and it would help me formalize the “plan.”
  • The second week or so would be dedicated to meeting my priority goals: visiting archaeological sites, museums, and a few personally relevant sites.  From Tel Aviv I would head north to the Galilee, then make my way south to Arad stopping before the large Negev desert.
  • The third week, or whatever remains, would be dedicated to a lengthy visit to Jerusalem and sites in the West Bank before making my way back to Tel Aviv in order to catch my flight.
I am now a couple days into the second phase of the trip.  My body is holding up well, especially considering some of what I have put it  through.  I have been walking at least 12 miles a day, often in 90+ (F), have been sunburned, am covered in bug bites, and nearly twisted my ankle, but I am getting enough food and rest and my spirits remain high.  No one said  this would be easy.

I spent Thursday night in the mountain town of Sfat.  Famous as the birthplace of mystical Judaism, it is a kind of bohemian retreat for religious Jews in the mountains above the Galilee, and after years of hearing about the place, I wanted to see what it was like.  The place is literally packed with schools for various types of Jewish learning.  I  appreciated the openness and friendliness of the people quite a bit, but it is also clear that they assumed I was Jewish.  On the other hand, the destruction wrought on the Arab quarter during Israel's War of Independence is still quite visible, and even if they are transforming it into an “Artists Quarter,” it does not quite eliminate the awfulness of the conflict that occurred there.  Sfat is an interesting, even unique, place, but I do not think it is very accessible to non-Jews.  Still, it is easy to see how the cool mountain breezes and the impressive views are a call to contemplation, and falling asleep with the sound of religious singing nearby was one of the better experiences of this trip.

Friday through Sunday morning have been spent in Tiberius, on the Sea of Galilee.  This is the resort town on the Sea, and it has been one of the most popular destinations for Israelis the last twenty years.  From this base, I have been exploring the local ruins and moving northward to visit several sites associated with the events of the New Testament, including Capernaum and the Mount of Beautitudes.  I escaped the city yesterday during the Sabbath by renting a mountain bike and riding all the way to the north shore of the Sea.  It was certainly one of the best experiences of this trip.  Riding over the rolling hills give much better sense of the ancient landscape, and it afforded me the opportunity to dodge tour groups thus leaving me virtually alone with every site.  Although I saw many places over there, the one that warrants mention is the ruins of Capernaum, the site where Jesus often lived an preached according to the Bible.  The ruins are mostly cut from basalt and limestone, which is interesting to me for archaeological reasons, but what truly made the site exciting was the modern church and tranquility the pervades the site.  There is a modern, stone and wooden church in the shape of a boat hovering over the ruins.  The structure has a large interior of open air and is filled with plants that ruffle in the wind off the sea that blows through it.  There is a glass floor in the center that allows one to look down at the ancient 1st century house that is thought to be Peter's house and the first church.  The whole place is filled with tranquility and reverence for both nature and the past.  It was instantly one of my favorite Christian sites in the world.

I now leave Tiberius for Nazereth and a variety of Bronze Age ruins in the surrounding valleys.

Note from Israel

I am briefly back in Tel Aviv after the last of my series of meetings.  Haifa was not especially noteworthy, but I found the Baha'i gardens to be very beautiful and absolutely worth the trip up there.  It remains hot and humid on the coast, but I remain  in good health and spirits.

I now turn my attention to the northeast and will be visiting Sfat and several sites in the area of the Galilee.  Hopefully, I should be able to make some time to write something substantial soon.  All is well.

Note from Israel

I doubt there is anything more cliché than writing about the power and prestige of Jerusalem.  Is there anything left to remark on or to observe?  Like the Biblical text, is there any connection that some other viewer has not already seen?  I suppose not, but it is this abundance of scrutiny and attention that makes visiting such a place special.  Jerusalem is everything and nothing.  It is one of the most human place I have ever seen, and for me, the most intense part was the sensation of connecting with the billions of visitors who have come before and will likely come after me.

The orientation tour continues, and I look forward to returning to Jerusalem when this phase of my trip is done.  I am now in Haifa, in the north, to meet with my primary contacts in the country before finalizing the itinerary for the rest of the trip.  There have been no serious difficulties and I am not that challenged getting around.  Although most people speak English well enough, the Israeli language is interesting and I am enjoying the process of trying to use my knowledge of Biblical Hebrew to understand modern Hebrew.  Nonetheless, it was a fun change of pace to be able to speak Arabic in the Old City of Jerusalem.

I toured an archaeological lab in the University of Haifa last night, and had some very stimulating conversation with a local archaeological director that lasted long into the night.

Tomorrow I will make a run through Haifa to see the Baha'i gardens and surrounding areas before visiting with another contact in Herzeliyya, near Tel Aviv.

More to come soon.

Note from Israel

I have arrived safely after several fun “conversations” with immigration.  It would seem that they think my trip to Syria was as exciting as I did, but I was eventually cleared, and I am now in Israel.

I arrived on Thursday, the night before Shavuot, a Jewish holiday celebrating Spring, so virtually everything was closed.  Saturday was the Sabbath, so I have had the fortune of adjusting to Israeli culture slowly by taking it in at the beach in Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is like a bohemian Miami Beach filled with sexy, health conscious, young people.  The food is exceptional.

Today, I trekked through the Yemenite Quarter, and then made my way a few miles south to explore the ancient harbor of Jaffa, one of the very oldest in the world.  Although the site has  been almost completely transformed by modern Israel, the harbor was plainly visible, and there were some interesting features visible.

Tomorrow I am making a day-trip to Jerusalem before heading up to Haifa for a meeting.

Unfortunately, I neglected to realize that my new netbook lacks the necessary connector for me to upload my camera's pictures, so it is rather unlikely that I will be able to flourish my entries with personal images until I return to New York.  I am sorry to disappoint anyone who likes my photos.