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.