I’ve been fascinated by all kinds of archaeology since I was in high school. As a senior, I took a course called “The History of Science.” It was science for the unscientific, those of us who couldn’t deal with physics — though oddly enough, the course was taught by a PhD in Physics. I guess he was really interested in the subject, so we all got a whole year studying Stonehenge. And yet I still don’t know nearly enough.
Although Jerusalem was my home and I loved it beyond words, I had a second passion which was the Galilee. That northern part of Israel is rich and beautiful. The wildflowers alone are worth a trip in the spring. I don’t know how the seasons are now.
The best little piece of the Galilee is Tel Dan, archaeological site and nature reserve.
In Hebrew, it is “Gan Eden” and there’s a sign (or was, anyway) in English that read “Paradise” with an arrow. Just follow the path.
I haven’t been back since September 2001 and much has changed, especially the weather. But it used to be that May in the Galilee, the open fields were covered with wild poppies, scarlet against the green grass.
Israel has a climate that is not unlike Arizona, which is to say winter is rainy and green. Chilly unless you are atop a mountain, but not usually cold … not like the cold we get here. Spring starts very early, in January when the almond trees bloom and April and May are typically breathtaking. The ground is still moist from the winter rains and the world is green.
Later in the summer, months after the rain has ended and it’s just plain hot with a blue sky and sun that never ends, everything turns brown or beige or tan with little green to be found except on balconies overflowing with flowers.
One spring, we traveled up to Tel Dan. It is obvious that there has been considerable development, archaeological, in the park itself, and of course, hotels. When we were there early in the 1980s, it was a park with some archaeology work in progress, but no hotels. No fancy walkways.
It was a “school trip” or a family outing. Now it’s fancier and there is more to see, but I think I liked it better before the betterment.
There’s a lot of information about it and a lot of photographs, too. This is one of the magical places in the world. You can see it, feel it. It is part of the source waters of the Jordan River and has been in existence since before Abraham which is at least 5,000 years.
There are several websites about the park, but this is the one at which I would start: The Tel Dan Nature Reserve. The site is written in English and Hebrew (there are probably other languages too). It includes some amazing photographs. The big waterfall is the Banias (originally probably “Panaeus” from the Greek).
When I was there, there were no “floating walkways.” You just tripped along rocks and roots through the flowing Dan river as it bubbled up out of the mountain. There are deep pools which look inches in deep because the water is absolutely clear and frigidly icy. That’s where I met my first bee-eater who was every color in the rainbow.
There is also a lot of archaeological digging in progress. There remains much more to discover including caves, alters and probably a lot more below ground. It is one of the oldest known sites in the area. Not as old as Jericho or the caves at Carmel, but very old and continuously inhabited for most of its time.
I walked through Paradise and I don’t doubt for a minute that it was indeed Paradise. It felt like it to me.
In order to build the Temple Mount in Israel, they dug all the way down to bedrock and started the support walls there. Otherwise, it would have sunk. So the deal is still basically the same, but I guess there are fewer guys with shovels and picks and huge boulders … and more machinery?
Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect, put forward a proposal to build a mile-high skyscraper, a building five times as high as the Eiffel Tower. Many slammed at the architect and argued that the tower would collapse. But today, bigger and bigger buildings are appearing. How did this happen?
My favorite place in Jerusalem was the Western Wall, sometimes incorrectly called the “Wailing Wall.” In Hebrew, it’s Kotel — it rhymes with motel.
I used to go to the Kotel to pray and leave messages for God.
I loved the approach to the Temple mount. I would stand for a while, looking down at it from the approaching steps, trying to form an image of what it must have looked like when it was the hill where God talked to Isaac, where God said that He would never again ask for another human sacrifice.
So what was with all the war and massacre and death? Doesn’t that count?
Then I would walk down the stone steps to the wall and get as close as I could get, so my nose grazed the Wall. I would lay my cheek and the palms of my hands flat against it and feel the humming of power in those ancient stones.
From close up, you see the messages, tens of thousands of messages rolled tightly into tiny scrolls tucked in the crevices between the rocks. Every kind of prayer, every kind of message, all on tiny folded pieces of paper, cradled by giant stones.
Tucked between the stones were all the prayers, hopes, fears, and gratitude of people who came to this special place to leave a messages for God.
The Wall talks to you and says “You can leave your message here. God always checks his messages and He will get back to you.”
I always brought a message and tucked it into the stones. I knew God would read my message and get back to me. As surely as I knew Jerusalem is the center of the universe and closer to Heaven than any place on earth, I knew I lived down the street from his message center. If every prayer is heard, prayers left at this address got to Him sooner.
There were groups of rabbis who spent their lives praying at the Wall. For a small fee, they would pray for you. If you believe there is a special potency to the prayers of pious men, the rabbis of the Kotel were worth a donation. They didn’t ask for much – whatever you could afford and for your money, you got a prayer specialist to put the word in for you.
I probably went to the Kotel more than a hundred times over the years, but I most remember one day above all others. I went that day because my mother was dying. I wanted to ask God to give my mother and I some time together.
It seemed pointless to pray for her cancer to be cured. It had spread too far, had invaded too much. I knew it was her time. I accepted death, even my mother’s, but a little time didn’t seem too much to ask.
I bought prayers from the rabbis, then went to the Wall and left my message among the stones.
More than thirty years have passed, but I bet my message is still there, exactly where I left it. With all the other messages left for God in the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
I’m a fool for archaeology and paleontology and this is so up my alley. It’s long, but it’s definitely worth the read! Great piece of well-researched work! Who knew about giant marsupials?
There’s a giant wombat in the basement of Worcester Museum. It’s there because Henry Hughes was bored of banking. It was the starting point of a story that has led me, via mid-19th century Brisbane and the learned societies of Victorian England, into some of the darker corners of the British Empire.
In 1838, the young and ambitious Henry Hughes left his job in Worcester for a new life in Australia. He was accompanied by the Isaacs family, including two brothers whom Hughes had known well in Worcester, Henry Edward and Frederic Neville. Hughes and the two Isaacs brothers — just 22 and 18 at the time of their arrival in Australia — bought a farm in Hunter Valley, and settled awhile. But it seems that this agricultural idyll failed to satisfy their thirst for adventure. Spurred by tales of fortunes to be made on the frontier, they sold up…
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You could see where the temple had been. The ground was slightly raised forming what appeared to be a circle. If you looked carefully, you could see the tip of a pillar poking out of the ground. Not full evidence of what lay beneath the ground, but certainly some strong hints.
Every time I pass that place along that old road, I wondered what lay beneath the soil.
Then, one summer, a group descended on the area and began to very carefully dig. They found the pillars of a church, but when they dug further, they discovered the pillars of the church stood on the pillars of a Roman temple. Not merely pillars, but statues and a mosaic floor that was nearly perfect.
There was more.
The deeper they dug, the more they found. The Roman temple rested on pillars of something so ancient, no one was quite sure what it was and below that, what appeared to be tombs, possibly neolithic.
The ground was clearly regarded as sacred to every people who had lived here. Now, of course, it was an archaeological park with a small fee required to enter the area.
It was seeing history reveal itself in layers, and as each layer was lifted, it was taken to a museum. When finally, the reached bedrock, they brought back a couple of pillars and a covering so that this special, sacred space, could be remembered.
What memories were part of the ground, the air, the stones? Why this spot? Many guesses, but no answers. The ones who knew were long-buried.
The stones stood as they had stood for a millennium. Perhaps longer. No one knew. There were stories. Rumors. Legends.
Despite the disastrous ending of the Druids, the worshippers lived on. Quietly, softly. Sometimes hidden in the folds of Christianity and always deep in moss and woodland, they found their way to the tiny circle to greet the dark and full of the moon, and the sun rising on an equinox.
The stones wore down through wind and weather, yet they stood and we came to stand with them. We came though times changed. Finally, we could be ourselves and worship in our way.
Time, wind, and weather will have their way. Times will change and we will become what we must to worship as we should. As long as the stones stand, as long as the woods enclose us, we endure.
We will always find our way to the circle — this or any circle — and be true to our ourselves and our truths.