It is hard to believe, but already I have been in Israel four weeks. That time has certainly gone by very quickly. I guess one of the indicators that this has indeed been the case is my growing familiarity with the roads. After three or four trips to Jerusalem without the aid of my trusty GPS, I am starting to feel like I know the place. Even the process of checking in at the gas station counter for my credit card to be approved before I begin to fill the tank now feels routine.
The public calendar has been dominated by Shabbat and Pesach (Passover), creating an extended holiday week for many Israelis, whether religious or nor, Jewish or not. The schools are in Spring break, and the roads are busy with holiday traffic.
I made two trips to Jerusalem this week, and happily missed the worst of the traffic. The absence of trucks on the main tollway has certainly helped in that respect.
On Sunday I went back to the Israel Museum, but as a paying visitor so that I could see the Herod Exhibition and also spend some time in the archaeology hall. The exhibition is very good, but I was expecting it to be larger than it is. Still, it is well worth the 30–45 minutes needed to see everything, watch the videos, etc. On arrival at the Museum I was reminded how small our world is when I looked up to see Mary Cohloe from Melbourne (but formerly teaching in Brisbane) leading a group of students past the front of my car towards the Museum. We crossed paths later in the day and it was good to catch up with her.
One of unexpected highlights from this visit was the opportunity to see the White Gold exhibition, featuring the earliest coins that were made from electrum. As it happens the curator of the exhibit was there at the time and asked if I had any questions. When we began to talk I realised that I had seen him in the coin department at IAA a few days earlier when he brought in a book I was needing to consult. It was good to have an opportunity to talk with him about the exhibition.
On Monday evening I had the opportunity to join a local Jewish family for their Passover Seder. The family are close friends of Judith and Shai from Kibbutz Ginosar, and it was a delight to share the evening with them all. Although the two families are not religious, it was clear that the Seder is a significant occasion for renewing and sustaining their Jewish identity. I was especially impressed by the care taken by Miriam, our hostess, to choose a progressive Haggadah with a focus on social justice and compassion. Her own reflections on the meaning of Pesach and the search for God were beautiful, and would have graced any pulpit.
Tuesday saw me heading back to Jerusalem for some meetings to set up an on-going arrangement for students from St Francis College to come to Jerusalem for short term placements as interns with the Anglican Church here. Julianne Stewart from Anglican Board of Mission Australia was in town for the week, so it was a good opportunity to meet with her and to discuss the proposal with local stakeholders. Good progress was made, so I am hoping we shall have the scheme up and running for next year.
Wednesday night I attended an ecumenical prayer service for the Feast of the Annunciation at the chapel of the Clarisse Sisters in Nazareth. Although not dressed in clerical gear, I was placed in a seat in the very front row and given an order of service in Arabic. The singing was beautiful, and the young Italian priest who gave the homily spoke in very good Arabic (raising the bar for me in the eyes of my local friends). Abuna Suheil from the displaced Arab Christian community at Iqrit led some of the prayers. I had met him and the community there last July, and have mentioned them at the beginning of each of the BIBLE360 workshops that I presented over the past six months, so it was good to see him again. All five clergy present for the event joined in the blessing at the end of the service, although I was not required to speak!
In among all these trips to Jerusalem and other events I have managed to get some further work done on the new book. Research is continuing on the archaeology of ancient Nazareth, but in the last 24 hours I have completed the first draft of a chapter that explores the social location of Jesus and his relationship with John the Baptist. I keep reminding myself that a book is just a series of 5,000 word essays, so a chapter a week should see me have the book ready by the end of my study leave.