Today the course at St George’s College in Jerusalem really swung into gear. We have about 33 people on the program, plus about 4 staff. I am listed as a ‘Guest Scholar’ this year and will be responsible for a couple of the days during the program. It is good to see such a strong number of enrolments despite all the political uncertainty in the region.
After sitting for our group photograph at 8.30am, we went into a series of meetings with College staff, including an introduction to the Library. This was presented by Simone Qumri, who I met on my very first Palestine of Jesus course back in June 1990 and who first taught me to write my name in Arabic. Friendships that endure for many years are such a blessing. After all these years, I still think of Simone as I initial documents with the Arabic letter jiim as she taught me to write it.
After morning tea break we had a lecture on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, concluding with an overview of the historical development of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was in preparation for a visit to the church later this afternoon, and I think the new course director has made a wise move in placing this visit so early in the program. This is, after all, the most significant church for Christianity and the reason for so much of the conflict around this holy city. No doubt many of us will make repeat visits individually or with friends before the course returns here as we walk the Via Dolorosa on the morning of the last day.
Following lunch we went to Mt Olives for an overview of the Old City and an explanation of the topography.
The pickpockets are especially bad this year, and I fell victim to one of them myself. As it happened I sensed what had happened and challenged the thief, before chasing him and demanding he return the stolen cash so deftly removed from the wallet in my hand. I suspect he was not used to being grabbed by an angry Westerner yelling at him in Arabic, so he threw the money on the ground—all the while protesting that he had not taken it. Hmmm … (Note to self: Learn some good Arabic swear words for future use in such circumstances!)
Meanwhile, the view of the Old City was excellent!
After leaving Mt Olives we went by bus to the Jaffa Gate and from there we walked to the Holy Sepulchre. As we moved about the complex structure, Rodney Aist gave a masterful introduction to the church, while leaving time for people to reflect on their first encounter with this holiest of holy places.