Interfering Worldviews and Misused Languages: A Response to the “Alien Jesus” Hypothesis

A response to “Is Jesus Christ an Alien in the Bible?” The prompt: Use what you have learnt thus far in our study of logic to analyse the argument presented in this video. Four questions given for response.

What line of reasoning is immediately dismissed as incorrect?

The speaker immediately dismisses the idea of spiritual intervention as more plausible than one of scientific intervention. He characterises this by describing the immaculate conception and noting that while we today, with our modern, “enlightened” naturalistic worldview, find nothing implausible with the idea of artificial insemination, for the minds of the first century, with their more “primitive” supernatural worldview, the idea of spirits is more plausible than that of artificial insemination.

How does this force the listener to entertain the proposed perspective on Jesus?

The underlying assumption on the part of the speaker is that of a naturalistic worldview by which things may only be understood through direct experience, and nothing may be understood which is impossible for the one understanding it.

Because the listener, presumably, ascribes to the same modern, “enlightened” worldview of a naturalistic, material universe, he is therefore forced to accept the conclusion that any supernatural intervention is an implausible explanation and that, therefore, Jesus and His conception must be understood through science. Since only one possible explanation through science is offered, the listener is forced to entertain only that one.

What evidence does the speaker give for his position, and how credible is his use of it?

The primary evidence which the speaker gives for his position is direct quotes from Jesus himself. From an impartial perspective, the use of this is not credible in the least as, immediately before giving the quotes, he explains why the Gospel of John (his primary source of the quotes) is not a trustworthy source.

However, if one runs, as he suggests, with the assumption that the Gospel of John is indeed a trustworthy source, his use of it is definitely not credible.

His first mistake is in giving the quotes entirely out of context. Little more need be said about this mistake as I’m sure anyone who’s read a newspaper will understand how meanings can be twisted when words are taken out of context.

His two further mistakes, in my opinion, both come down to a lack of knowledge of the original language.

In the first point, the speaker’s argument relies heavily on the idea that when Jesus refers to “this world”, he is speaking of this planet, earth. However, in most (if not all) instances of this word, the original Greek is “kosmos”, which is defined by Liddell & Scott (considered the authoritative dictionary of Classical Greek) as meaning “the world or universe”, the third definition given, following the primary definition as “(good) order”. Greek has, in fact, a word which refers to the physical “earth” or ground, and that is “gaia”. If the writer, (assuming for a moment that these are not the true words of Jesus), had intended to convey the idea of Jesus leaving this planet, he would have used the term “gaia”, rather than “kosmos”, which refers to the universe at large – which would necessarily preclude the idea that Jesus was an alien from another planet in the universe.

In the second point, the speaker actually delves into the world of the original language with an argument about the root form of “name” used in John 13. His first mistake is almost laughable – he assumes that Hebrew is the language of the New Testament! (Although one must concede that Jesus would most probably have been speaking Aramaic, and the use of “kyrios” in the Septuagint is often used as an argument for Jesus’ divinity, it remains that the speaker is assuming Hebrew to be the original language of the Gospel of John).

The speaker posits that the Hebrew words “shem” (name, S-M), “shamayim” (heavens, S-M-Y-M), and “shema” (to hear, S-M-?) share the same root. While it is true that Hebrew is formed with triconsonantal roots which give the base meaning to words, I do not believe there is any basis for connecting “shamayim” with the other two, particularly as it is used in specific contrast with “mayim”, or “water”, in Genesis 1. However, by doing so, the speaker claims that the root consonants (presumably S-M, although this isn’t made explicit) carry the meaning of “upward” or “higher”, rather than of having to do with sound as is traditionally understood, and that the word “shem” would be better understood as meaning “rocket ship”!

(It probably doesn’t bear saying that the speaker’s very pronunciation of the word “shamayim” indicates he has little knowledge of the Hebrew language. I doubt you would find a Hebrew speaker who would believe for a moment that “shem” meant, or could mean, anything other than “name”.)

In summation, the evidence which the speaker uses for his presentation is incredible on three counts: that he has already discredited the source as trustworthy; that he uses the quotes out of context; and that he pays no attention to the original language of the documents.

How would you respond to this presentation?

While the most sensible course of action, as discussed in class, would be either to question the foundation and reliability of the speaker’s worldview, or to prompt him to follow the premise through to other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, my first inclination (as demonstrated above) is to discuss the language issues.

Additionally, I might question why he has taken, for the sake of the argument, just one book of the Bible as truth, but has apparently discredited the rest of it.

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Pentecost & God’s Mission

This last weekend, Christians of many traditions from all over the world celebrated Pentecost, “the birthday of the church”. Many Christians see the day of Pentecost as the beginning of the Christian Church as we know it, the day the Holy Spirit came down and stirred the disciples up to street-preaching, converting thousands.

Like so many things, the events of Pentecost are best understood against the backdrop of history and context. So how far back do we need to go to understand the events of Pentecost and the mission God has for us to fill?

Well, let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start). In Genesis 1, God creates the world, and then He creates us.

“‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness: let them have dominion over [every other living thing on earth]. So God created man in His own image […] then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:26-28, NKJV, paraphrased)

From this passage, we can learn several things, of which two are:

(1) Human beings are created in the image of God

(2) Human beings, the image-bearers, are to fill the earth

Unfortunately, just a chapter or two later, we human begins messed it up; we sinned, our close relationship with God was tainted, and the image of Him which we carried was distorted. Sin was rife; one brother killed another, and wickedness abounded, and God was so grieved about it all that he came very close to wiping it all out and starting with a clean slate.

You know what happened instead. But we find something very interesting at the beginning of Genesis 9:

“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and the fear of you [shall be on every other living thing on earth]’.” (Genesis 9:1-2, NKJV, paraphrased)

Sound familiar? Even though we had messed up, God’s mission for us remained the same: “You are My image bearers: fill the earth with My image.”

But we have a habit of messing up. Many churches who follow the liturgy read another passage from Genesis on Pentecost: Chapter 11:1-9. This is the story of the Tower of Babel.

There are many things to comment on about that incident, but in the context of this story of God’s mission for man, there is one which I want to draw out. Proper to Genesis 11, God’s dealings with humans were on a ‘God-to-mankind’ basis: we were all one sort of homogenous lump. After Genesis 11, and the establishment of different people groups, ethnicities, and languages, God got specific.

In Genesis 12, God speaks to mankind again, and reiterates his mission again. Or, rather, I should say, God speaks to a man.

The Lord said to Abram: […] I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing […] in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3, NKJV, paraphrased)

God’s mission hasn’t changed. His mission is still that His image will be spread to the ends of the earth. But His method has changed. No longer does He speak to all the humans as a whole; He has chosen a single nation to show Himself to the world.

Of course, the nation had to cook for a couple of hundred years first, before it became clear exactly how He would go about blessing the entire world through this one nation. In Exodus, He brings His people, now numerous, out of Egypt and gives them an identity of their own. In Exodus 12, we see them leave, and Passover (Pesach) is instituted. About fifty days later, in Exodus 19-31, God gives them His Law.

Okay, they mess it up almost before He had finished giving it, and Moses had to write it out again, and then God says:

“‘Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people, I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you’.” (Exodus 34:10, NKJV)

What had God told Abra(ha)m? “In you, I will bless everyone on earth”. Now, he’s telling the Israelites, “With you, I will show myself to everyone on earth.”

The people then launch into a God’s-house-building frenzy, and in Exodus 40:34-38, we see the glory of God filling the tabernacle, cloud by day and fire by night, and staying with the Israelites for the rest of their journeys. It’s a visible, dramatic sign to the world, “The God of Israel is real. God is with us.”

And there’s another feast Jews celebrate to this day based on this event: Sukkot (Tabernacles), when they build a little tabernacle and remember when God’s glory came down to live with them.

So God has chosen His people, and He’s said that He’s going to use them to show himself to the world. How, exactly? Moses answers this question for us, immediately before the Israelites entered the Promised Land to set up their great nation:

Be careful to observe [God’s statues and commandments], for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the people who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgements as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8, NKJV)

Israel’s job was, by following God’s Law, to be blessed by Him so that everyone on earth would be able to look at them and go, “Wow! Look at them! Surely their God must be real, look at what He’s done for them and how righteous their society is.”

Unfortunately, Israel, as we know, didn’t do such a great job at that. In fact, the closest they ever came was during the reign of Solomon.

Incidentally, during this period was what God’s glory, which had been living in the tabernacle at Bet-El, moved into the Temple at Jerusalem, which Solomon built, and Jerusalem, ruled over by Solomon who had been encouraged on several occasion by God to be righteous, started attracting the attention of the rest of the world.

In 1 Kings 10, we read the details of one particularly visit to Jerusalem, in which the Queen of Sheba says, “I did not believe [the report about your land and your wisdom] until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me! […] Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel!” (1 Kings 10:7-9, NKJV, abridged)

Here we see God’s plan for Israel in action: Follow God’s Law, be blessed by God, and show His image to everyone so that they might believe.

I don’t need to say once again that this didn’t continue for very long. In fact, Solomon’s son only lasted three days before the kingdom split in two, and about four hundred years of mostly unrighteous kings and degradation later, Israel went into exile and God’s glory left the Temple (see Ezekiel 10 for details).

In fact, things got so bad that God didn’t even talk to His people for about four hundred years.

Enter Jesus, “God in flesh”. Of course, a book could be written – and many, many books have been written – about exactly what Jesus accomplished on Earth, but I’m going to skip forwards to the end of His time down here with us, when he said two things.

The first, found at the end of Matthew, is this:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

God’s mission hasn’t changed one bit, but his method has. No longer is the method “come and see”, it’s “go and show”. Consider this: the plan for Israel was that, by following God’s commands, they would be able to show His image to the world.

In Jesus, we have seen the image of God; in fact, we’ve seen God, but with one crucial difference: God in human form, an utterly righteous human being, connected to God. The work of a disciple is to become like the discipler; the work of the Disciples was to strive towards the image of God himself… and then to go out, make disciples of their own, to pass on the image of God.

In order to do fulfill this mission, they were equipped, just as the Israelites were back in Exodus 40, with God’s power. As Jesus himself said, immediately before ascending into heaven,

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)

We see this fulfilled a week later, in the next chapter – the Day of Pentecost, the fifty days after Passover (see Leviticus 23 for details) – the Feast of Tabernacles, the anniversary of when God came down and His glory stayed in the camp, among the people.

And exactly the same thing happened again.

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

They were all with one accord in one place, and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2)

What were the Israelites to do, now they had the glory of the Lord in their midst? They were to stand as a sign to the whole world, showing every other people and language group that their God was real.

So what were the Disciples to do, now they had the glory of the Lord on them? They were to go out into the whole world, showing every other people and language group that their God was real.

We, the bearers of the image of God, are to carry His Spirit out into all the world, showing everyone our relationship with God, making them disciples – sharing the image with them – showing them how to love and obey God.

In six thousand years, God’s plan for us hasn’t changed. We are still His people, His image-bearers, tasked to live in a loving relationship with Him and to fill the earth with His image.

The Authority of the Scriptures: A Response

Submitted March 2016

One of the best ways to learn how arguments are constructed is to study how other people construct their arguments. This is especially true if the argument is close to our position but differs in key fundamentals. Watch this YouTube clip and use the following questions to respond: What was his argument? Was his argument logically valid? Why or why not? What were his underlying assumptions?

The argument set forth by the man in the video clip appears to be that the Bible is not the final authority, due to being written down, translated and interpreted by fallible men, but that rather the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ (as he says, the Spirit of Christ) are the ultimate authority. He claims that “true followers of Jesus” do not subscribe to the Bible as any sort of authority, nor belong to any church, but associate only with Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit.

I encountered several places where the man’s argument against the authority of the Scriptures was not logically valid.

In the first point, the man claims that while the Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit, they were written by fallible men and were therefore fallible. While this does display an ignorance of the meaning of the word “scripture” (from Latin “scribere”, to write; thus a “scripture” must by definition be written), it also indicates a limited view of God. Why should God be powerful enough to inspire the thoughts of men, but not powerful enough to enable them to write those thoughts down infallibly? The wording of his argument also leaves the impression that some (if not most) of what God through the Holy Spirit inspired did not make it into the Bible.

In the second point, the man claims that if the Scriptures had truly been inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit through the writing and translation process, there would be only one single “version”. This is logically unsound because it assumes that the same compulsion of man to translate writing from the original language into that person’s first language would somehow not exist, should the Holy Spirit guide the writing of the Scriptures. This is tantamount to KJV Onlyist claims that this translation is “inspired” – everyone should read the Scriptures in English. While I concede that intent of the authors of the Bible can be best understood in its original languages, the Bible itself also says – and the man quotes at the end – that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ. To enforce the reading of Scripture and worship of God in only one language is not only anti-Biblical but smacks of Islam.

In a third point, the man also makes the claim that the fallible men who translated the Bible from the original languages were guided not by inspiration by the Spirit but by various other motives. This is a logically invalid argument because its underlying assumption falls outside the man’s referential experience. How can he know what motivated these men to translate the Bible?

My final (although by no means exhaustive) objection to this man’s argument is that the leading of the Holy Spirit (or the “Spirit of Christ”) is the final authority. My first objection is that this makes the ultimate authority internal, rather than external, and therefore unverifiable and also variable. My second objection follows from this; by what means can one know that any internal leading is indeed by the Holy Spirit? Is it not possible that that Satan could just as easily simulate an internal prompting by the Spirit? How is it possible to know that any leading by the Spirit is genuine and any sort of authority at all?

I do not disagree that Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the vital but for some reason unmentioned God the Father, are the final authority on Christian life and doctrine; nor do I disagree that copying and translating of the Scriptures was and is carried out by fallible humans. However, I do not accept any logic to his argument that any perceived internal prompting by the Spirit can be taken as more of an authority on the will of God than the Bible, which has been faithfully transmitted to us.

The Sixth Day – Shabbat (Jerusalem)

Dinner was packed. There’s one main dining room, a secondary one and an overflow. All three were full. Because this hotel is about 500 metres from the Great Synagogue, a lot of people stay here over the weekend if they’ve been invited to a wedding or a bar mitzvah or something there. So I was hearing more Hebrew tonight than other nights; we’re still the only Gentiles here, as far as I can see, but the Jews aren’t all American Jews anymore.

Yuval’s wife had organised something, so he had to go home. I was keen on doing kiddush, because I so enjoyed it last week, but no-one else seemed to be. There was challah and sweet grape juice on each table, so a few of us tried to remember how to do it, partially by watching the other tables. We think we got all the actions (pouring “wine”, sprinkling bread with salt, eating it), but we didn’t recite anything other than the bit I remembered, “Barukh attah Adonai, eloheinu, melekh ha-olam” (blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe).

Because of seeing all the religious Jews around us – of all different types, from “probably is only wearing a kippah because it’s Sabbath and he’s in Jerusalem” to “all black, long black coat, big fluffy black thing on his hat, curled sidelocks and tzitzit hanging from his shirt” – conversation naturally turned to Talmud, Pharisees, the Law, Jesus, and just how Jewish were the disciples after Jesus’ death anyway?

(My answer – they never stopped being Jews and probably kept up most of the observance of the Law after his death, although I wouldn’t think they’d have still made sacrifices – historically, Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism for quite a while in the early days, and certainly they’d have eaten kosher, because remember how appalled Peter was at the idea of eating non-kosher animals? Yes, I know the New Testament addresses eating whatever you will, but that was addressed to Gentiles and I see no reason to think that the Disciples, being Jews, wouldn’t have still been religious Jews).

But my views on a lot of these topics are, as I’ve mentioned, a little different to what some of the others here might think. The lady sitting opposite me got stuck into me about “putting myself under the law when I don’t have to”. Actually, I don’t think she realised when she started talking smack about that sort of thing that I don’t eat pork and that I view Saturday as the Sabbath / Holy Day.

We were talking a bit about the difference between what Jews today practice and what’s actually in the Torah – because the Torah and the Talmud are pretty different, after all. And I said that a friend of mine doesn’t eat pork or shellfish, but has no problem with eating milk and meat together because the practice of having them separate was developed in the Talmud from a short line in the Torah about boiling kids in their mothers’ milk.

And she said, “You know, I’ve never understood people who put themselves under Law when they don’t have to. Jesus freed us from the Law.”

“I don’t see that He did. After all, we’re Gentiles; we were never under the Law in the first place. Messianic Jews, on the other hand, that’s a whole different kettle of fish for them and they’ve got to work that out themselves; but for me, Jesus never freed me from the Law because I was never under it in the first place.”

“Well, I don’t want to get into that. Jesus did away with the law; Peter was told that he could eat anything he wanted. We don’t have to be under it any more.”

“Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.” I’m not even going to mention that the dream was sort of more about allowing Gentiles into the fold of Christianity than it was ever about what people were allowed to eat.

“I just don’t understand why anyone would decide to set rules when they don’t have to. If you don’t eat pork, or do the Shabbat lift, or…”

“I don’t eat pork!”

“But that’s your choice.”

“Well, it is…” Truth is, I don’t it pork because I can’t stand the taste of it. But I have this theory that God has been leading me in various directions subconsciously, ages before I realise it consciously. I had a tendency towards bandannas long before I understood headcovering as a Biblical command. I’ve never liked shellfish or pork.

“You don’t do it for any religious reason.”

“Well…”

“Eating pork or not eating pork is just being legalistic.”

“It could also be polite. We’re told not to eat certain things if it might cause a brother or sister to stumble. I go to a church with lots of ex-Adventists and some Messianic Jews. It wouldn’t do to eat pork or shellfish around them because it would be something really quite awful for them.”

“You can’t worry about offending everyone.” That much is obvious in the way you’re approaching this conversation. “Years ago, people would be offending by wearing jeans to church. That was awful for them. Or kicking a ball on Sunday. That’s just legalism.”

Banging my head against a brick wall. Let’s just wind up the conversation.

“Look, I go to a church where we worship on Saturday. We have debates all the time about what to do, what not to do. But if someone starts saying, ‘You can’t travel on Sabbath, you can’t work or shop on Sabbath, you shouldn’t do this or that on Sabbath’, then the others cry ‘Legalism!’. They say, ‘We worship on Saturday because it’s the day God sanctified. So we set it aside to worship God. We’re not under the Mosaic law, so we don’t worry about whether we work or not, as long as what we’re doing is to the glory of God’. But then here, you know, at church, whether to work or travel or shop is legalism. Here, people have Shabbat lift and Shabbat lights and that really is legalism.”

“Yes, I agree.”

“Well, I think it’s about time for dessert.”

For all that can be said about kashrut, and how it’s from the Talmud and not the Torah, I really do love kosher dinners. There’s something delightfully freeing about being able to walk into a buffet and know that you can eat everything there. I’m hating breakfasts, because there’s usually only one or two things that I can actually eat. Breakfasts are cheleviy – milky. Dinners are basariy – meaty. Chommus is pareveh – harmless.

But I was quite upset by the whole conversation. I haven’t really conveyed it well here, or written everything down. Both our points of view are founded in Scripture, so I can’t refute her references, but rather provide different ones of my own. The trouble with taking the minority opinion on things is that you’ve got to be content with just representing your opinion to the best of your ability, and then taking all the flack of others saying you’re wrong without having the space to say the same of them.

But what I really found hard to digest about the whole thing was that this woman goes to one of the most legalistic churches in Adelaide. Oh, I know it’s a bit more liberal now, but I know people who went to this church at its height, twenty years ago (and I know for a fact that she was at that church back then, and I’m pretty sure she was raised in it, too), and in those days, there were church rules against drinking and dancing and all sorts – what Biblical basis is there for that?

Oh, sure, I understand the no-drinking thing. Staying sober and having self-control certainly is a command we’re given in the New Testament. But to use Ribena for communion? That’s not Biblical. People in the Bible drink wine. And need I mention Miriam and her dancing?

So it’s all right for this woman to be legalistic about what she wants – legalistic about things which don’t really have a Biblical foundation – but it’s not okay for me to say I don’t want to eat pork, or blood, or shellfish, or that really, given the option, I’d rather go to church and pray on Saturday rather than go out sightseeing and potentially spend money on non-God-glorifying things as well?

I can see her point about how Christians aren’t really beholden to kashrut, or can eat whatever meat we want, or don’t have to worry about pressing a button on a lift on the Sabbath. But it just seems to me that what she’s saying and what she’s doing are two completely different things. And that’s what’s really getting to me. Because she’s judging me for what I do and for me being too legalistic – but last week when we had actual wine for the kiddush, I sipped it and she went off to find the non-alcoholic alternative.

 

Quick Devo – Herodium

1 Samuel 16:1-13

When we had to choose which sites we wanted to prepare studies for, I looked through this tour book to pick the ones which looked interesting. There isn’t much to be said about the Herodium and I can’t find any literature which gives me relevant Bible verses for it, either. This book says:

“Within viewing distance of Bethlehem stands the Herodium, one of Herod the Great’s palaces-slash-fortresses that became his place of burial. It is ironic that the ‘king by might’ was buried just a short distance from the birthplace of the ‘King by Right’.”

It then goes on for a few more lines, talking about what you can see from here – I don’t need to read that out, you can see it for yourselves – before adding, almost as an afterthought, about the view to the east,

“This is the wilderness in which David shepherded his flocks as a boy.”

Now, I get that Jesus is sort of more important than David, but surely David is too important to leave as the throwaway line at the end of the description! The author of the book – I don’t know which one it was that wrote the entry for Herodium – talks about Herod, the ‘king by might’, and Jesus, the ‘king by right’, but he seems almost to have forgotten about another king – perhaps the most famous human king in the Bible – David.

It fascinates me to think that David might have been standing right here when Jesse came for him and said “The Judge is in the town and wants to see you.” I can’t find how old David was then – I’ve found various sources which give any age between ten and twenty-five – but I’ve always pictured him as a young lad looking after the sheep. We have some sort of communal sheep in my street and their primary caregiver is a twelve-year-old boy.

We read this story in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel, fresh from hacking someone to pieces at the end of chapter 15, arrives in Bethlehem, and the people there are unsurprisingly scared about letting him in and what his presence might mean. But Samuel didn’t come to hack anyone else to pieces – and I use that phrase because that’s how it’s translated here – but to anoint someone from the town as king.

But Samuel, being only human, is looking externally. Jesse’s oldest seven sons are there, and when Samuel looks at the oldest, he’s sure he’s the one God sent him to find. But God had other ideas, as God often does. It isn’t until Samuel’s already met all seven sons that he finds out there’s another one, too young and possibly too smelly – don’t laugh, sheep do smell, as you found out on the way here – to meet the Judge of Israel. And guess who was the one God had chosen?

About a thousand years later, nothing had changed. As we’ve found out already on this trip, Herod was born into a fairly wealthy family with high-ranking connections. It’s probably no real surprise that he ended up essentially ruling this entire region, appointed as King by the Roman Senate. Meanwhile, no-one would really have thought much of a baby born to a carpenter from another town. But guess which one God had sent?

You don’t have to. I’m sure you all know this.

But it’s something to think about. It’s a little overwhelming to think about everything that’s happened here. I’ve no doubt the Herodium itself is a remarkable place. How much effort does it take to build a mountain? Nothing we’ve seen of Herod’s has been understated. It’s all been quite remarkable. But God doesn’t work with the remarkable in the world. He works with the humble and the nothings. He works with lads who spend their days with sheep and with babies born to carpenters.

14 - Palace

The Fifth Day – Staying Home (Jerusalem)

I slept soundly last night, a solid nine hours until I was woken by the wake-up call.

I couldn’t detect much swelling on my foot, and the rest overnight certainly helped. Moving very slowly, I was finally ready to head down for breakfast. I’m a bit cold-y and queasy, so I was planning to just have a cup of tea.

When I got down to the dining room, the leader of the group cornered me to tell me off for not saying anything about my foot last night. “You shouldn’t tell everyone in Australia before you’ve told us!”

I thought I hadn’t done much damage to it last night! I mentioned it to the group member helping me on the wall when I did it – “Ow, I just landed a bit funny” – but by the time lunch was over, I’d gone pretty numb. The temperature dropped dramatically over lunch – it even hailed for a few minutes – so that probably contributed. I knew it hurt a little after I’d rested for a bit before dinner, but I didn’t realise just how much it hurt until I was ready for bed.

It’s not like it’s broken or anything. It’s not even bruised.

And I did ask to miss some of the walking today. Just because I didn’t specify why!

Although, as it turns out, it’s not possible to just miss the tunnel walks this morning; I’d either have to go on the bus and wait, or miss the whole day. Since the group leader had already told me off for not ice-packing my foot last night, and I was pretty close to tears by this stage (no doubt in part due to the fact that I’m still exhausted – I’m not tired, really, anymore, but still exhausted), I decided to stay at the hotel today.

“After all,” I said something along the lines of, “For a tunnel and two fake things, it’s probably best to stay and rest for other things the rest of the week.”

“Don’t say ‘fake things’!” I was admonished. “That’s very offensive!”

The Upper Room is a traditional site, so I concede it’s probably not fake. A lot of these traditional sites, I’m sure I’d rather enjoy, were it not for being with a group of Pentecostal-Baptists who generally scorn anything involving Catholic/Orthodox tradition, with a tour guide who makes no secret of his opinions on anything.

But the other thing this afternoon is the Garden Tomb, and we already had a long diatribe a few days ago from our fearless guide about how it’s a very recent tradition, it gives you an idea of how it would have looked but it’s mostly wishful thinking, and so on, and so forth.

“It’s very offensive to many of our group members! They’re not fake!”

“I’m sure they’re not,” I allowed, “And I’m sure if I were less tired and sick, I’d be less offensive.” Right then, I didn’t care. Also I was trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t miss too much by staying home for the day.

“It’s like that conversation the other day; you’re being a bit judgemental.”

Remember that conversation that messed me up all night? Yeah, apparently it was about me being a bit too judgemental. That’s not how I recall it. Maybe everyone’s just hearing me wrong to how I intend it. The other night, I’d commented on how the tables of Korean Catholic tourists were praying before dinner, and how we hadn’t prayed over our meals the entire trip.

“Well, that’s your responsibility!” I was told harshly then. “You can’t blame anyone but yourself for not praying!”

“I have been saying grace to myself,” I insisted. “I just thought it odd that on a Christian tour, we haven’t been saying grace, that’s all. I miss it.”

“How do you know we haven’t been saying grace?” one asked, and another added, “Our knees are raw from praying!”

In an attempt at levity, I scoffed and said, “Yeah, because Baptists are known for praying on their knees.” (That’s sarcasm, by the way).

I have no idea how we got from there to me trying to defend my Anglican church and the Anglican tradition (“we’re up and down throughout the service”), and then I was accused of saying people from other churches were wrong.

“I don’t think other churches are wrong. I consider myself anti-denominational. There are lots of traditions among Christian churches, and I think each tradition has merit. There’s nothing wrong with the various traditions, they’re just different expressions of faith and different ways of doing things.” (Also, you know, we’re commanded throughout the epistles to “keep the traditions as they were taught to us”. I have a much better time accepting a tradition more than a thousand years old than I do one that started a few hundred years ago).

How anyone could think I’m judgemental of other denominations is beyond me. I grew up non-denominational, I’ve spent formative years of my life in Baptist, Pentecostal, and low-church Anglican churches, I’ve visited Lutheran and Adventist churches, I have good friends who are Catholic, and I’m currently splitting my weekends between a traditional Anglican church and the Church of God Seventh Day.

“Although,” I couldn’t help bur point out at the time, “I’ve noticed some people at college can be very judgemental about other denominations.” It’s been a major sticking point of mine last year – one of the lecturers actually said that we shouldn’t visit other denominations in case we ‘get confused’!!!

“We shouldn’t talk about denominations,” I was told, “We should just say whether people are Christian or not Christian?”

“So you’re saying we should pass judgement on whether other people are Christian or not? How is that any different?”

Even if I’m anti-denominational, I have no problem with other people choosing to identify with one church tradition or another. But honestly, it’s one thing to observe people’s behaviour and deduce from the fact that they’re praying both before and after the meal and crossing themselves that they’re Catholic; it’s another thing completely to look at someone and say whether they’re Christian or not.

“Would you say they’re Christian?” I asked, gesturing to the Catholics.

“That’s not for us to judge.”

“It’s just that I’ve known lot’s of people from the Baptist tradition who will say right-out that Catholics aren’t Christians.”

This Christian/not-Christian thing has been a recurring theme on the trip. Yuval stated boldly the other day that he doesn’t always believe someone when they tell him they’re a Christian. “Maybe if they say they are a Believer, or a follower of Yeshua, then I will believe that they are Christian.”

Right. So I tell people, “I’m a Christian,” but he wouldn’t believe me? It’s not like I’ll go around saying “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m an Anglican”. I might say “I’m a Christian and a worship at an Anglican church at the moment”, but I’ll always identify myself first as “a Christian”.

But, according to Yuval, that’s not good enough. He doesn’t trust people’s self-identification as Christians. They’re Ethiopian Orthodox, maybe, they’ll identify themselves as Christians, but he’s not going to believe them. How can he make that decision? If someone tells me they’re a Christian, then they believe in God and follow Jesus, and I’m going to assume that’s true until it’s proved otherwise, because they’ve told me that.

“I’m a Believer,” he wants me to say. Right. A believer in what? That Jesus is God? Satan believes that! A “Christian” is someone who follows and strives to emulate Christ – it’s in the name. I may be a Believer, but I’m a Christian more to the point.

But anyway, back to this morning. I concede I was a bit harsh in calling the Upper Room and the Garden Tomb “fake”, but in all fairness, I’m sure Yuval’s going to call them that not in so few words. He can be quite emphatic about places he doesn’t think are genuine. I was trying to hold back tears from the dressing-down and just wanted to get out of the conversation at that point.

So, yeah, maybe I should have told someone about my foot last night. But I didn’t realise it was quite so bad – and it’s not like it was very bad – and it doesn’t do to complain, anyway, particularly when no-one else seems to be having any trouble. I know I’m overweight and not as fit as the rest of them, and I don’t want to seem like the stereotypical unfit fat person. I’ve conceded enough weariness on this trip – I missed climbing Mount Arbel and Tel Dan last week – I don’t want to be a burden.

Not to mention, as I said, I didn’t realise how much my foot hurt until literally when I was typing up the last post right before going to sleep last night. When I got back, I was aching all over from exhaustion and just wanted to take care of that first. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get out of some things today. Would I have tried to miss out on half a day’s sightseeing for no reason?

On a completely different topic, it seems the Great Synagogue trip was overrated because the ushers wouldn’t let them in at all, so they walked for five minutes there and back for five minutes of standing at the door peering in.

So, after finishing my tea and asking for a bag of ice from Nader (who ticks our room numbers off as we go into the dining room), I’m back up in my room elevating my foot. I expect room service will be around sometime soon, although I’ll just ask them to deal with the bathroom (all our towels are wet).

I don’t mean to imply in these posts that the whole trip has been bad. It hasn’t. I can see how it might seem that way, since I’m usually pretty tired at the end of the day, and I tend to state the negative and leave the positive to speak for itself. (I’m trying to work on that). I’ve really enjoyed a lot of things (although there are many I think I’d have enjoyed a bit more with a bit more time and walking a bit slower).

But please, please, if you get worried about me from something I’ve said in the posts, please don’t start contacting the group leaders to tell them off! I just can’t deal with the headache of being pulled aside and told off for telling people in Australia about my problems; about being told that she’s got texts telling her things that I, per the rules laid down at the beginning of the trip, should have told her first. You may have all day overnight; I might plan to say something first thing in the morning but by the time I get down to breakfast, the message has already got through the wrong channels and then I’m in trouble.

And I’m sure it’s not meant to come across like a telling off. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to; it’s not like we’re in school.” Yeah, but it seems like that. Maybe it’s because I’m immature; maybe it’s because I’m recently out of school; maybe it for who-knows-what, but it seems like we don’t get much choice in a lot. Yeah, maybe they say we do, but when it comes down to it, we get frowned at when we try to sit out of things without giving a good reason (“utter exhaustion” is not a good reason), and maybe it’s because he’s not the best with English but Yuval always comes across a little judgemental and condescending if you ask out of something.

I’m getting off-track, and I should definitely stop complaining now. I’m sure everything will seem nowhere near as bad after I’ve slept a little more. I so wanted to enjoy this trip, and see everything I could – and I have enjoyed it, for the most part. But I’m not as up for everything as some of the others in the group are. I can’t keep the pace they do. I can’t take the noise they can. I spent ten hours a day with twenty-five people, I can’t face games with them in the evenings when all I want to do is process the day and go to sleep.

I can’t believe the trip is almost over. I want to stay for longer and see more. I want to go back to some of the places and see them again. There’s so much here, and the prices of everything aside, it’s a good country to be in.

But, on the other hand, I’m glad the trip’s almost over, because I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s a relentless pace – it has to be, I suppose, to see everything. And we’re a more leisurely trip than most! I can’t imagine that. And trying to get on with twenty-five people is wearing on me, too. It’s easier with some than others, and I think sometimes I just take things the wrong way.

So please, no more texting when you’re concerned about me. I’ll be fine. I can handle it. It’s not all bad.

(Even if, right now, I feel like having a good cry and going back to sleep).