Steve Lunetta: Tourist traps, testaments, of Israel

Steve Lunetta: Right About Now
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We saw many places of historical and spiritual significance on our recent trip to Israel. Three of the largest faiths on our planet have holy sites scattered throughout Israel. As you can imagine, this creates significant headaches.

For example, let’s take a Muslim holy site, the Dome of the Rock, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Built by the Muslims after the Romans faded, it is the supposed place where the prophet Mohammed went to heaven and where Abraham tried to sacrifice his son.

Also, the Temple Mount is where Solomon built the first Jewish Temple, and it was the central point of worship until the Romans tore it down in 70 A.D. (or C.E. for you politically correct history buffs).

Can you see any problems with this? Both Muslims and Jews consider this area sacred.

The Muslims currently control the Temple Mount but the Jews already have plans to build the next temple there. They have even cast a large golden menorah for the day the new temple is built. This is going to be a mess.

When we were touring, I tended to lump the sites into one of two categories. The first I would call “Jesus Slept Here” sites. You know what I mean. Places that were thinly veiled tourist traps. Granted, they may be centuries-old tourist traps but still traps.

Take the “Church of All Nations” located next to the Garden of Gethsemane. This depressing church was built in the 1920s and carries the national symbols of the countries that helped build it.

Yep. You can see the United States’ bald eagle symbol on one of the domes – no joke. If we looked hard enough, I bet we’d find that the pews were sponsored by Monsanto, the windows by Ford, and the carpets by Kraft macaroni and cheese.

The Church of St. Annes in Jerusalem also fit this category for me. This church has great acoustics for singing. It was designed by Gregorian monks for chanting and would rival any Hollywood sound studio.

It also survived Saladin’s conquest in the 1100s because it is rumored that the Arabic writing above the front door was mistaken as homage to Islam. Beyond this, I didn’t see much spiritual value here.

The best item on this list was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed location of Christ’s tomb. Gaudy does not begin to describe this place. Gold, red velvet, and immense ornamentation were everywhere. Doesn’t really fit with a poor Jewish carpenter.

There is a ladder that hangs from a window onto a narrow parapet about 30 feet above the front door. A couple of hundred years ago, the Armenians were not allowed to use the front door so they had to climb down the ladder and lower a rope to the street to get their lunch basket.

Of course, this foolishness was stopped and the Armenians were allowed to use the front door. However, the Armenians refused to remove the ladder to remind the other groups of their pettiness. And in doing so, illustrated their own.

The Church is controlled by six Christian groups who war continually with each other. It got so bad that in 1187, a Muslim family was entrusted with the keys to bring peace and order. This same family holds the keys to this day.

All because Christians can’t get along. Sorry. You can keep this place and all of its problems.

The second category I would call the “legit sites.” These were locations that were logical, traceable and substantial. They also have real spiritual significance.

By the Sea of Galilee is a recent archeological dig at Magdala unearthed about eight years ago. There researchers found an actual first century synagogue that Jesus most likely attended. They also found the bema seat where Jesus may have preached.

There are intricate inlaid tile pathways around the synagogue. Unravaged by time, it offers a glimpse of what this ancient place may have looked like in Christ’s day. Legit.

The site that I deem most meaningful is the Garden Tomb located right next to Golgotha (the Skull), the place where Jesus was reported to be crucified.

You can still see the skull today, even though it sits right above an Arab bus yard and the trash is mounding up to reach it. But the skull is still there.

Many believe this to be the final resting place for Christ – not the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The tomb is simply a rock cutout very close to where Christ was most likely crucified. It is consistent with a rich man’s tomb (Joseph of Arimethea) and fits most of the biblical descriptions.

Because of its simplicity, I choose to believe that this is the site. No gaudy distractions, no unmovable ladders, no ludicrous political problems. Just the simple truth that the tomb is empty.

The simple core of the Christian faith. The tomb is empty. He died and rose again.

In the end, we either choose to believe or not. I, for one, have seen the evidence and choose to accept that Jesus Christ lived and died exactly as recounted in the Bible. How about you?

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and has decided to build a tourist trap. Hey, in 1000 years it could have historical significance! He can be reached at [email protected].

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