The beauty and wonder of The Mount of OlivesBy: C4i

 

One of the most glorious places on Earth, the Mount of Olives is a special site in a land known for landmarks and history. It is a direct connection to the life of Jesus and his ascension into Heaven. As a Christian, it is one of the most impactful and spirituality engrossing locations on the planet.

Also known as Mount Olivet, the Mount of Olives does not refer to one specific location, but a larger mountain range with three separate peaks. The ridge runs approximately 3.5 kilometers across, which makes sense for the number of times it is referenced in the bible as a key route from Jerusalem to Bethany. According to the Bible, Jesus wept for Jerusalem from one of these peaks and indeed even today the mountain offers a suburb view over the ancient city. The mount runs down into the Kidron Valley where the Dome of the Rock is located, overlooking a massive area of land.

Dotted across the ridge are a variety of incredible holy sites and places of worship. Over half a dozen churches, many of which celebrate specific periods of Jesus’ life, can be found spread across the Mount, but that is only a start. 

The Mount of Olives is also home to the Garden of Gethsemane, a site Jesus and his disciples visited many times and where Jesus was betrayed by Judas. This is where Jesus prayed to his Father in distress before being taken away for crucifixion. It cannot be overstated how important this site is to the Christian faith and how remarkable it is that we can still stand here millennia later and feel a connection to Christ on Earth. 

While there, you can also see The Church of All Nations. This Catholic church enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest and contains olive trees that date back to the time of Jesus. It’s an incredible piece of history still with us today. 
Also along the foothills of the Mount is the Tomb of Zechariah. This austere tomb is carved out of solid rock. This monument (there is no actual burial chamber to speak of) commemorates the priest Zechariah referenced in Chronicles in the Old Testament – 
And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord – Chronicles 24:20-21

And of course, there is the Church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian orthodox church of astounding beauty. The majesty of its golden domes is a sight to behold. It is also an active church, with more than 30 nuns living and practicing in it today.
 
 

This is all without even mentioning the Mount’s importance as a sacred burial place. The Mount has functioned as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3000 years. Thousands of graves dot different areas of the Mount, including many historical Jewish kings, priests, and prophets. While modern conflicts have disturbed the graves before, there are still new burials on the Mount today. To avoid the mistakes and losses of the past, Israel has embarked in a process of digital preservation, documenting and recording the graves spread throughout the mountain so that every name and site will be remembered. 

This incredible area of history is open and free to all. There are no passes needed, no fees to pay, though a guided tour may be a good idea if you’re looking to get the most out of your time on the Mountain. If you’re already in Jerusalem it is so close you would be doing yourself a disservice not to go and see and experience this special place yourself!
[Comment]

Children in Jerusalem learn to confront the strange with the MifletzetBy: C4i

It’s a hunched beast the size of a small home. With a spotted hide like a melting cow, it menacingly leans over its territory, fixing its eyes on all who pass. Those eyes, one bulbous and all black, the other concave and bloodshot, the kind of gaze you instinctively don’t want to match, the kind you can’t hold for very long. And it’s mouth, it’s terrible, massive mouth. Three long slovenly tongues loll out of that mouth, bright red and hungry, razzing the entire world. 

What is this beast? Some ancient creature of antiquity? Some monster dreamt up in a special effect lab? No, it’s only the Milfetzet, a beloved piece of children’s park equipment!

The Rabinovich Park in Kiryat HaYovel Jerusalem is where the Milfetzet calls home. How it came to be is an interesting story with a distinctly Israeli twist. The idea for the Milfetzet was famed sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle’s. Saint Phalle’s work is characterized by bright colours, abstract shapes, and sometimes confronting images. It is no surprise then that when she initially approached the Jerusalem Parks Commission, it did not go over well. Originally conceptualized as a Golem from Jewish folklore, the idea was to install a piece of art into a park that could also be used as a play apparatus by children. Rather than the typical swings and slides featured in any park, the idea was to integrate art, play, and history into one large piece of equipment in a bold and unique way. While the commission could not be swayed, Saint Phalle found a surprising ally to assist her.

Mayor Teddy Kollek went to bat for the piece. Teddy, a former special intelligence agent who coordinated with MI6 during World War 2 to support Jewish partisans and Israel’s nascent military was an immensely popular mayor, elected five times over the course of his political career. He was a community builder with an eye for tradition and Israeli culture saying of Jerusalem "I think Jerusalem is the one essential element in Jewish history. A body can live without an arm or a leg, not without the heart. This is the heart and soul of it.” But he also had a soft spot for the odd, the interesting, and the strange. He was a man who saw value in both tradition and experimentation at once, doing much over his tenure to help build the Jerusalem we all know and recognize while also quietly taking other odd projects such as Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo (once ran out of a private home, now a national place of pride) under his wing.

Teddy backed up Saint Phalle’s justification for the Mifletzet, that it was important for children to be able to confront and adapt to the strange and grotesque in a safe way. By adding such a bizarre and even frightening piece to an ordinary park, it would allow children to process and deal with the imagery at their own pace. The idea was that children would slowly learn to understand the equipment and it would turn from an unsettling sight into a welcoming one. With Teddy’s backing, the Commission re-evaluated the piece and eventually approved it in 1971.

It turned out that Saint Phalle and Teddy’s predictions about how the piece would be received were more on the nose than they even thought. The "monster” instantly became a beloved element of the neighbourhood. Fondly enjoyed by children and treated as a whimsical and unique landmark by adults, Kiryat HaYovel embraced the strange creature as a kind of unofficial mascot of the neighbourhood. When a light rail expansion threatened the Mifletzet, a wave of successful petitions were circulated to save it, and a nearby co-op pub and community center has adopted its name and likeness. Truly, the monster is part of the town. 

The Milfetzet has enjoyed decades of local celebrity and multiple generations have grown up sliding down its many tongues and climbing its sloped back. And Teddy Kollek? He retired to Kiryat HaYovel living within a stone’s throw of the monster he championed so long ago until his death in 2007.
[Comment]

Explore the Biblical Museum of Beit Shemesh!By: C4i

Located in the industrial city of Beit Shemesh, you might be forgiven for not noticing the Biblical Museum of Natural History. After all, it doesn’t look much like a museum from the outside. In fact, it looks more like a warehouse than anything. But there is a reason for that - the museum needs warehouse sized space for all the wonders stored inside!

The Biblical Museum of Natural history is exactly what it sounds like, a one of a kind mix of Biblical study and zoology. Like a museum, it has static exhibits that aim to educate and inform, including artifacts, pieces of art, and taxidermied animals. But it is also a living zoo! Live animals great and small have a home in the museum and children and adults alike are encouraged to come, see them, and learn about both their place in the environment and in biblical history. 

The museum is the brainchild of Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Slifkin’s theory is that today’s world frequently places barriers between people and the natural world. Our lives are increasingly mediated through technology and abstraction while nature recedes into the background. Conversely, in biblical times nature was a direct and constant part of everyday life! 

When we read the Biblical passages that refer to encounters with animals and elements of the natural world, it’s hard for us to truly understand what those encounters were really like. The object of the Museum is to provide context for those passages. To create a better platform to understand the Bible and a greater appreciation for the world God has made for us.

Many of the exhibits and animals featured might surprise you. Sure, you might be expecting to see some camels and maybe some sheep in an Israeli zoo. Afterall, those are the kinds of animals one pictures when thinking about the area. But what about a full-sized elephant? Or maybe a lion?! That’s right, while we might associate those animals with the African veldt or Sahara, those are also animals that could be found in Israel during the time of the scriptures as well!

Visitors at the museum are directed through the exhibits on guided tours (English or Hebrew). After a brief introductory presentation, visitors are given a hands-on learning experience with taxidermy and anatomical samples such as skulls, bones, and horns, including what Slifkin claims is one of the worlds largest collections of shofars. These shaped horns are an essential part of the Jewish faith and a cultural icon of Israel. Even today, holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are noted by the loud blowing of these horns.

From there, other exhibits featuring the "wonders of the world” (exotic, strange, and beautiful animals), predators famously portrayed in the Bible such as hyenas and cheetahs, and of course, an extensive look at reptiles. The most intimidating subject of which is a real live python inspired by the Garden of Eden. Visitors are encouraged to touch and (if they be so brave) wear the python like a shawl!

Of course, the tour doesn’t end on such a potentially frightening note. There is also a petting zoo area featuring the cuddlier animals mentioned in the Bible such as rabbits, lambs, and chickens.  The goal is that by the end of the tour, the animals of the Bible will no longer be abstractions or curiosities to the visitors, but real, living and breathing things - a direct connection to what is depicted in scripture. It’s a worthy goal and a truly delightful surprise to check out in Beit Shemesh!
[Comment]

We need to be the ones who stopBy: C4i

The Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ most striking and effective parables. It’s a story you can tell a child and it will be instantly understood. It works because it is so simple, so direct. It’s a story you can sum up in a few sentences and still be struck by the moral clarity of it.

One day while traveling the road to Jerusalem, a man is assaulted and robbed. His money is stolen and he’s left beaten and near death, unable to move or help himself. Along comes another man, a priest. He sees the man lying in the road and quickly decides he doesn’t want to get involved, so he passes by on the other side of the road. Soon a Levite stumbles on the man and makes the same decision. Then, at last, a Samaritan (a person who would have been abhorred and hated by the dominant powers of the time) finds him. He is moved with compassion for the beaten man. He stops what he is doing, cleans and dresses the man’s wounds, puts him on his animal, and goes out of his way and spends his own money to take the man to an inn where he can heal. 

The lesson here isn’t difficult to discern. Of the three passers-by to stumble across the wounded man, who treated him like a neighbour? Which one of these men acted in accordance to God’s will for us and which of them abandoned their responsibility and turned their back on God in the process? Is a person’s worth or moral standing determined by their titles and positions, or by what they will do when nobody else is watching? Again, even a child knows these answers, the Samaritan is the good guy here. 

So why is it so hard for us to live up to this expectation?

How many of us have passed by someone who was in need? Not just someone lying beaten and robbed, or homeless and panhandling. How many of us have known of someone who was hurting, who we have seen is having real trouble with something and our response has been to not get involved? I’d reckon all of us have at one time or another. For most of us, we’ve probably done it more times than we care to admit.

It’s not always because we don’t care, or don’t want to help. There are an endless number of justifications and rationales, some better than others, we use to excuse us from this fundamental responsibility. Sometimes we feel it’s not our place, that "there are institutions or programs for that.” Sometimes we’re hurting ourselves and don’t feel like we can spare the time or effort to help someone else. Sometimes we don’t feel like we’re even capable of doing anything, especially when problems seem large and unassailable. 

But we have to. As Christians, we have to be the ones who stop. We don’t get the luxury of ignoring the suffering of our fellow man. We can’t just pass-by on the other side of the road. We have to stop and do what we can to mend, help, and protect those in need. 

Consider the Samaritan himself. In the original context of the parable, Samaritans were considered an underclass, an unwanted people who often found themselves on the receiving end of prejudicial treatment. Most Samaritans at the time didn’t have enough to pay for their own needs, let alone extra money to go put a stranger up in an inn. 

They were often targets for robbery themselves, or even worse, the potential scapegoat for a robbery. How easy would it have been for the authorities of the time to see a Samaritan carrying a beaten and bloody Israelite on his animal and assume the worst? Helping the man lying in the road was not some trivial matter of basic decency for the Samaritan, it was a sacrifice. He had to go out of his way from his journey, give up his own comfort and safety, and spend his own money that he may or may not have been able to afford.

And for what? To help a stranger who, if the shoe was on the other foot, probably wouldn’t have helped him? A stranger who helping was unlikely to earn him any distinction in his own community (why waste time saving someone that probably hates your people) and may even be risky to help. There was no personal benefit to be gained by helping, no angle or reward. In fact, he lost quite a bit helping the man and could have lost even more. But he still did it. 

When we look at that example, our justifications for looking the other way in our own lives seem pretty thin, don’t they? 

If we want to live our lives as Christians who follow the word of the Lord, we have to be the Samaritan in this story. We need to replace fear with compassion, self-interest with love, and convenience with justice. We have to stop, bend down, and help whoever we can, whenever we can. 
[Comment]

Celebrating Israeli Icons: Amos NachoumBy: C4i

 

"I don’t have a death wish”

This is Amos Nachoum’s refrain whenever he’s asked about his work. The answer to the immediate question that is posed in every interview, every meeting, and every casual chat with a new acquaintance. To be fair, it’s an honest question. After all, there are plenty of nature photographers out there, but how many make it their life’s work to document the largest and most aggressive of "dangerous animals”? Many photographers have taken photographs of polar bears, but how many have made it their mission to take a photo of one while swimming beside it? In this, Amos Nachoum stands alone, a man driven by a singular passion.

Nachoum himself would object to being called a photographer of "dangerous animals.” He much prefers to think of himself as a "big animal ambassador.” He has dedicated his more than 35-year career as a photographer to filming large predators in an effort to dispel myths about these animals and find the beauty behind the claws and fangs. He is driven by a belief that man can live in balance with nature, even the most savage of wildlife. 

It’s a belief he has staked his life on again and again. From close calls with the crocodiles of the Nile river, to the jaws of Greenland’s sharks, Nachoum has traveled the globe several times over in his quest to bring nature into the homes and imaginations of people all over the world. He has worked on commission for National Geographic, leading teams into the depths of the Red Sea.  He’s photo-logged the great whites of the Mediterranean, and even swam with killer whales. Nachoum has been nose-to-nose with some of the most impressive creatures to ever live beneath the waves.

What propels this Jaffa born photographer to such lengths is a mystery. A man of careful and considered speech, Nachoum prefers to let his work speak for itself. But for as aloof as he likes to appear, there must be something that drives him, some fascination that keeps him coming back to the ocean. Dangerous waters have been a theme for Nachoum his entire life. When he was five he drowned off the coast of Jaffa, an event he has no memory of. He remembers running along the beach with three of his friends, getting into the water, and then being resuscitated by a lifeguard. Maybe that early brush with death never quite let go.
 

Of maybe it was his service in the military. Nachoum’s first career choice wasn’t photography. After high school, he served in the IDF’s Sayeret Shaked unit, a special forces group, during the Yom Kippur war. It’s a time in his life he rarely will discuss. All these years later, he still carries around a piece of shrapnel in his head from a wound sustained during his time with the unit, and the memories of friends who were not so lucky to walk away. But Nachoum doesn’t dwell on such matters, at least not publicly. Instead he prefers to talk about the other thing he carried out of his service – a passion for photography.

Nachoum stumbled into becoming a war photographer, first treating it as a hobby. An extension on his boyhood obsession with his father’s old camera equipment and something to do during his downtime during service. But soon the images he captured spoke to something else. He quickly found he had an eye for capturing the confusion and chaos of a conflict, the emotional core of those caught in a battle. It was a gift.

After leaving the military, Nachoum worked professionally as a war photographer for the Associated Press. While he excelled at the work, it soon burned him out. He had enough of fire and blood and wanted something more in life. Feeling like he had nothing in particular to lose, he traveled to the US hoping to take film studies in New York. As an immigrant who barely spoke English, Nachoum picked up a night job as a cabbie.

This was 1980, perhaps the peak of the NYU’s film studies program. That year the course had three teachers - Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Francis Coppola. It was an incredibly competitive program where students had to apply, show a portfolio of their work, and be interviewed for acceptance. Nachoum was one of only 35 accepted students of the hundreds who applied that year.

But unfortunately, it was not meant to be. There was no way for a new immigrant who spent the past few years photographing war zones on a freelance basis to make the tuition prices. Instead, he embarked on another journey, the one that would define his professional career. 

Nachoum went home to Israel and began dive tours of the Red Sea, promoted with his photography. It was here where he got the attention of National Geographic, and where he developed his taste for getting up close and personal with large animals. Every year would bring a new tour, a new destination, a new brush with death. Anacondas, orcas, sharks, he had done it all.

But there was always one photograph he longed to take. One he had nearly been killed trying to take before. One of a polar bear swimming underwater. But not one taken with a telephoto lens, or a remote camera. One taken right next to the bear, in its natural habitat and glory.
It is this obsession that is the focus of a new film documentary about Nachoum, Picture of His Life, a bio-pic detailing a five-day expedition in the Canadian arctic seeking that particular, death defying shot. 
 


Throughout the movie, you see different facets of Nachoum’s personality, from the fierce technician capable of getting shots no other photographer on the planet is able to get, to the philosopher bursting with love for his homeland and the planet at large. It is a movie that is as much about getting a new perspective on large predatory animals as it is trying to understand a complicated and nuanced individual. 
[Comment]

Patmos - where John received his RevelationBy: C4i

 
Beautiful white sand beaches. Rolling hills that stretch all along the coast. Pristine sparkling swimming coves. The island of Patmos looks every bit the part of a Greek paradise. The kind of place to just lose yourself in, breathing in the slightly salty breeze, allowing your cares to melt away. 
It’s ironic that this idyllic island slice of bliss was where the Apostle John was given his vision of the end of the world.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, John never stopped. He continued the good work of spreading the word of Christ in a land where persecution ran rampant. He played a critical role in the early church, helping to establish the places of worship that would keep Jesus’ message alive. Unfortunately, his luck couldn’t last forever, and eventually John was arrested by the Romans. His sentence was the ejection from his home and separation from his flock. Rather than kill him, the Romans banished him to remote place. A place without civilization or the hope of returning home. He was banished to Patmos.

John is distinct from the other Apostles in a few ways. He was Jesus’ favorite Apostle "the disciple beloved of Jesus” who leaned on him during the Last Supper. John along with Peter were the first disciples Jesus appeared to after the resurrection. Out of all the Apostles, John was the only one to escape martyrdom, to live a long life and die of natural causes. It was in Patmos, in his old age when he would receive his visions, and the fisherman who became a disciple would become a prophesier.

Think about that life, that moment. Here was John, old and frail. A man who had witnessed countless miracles, including the greatest miracle of them all. A man who has seen all his friends martyred, killed for their shared beliefs. Who now, in his advanced age, is uprooted from his home, his church, and his people, and forced to live in what was essentially an island penal colony. It was designed as a place to die, a dumping ground for troublemakers the Roman Empire didn’t want to deal with. 

This was it, the end. What more could there be? He had seen the highest highs and the lowest lows of the human experience, nothing left but to live out his remaining days, right? But then one day while on a mountain path, John hears something. Something strange. A swelling of trumpets behind him. It’s a heavenly host. 

Then he hears the voice of Jesus, telling him the future of things. What is to come, and how it will all end. And with that, John has new purpose, new life. He has to transcribe these things. He has to share this immense, profound gift with the world. He has spent his entire adult life preaching the word of Jesus, and now he has one final message to convey. How amazingly beautiful!

It was in what we now call the Cave of the Apocalypse where John received his visions and wrote the last book of the bible, Revelation. That location still exists today, about halfway up the mountain of Patmos, along the road between the villages of Chora and Skala. It is a remote spot in a remote island. The perfect place to speak to God. 

Remoteness is still a theme of Patmos today. Even in the modern age the island retains an air of mystery and reclusiveness. There is no airport on the island. If you wish to reach it, you’ll need to travel by boat. And life on the island is a little different from what you may be used to. 

The locals are friendly and laid back but also charmingly aloof. Unlike some tourist destinations where the shops and restaurants feel like commercialized props, the people of Patmos live their lives and carry about their business without much pretention. While some islands lean into the tourism industry and start to feel like wax museums, the populace of Patmos has a much more relaxed way of thinking which lends a refreshing air of authenticity to the surroundings.

Despite the breezy attitude though, there is still a strong backbone of faith at the center of the island. Overlooking the harbor of Chora, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian still stands as the dominant building on the island. A large, almost imposing structure made of brick and stone, fashioned to resemble a castle wall with ramparts and towers - a sombre reminder of the weighty message John delivered to the world.

Our own Rev. Dr. John Tweedie will be leading a tour following the footsteps of John on the Island in 2020 where you can see the Monastery for yourself. There is no better way to connect to the powerful message conveyed to us by John and the sheer wonder of the life of Jesus’ favourite disciple than to stand where he stood and breathe the same air. Keep on eye on the site for more information on the tour in the near future!
[Comment]

We need to talk about JesusBy: C4i

How much do you talk about Jesus? Not with your family, or with your fellow church-goers, or the close Christian friends you’ve made through church groups and activities. How much do you talk about Jesus out in the world? With people who don’t already share your beliefs? Who might be hostile to them? In other words, with the people who might really need to hear about Him?

Odds are, sadly not often enough. 

Data analysis organization LifeWay Research recently released a study that casts an unfortunately bleak spotlight on modern evangelism. Entitled the "Discipleship Pathway Assessment”, the study polled thousands of Christians on questions ranging from their thoughts about the church, their goals as Christians, and their everyday behavior. While fascinating in many ways, the results show a very real disconnect in what many seem to want from their church and themselves as Christians, and what they do.
One of the most glaring areas this disconnect manifests is when it comes to outreach. While 56% of those polled said they regularly (meaning at least once a week) pray for opportunities to share the gospel with non-Christians, a scant 55% percent of respondents have actually participated in any kind of spiritual conversation with anyone outside the faith in more than "the last six months” (IE, six months at least, possibly years). 

That is a tragic figure. So many of us are praying for something we seemingly have no real intention of following through with. That alone should give us pause.

But why are people hesitant to talk about faith? What is preventing these people who seem to want to share the Good News from actually doing it? The study itself hints at a few reasons. For example, 47% of millennials polled (people born in the early 80’s to mid-90’s) "agree at least somewhat” that it is impolite to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith. It’s considered a gaffe, something you wouldn’t want to be seen doing. 

The number of people who identify as religious as a whole is on the decline in the West, and those who are religious now face increasing social pressure to "stay in their lane” as it were when it comes to sharing those beliefs. This creates a vicious cycle. People are afraid to speak up about what they believe because they don’t see anyone else doing it, creating an inescapable silence. 

But spreading the gospel is one of our most important duties as Christians. It’s what Jesus came into this world to do and why He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. In no uncertain terms, Jesus commands His followers to spread His word. From Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He makes it clear that this needs to be a priority for every Christian.

There is good reason for this emphasis on spreading the word. For starters, what greater expression of loving your neighbour could there be than letting them know about the Lord? In what way could you more positively impact another person’s life than putting them on the path to eternal salvation? For all the good works you may do in your life, they will always come in second to this most important duty. 

And it is a duty. Jesus charges us to spread his word. From James 4:17 "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” How can we know His mercy and then selfishly keep it to ourselves? That is not what God wants from us, we are meant to spread it far and wide!

Sharing the word with others isn’t just good for them, it’s good for you too. It will lead you to a fuller, more developed understanding of the gospel and your relationship with the Lord. The more you discuss the details of your faith, the more you need to understand to be able to answer questions (yes, even pointed ones) about the Bible and Jesus’ gospel, the more you will grow as a Christian as well.

It may seem like keeping your faith to yourself is the smart thing to do. To keep it on the down low, not make waves, to keep your mouth shut and not say something that will make your friends and co-workers look at you differently. And maybe that is the smart play, the shrewdest maneuver. But Jesus never asked for us to be shrewd, He asked us to love our neighbours. To be bold. To do the right thing, not the smart thing. 

We should always talk about Jesus.
[Comment]

Why are so many artifacts found by Israeli citizens?By: C4i

 
Have you ever noticed how many stories there are of incredible artifact discoveries in Israel? Reports of construction crews discovering temple remains while digging in a new foundation or fishermen pulling up ancient shields while hauling in the morning catch, that sort of thing? It’s not just a coincidence! Those kinds of discoveries happen in Israel more than any other nation on earth.

But why Israel? What makes that nation so unique in this regard? Why is history seemingly frozen in a bubble, close enough for the average person to make archeological discoveries that would jump start a career in the West? For those answers, we have to take a look at what sets Israel apart from the rest of the world.

Its history

Israel is a very small country, but one with an immense history. Obviously, the importance of its biblical history cannot be overstated. It is the land of God’s chosen people and where Jesus himself lived and walked. It is home to some of the oldest and most important centers of the Christian faith - that alone would help explain the prevalence of artifacts discovered in the nation. But, that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

You also have to consider where Israel is in the world. Located near the center of the "cradle of civilization” Israel is a country that has directly witnessed many of the most important milestones and eras of history. Flanked by powerful neighbours like Egypt and Syria, and within the reach of the Greeks and Romans, Israel has both been a center of trade and a tempting target for civilizations on the grow.

It is a nation that has seen countless battles, wars, and occupations from various other cultures and empires. And every other nation that has come to Israel to trade or conquer has left their mark. Foreign coins, razed battlegrounds, once prominent trading hubs – all of these become the fodder for discoveries today. There are over 37,000 officially recognized archeological sites in Israel, you can barely throw a stone without hitting history!

Its climate

While its history provides the opportunity of all these discoveries, it is Israel’s climate that truly provides the means to find them. This may seem like a mundane explanation, but the reason you see so many artifact discoveries in Israel is because it has a climate that can allow those discoveries to exist!

Israel is a beautiful country, but one with an arid climate and little rain fall. In countries like Canada that see heavy snowfall and rain every single year, moisture accumulates in the soil, corroding and spoiling anything left below. While a coin buried in Canadian top soil might corrode to illegibility within a few hundred years or even decades (just take a look at anything they dig up on The Curse of Oak Island), items can be plucked from Israel’s dry soil, brushed off, and often identified on the spot. 

It isn’t just the moisture content of the earth that helps Israel here, but its composition. The dry, hard soil helps keep artifacts and items near the top. While something lost in a Canadian climate will slowly worm its way down several feet below the ground over the years, items tend to rest much closer to the surface in the Holy Land. This is why weekend gardeners and students out on a field trip can sometimes unearth real treasures!

Its culture

Another major factor of why so many discoveries are made by average people is because we actually hear about them. Israeli culture celebrates the past and recognizes the value and importance it holds to its people as a whole. That’s why when someone accidentally strikes their spade against some ancient coins or a bronze age helm while digging up their garden, they don’t hold on to it and hope to privately sell it to a museum or collector for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Instead, common practice in Israel is to report the discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority for proper preservation.

It’s true that there are laws in Israel that state all discoveries should be turned over, so it would be easy to assume this was just people following the law. But similar statues exist in many other nations and are frequently flouted in the pursuit of riches. In Israel, it isn’t just the law, but the expectation of a fellow citizen. The IAA places a premium on community involvement in archeological sites, and such sites are the frequent location of field trips for young Israeli students who are raised to respect their shared history as belonging to everyone. 

Despite their relative frequency compared to other parts of the world, these kinds of discoveries never get old. It is thrilling to imagine just how much Israel has left to discover and what it can teach us about the world, our history, and our Lord. 
[Comment]

Israel FAQBy: C4i

 
With C4i’s ongoing mission to reach out with a critical, biblical message about Israel today, it’s only natural that we frequently receive questions about the nation. What is it like? How is it different from Canada or the US? And most of all, what should someone know before visiting?

Wonder no more! Here are the answers to some of the most common questions people tend to have about the Holy Land.

Is Israel safe to visit?
This is an understandable question. When you look at the news and you see stories about Hezbollah attacks, escalating Syrian tensions, and other worrying reports, it’s only natural to wonder about the risks. Thankfully, we’re happy to say that (generally) you are as safe in Israel as you are in any major developed nation. 

Israel is a very security conscious nation with an active and present police and military force. All major tourist and historical sites are kept under careful watch and incidents are extremely infrequent. While terror attacks like rockets and flammable balloons are an unfortunate reality of Israeli life, these mostly occur around the West bank. If you are sticking to the major cities and interior of Israel, you should never have a problem. 
When it comes to more pedestrian crimes like theft, the rules are the same as visiting any other unfamiliar nation. Stick with your friends, don’t wander off alone, and don’t leave any belongings unattended. In this respect, Israel is no better or worse than anywhere else. Generally, if you use a little common sense, you’ll get along fine!

Do I need to bring cash?
Both Visa and Mastercard are largely accepted in Israel. When it comes to hotels, restaurants, and most shops, you shouldn’t have any problem paying with plastic. 

That said, it’s still a good idea to carry shekels with you as you travel. You never know when some little mom & pop shop or market stall will catch your eye and it would be a shame to miss out on the perfect memento because they couldn’t accept your card. It’s also good to have cash for things like taxi rides and tips. Tipping culture does exist in Israel, generally in the 10-15% range at restaurants. You can use your discretion for things like luggage carriers and hair stylists. 

What are the top spots to hit?
This is largely going to depend on your personal tastes and what you want to get out of your trip to the Holy Land. As Christians, it’s obviously a great chance to connect spiritually to the history in the Bible and the lands Jesus lived in. Key locations are going to include things like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Gethsemane, the Jezreel valley and Mount Tabor. 

If you are the adventurous sort and want to connect with Christ in a different way, the Jesus Trail can be a fantastic experience. This long winding hike retraces the steps of Jesus taking you to a wonderful variety of both major Christian sites and a few little ones tucked away off the beaten path. 

And if you just want to glory in the sheer splendor of the Holy Land, natural wonders like the Dead Sea, Ramon Crater, and Harod Spring Nature Reserve are all great places to visit.
If you plan on visiting for your first time, why not come on one of C4i’s tours? These guided tours group you with likeminded Christians in a tour of many of the spots we just mentioned and many others. It is a fantastic way to connect spiritually while also seeing some of the natural beauty and culture of Israel. 

What about the language barrier?
Don’t worry if you don’t speak a lick of Hebrew. English is extremely common in Israel. In major towns and cities, you’d be hard pressed to find yourself in a situation where nobody could understand you. A little further out in the country you might run into fewer English speakers, but if you’re sticking to typical tourist locations like attractions, restaurants, hotels and hostels, it is practically guaranteed that an English-speaking host will be there to help.

How is life different in Israel?
Well, that’s a really big question! Generally, life in Israel is fast-paced and vibrant. While every individual is unique, typically people in Israel are a little more direct and to-the-point than you might be used to. Don’t be offended if someone is a little blunt, and don’t be afraid to toss it back either. As long as you are respectful and match the tone of those around you it will be smooth sailing. 
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The Valley of Armageddon – MegiddoBy: C4i

The Bible promises a battle to end all battles will one day take place. A final confrontation between the forces of good and evil at the end of days. We don’t know when that battle will take place, but the Bible does tell us where it may begin – an ancient city in the Valley of Jezreel called Megiddo.

A bloodstained history

Megiddo is no stranger to conflict. Located in Northern Israel about 35 kilometers south of Haifa, the former city holds the distinction of being a key strategic location in the area. Located just before the narrow entrance into the eastern Carmel hills, it was a massively important spot for ancient trade routes. These routes connected with Egypt, the greater Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. Whoever held those roads could exercise incredible economic and military power in the area. And you held those roads by holding important trade route cities like Megiddo.

As you might imagine, this made the city a tempting target for every major state and power player in the area. Archeological evidence of the city’s import stretches back to the early bronze ages when the first walls of the city were constructed for defensive purposes. Since then, Megiddo and the surrounding valley saw almost constant turmoil, conquered and occupied again and again by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and more. The surrounding area was even held by the British for a time in WW1 and the site of a key ally victory. 

The words of Thutmose III, an Egyptian pharaoh who said in 15th century BC that "Capturing Megiddo is as good as capturing 1000 cities” have proved to be true for three millennia. 
The city has been built and rebuilt dozens of times throughout history. Archeological digs in the area are like slicing into a layered cake of history, with multiple distinct periods of times and cultures that can be identified. 
Today, the city sits empty and at peace. Its ruins are still being excavated and examined by archeologists. Visitors today can see the remains of Solomon’s Gate as well as a number of temples, stables, and even an iron age aquifer. It is a fascinating space that, for all of its bloodstained history, is now surrounded by peaceful plains of fertile farmland and small communities.

The battle 

Revelation 16:16 "And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.”

But what about the prophetic battle of Armageddon that has been foretold? Is it possible that this now peaceful area could become a place of conflict again? 

Well, some choose to interpret the passage in the book of Revelation that mentions "Harmagedon” as allegorical, that it could mean any number of places. Some might argue that modern military technology has rendered the idea of a "battlefield” obsolete, that the wars of the future will be settled by bombers and drones. Or that the area is not as important today as it used to be. But there are other factors to consider.  

It is true that the site of the ancient city is not a modern-day hotbed of activity, but the Valley of Jezreel still holds significant strategic importance. The Israeli air force’s most important base in the area is located in the valley. And the valley itself is a large open area that is accessible from Lebanon to the north and from Syria to the east, as well as Iran and Iraq by extension. It’s proximity to the port at Haifa also creates strategic value. If you wanted to bring in a large number of troops, the valley around Megiddo would be a naturally preferable route rather than trying to move men and equipment through the surrounding mountainous areas. 

And yes, modern military tactics do not resemble the massed groups of spearmen and shield walls of yesterday. But it doesn’t matter how much you bomb an area if you can’t hold it. Even the most technologically advance armies of the world still come down to boots and bodies in the end. Also, we are discussing a battle of biblical proportions, one led by the Messiah against the forces of the anti-Christ - there is no way for the human mind to truly conceptualize what that could look like!

The Bible also alludes to two battles at the end of the world. One very explicitly in Megiddo and one in a valley near Jerusalem. One interpretation of what that means is that we could see a two-pronged battle, with conflicts at both sites, or a rolling battle that starts in one place and ends in another. Whatever the case, we know that Megiddo and the Valley of Armageddon will play a crucial role. We may not fully understand what form that may take, but we can look to the words of the scripture and the chaos of the world around us to know that it will occur.

There is so much more to know and understand about Megiddo and its role in future world events. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to check out Seasons 7 and 10 of The Prophetic Connection where our Rev. Dr.  John Tweedie goes into deep detail on the historical and biblical significance of Megiddo and the prophecies found in the book of Revelation. 
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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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Our VISION is to see God’s truth proclaimed so that nations will support and bless the people of Israel.


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