Middle East Travel Seminar: Turning toward Jerusalem 

  1. Our Middle East Travel Seminar has landed!
  2. Middle East Travel Seminar: A great day in Amman
  3. Middle East Travel Seminar: Surprising spiritual moments
  4. Middle East Travel Seminar: Petra and an epic storm
  5. Middle East Travel Seminar: Little Petra and glamping(?)
  6. Middle East Travel Seminar: Our trek from desert to sea
  7. Middle East Travel Seminar: Sacred ground above the Dead Sea
  8. Middle East Travel Seminar: Scrolls, mud, salt and temptation
  9. Middle East Travel Seminar: Entering the stomping grounds of Jesus
  10. Middle East Travel Seminar: Following Jesus around the Sea of Galilee
  11. Middle East Travel Seminar: Our incredible journey in Galilee continues
  12. Middle East Travel Seminar: Turning toward Jerusalem 
  13. Middle East Travel Seminar: Diverse cultural perspectives in Roman-era Zippori
  14. Middle East Travel Seminar: A day of memory, history, hope… and sweets!
  15. Middle East Travel Seminar: The Western Wall, Temple Mount, and Dome of the Rock


In the morning, we departed from our hotel in Tiberius and set out for Jerusalem. During the extended bus ride, I gave a presentation on Herod the Great and student Joshua Lewis spoke about Caesarea Maritima.

When we arrived at the Bethlehem checkpoint, a small white car with a yellow Palestinian license plate was stopped in front of us. They were being questioned by a female Israeli soldier who looked 20-something and was flippantly smoking a cigarette with her assault rifle slung over her neck. While she checked credentials, two armed male soldiers sat along the roadside fence. A second female soldier emerged with her arms full of soft drinks and snacks, which she handed to her friends. One of them greeted her with the type of playful exaggerated hug you would expect to see in a teen high school drama and then she stood facing the cars and munching chips with her rife hanging towards the ground. The soldiers’ demeanor seemed noticeably discrepant from the tension associated with a security checkpoint but maybe it was just a daily formality for them. After the white car was cleared, our bus passed with a wave and we proceeded to a section of the security wall in Bethlehem (top photo).

The wall was covered with graffiti expressing the frustrations and hopes of the Palestinians living under its shadow. In addition to the criticism of world leaders, some of the graffiti contained positive messages like “free Palestine with love” or a picture of a protester throwing flowers.

One local entrepreneur had set up shop across from the wall and was selling t-shirts of the famous graffiti as well as photos that documented the evolution of the constantly changing artwork.

Our next stop was the Kando Antiques shop owned by the family who purchased the Dead Sea scrolls from the shepherd who found them. Until this point, our group had been somewhat conservative consumers but this store seemed to entice most of the group.

The trips biggest surprise came at lunch when we ran into fellow Richmond student Stuart Seelman at the Ruth restaurant in Bethlehem (Stuart was on a similar trip with his presbytery).

After falafel, we walked over to the Shepherd’s field, which is the traditional site associated with the angel announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as well as the fields of Boaz where Ruth would have worked. I expected sweeping hills and a large valley but the whole site seemed dwarfed by the Palestinian apartments, and Israeli settlements stretching down from the opposing hill.

Palestinian apartments, and Israeli settlements.

The contrasts of the Holy Land continued when we reached our modern hotel, which had been converted from an old monastery. Later, we walked the streets of the old city, which paired Herodian and Davidic ruins with lines of shops selling iron-on t-shirts of American sports teams featuring Hebrew lettering and made-in-China souvenirs.

To unwind after all the sights and contrasts,  students Heather Brannon, Nathan Paul-Bonham, George Williams, and myself found a local restaurant were George charmed the owner and we closed the day with lots of laughs over wine.

Douglas Hippe is a Master of Divinity student at Union.