Day 4 - History

Day 4: The slice of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been an alluring destination for several millennia.  The group of pilgrims/tourists/ students with YDS connections who are travelling to that sacred land this Lent go with the same varied range of motives that characterized their predecessors.  It may be useful as we are packing our bags to think about what brought those earlier travelers to the spaces we shall soon see.

The Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament (11:8-22) summarizes the Biblical story of Abraham recorded in Genesis and tells of how the patriarch was summoned by God to set out for a place he did not know, called by God, to receive an inheritance for his descendants. Many on this trip will be following Abraham’s footsteps , as Hebrews understood them, making something of a pilgrimage, symbolic of life’s larger journey to a heavenly Jerusalem. The original story, in Genesis 12-25, could be construed in a somewhat more mundane way, as a journey of opportunity for an ambitious young man from Mesopotamia seeking his fortune in the West, rather like a boy from Brooklyn heading out to San Diego. 

The historical facts behind the patriarchal legend are difficult to discern.  Some scholars place the dramatic setting of the story in the Bronze age, in the early second millennium B.C.E., but this is conjecture.  Whatever the historical reality, the memory of Abraham lingers on at various sites that we shall visit, but most of all in Hebron, in the heart of the Palestinian territories.  It was there, Genesis 23:2 reports, that Abraham’s wife Sara died and it was there, in Machpelah, facing Mamre, that Abraham bought a field from Ephron that had a cave in which he buried his beloved.  In that cave he himself was later interred (Gen 25:9). The memory of that legend of patriarchal times remains to this day in a site revered by Jews and Muslims alike.  In fact, all three of the monotheistic faiths revere the patriarch and consider Hebron a holy site.  Part of our effort on this trip will be to see whether that shared memory can be a basis for a shared hope in a common future.

--By Dean Harold Attridge