Visits to the Holy Land usually include countless “holy places.” But what does it mean to call a place “holy”? I like to think of it as a place that, at one time or another, reflects life at the intersection of the divine and the human. Given that definition, are not all places holy?
On this tour we’ll visit the requisite sites. And by considering the entire land as storied landscape, we’ll find ourselves living imaginatively into the biblical story. Some say the biblical text “comes alive” while walking into ancient archaeological sites.
For texts to come alive, however, the sites and the landscape must also be brought to life. And there’s hardly a better way to facilitate that than to read Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s book The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (5th edition; Oxford, 2008). Of course, most tour groups are accompanied by an authorized guide. Yet with Murphy-O’Connor as our tutor we’ll more easily recognize what we’re looking at and we’ll know how to ask intelligent questions.
Murphy-O’Connor has a section on every site we visit. Read him before visiting the site (bedtime reading the night before!). Refresh your memory of the biblical texts associated with that site. Take photographs at the site as you are inspired to do so. Then, when you get home, you’ll be able to make that memorable slide show for friends and family, impressing them with all the pertinent information (thanks to Murphy-O’Connor). How else will you remember that the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was dedicated on May 31, 339?