READING the bible is sharing the vicarious experiences of the lead actors in the Old and New Testament. The events had scope and spectacle that could not be repeated anymore. Biblical tours would bring the readers to eye-popping locales. God’s heroes could have encountered temptation presented by stunning beauty or could have entered the inescapable web of deceit and danger.
Jericho is fascinating. Located about 10 miles north of the Dead Sea in the Jordan River Valley, it is the lowest city on earth. It sits 840 feet below sea level. It started as a fort, “Ain es-Sultan,” a fitting militaristic birth for Jericho. Joshua, an aide to Moses (and magnified by God) conquered Jericho for God’s chosen people. (The Jericho-to-Jerusalem road was mentioned in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.)
The battlefield where David cut the head of Goliath could have offered a view that featured subtle humor and sudden tragedy. David had a grumpy sling (and a stone) while Goliath was in full metal. David became the second king of Israel (after Saul) and he, like Moses, was only too human – women being his weaknesses.
David married one of Saul’s daughters, had a son with each of six wives in Hebron, and then took other wives and concubines in Jerusalem. Bathseba was married to David after the death of her husband sent by David in the battlefront (intentionally). Their first son died, and the second son, Solomon, became David’s successor. The wise king (Solomon) transformed Jerusalem into an ancient Oz. He ruled wisely and wrote 3, 000 wise parables and 1, 500 lovely poems. (I could not forget his Song of Songs, “thy love is better that wine.”
Jesus Christ is the super star of the New Testament. The Greek word “Christos” equates with oil, therefore Jesus was “the anointed one.” Herod was the king of Jerusalem before the birth of Jesus. He is best remembered for rebuilding Jerusalem’s Temple on a fantastic scale and for constructing Masada, his out-of-town retreat sitting atop a cliff that plunges spectacularly to the shore of the Dead Sea (1,300 feet below).
The Jordan River was the body of water where (St.) John did baptism rites. John baptized Jesus here and the Blessed Trinity was featured (with convincing menace). Stealing the scene is the arduous 100-mile journey of Joseph and Mary (pregnant this time) from Nazareth to Jericho. They could have passed the Sea of Galilee; the Judean Desert, a treacherous wilderness populated by Bedouin shepherds; or could have passed also burned villages and toppled crosses that were used to crucify rebellious Jews.
The birth of Jesus could have happened inside a natural grotto which has indeed been used by wandering shepherds for centuries. Jesus grew up in Nazareth but when he was 12 years old, he was brought by Mary and Joseph for the feast of Passover. There, he disappeared and when found, he was in the Temple . . . listening and questioning. He was in the midst of learned men.
Jesus at a wedding feast in Cana (a village north of Nazareth) converted water into wine (six water pots of stone). He did raise Lazarus from the dead in the village of Bethany (now known as el-Azariyeh). Jesus had his “Transfiguration” on top of Mt. Tabor where he was visited by Moses and Elijah.
The “Passion of Christ” could have been a painful itinerary for the Son of Man from the Mount of Olives up to Golgotha (the place of skulls). The Holy Bible is loaded with wonderful larger-than-life characters, interesting events, colorful fiestas, panoramic views, unforgettable interactions, and unexpected turn of occurrences.
The Holy Bible is not only for the priests and pastors. It is not just about faith, forgiveness, repentance and renewal. It is also about art, culture, environment, food, music, dance . . . Bible tourism brings us to a realization about the magnanimity of God that makes us gaze skyward to what we call the heavens. In there is the Orion nebula. It is God’s proof that really “there was light” and tourism starts from there.*