Belmont in the Holy Land

Monday May 23

A difficult flight schedule brought us to Istanbul yesterday. We toured and spent the night on the European side of this stunning and complicated city. We have been dancing along the edge of east and west for a week now, but it may begin to become more visible here. We spent a lot of time in Jerusalem, a Middle Eastern city, and were able to walk through the ruins of Caesarea Maritema, Herod the Great’s attempt to build a Roman European city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Israel. Now we have arrived at the geographical boundary of these two worlds.
Yesterday we walked around the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the centerpiece of the Ottoman Empire. After seeing all of the influence that the Ottoman’s had on the current shape of Jerusalem, this was an important step in understanding the long and complex relationships between all of these places. The nearby Blue Mosque was not only visually spectacular, but also helped us to recognize that we are now immersed in the Muslim world. Our morning tour today of the Hagia Sophia church will connect us back to old Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, a reminder that we are on the boundary of the great religious traditions of the ancient world and our own.
As we begin to travel down the western coast of modern Turkey later today, we will move along the western edge of Asia, getting ready to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece in a few days. I hope we will discover why it is so difficult to fit the two great figures of the New Testament together. We walked through the hills and fishing villages of the Galilee, where Jesus grew up and was comfortable, and made our way to Jerusalem, where he seems an uneasy fit. Paul also seemed uneasy in Jerusalem, but for the opposite reason. The urban cities of Asia Minor, like Ephesus and Troas, were his more natural habitat, and we watch him struggle mightily to translate the story of the Galilean Jesus into this environment. An even greater leap would still be ahead of him as he took that story outside of his own area of comfort into the great Greek cities of Corinth and Athens.
Our own world is also shaped by the friction between these worlds. We have a greater opportunity to move between them and encounter those on the other side of the such boundaries. I hope the students on our trip can take some first steps with their feet, hearts, and minds toward this understanding.
- Mark McEntire

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