This last week has been really tough with school. We have had a lot of reading and some quizzes, but unlike most of my classmates, I actually did all of the homework, and thus, I did well on our quizzes. Living here is truly a piece of BYU away from Provo. The classes are just as hard or harder, and the professors are very well-qualified and just as good. It is really interesting to be in an environment where everyone is very equal. We all dress a lot the same, and we all eat the same food, take the same classes, and live in the same place. There have been moments where I have really felt like this is a piece of Zion. I have really gotten to know some of the people here really well, and they are really great. Everyone here is usually pretty nice and wants to be friends with everyone else generally. I like the people here, but I wish that all of my friends and family were here to share this experience with me. There are so many times when I am doing something, and I think that someone I know would really enjoy seeing what I am seeing at that moment.
So I got to see some really cool stuff this week. On Sunday (our free day), I went out with some friends, and we went to Dome of the Rock. It is a shrine built to honor the prophet Mohammad because legend has it that he ascended into heaven from this spot. Inside, his footprints are supposedly imprinted into the cement in there. Right next to the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Aqsa Mosque where Muslims will go to worship. This is considered the third holiest site in Islam with the first two being Mecca and then Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Dome of the Rock is built right on top of the spot where the Temples of Solomon (the first temple, which was destroyed in about 586 BC when the Babylonians took the Israelites into captivity around Daniel's time) and Zerubbabel once stood (the second temple, destroyed in about 135 AD. Also known as Herod's temple.) Also, the mount that all this was built on is also thought to be Mount Moriah where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. So it is a very sacred spot for all of the religions in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was built in about 700 AD by the Umayyad dynasty that took over Jerusalem after the rise of Islam. The gold dome was actually only added in the 1960s so that it could look better than the gray domes of the Church of the Holy Seplechre, and the blue tiles on the outside during the rule of the Ottoman Empire in about 1600. Unfortunately, non-Muslims are not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Mosque, so we were as close as we could get. It was a really neat experience to stand where so much history has happened and to know that at one time a temple of the Lord stood there.
After Dome of the Rock, we headed over to Church of the Holy Seplechre. This church is where the Orthodox Christians believe that Christ was crucified and resurrected. So they built a church around what once might have been Golgotha. The mother of Constantine was the one that picked the site for this church. And at that time, this place would have actually been outside of the city walls. But now it is in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was originally built in about 400 A.D. by the newly converted Christian emperor Constantine during the Byzantine period. It was then destroyed by the Muslims that occupied the city, but the church was later rebuilt during the crusader period. Everything in the church is so ornate, but I thought it was interesting that it was so dark in there. There were only candles to light what wasn't lit by the light that came through the hole in the main dome on top. The artwork was beautiful inside though. And since the church is really more of a shrine, to my knowledge, there isn't really a main chapel area where people sit and they have a service. It's just really more of a place where people come to worship on their own terms.
On Monday, we went on our weekly field trip, and we went to the Negev. (Aka, the desert south of the Juddean Hills where Jerusalem is.) It was probably my least favorite thing I have done here so far. It was really interesting to go to the sites we went to, but it was very hot. And it was SO windy the whole time. It felt like someone was holding a blow dryer in my face the whole time we were outside. And because it was so windy, we were all covered in a thin film of dirt by the time the day was done. When we all got home and showered, our tans had washed off. Haha! It was pretty bad. So now I can understand why Laman and Lemuel were not very happy about being out in that and why they were not too enthusiastic about wanting to go back and forth to Jerusalem and then just leaving permanently.
However, the sites we went to were really interesting. We went to a weaving factory first where Muslim women from the Bedouin tribe weave things out of wool. When I say factory, I mean they use the assembly line to make things out of wool. The Bedouin tribe is a native tribe of nomads that now live in villages in the Negev. It was neat to see women being productive and running their own factory in a society where women had been oppressed for a long time. We didn't spend very long there though.
After that, we went to Tel-Beersheba, which was an ancient city with a temple patterned after the one in Jerusalem. I can't remember which time period it was from. But it was neat to see how an ancient people might have lived and what their city might have looked like. We don't know if their temple worship was legitimate or if it was idolatrous though. The coolest thing there was an underground cistern that was huge. They made us wear hard hats to go down inside of it. We went down inside of it, but it was really too dark to take any pictures, so sorry I don't have any of that. Anyway, after looking at that, we went over to another site called Tel-Arad. It was the same kind of idea. Except this one was an ancient fort that was designed to be invader-proof. There was a giant well there where they would collect water. The neatest thing about that place was that there were pottery shards found there that date to the time of Lehi that called for an army to come and help defend against the Babylonians. So LDS scholars think that Lehi and his family were escaping just as the Babylonians were about to invade Jerusalem and later take the people into captivity. We usually sing a hymn at most of the places we visit, and we sang "The Iron Rod" at Tel- Arad. We were joking that we should have changed the words to the chorus to "Hold to a rod" because we were at Tel-Arad. Haha! Oh yeah, and "Tel" means mound in Hebrew. So basically all that means it that these places were covered with a bunch of dirt before that looked like mounds before they were excavated. Anyway, that pretty much sums up the interesting part of my week. Tuesday through Friday, we are just in class and doing homework all the time.
We leave tomorrow for Turkey, and everyone is really excited! (They say it's not a vacation, but it pretty much is. We only have to read about thirty pages of stuff throughout the whole week and some scriptures. That's like half of the daily reading assignment for one class here.) I am really excited to go see where Paul preached because he is one of my very favorite scripture heroes. I am also really excited to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. We fly out of Tel Aviv tomorrow morning to fly to Istanbul. It will be about a two-hour plane ride, and we leave at eight in the morning. We come back in the middle of the night on next Saturday night, so we will be gone for a whole week. We will stay in three different hotels in different places as we travel around Turkey. It will be a fantastic experience! I will post pictures and tell all about it next week.