The Magic Of Jerusalem And The Inevitability Of One Humanity
FOR great lovers of either secular or spiritual knowledge, nothing can be more gratifying than when you have been privileged to visit the places, where knowledge has created remarkable names for itself. Such is the feeling one gets when visiting for the first time a country like Israel, now popularly called the Holy Land. Last December, I visited this country. It is, indeed easy for a broad section of humanity to accept it as the Holy Land because the world famous Jerusalem is located in this country. It is gratifying to note that notwithstanding the serious animosities existing between the three principal world religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of them are united in their acceptance of Jerusalem as the Holy land of the one universal God that they all believe in. For those that are spiritually inclined and who believe with conviction that the brotherhood of man is inevitable, this broad acceptance of Jerusalem by all re-enforces this conviction. The magic of Jerusalem must do it eventually.
My journey to Israel was not one I deliberately planned, even though I had always believed that in God’s own time, I will visit the country. The opportunity for the journey reared its head around the middle of 2014. The Seventh Day Adventist Victory Sanctuary Church, Lekki, Lagos had announced a three-day seminar in a newspaper, which I stumbled on. The seminar sounded fascinating and I decided to attend. On the first day of the seminar, it was announced that if attendees completed the three days, they would be given a series of Biblical questions to answer. Additionally, they would be given all of two weeks to tackle the questions and whoever performed best in the test will win a return ticket to Israel. That was a very good incentive and I threw myself into it.
Eventually we were all invited to an award dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Victoria Island, where the winner of the prize would be announced. We were told that 12 of us performed well. Eleven were given the consolation prizes of telephone tablets and yours truly, with a standing ovation, received the ultimate prize of a return ticket to Israel. My journey to Israel became a journey whose time had come and which God in His own time had approved because what I would say the Lord did was to use the Seventh Day Adventist Church through the prize to prepare me for the journey. They offered nothing more than the return ticket, but in a matter of weeks, the financial resources needed to see me through the journey materialised.
I went into an arrangement with Unique Pilgrim’s Tours run by Mrs. Mary Oyedokun whom I must say runs a conscientious outfit. In the afternoon of December 9, 2014 and in the company of 10 other pilgrims, I was airborne on Ethiopian Airlines with a stop over at Addis Ababa for a few hours. We finally arrived at the Ben-Gurion Airport at Tel-Aviv in Israel at about 3am on December 10.
Unique Pilgrim Tours works in conjunction with Tailor-made Tours of Israel, whose official was at the airport to receive us. All the 11 pilgrims were from different Christian religious denominations, but we had a team leader in the person of Pastor Abiodun Adebayo of the Redeemed Christian Church. He was really up to the task based on his previous experience in the holy land. The official who met us took us to Deborah’ Restaurant in Tel-Aviv, where we lounged for about four hours and had our breakfast at 7am. Shortly after the meal, we were handed over to David Czvika, who was our guide for the better part of our nine–day stay in Israel. He has been on the job for over 30 years and his experience reflected in the authoritative manner he demonstrated the knowledge of the Jewish culture. We had an amiable driver in the person of Haim, which we were told means life in the Jewish culture. The guide considered it a bonus that our group was small, as this would allow for an effective interaction. He informed that for most of the time, he has to contend with much bigger groups. Our tour started very promptly even without discharging our luggage because some of the places we were to see were on the way to our hotel.
We started the tour along the crest of Mount Carmel and continued along the coastal road to what is known as Caesarea Maritima reputed to be the first seat of government of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. Eventually, we went to Haifa, where we visited the spectacular Bahai gardens. Our guide told us Bahai represents a religion that originated from Iraq. But my own historical knowledge of Bahaullah, the founder of the religion, suggested that he came from Persia, which is the modern day Iran. Today, however, Israel itself seems to be the world headquarters of the Bahai faith and the significance of the Bahai gardens is in the fact that adherents of the faith from around the world gather at the gardens for their conventions. Indeed, wealthy Canadians are believed to be responsible for the funding and maintenance of the gardens. The religion in itself ought to have been recognised as the offshoot of Islam, but the serious problem it is having with the main Islamic religion, as explained by our guide, is that while the popular Islamic religion believes that Mohammed is the last or the seal of the prophets, the Bahai faith disagrees because Bahaullah himself is recognised as a prophet.
We were also shown the Druze village, which is the community for the practice of the ancient religion of Druze. Thereafter, we visited Mount Carmel, where prophet Elijah had his famous encounter with the prophets of Baal. We moved on to a place called Daliyah.
Daliyah is a kibutz and this place was where we had our lunch for the day. The kibutz occupies a politico-cultural place in the life of the Jewish society. The kibutz, as our guide told us, is a community living patterned after the ideology of socialism, resting on the principle of ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his need.’ Even though Israel as a country could not lay claim to socialism, the country has several kibutz communities that ensure that many of their people are catered for and not neglected. When we finished lunch, we headed for the church of Annunciation. Along the way, however, we were shown the Mount of Megiddo, popularly known as Armageddon, where it is believed, the final battles between the forces of good and evil will take place. From there, we visited Cana, where Jesus was believed to have performed His first miracle of turning water into wine. We finally got to the church of Annunciation.
The controversy still exists as to whether Angel Gabriel met Mary at a well or in her house to announce to her the conception of Jesus. This is what the Annunciation was all about. But as our guide told us, Queen Helen, the Mother of King Constantine, was very much interested in the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and while she lived in the 4th Century AD, she commissioned some archaeologists to go and locate the exact spot, where Mary could have lived and they came up with the spot the church of Annunciation is now built. Popular traditions have also decided to accept it as the spot where Gabriel appeared to announce to Mary that she was to conceive the Christ. Interestingly, the house of Joseph was also reputed not to be far from the place and a church is also built on the spot. History has it that Queen Helen’s son, Constantine, who was a Roman Empire emperor, in the 4th century not only recognised Christianity as a religion, but also actually gave it muscle and teeth as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was after centuries of persecution by the same empire. It was at the end of this first day tour that we were finally taken to Astoria Hotel at Tiberia in Nazareth, where we were to lodge for two days.
The following day after breakfast, we hit the road once more and headed straight for Galilee for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We were privileged to have the boat ride with pilgrims from South Africa and Canada. This experience actually gave some of us the feel of the meaning of the brotherhood of man as taught by Jesus. It was quite pleasant to note that South African whites could actually sit comfortably with the blacks from Nigeria, sharing spiritual fellowship with them. After the boat ride, we headed for Capernaum. Today’s inhabitants of Capernaum would love to believe that Capernaum was the home of Jesus. There is an inscription, which read ‘Welcome to Capernaum the home of Jesus.’ But most students of the Bible would want to recognise Capernaum more as the home of Peter. At Capernaum, we visited the ruins of an ancient synagogue. Thereafter, we visited the Mount of the beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Along the way, we also visited the church of loaves and fish, another spot where it was reputed that Jesus fed about 5000 people. We drove to Mount Thabor and visited the Basilica of the transfiguration, where Jesus was believed to have conversed with the apparition of Moses and Elijah. We passed by Mount Gilboa, where Saul and his children were believed to have been killed by the Philistines. We saw the town of Endor too, the abode of the famed witch of Endor that Saul consulted on his last day on earth. We finished the day at River Jordan, where some of us that had not baptised before or who wished to re-baptise surrendered themselves to baptism.
We checked out of our hotel and departed Tiberius onward to Bethlehem, our next destination. On the way, however, our itinerary for the day started. We drove along the Jordan Valley to the ancient city of Jericho believed to be the oldest city on earth and en route, we viewed Mount Quarantal, which we were told was where Jesus was reputed to have spent 40 days after which the devil battled him with the famous temptations. According to our guide, it was also the place where He cured a blind man, while He stayed at Zacchaeus house.
We were showed the replica of the sycamore tree, one of which Zacchaeus was said to have climbed in order to see Jesus while He was passing by. It is significant to note that we visited the Dead Sea, where the scrolls were discovered in the 20th Century. The importance of the Dead Sea scrolls lie in the fact that their discoveries threw more vital light on the ancient Jewish history dating back to their prophets of old. We were given the opportunity to bathe in the waters of the Dead Sea because of the belief that it has healing effects. On our way out, we passed through Engedi, a place that is historically linked with John the Baptist. We finally got to Bethlehem on Friday evening, where we were lodged at the Grand Royal Hotel, which was to be our abode for another two days.
The following day, Saturday, December 13, we were given a new guide, a Palestinian, whose name was Elias. For safety reasons, David Czvika, our regular Jewish guide, refused to follow us to Bethlehem, which is not far from Jerusalem. Despite my fairly good knowledge of current and world affairs, it was this journey that brought my attention to the fact that Jerusalem and Bethlehem territorially speaking, are not really within the Jewish territory. They are part of the lands to be ceded to the Palestinians. One notices that religiously speaking, the Islamic presence in the two places seemed to be more dominant than those of– Judaic and Christian religions. Notwithstanding this, however, the Israeli administration is still making its presence felt in Jerusalem. All their principal offices, including that of the Prime Minister, are actually in Jerusalem and not Tel-Aviv, as some of us would like to believe. This can be likened to Nigeria claiming to have its capital in Abuja but is actively operating its administration from Cotonou in the republic of Benin and attributing this to security reasons. This situation is part of the bad blood existing between the Jews and the Palestinians, which often erupt into violence between the two of them, resulting in casualties. It is for this reason that our Jewish guide did not want to take chances because there was a report of one such violence, when we were going to Bethlehem and hence the need for a Palestinian guide, who was also good and friendly.
At Bethlehem, we were shown the Basilica of the nativity. There, we saw where Jesus was born and everybody was given the opportunity to kneel and bend down to touch the perpetually wet spot with his head. Beside the spot was the manger, where baby Jesus was rested after birth. We also had the opportunity in Bethlehem to visit the field of the shepherds, where the angel of the Lord proclaimed the birth of Jesus. The following day, a Sunday, we got another Jewish guide named Honey, because our regular guide was feeling a bit under the weather. Honey, unlike most Jews, did not hide his admiration for Jesus and on that basis, he bonded easily with us on the discussions on Jesus. We checked out of our hotel again to head for Jerusalem, where we would be spending our last three days. But as we had now learned, checking out from one hotel does not necessarily mean we were heading straight for the next hotel. With our luggage in the vehicle, the itinerary of the journey continues until we reach the next hotel, which was at the end of the day’s journey.
On our way to Jerusalem, we stopped at the pool of Bethsaida, where Jesus healed the man with infirmity. From there, we went to the Mount of Olive, where Solomon was reputed to have built the first temple. It was also at this place, according to our guide, that Jesus was believed to have ascended to heaven after His resurrection. When we were on the Mount of Olive, we saw a magnificent view over all ancient and modern Jerusalem, the centre of the Biblical world. We walked down the Palm Sunday Road en route to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed on the Night of His betrayal. It is a popular belief in some quarters, according to our guide, that it is from the Mount that Jesus, upon His second coming, will walk to Jerusalem. We visited the memorial church, where Jesus was believed to have predicted the destruction of the temple. We eventually got to Mount Zion, where symbolically, it is believed the tomb of David was located. The Upper Room, where Jesus had His last supper, was also believed to be located on this spot. Significantly, the rooftop of this same spot is believed to be the place, where the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. On this rooftop is located what is called the Chamber of the Holy Spirit, which is firmly under lock and key and it is believed that it is going to remain so until the arrival of the Messiah.
We went on to see the ancient palace of King Herod and at the end of the day, we finally checked into the Golden Gates Hotel in Jerusalem, where we were to spend our last three days. On Monday December 15, our original guide, David was back with us and after breakfast, we hit the road once more and entered the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. We started with the way of the cross comprising of 14 stations. These stations are about the walk in the footsteps of Jesus starting from Pilate’s judgment hall to the empty tomb in the church of the Holy sepulcher. Each station represented an event in the life of Jesus on the road to Golgotha, including where He was flogged, where He first fell, where He talked to His mother, where He fell the second time and where He was stripped and crucified. Some of these stations have churches built on them to immortalise these events. Of course, there were nothing like churches in the time of Jesus but synagogues. Churches are recent phenomena in Israel and there are magnificent buildings to this effect, many of which were sponsored by Anthonio Berlucci, a wealthy Jewish Italian architect. We later drove to Mount Zion to visit the Upper Room and the church of saint Peter in Gallicantu, which is built over the ruins of the palace of Caiphas the High priest before whom Jesus was brought for trial. I must mention that notwithstanding the fact that we visited a Golgotha, which was mentioned as one of the 14 stations of Jesus path to the crucifixion, we were taken to another version of Golgotha, so-named by the British General Gordon, when he visited Jerusalem and the Protestants apparently accepted his own version. This place was also accepted as the spot where Stephen was stoned to death. We ate communion here. Incidentally, it was the day when we first had a Nigerian dish for lunch at the Ali Baba Restaurant. We visited the western wall popularly known as the Wailing Wall, where people usually go, not only to confess their sins, but to also pray to God passionately for their hearts’ desires. Written prayer requests are allowed to be fixed to the wall. Incidentally, few weeks before we got there, I understand that President Jonathan of Nigeria was also there to pray for Nigeria’s wellbeing. During one of our visits, we were shown Rachel’s tomb. Rachel was the mother of Joseph. We also visited the Church of Visitation, which was believed to be the place Mary the mother of Jesus visited her sister Elizabeth, who was already about six months pregnant with John the Baptist. It was the place where Mary rendered the Magnificat and the most significant thing about this is that the Magnificat is translated into several languages on the wall of the church, including Yoruba and Igbo both commissioned by Gbenga Daniel, the former Governor of Ogun State.
The highlight of December 15 was that the 11 of us were decorated with badges and given certificates formally acknowledging us as Jerusalem pilgrims (J.P). Prophet Alaba Somuyiwa and Prophetess Bosede Akindoyogbe expressed the appreciation of the group to Tailor made Tours Ltd., the organisers of the event for a job well done and the efficient way they guided us throughout the journey. December 16 was a free day for us and even though we had been doing some shopping, while we were on the move, the day gave us all the time we needed to do more shopping.
The following day, December 17 was officially our last day. After breakfast, we checked out of our hotel on our way back to Tel-Aviv. But it was equally a day full of events as we moved on. We started right in Jerusalem by visiting the Jad Vashem Museum, which detailed the Jewish experience of the Holocaust during the Second World War. We moved on to Emek Ha Ela, where David was reputed to have fought with Goliath and won. For lunch, we were privileged to have a Nigerian dish again, handled by a South African white couple. I believe they have Jewish origin too. Afterwards, we moved straight on to Tel Aviv to have TelAviv Jaffa Tours, which largely consisted of walking on Tel Aviv local streets, walking on a beach and a visit to Jaffa port, made famous by Jonah because it was believed to be part of the sea, where he was swallowed by the whale, when he refused going to Nineveh.
This last day was also unique because it was the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, which I believe represent the feast of preparation. On seeing us, some friendly Jews stopped us on the road and invited us to partake in their street Festival. I must say that Nigeria is apparently popular in Israel. Nigerians are perhaps not only among the largest number from around the world who makes pilgrimages to the country, we go there colourfully attired, too. When you appear in beautiful Nigerian dress, it is not uncommon for a driver to stop his car briefly on the road and shout – NIGERIA and then move on. That was a pleasant experience for me. It portrays the innate beauty and goodwill that is struggling for self–expression in everybody.
Many of us pilgrims from around the world met in Israel. Many embrace each other and if you are a Nigerian, they tell you, “We know what is going on in your country, we are praying for you.” When Nigerian pilgrims from other parts of Nigeria meet Lagos pilgrims – the popular slogan rings out – ‘Eko oni ba je o!’ The experience of the tour gives you the idea of the potential goodwill that humanity possesses, if not under the grip of sinister politics, selfish oligarchy and mafia in every part of the world. Believe it or not even in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, the average Arab and Jew live in peace with one another. But their political set-ups with their dubious international connections know how to make their average citizens the victims of oligarchic selfish interest. In this respect, one must never forget Anwar Sadat, the former President of Egypt, who in his courageous attempt to rise above this barrier, made peace with Israel, but in the process lost his life in an assassination. We must also never forget Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, who in his bid to follow in the footstep of Anwar Sadat attempted the move to make peace with the Palestinians. In the process, he too was assassinated. In this regard, I will never forget Yasser Arafat the late Palestinian leader. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, he made a short evergreen statement. He said ‘they have killed my brother Yitzhak Rabin.’ In its own good time, this statement will be dug up to be a fundamental part of the healing process between the Arabs and the Jews. It is a statement suggesting that no matter how apparently bad it may seem among human beings, within the core of his being the typical man knows that he shares fraternal affinity with all other human beings on earth. This is the ultimate truth in spiritual development whatever religion one may claim to affiliate with. I took a picture at the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was killed. I remember it well that when Yasser Arafat was alive, it was an official duty for him every Christmas day to go and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. He was a staunch Muslim. The pleasant surprise of it all was that he married a Christian woman. Elias, our Palestinian guide, told us that the current Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammed Abbas, who operates his headquarters from Ramallah, has actually made it official that Palestinians should celebrate the birth of Jesus every Christmas day.
The United Nations adopted a famous passage in the Bible inscribed on its wall. It was Isaiah 2:4 and it says: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nations neither shall they learn war any more.” Psalm 46:9 also said ‘He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth. He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder.’
These prophecies are the unassailable truth of the future for the whole of mankind. Arabs and Jews will live in peace and whites and Blacks will live in peace. Believe it or not, North and South of Nigeria will also live in peace. The country is not going asunder any soon. In fact, the country is a veritable part of a divine agenda. That is the truth of Jerusalem in our lives. Salam, Shalom. Peace and goodwill towards all men.