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The Holy Land

ISRAEL | Wednesday, 11 January 2017 | Views [193]

The Holy Land: land of wonder, miracles, war, terror, belief and strife. The Holy Land is not one country but many; borders here have always been problematic and adjustable. The Biblical lands extend from Turkey around the eastern Mediterranean shore into Egypt.  It is certainly not simply Israel, although if one listens to Zionist or Evangelical rhetoric it may seem like it is. Abraham, the patriarch of the three Biblical traditions, came from Ur, which likely is around modern day Harran and Sanliurfa in SE Turkey, not far from the Syrian border and today the home of a number of refugee settlements. As he wandered with his family down the coast towards Canaan, his clan took possession of the hills and grazing pastures from the indigenous inhabitants.  As the clan and faith he propounded grew, 12 distinct tribes established themselves along the coastal region and onto the adjacent fertile lands. Their religion came in contact with that of the local tribes and in part adapted to them, and in part vilified the ancient ways.  Baal, the ruler of Heaven, the Almighty, the Lord of the Earth, was also known as El, became Elohim, while the name Baal becomes Beelzebub, sometime after Solomon’s rule. Asherah, the ancient goddess and universal mother who was first the wife of Yahweh, a local god, later also known as the one God, which no other gods should come before, becomes integrated with the Canaanite Astarte and with the Sumerian and Babylonian Inanna/Ishtar, who is ‘the whore of Babylon’, and associated with Lilith, the first ‘lost’ woman. Asherah/Astarte, like Baal, live on throughout the region and well into the Roman era under other names, as the Divine Couple; he, the Lord of the Universe, she, the Queen of Heaven and Universal Mother. Attributes of both appear in their children, who are often merged in legends with their progenitors, Adonis, the Canaanite young lord who is killed and resurrected, Baal-Hammon, who is also known as Eshmun, the Lord of Fertility and Healing, or Melquart, the Lord of the Underworld, who is merged with Hercules. Astarte merges with her sister, Anath to become Atargatis during the Hellenic period, which also brings Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis of Ephesus as renditions of the earlier goddess who was responsible for love and war. Today, her name is no longer worshipped, it is almost forgotten in most places, but her traits still dominate the region.  El, the god of the Heavens, has become the one true God, known and understood and interpreted differently by each of the three Biblical faiths, as Yahweh, God the Almighty, or Allah. As in earlier times, the faithful are still fighting for their love of a particular name and image of the Divine ultimately Unknowable. They are also fighting for what the ancient Hebrews and indigenous peoples fought for, namely land and water, that which sustains life. The battles of the ancient legends are still being fought in the name of ‘the one true God.’

While the Holy Land is many lands, there is one city that is central to this region and that is Jerusalem. The blood that has seeped into the cobblestones and walls of this ancient city testifies to the intense passions of the myriad peoples who have lived and worshipped on these rolling hills. Solomon built his temple as an earthly home for Yahweh on the Temple Mount, nearby were temples to other gods and goddesses for the non-Hebrew population of the city. Jesus spent the last week of his earthly existence walking the hills, celebrating Passover and praying with his friends, then being tortured, crucified and laid to rest outside the ancient city walls. Mohammad accompanied by the Angel Gabriel, rode his famous steed, Buraq, from Mecca to ‘the farthest Mosque’, Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, from where they ascended from the rock enshrined in the Dome of the Rock through seven levels of Heaven to meet Allah and receive his commands. Jerusalem is the meeting point of the faiths and for precisely this reason, one of the most contested strips of land in the world.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my trip there. I was hoping to find traces of the ancient goddess Asherah for my research into ancient goddesses, and was lucky that the Rockefeller Museum and the National Museum did have some pertinent artifacts; but beyond that, what I saw and felt was such an unusual mixture of awe at the depth of history alive in the walls and pathways as well as actual fear for the hatred, yes, real hatred, that I encountered. It wasn’t directed at me, the academic tourist, but at the people who live in the area. I have travelled all over the world and have heard myriad excuses and rationales for treating neighboring peoples or other religions poorly, but I have never experienced the palpable, cut-it-with-a-knife, hate I felt in Jerusalem.  What was even worse, was that it was coming from ordinary citizens, not just the government.  In fact, I repeatedly heard that Netanyahu was too liberal and that all Palestinians needed to be kicked out of the West Bank and removed, forcibly, from the city and Israel. The Palestinians I spoke with were not filled with contempt, but rather despair. This was their land that had been taken from them, and they were not allowed to be full citizens in their own land. Clearly, I was not speaking with those on either side who are part of radical groups, the government, or the militia, but rather with shopkeepers, hotel staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners and wait staff, i.e., ordinary people in Jerusalem. This is what makes the situation even more dangerous. I need to note, that I felt this only within the ancient capital and not elsewhere in Israel, where I found the people to be much more open and accepting.

The newly elected government in the U.S. has openly stated that they intend to move the embassy from the U.N. acknowledged capital city of Tel Aviv, the business and commercial center of the secular country of Israel, to Jerusalem, the Holy City. This is not only foolhardy, it is blatantly dangerous and would condone mass terror and ultimately genocide. The neighboring countries cannot absorb more Palestinian refugees than they have already taken in after the 1948 and 1967 wars. Jordan currently has over 2 million registered Palestinian refugees and there are about 450,000 in official refugee camps in Lebanon,* not to mention those who aren’t living or accounted for in the camps. These countries are stretched to the breaking points, and they are also now confronted with an influx of Syrian refugees. Syria is broken, and the Palestinians who fled there after the Israeli Wars are now fleeing the terror in their new homeland. Egypt is at a critical point as well, as the citizens do not like or respect the current regime, and that doesn’t bode well for long-term stability. Any more sparks onto the simmering coals of religious and ethnic tensions in the region will inflame passions that aren’t exactly smoldering right now. Zionist policies to cripple the Palestinian population economically, geographically and culturally will not lead to better relations with Israel’s neighbors, or stop radical group activity, and by moving the embassy to Jerusalem the U.S. government is supporting a Zionist, not secular Israeli, agenda. If the ultimate goal is to bring on Armageddon, then the U.S. is not needed to do it, the region is quite capable of bringing this about –or not – on their own.

 

*Figures from https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

Tags: historical background

 

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