Walking With Jesus

When people come to the Christian Holy Land as pilgrims they come to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and experience what he experienced. When people come as tourists, they are interested in just “being there.”  We say that they came to “run where Jesus walked”.

Walking where Jesus walked is not easy since locations and geographic terrain has changed over the centuries. People have come and gone. Towns and churches have been built and destroyed. Monuments have been built to mark locations and then lost again. Sacred sites have been recognized and then changed. 

Based on the premise that God is present everywhere and that God is worshiped “in spirit and in truth”, Reformation Christians often dismiss sacred sites as irrelevant, idolatrous, superstitious, or even pagan. But today, even when Western Protestant Christians have little understanding of other manifestations of Christianity, they still honor sacred sites and they desire to visit them.

The instincts of various Christians are different. Some would continue the sacredness by trying to keep a site as close to the biblical picture image as possible. Other Christians approach the preservation of a site as a place to build churches or to decorate the place with fine ornamentation. The Holy Land is a living place with a living history and the additions to a site reflect and preserve that history. If our ancestors in the faith had not preserved the sacred sites over the centuries, we would not have the places to visit today. So we need to be open to various kinds of sites.

There are several categories into which sacred sites can be classified:

The exact proven location. (Even the Lake of Galilee has had different names and shorelines but the lake is still there.)

The very probable place. Here is where archeologists and historians have found the most evidence of a location. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one such place.

The site that looks right.  Sunday school illustrations and pictures in Bibles have given us a vision of places in our imagination but the passing of almost 2000 years is ignored when we want to see what it “really” looked like when Jesus walked the land. Tombs are such locations but the Jordan River is very different today from what it was in the past. The wild animals are gone and the river is polluted.

Multiple sites for the same story. There are three sites called the Shepherd’s Field, each managed by a different religious association. The exact sites must be guessed at, since shepherds don’t leave a lot of evidence. And, after all, a heavenly host in the sky would have been visible by many shepherds with many flocks and there is nothing in the Bible to say there weren’t 10 locations, or even 20.  

A site from folklore. Folklore has added particulars when the Bible story does not include ordinary details. Tantur Ecumenical Institute, on a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is known in legend as the place where Mary felt her first labor pains. 

A commemorative site. The sixth station of the Via Dolorosa, where Veronica wipes the face of Jesus memorializes an event not mentioned in the sources. The Inn of the Good Samaritan, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, commemorates a story rather than an incident. Many sites of Jesus’ teachings have been developed based on the only evidence available and are not necessarily recorded in history beyond the Bible..

Sites that have disappeared. There are sometimes sites that history and archeology can verify but are no longer there. Sometimes they are under a building or a road or they are simply out in an overgrown field. Some are under settlements or were bulldozed for an archeological dig looking for a different and earlier site.

Where we believe the event took place. The exact known location of an event is not known, but it had to be someplace. Why not here?

Sites to visit concerning Jesus are listed under three categories:

South sites: West Bank (Jerusalem and Bethlehem and vicinity)

North sites:Israel itself (Nazareth and vicinity and around the Sea of Galilee)

From Jerusalem to Galilee and back (routes of Jesus and other places in the Gospels)