I’m sure every true minister of Jesus Christ has dreamed of visiting Jerusalem and the Holy Land and so have millions of others as well.
This cradle of three religions had always seemed, somehow, to be a mystic, almost unreal land far off—scarcely part of this same Earth. Now we were to be privileged to visit this land we had heard so much about and read about ever since we were old enough to read the Bible.
And we were to learn that it is, indeed, a real land right here on this same Earth on which we live. The land there is composed of the same kind of Earth we have always lived on.
Our visit made the Bible come alive! The Bible—the records of Abraham, Moses and ancient Israel, David, Nehemiah, Jesus Christ, the apostles—suddenly became real!
Here, now, is the third part of Mrs. Armstrong’s diary.
Part Three by Loma D. Armstrong
We arrived back in Amman, Jordan, May 7, 1956, in the evening, tired and dusty. We then picked up our bags we had left at the hotel and, after looking in vain for mail from home, continued toward Jerusalem.
From Amman to Jerusalem
This trip was so very interesting. The country is more beautiful and every bit of the way filled with the history of the Israelites—with their wars, not only with the pagan nations around them, but among themselves.
We saw the place where Absalom was killed. It is no longer a wooded area, but today a bleak land denuded of trees. There are no oak trees. Remember how Absalom tried to escape the armies of David by riding on a mule through the area called the wood of Ephraim? How his long hair was caught in the thick boughs of a great oak before he was slain by Joab?
We went through Jericho where God caused the walls to fall as the Israelites marched around the city.
We saw the mountain from which Moses viewed the Promised Land before he died.
Every mile of the way was breathtaking. We were seeing in our imaginations, again, the tribes of Israel before and after they reached the Holy Land, then a land of rich vegetation, a land flowing with milk and honey; but now, because of their sins and their idolatry it is a land under a curse. The only trees are those recently set out. Most of the land in Arab hands is uncared for.
We went through Bethphage and Bethany. Bethany is where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus went into the city of Jerusalem, He often went to Bethany or out to the Mount of Olives to spend the night.
We passed the garden of Gethsemane on our way to the hotel in Jerusalem which was situated outside the walls of the city. We looked forward to a good bath and a good bed after the long day’s ride from Petra. We were quite disappointed however. After viewing the bathroom in connection with our rooms, we felt it would be cleaner to go to bed without a bath. So, after washing ourselves in sponge baths we tried to rest in very uncomfortable beds.
We arose early, anxious to see all there is to see in ancient Jerusalem. The old Jerusalem of Jesus’s time is not there now, except a few places where excavations have been made some 30 feet below the present surface. Many shrines exist over deep holes or caves. To get to them one has to go down a steep stairway through dank, dark passageways; then there is a cave or hole where candles are burning and where people are kneeling, kissing rocks or cave walls. They believe these shrines to be the places where this or that happened in the life of Christ.
One such place, called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was crowded with people all overawed by a stone. Some were rubbing their hands over it and then over their bodies. Another had an airplane bag (the Pan-American bag that is given with purchase of ticket) that he was rubbing over the stone. Another man lifted himself up and scooted around on the rock, rubbing his hip over it. Perhaps he expected healing from this procedure. Everyone backed out of the place crossing himself or herself.
The Site of the Crucifixion
The original level of the ancient city in the time of Jesus was 20 to 30 feet below the present level. Two walls have been built in different places since the original wall around Jerusalem, and only a small part of the old wall has been excavated. The base of the old Damascus Gate has recently been excavated under 20 feet of debris.
From this place can be seen “the place of the skull.” No one can fail to see the resemblance. There is a low eroded forehead, two deep hollows that make the eyes, a nose and, near the ground level, twisted lips.
We viewed this skull from a spot near the tomb in the garden; then walked past an ancient winepress to enter the nearby tomb.
It was impossible fully to realize where we were—what we were seeing! To actually visit, to really see, and to walk into the sepulcher from which Jesus rose immortal from the dead—the actual spot where the angels sat, at the right of the entrance—was an experience we couldn’t fully comprehend until later.
It is an unfinished sepulcher; only one tomb was completed. Two others were partially finished. We saw the stone where the angel sat and also where the linen cloths lay that Peter and John saw as they stooped down and looked into the tomb.
We walked in the garden where Mary met the resurrected Christ. We saw the place where the stone had been moved in the groove to cover the opening of the sepulcher. Near all this are evidences of rocks split by earthquakes. All of this, at the foot of Golgotha, was excavated in the year 1893. This is the place where Joseph of Arimathaea hurried to bury the body of Jesus as the high-day Sabbath drew on.
This tomb is at the foot of “the place of the skull.” There is a garden surrounding the tomb. It all is as the Bible describes, while the place in the city called the “Holy Sepulcher” is under a church, down a steep stairway to a hole in the ground where there is a rock.
We visited many places in the Old City where churches and shrines were built over spots purported to be where Christ did this or that. They probably are fakes. All have their boxes out for money.
The ancient city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The Arab city now in existence on the site is crowded. Their mosque, or Dome of the Rock, now is at the site of the temple Solomon built.
Inside this Dome of the Rock, which is built on Mt. Moriah, is a huge boulder surrounded by the dome. This boulder is covered and protected by glass on the circular hall around it. There is an entrance to a cave below this rock to an ancient threshing floor. There we found Muslim women bowing, kneeling and touching their heads to the floor in their worship. On top of the rock, they claim, is the place Abraham led Isaac to sacrifice and near the place where the ram was caught in the bushes. Near the Dome of the Rock is the “gate called Beautiful” where the lame beggar was healed by Peter and John.
We were driven out to see the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna), or hell as the Authorized Version reads.
We drove to Bethlehem to the church built over the place claimed to be the stable where Christ was born. This also is a deep hole under the church, down steep stairs, through dank, dark rat-runs to a cave—not a stable or anything resembling a stable or manger where Christ was born as given by Scripture. Here was an idol in a cradle. There were also numerous candles and odd lamps burning; and people were also kissing walls and floors and crossing themselves.
Adjoining this is a Greek Orthodox church over another hole they claim is the birthplace of Christ. Here there was another statue in another cradle and other candles and other people kissing stones, floors and walls. Our guide told us that the two churches, or the priests of the two, get into real fights sometimes. Each church has out its money boxes, and each watches the other in jealousy.
We drove by Rachel’s tomb on the way to and from Bethlehem and stopped there for a few moments. She died here at the birth of Benjamin.
When Not to Eat ‘Lamb’!
When we returned to our hotel, we were tired and hungry. I tried to eat. Muslims do not eat unclean meats but the “lamb” they served had been a lamb many years ago. Although I lost a lot of weight, I don’t believe I’ll be able to eat “lamb” again for months or maybe years. From Egypt on, everything has been “lamb.” Strong, smelly, tough lamb! Everyone and every place smells of sheep, goats and camels. I wonder if I will ever be able to get the sheepy, goaty, camel-ly smell out of my memory!
The next day we went to the top of the Mount of Olives. This was a real inspiration. This is the place where Christ spent much of His time, and the mountain from which He ascended into heaven and on which His feet will again stand when He returns to this Earth a glorified Christ and King of kings. We who overcome and are faithful unto the end will be there with Him. I may never again see the Mount of Olives in my mortal life but I expect to see it again then with Him.
We walked down into the beautiful garden of Gethsemane among the ancient olive trees—some over 2,000 years old. We walked in the place where Christ prayed and sweated great drops of blood in His agony before He was betrayed by Judas. It is impossible to express the thoughts, the sensations and the inspirations that one experiences here. It is so cold on paper, but to be there and experience it makes it all very real. To me the Bible is a new book now—so alive and real!
Our time in the Old City of Jerusalem, under Arab control, was up. We were driven to the Mandelbaum Gate where we were to pass out of Jordan into Israel—the Jewish section. Yasser took us to the gate and through it to a small shed which is the Arab border customs house. Just outside are cement tank traps, tangled barbed wires and many bombed-out buildings.
From here on for 100 yards was “no man’s land.”
No Arab was allowed to help us across to the Israeli side; so Yasser stood on a cement tank trap waving to us as we started out on foot across this precarious ground. Mr. Armstrong and Dick were loaded down with bags. I had the two cameras, Dick’s blue airplane bag, my hatbox and the handbag. Watched behind by the Arabs and in front by the Jews, we caught the feeling of animosity that exists between the two enemies. Soon we were faced by a sand-bagged shack on the Jewish side. We were watched through a small window used as a place to shoot any intruder.
An Israeli met us when we had finally made it across “no man’s land” and helped us into Israeli customs. We had to call American Express from here and found out that our Israeli guide had gone to Tel Aviv. We then called a taxi and went to our hotel—the King David.
What a change! It was like suddenly entering a new world.
All was different here. The streets are clean and wide. The children playing on the lawns are clean and healthy looking. The hotel is beautiful and clean. The luxury of baths in clean bathrooms and eating in a clean dining room was such a wonderful feeling. I spent one day sick abed.
Our tour over all Israel was so different from the Arab countries. There were no more Arab robes, nor diseased, crippled and deformed people. These were more like the people of our country, yet they are not from America but from the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.
We spent a couple of days seeing the Israeli side of Jerusalem. It is a comparatively new city, and very modern. It probably was open field in Jesus’s day. None of old historic Jerusalem is in Israeli hands [in 1965].
After a visit to the tombs of the Sanhedrin and to the town where John the Baptist was born, we drove to Tel Aviv, over the ancient territories of Judah, Benjamin and Dan. Tel Aviv, of course, is on the Mediterranean seacoast. From here, stopping only to check for mail, we proceeded north along the coast through the ancient lands of Dan, Ephraim and into Manasseh, then northeast over into the Valley of Jezreel and to Megiddo. This place is the “Armageddon” of Bible prophecy, where armies assemble for the future battle of the “Great Day of God Almighty.”
In this valley more battles have been fought than any other place in the world. Once again blood will flow “unto the horse bridles” at this place. In the distance, across the valley, we could see Mt. Tabor.
We continued along the highway northeast to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus lived as a boy. Nazareth is located on a rather steep hill. The ancient city of Jesus’s boyhood is gone—buried underneath today’s city. The present city is now and has been for hundreds of years occupied by Arabs. The Arabs have built their city with adobe and stone.
Again we were taken to a dirty cave over which is a church. They claim it to be the boyhood home of Jesus. There was another they called the home of Mary’s girlhood. But Jesus was a carpenter; and they did not live in dirt caves. Here again were fakes for money-getting.
We were taken to a synagogue that had been excavated. This was the site of an earlier synagogue where Jesus did attend and where He “stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16).
After another Arab lunch in Nazareth, we drove past Cana of Galilee where Jesus performed His first miracle.
As we neared the Sea of Galilee, we stopped and viewed it first from a high hill. The sea is approximately 700 feet below sea level.
As we drove over all this country between Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee, it brought again to life the New Testament. Jesus walked over these hills along this way. He too viewed the blue Sea of Galilee from this high point, for it is on the way to Capernaum.
We drove along the seashore where even today the fishermen launch their boats and mend their nets. This is where Jesus called Peter and Andrew, and where they left their nets and followed Him.
We went over the hills where He fed the 5,000, and we could view the place, across the lake, where He cast the demons out of the two demoniacs, and the swine ran down the steep embankment into the sea.
We passed through Magdala, the home of Mary the Magdalene, and then on to Capernaum. The town is gone but the synagogue has been excavated. It is in ruins now. It is a much larger place than the one in Nazareth. Here again, though, they have a high iron fence around the place and expect money to be given for looking at it.
Jesus devoted a large part of His ministry to this region around the lake of Galilee, especially around the northwest portion of the lake where we were, and it was a very impressive experience to be there on the very spot.
It was growing late in the afternoon, so we drove on across the Valley of Jezreel again, forking northward, arriving in Haifa in the early evening. Haifa is a very busy seaport city, located on a bay overlooked by the north tip of Mt. Carmel. We registered at our hotel and went for a walk around the city. A United States cruiser was in port, and we saw a number of American sailors.
A Jewish Wedding
When we returned to the modern hotel for dinner, we found that hotel guests were not being admitted to the main dining room, located on the lower level below the street-level lobby. A Jewish wedding feast was in progress and the wedding guests completely filled the large main dining room. Hotel guests were being served in a smaller room on the same floor. It was filled, and we had to wait in this lower-level lobby some 30 minutes for a table. This gave us opportunity to observe a little of the Jewish wedding feast. This was most interesting, after having passed by Cana of Galilee that day, where Jesus attended a Jewish wedding more than 1,900 years ago, and turned the water into wine. We learned that Jewish weddings are elaborate affairs. The bride and groom came out in the lobby to have their pictures taken while we were there.
We spent the night in Haifa. Next morning we were driven all over the city, and stopped to go through a Jewish industrial fair being held there at the time. Here we saw displayed exhibits of the various products now being manufactured in the new nation of Israel. It was an eye-opening revelation. It seemed to us that the Jews who have returned to Palestine are now manufacturing there almost every commodity and gadget that they need to be self-supporting. We saw literally thousands of different items of modern Jewish manufacture, for home, farm, office or factory.
Then we were driven up on Mt. Carmel, which overlooks the city.
We ate lunch on Mt. Carmel where Elijah lived. We drove past the place where Jezebel and King Ahab lived when she was thrown out of the window and the dogs ate her. We also saw the place of their summer palace, and the place where Elijah dared the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn up the sacrifice, and where God, at Elijah’s prayer, sent down the fire that not only burned the sacrifice but the altar, the stones and the dust. We were over the hills and dales where the prophets of Baal were slain.
From there we proceeded south and visited one of the Hadassah farms where Jewish children, from all countries, many of them orphans, are entered at the age of 10 and schooled and trained until they are 18. It was a fruitful and beautiful place.
The children do all the work—care for the buildings, the chickens, the stock and the farm. The supervisors train them to do each job well. They are so happy there that even though they sometimes leave for a visit to their homes they are always in a hurry to return.
We took pictures of this place. The overseer turned on a beautiful fountain for us and showed us the flowers. We took pictures of them in color.
Some of the boys took Mr. Armstrong and Dick to show them the stock. They are all very proud of their place and their work.
As we drove through the fertile fields, I stopped and picked some of the lovely lavender hollyhocks that grow wild everywhere along the roads.
Much of our journey from Haifa to Tel Aviv was along the Mediterranean Sea. It was such a beautiful trip.
We visited a communal farm between Haifa and Tel Aviv where families live and have everything in common. These are very productive farms, and because the land of Palestine has had its rest, it is very fertile.
These people live in large buildings and have a common dining hall, kitchen and living room. The barns and dairy are nearby, while the fields go for miles in all directions.
They drive out in the morning to cultivate the land. Each group has its certain work to do.
That American Tourist Again!
When we reached Tel Aviv we found a modern city. It was Friday afternoon when we arrived. Our hotel was a beautiful modern building on the seashore. When we entered the dining room here again was the woman whom we had seen and heard at Baalbek, Amman and again at the King David in Jerusalem. It seemed wherever we went she was there. We did not want to start a conversation with her or rather have her try to start one with us, so we veered off to another corner of the dining room.
Our rooms here were very nice. On leaving us after taking up our bags, the boy said, “Shalom.” Each time anyone greeted us this was the word they used.
We had a new experience the next day. Everything all over the city was closed. It was the Sabbath—no buses, no streetcars, not even any mail delivery to the hotel. Yet the Sabbath is not observed as a sacred day. The only synagogue we saw was a small one. All streets within two or three blocks of it each way were closed to traffic. However, the other streets were full of people out walking or on the beach swimming, surfboard riding and playing games. It is a day used by many for their pleasure.
The land now called Israel is being rebuilt by Jews who are leaving God entirely out of their plans.
I sat on the beach at the rear of the hotel and a Jewess from New York was there with a Hadassah group. She talked to me of the wonderful things they were doing for the children and of the general upbuilding of the land of Israel. But when I tried to talk of the part their religion had in the building of the country there was no answer. She just was not interested. God is not in the picture at all.
We had driven out to the ruins of Ashdod, a totally ruined and deserted Arab town since 1948. Thence we went to desolate Ashkelon where some of the ruins of the ancient city have been excavated and where part of the ancient wall still stands. God said that this city would be completely destroyed, and it was.
We drove to Ekron where we took pictures of a group of Yemenite Jewish children. They are very dark.
After another night in Tel Aviv, we flew to Istanbul, Turkey. We had to fly over the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Cyprus—one of the world’s trouble spots—Asian Turkey, over the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus before arriving in Istanbul, which is located in European Turkey.
We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul that was built by the American hotel man, Conrad Hilton.
Viewing the Black Sea Near Russia
Our first trip here was a boat ride up the Bosporus to the entrance of the Black Sea—Russian waters. We saw the submarine nets near the entrance to the Black Sea, put there by the Turks to prevent Russian submarines from coming through.
The trip was tiring because the boat was packed and we could hardly find even standing room. This was because we were there during the time of the completion of the Ramadan—a 30-day Muslim fast, which is ended with three days of feasting and holiday. Although the Turks are Muslims in religion, they do not wear the Arab dress or the fez, the robes, the veils for women, etc. These were all outlawed by Ataturk, a former ruler.
Our guide this time was a woman. She was a very nice-looking Turkish woman, who in summer works for American Express and in winter teaches in a girls’ school.
At the end of our boat trip up the Bosporus, we landed at a large village and took a car back through the country to Istanbul.
Many of the buildings in Istanbul are modern, but many also are very, very old frame houses so ancient they look as if they are ready to cave in; yet people live even up in the third and fourth stories of these old firetraps.
Our guide took us through the old mosque and also the palace of the king, now a museum where we saw the largest collection of china on Earth. There was room after room filled with it from all parts of the world.
Our stay in Istanbul was short. We left there May 17 and flew over the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea to Athens, Greece.
Greece and Its Statues
The German president and his retinue had taken over this hotel where we had reservations; so we had to find another. The beds were just thin pads on wooden slats with no springs and not enough cover. The bathroom was dirty, so we only spent a few hours in our rooms and the rest of the time looking over the city where the Apostle Paul spent so much time.
There is always a silver lining to every cloud. Even though we had to stay in a very uncomfortable place, we were not in the same hotel with the lady whom we first met at Baalbek who did get in the hotel where the Germans were.
We had to avoid her. She caused trouble wherever she went. At the King David while in Jerusalem, she had several waiters trying to soothe her ruffled feathers and finally, before we left, the head waiter had been called to try to calm her. We scurried out of sight of her in this hotel.
Our guide was a woman—a Greek Orthodox—and our driver was a man. We drove to the museums, then past the palace and back to the hotel for lunch.
During our visit in the museums, our guide was disgusted with us and frustrated at our lack of enthusiasm over the icons and religious trappings and pictures. She would exclaim, “Isn’t this beautiful?” over some picture and receive no response from us. Finally, Mr. Armstrong told her what he thought of superstition and gave her a good explanation of what life is all about. She heard the gospel for the first time in her life.
We went to the marketplace where Paul disputed with the Athenians. We also saw Mars’ Hill where Paul told the Greek “wise” men that they were too superstitious and declared to them the true God. We went up to the famous Acropolis and spent some time there.
Our stay was not long in Athens, but we were able to see all the Bible places connected with Paul’s ministry.
On to Rome
As we flew over the Mediterranean, across the boot of Italy, along the coast of Italy, the Bay of Naples and then to Rome, we were contemplating staying no longer than two days; we were now one week ahead of schedule. However, when we arrived May 18, we called the hotel in London by telephone to try to advance our reservations there five days, but found they were crowded and no space was available until Friday, May 25; so we stayed the full week in Rome.
The city is so very interesting. We spent every day in historic places. On Thursday, May 19, we drove to Naples along the Appian Way where Paul entered Rome after landing near or in the Bay of Naples. It was a very beautiful drive to Naples with many interesting places to see.
After seeing Naples, we drove to the ruined city of Pompeii. This was the most startling place we have seen. In the year a.d. 79, Pompeii was completely covered with ashes from Mt. Vesuvius. It was the city of 20,000 people. While thousands escaped from the city to the sea, hundreds perished in their homes and in the streets.
In the year 1860, excavations began. We walked down the narrow cobblestone streets worn by chariot wheels and saw public buildings still standing. Only the walls remained. The roofs were gone—fallen in from the weight of the ashes and cinders.
We entered the doors of many homes and saw, in some, their household gods. These were near the entrance to the homes.
We saw the bodies of the victims that have been found preserved in the ash. These were in the museum. Even the expressions on their faces are preserved. One dog still with the chain around his neck was twisted, with his head under his body, showing the agony it suffered before it died.
There are two loaves of bread preserved and hardened. Here was bread 2,000 years old.
There was also the body of a woman with her arm over her face to protect it. An expression of stark fear and agony was on her face. Some of the bones of the hand and leg were showing through the encrusted body.
We walked past their pagan temples and through the city center. One has to visit the place to really understand. It was overwhelming. One feels shocked beyond expression and has a great pity for these people, even though they have been dead over 1,800 years. It is impossible to realize that it happened so long ago when you are there and viewing their bodies.
The Image of Mary
We drove back to Rome. On the way we passed a funeral in one of the villages. The hearse was a highly decorated, immense, horse-drawn affair; and the whole funeral procession was more like a parade.
When we entered the suburbs of Rome, we got into a traffic jam that seemed hours before we moved. When finally we began to inch along, we found what had held up traffic. It was a life-size statue called Mary that was on a brightly lighted truck used in a political campaign. An election was coming up, and the Christian Democrats were urging everyone to vote to defeat the Communists.
It seemed that wherever a statue called Mary was seen in Rome many worshipers would stop and stare in worshipful awe. They will even stop city traffic.
Statue of Peter
We went through St. Peter’s Cathedral again, once more watching people as they pass the seated statue in the cathedral, kissing its big toe. One after another they kissed the big toe, even lifting up little children. Whether diseased, dirty or clean, all were crossing themselves and kissing the toe that was now worn shiny from years of this procedure.
A halo has been placed over the head—or perhaps it’s called a crown, and huge keys made and fastened in the hand. It is now called “St. Peter” with the keys to the Kingdom of God.
We went through the treasury in the church and saw millions of dollars worth of jeweled religious robes, crowns and all sorts of things. Among them was the triple crown of the pope. In some jeweled objects were bones, small bones or piece of bone from some pope or saint.
We went through the Vatican Museum on two different days. It was our third visit to these places.
We were glad when we were able to leave Rome and once again fly (even though I dislike flying) to England. We flew over the Mediterranean, and then over the Alps. We flew very near Mt. Blanc and that was awe inspiring and beautiful. It is the highest mountain in the Alps. All the flight across those snowcapped mountains was so beautiful that I almost relaxed.
It was beginning to become dark as we flew over France and the English Channel.
When we arrived in London, George Meeker, from our London office, was there to meet us. It was almost like arriving home.
Our long, long trip over Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece and Italy was over. The English seemed like home folks. London looked so good.
Here we finally had letters from home and at last good clean food and comfortable beds, and, of course, George Meeker.