Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together . . . They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”  Isa. 65:18–19, 25

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall

The Western Wall is part of the foundation of the huge platform that Jews call the Temple Mount. The bottom courses of stone above ground are from King Herod’s construction. The Dome of the Rock (upper left) is at the likely location of the ancient temple. Jews pray in the courtyard below at right, near the wall.

What spot on earth elicits more spiritual yearning than the great platform  in Jerusalem that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount?

On this “holy mountain” King Solomon built the first temple, a structure Babylonians destroyed four centuries later. Here Zerubbabel built the second temple–demolished by Roman armies a generation after Jesus’ ministry. On this platform Jesus upset both money-changing tables and religious authorities. Here Muslim ruler Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock shrine in the seventh century—an elegant structure that still is a jewel in the heart of the Old City.

Under the dome is an outcrop of bedrock that, according to Jewish and Islamic traditions, is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. From this rock, say Muslims, Mohammed and his horse took flight for a nighttime visit to heaven. Sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this religious precinct long has been a flashpoint of conflict.

Devout Jews do not go up on the great platform for two reasons: 1) the presence of Jews is offensive to Muslims who control the precinct, and 2) there is danger of unwittingly walking into the Holy of Holies; no one knows precisely where the ancient temple stood.

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall, wailing

A worshiper weeps against the  great retaining wall, all that remains of the temple destroyed in AD 70.

So Jews pray outside and below the great platform, at a courtyard where a 200-foot length of the retaining wall built by King Herod is accessible. Colossal, finely-dressed masonry stones, some weighing an incredible 500 tons, form the wall. This facade is about as close as worshippers can get to the site of the ancient temple without going up onto the platform.

The closest spot is an ancient underground hall next to Dome of the Rock along the Western Wall. Here Orthodox Jewish men pray, some before banners depicting the ancient temple. Others lean against the Western Wall and weep for loss of the temple.

Elsewhere in the Holy Land, Palestinians weep for loss of homeland and civil rights since the founding of Israel as a state in 1948. Jews lament destruction of the temple and unfathomable losses of the Holocaust. Palestinians grieve what they call the Nachba (“disaster”) of 1948, when Israeli armies destroyed hundreds of Arab villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Many of those Palestinians and their descendants still live in refugee camps today.

At the Western Wall I thank God that Jews at last have a homeland. I love the scriptures they cherish and pray daily with Psalms they use. I also pray for Palestinians, who deserve security and dignity in the land of their birth. The provocation of Jewish settlers moving into West Bank territory that belongs to Palestinians grieves me and makes Israel less secure.

I pray that Jews will follow the best lights of their own biblical prophets and seek justice for all in the Holy Land. I support Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and others who work for reconciliation among peoples of the Holy Land. I want Christians around the world to be agents of healing rather than add to polarization through uncritical Zionism or coercive boycotts. God hasten the day when the wolf and the lamb feed together in Jerusalem.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************IMG_0425

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Our foes are monsters!

“The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.” Num. 13:32

Ellen Kraybill examines a large vase from about 650 BC that depicts Odysseus blinding the Cyclops. Archeological Museum of Eleusis, Greece.

Look closely at the grisly scene on the great amphora vase in this photo. The center figure—Odysseus, hero of Homer’s epic poem—thrusts a pointed and heated pole into the eye of a Cyclops named Polyphemus. The eyeball “hissed around the spike,” Homer says.

The one-eyed giant—now blinded—had trapped Odysseus and companions in his cave. The monster already had devoured several of them, “gaping and crunching like a mountain lion.” So the captives got their tormenter drunk, gouged his eye, and contrived escape.

Recently I thrilled to stories of The Odyssey as my wife Ellen and I visited biblical sites across Greece. Homer’s 700 BC poem is magnificent, with derring-do on the high seas, scenes of lavish hospitality, and wit on every page.

But brutality frames and pervades the epic. Odysseus is on a ten-year voyage back from ferocious war against Troy (a battle described in The Iliad). When Odysseus finally makes it home to Ithaca, he splatters the brains and guts of every single suitor who tried to woo his wife Penelope while he was gone. Thus ends the saga.

Museum Collection: Archaeological Museum of Eleusis, Eleusis, Greece Catalogue Number: TBA Beazley Archive Number: -- Ware: Proto-Attic Black Figure Shape: Amphora Painter: -- Date: ca 650 BC Period: Archaic SUMMARY Odysseus and his men blind the Kyklops Polyphemos with a stake.

Biblical Philistines—especially the giant Goliath—come to mind when I read The Odyssey. Though Homer probably drafted his epic poem about 700 BC, his tales about Troy and Odysseus likely go back in oral tradition to about 1200 BC—exactly when Israelites were entering Canaan several hundred miles to the east.

The political chaos in Greece and Turkey that Homer describes in The Iliad and The Odyssey could be the same upheaval that pushed Philistines and other “Sea Peoples” of the Aegean region toward Canaan. Philistines settled in Canaan just as Israelites entered from Egypt—and the two peoples came into conflict (see more on Philistines at

Ever notice how nations and peoples in conflict are tempted to make their foes either subhuman or superhuman? The Cyclopes, as Homer portrays them, are a boorish tribe of one-eyed, anti-social, lumbering cannibals—both subhuman and superhuman.

When Israelites, after wandering in the wilderness, sent scouts into Canaan, the spies reported that the land was inhabited by giants who made the Israelites feel “like grasshoppers” (Num. 13:33). Philistines—who in many ways had more advanced culture than the Israelites—got personified in Israelite memory with the nine-foot giant, Goliath. His spear shaft was “like a weaver’s beam,” and he promised to feed shepherd boy David to the birds (1 Sam. 17).

More recent conflicts have generated talk of giants. American propaganda during World War II, for example, sometimes portrayed Germans and Japanese—now our friends—as subhuman monsters.

Popular media today sometimes portrays Islam, with its magnificent heritage of culture and faith, as pure menace and terror. The reality is that all peoples and nations bring a mixture of noble generosity and selfish violence.

Within the Old Testament there is hope that “all families of the earth” someday will be blessed by the faithfulness of Abraham, Sara and their descendants (Gen. 12:3). Hebrew prophets foresaw a time when nations will cease learning war (Isa. 2:4).

It is right for Christians to read blood-and-guts portions in the Bible, because these still are realities of human experience that we cannot ignore. But we also can rejoice that the trajectory of history ends with a Lamb who brings a “healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).


© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************

Want to see Jordan, Israel, and Palestine? To join a Peace-Pilgrim Bible study tour in 2016, see

If you benefit from this website, please recommend it to your pastor and friends. Thank you!