Cleopatra, Christmas And The View From Masada

Posted on Sun 01/01/2012 by



Andrew BoltBy Andrew Bolt

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City. AFP

Andrew is on holidays and is visiting Israel. he sends this Post from Jerusalem…..TonyfromOz.

It’s Christmas and I’m in Jerusalem, and already I feel awkward.

See, there aren’t many places where you seem to be making a political statement just by visiting, or a religious one by visiting at the wrong time. Or right.

Visiting China no longer makes you seem a socialist sympathiser. Touring South Africa no longer marks you as a racist or  Quisling.

I can even visit Burma again to admire the golden Shwedagon Pagoda or temple city of Pagan without being made to feel I’m a dupe of the junta, lining the pockets of the country’s mad generals.  After all, isn’t this the country we’ve now agreed to help come out of the cold?

But Israel is different. It’s  so loaded, that my wife felt forced after a while to simply tell friends we were off to “the Middle East”, which at least sounds vaguely exotic and sensual.

Not Israel, which makes you seem so neo-conservative. Or militantly religious, whether you are a Christian or a Jew.

Maybe there’s something in the white rocks that make Israel  so polarising for so much of its history. It’s the one patch of earth that Jews, Muslims and Christians have all treated as so sacred as to be worth fighting over – again and again and again.

In fact, it’s so intense that even Jerusalem ‘s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over where Christ was apparently crucified and entombed, has been a battleground for the six  different churches  which each control bits of it.  No wonder they’ve left the keys with some Muslims, being neutral.

It seems an amazing co-incidence that three great religions should all think parts of Israel holy to them, and that two should have been born in a country  so tiny that you could fit it into Tasmania four times over.

But what is truly amazing is that it’s actually no coincidence at all. It’s nothing at all to do with something spiritual in the water, of which there’s so little that the Jordon River seems more like a creek.

It’s really the birthplace of just one religion, Judaism. But so short is the world of good ideas that the best seem to spread.

Christians were really just one of the many branches of Jewish faith, like the sect that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls in the hills overlooking the Dead Sea,

Jesus was a Jew, and  the early Christians met in the network of synagogues scattered throughout the Roman Empire, where one in 12 citizens were Jewish. It took St Paul to start nudging this Jewish faith into something very distinctive.

And when Muhammad decided to invent a religion of his own, he looked at what had worked best in his part of the world and pinched from both.

Few things are original. And  the most heated arguments are often about the smallest divides.

Forty years ago, the hippie trail went past not far from here. Australians would usually pick it up in Bangkok or Goa, or take the short-cut to Kathmandu, where  you can still visit the Freak Street named in the honor of all those budget travellers on a pilgrimage of and through poverty.

From there you’d go through India and Pakistan into Afghanistan. Then you’d either go through Iran or Iraq and Syria to Turkey and on through Europe to Britain, where you’d look for a job in a pub or a cheque from your parents.

But check that list. Which parent would today dream of financing their child’s trip through Pakistan’s border territories, let along Afghanistan?  Syria now seems to have a civil war on its hands, and while Iraq is no longer terrorist central, I wouldn’t want to be hitchhiking through it.

How much more dangerous the world has become. The hippie trail is now an invitation to kidnap.

It started to lose its chic when psychopath Charles Sobhraj  – aka the “Bikini Killer” – became infamous for robbing, drugging and killing travellers he’d picked up on the trail. Now gangs of Sobhrajs seem to infest some of the territories it crosses.

It’s easy to get pessimistic. “See Israel while it’s still there,” is my motto, and the growing militancy in neighbouring Egypt to the south and the unchecked nuclear weapons program of Islamofascist Iran to the east is why.

But Israel has been there before, of course. Or  correction: it’s not been there before.

King David and King Solomon’s Jewish kingdom was lost for centuries until the extraordinary Maccabee family built an Israel again. Then came the Romans and Israel was gone once more for nearly 2000 years.

It’s a miracle it exists again, and several times it nearly didn’t. Even now, modern Israel has not lived as long as the average lifespan of one man  – next to no time at all in history.

Israel’s astonishing monuments, ruins, ancient buildings and historical detritus all remind us to be humble, and not just about the country’s future but of the future of all great nations that think their power must surely last.

Stand on the top of sheer Masada, probably Israel’s most inspiring and memorable landmark, and you can see the ruins of the palace built by Herod, a king so powerful that historians call him “the Great”.

See, deep below on the plain, the outlines still of the camp of an army of a Roman empire so powerful that it seemed fated to last forever. That empire, too, is long gone.  Around you is country over which fought pharaohs, the generals of Alexander the Great, and the great kings of Babylon and Persia .

Mark Antony was in this land, and Cleopatra owned the famous date palms of Jericho, just an hour away up the road.

What a country. How small the world seems from it, and how connected. How short history seems, but how long its spans.

In Sinai, an Egyptian called Moses once had a vision, and now two thirds of the world’s peoples  share some part of it, too, from Reykjavik to Hobart.

Whole empires have come and gone in the time between, and the only thing that’s lasted is an idea. In Israel, even this agnostic can glimpse the eternal.

Andrew Bolt is a journalist and columnist writing for The Herald Sun in Melbourne Victoria Australia.

Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book  Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.

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