I grew up in a Christian family, but I never became an official one. I was raised reading the Bible; therefore, I am familiar with prominent characters and events mentioned in the scriptures.
To those who are not Christians and not familiar with the Bible, it is a compilation of several books. It has an Old Testament, wherein the story started from Genesis — how God created the world and the universe. And the New Testament focused solely on the story of Jesus from birth to death as well as his resurrection and second coming.
This article is not about religion, which is a sensitive topic. I am not an expert on faith as well. But for someone who loves history and grew up reading the Bible, albeit I do not have a religion, I embarked on a journey walking on the same path where Jesus was born, grew up, baptized, jailed, tortured, and crucified.
In 2016, I visited the Holy Land, I went on that trip without knowing what I wanted to achieve, but I knew at that time, in my heart, I was meant to be there.
Bethlehem: The Birth Place of Jesus
The first stop was the place where Jesus was born. According to the Bible, Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly parents, had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a census registration. It was a mandate from Roman Emperor Ceasar Agustus. And since Joseph was born in Bethlehem, he took his family to be registered there. But there were no rooms left to accommodate them, so they ended up in a stable, and Jesus was born in a manger.
That stable is now a church called the Basilica of the Nativity, but this was not the first establishment. The original one was built in 326 B.C. by Emperor Constantine I after her mother, Empress Helena, visited the place.
Beneath the huge church lies a small look-alike fireplace, and on its floor, an image of the star is etched. This is the exact spot where Jesus was born. Tourists and pilgrims visited the place and touched the star. Here they pray and make their wishes. Even though I did not get the exact logic of it, I followed what others do.
I touched it, and I prayed too.
Inside the church, there were several pilgrims from all over the world, mostly Christians. But in the ordinary streets of Bethlehem, the Muslim community is dominant. What astounded me was, regardless of differences in religious belief, they sell Catholic souvenirs such as Nativity figurines, the cross, and the rosary to Christian tourists.
The struggle behind the wall
The Basilica of the Nativity is in Bethlehem, and Bethlehem is inside the West Bank wall, and this portion is within Palestinian authority (Muslim territory), albeit it's in the same country - Israel.
I was still a professional journalist in 2016. So, it was inevitable for me to interview, cover, and produce a story of topics that pique my interest.
In Bethlehem, I met a handful of Christian Palestinians. They are neither Jewish nor Muslim. Even though it is the birthplace of Jesus, only one percent of Christians reside in the area. And since the Israeli government and the Palestinians have a never-ending conflict, this minority group was stuck in limbo.
I interviewed one of them; he was Michael Canawati. He said, for the past 12 years, he was not allowed to cross the wall. But in 2016, he did; it became possible when he was issued by the Israeli government a clearance proving he is not a terrorist. This was a portion of my interview with him that I included in the news.
“Only this (holding his clearance) was given to me six months ago. [Why? So, before you can cross the wall?] I cannot, for the past twelve years, I didn’t see Jerusalem.” — Michael Canawati
However, despite all the hardships they are enduring because of the dispute, Christian Palestinians like Michael never wanted to leave Bethlehem. For them, it’s still the birthplace of Jesus Christ. It is also their home.
Nazareth, Bethany, Galilee, and Cana
Outside the West Bank wall is the Israel, Jewish territory. Jesus spent most of his life in this place, Jews with their Judaism faith never believed that Jesus is the “messiah” but a fraud claiming he’s the Son of God. The messiah has not come yet for them, while for the Christians, they are waiting for Jesus’ second coming.
However, regardless of these contradicting beliefs, Christian pilgrims dominate the tourism industry of Israel to visit the places where Jesus grew up, preached, and performed miracles.
Just a caveat, since I am following the path of Jesus from birth to death, in this portion of the article, I’ll be jumping from one place to another, even outside Israel for chronology's sake.
The Nazareth: where Jesus grew up
The Catholics called Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the Holy Family, and their original home lies in this compound of Churches in Nazareth — the Church of Annunciation and St. Joseph Church.
Inside the Church of Annunciation is a gated ancient structure from the first century. It is the preserved original house of Mary.
The Bible stated that Mary's house was where Angel Gabriel told her that she was the chosen one to bear the Son of God and be named, Jesus.
Therefore, many Catholics spend their time here, holding onto the railings and praying; they believed the annunciation occurred right at the door of Mary’s house.
Not too far from this place is the Church of St. Joseph; compared to the Basilica of Annunciation, it is smaller. Beneath this church was the original home of the Holy Family. The house where Jesus grew up.
Joseph was a carpenter. In this place, which he mostly did his woodworks, he taught the young Jesus about carpentry.
Bethany: baptismal of Jesus
I am moving out of Israel for a while to discuss where Jesus met John the Baptist.
Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River. But this river also acted as a border between Israel and Jordan.
Many pilgrims who wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River go straight to Israel’s commercialized baptismal area — it is majestic, clean, with blue-green water.
However, it is not the original portion of the river where Jesus was baptized. The authentic one was in Bethany, Jordan. And compared to Israel’s, the genuine one is raw, muddy, and rugged. But this place preserved it that way. Besides, this place is only visited by Christian pilgrims because Jordan is a Muslim country.
People who visit this place typically get water where Jesus was baptized.
The Sea of Galilee: where Jesus met Peter
Back to Israel, it is known for all Christians the significance of the Sea of Galilee. This iconic place is where Jesus met his first two disciples, Peter and Andrew.
These two are siblings are fisherfolks. When Jesus approached them in the Sea of Galilee, Peter and Andrew were casting their nets.
When I was a child, I thought the Sea of Galilee is a sea, but no, it was a freshwater lake. I boarded a boat to experience what it feels like sailing in the iconic water.
It was epic!
However, I didn’t manage to be spiritual at that moment because the people in our boat were dancing, drinking, and partying for the entire two hours.
According to our guide, the Sea of Galilee never changed; it was untouched. Even if Peter lives again, he will know his way around.
Other important notes in the Sea of Galilee that was mentioned in the Bible are the following:
- Jesus walked on water amid the storm and told his disciples, who were then on a boat, not to be afraid. And miraculously, the storm stopped.
- After Jesus’ resurrection, some of his disciples decided to go fishing one night. However, by morning, Jesus was at the shore, but disciples didn’t recognize him; he then told them to cast the net to the boat’s right side. Miraculously, the disciples caught a large number of fish — 153 to be exact. But they didn’t catch anything.
Cana: turned water into wine
Another significant stop in the Holy Land is the Wedding Church of Cana. This is where Jesus did his first miracle by turning water into wine.
In the book of John, it stated that Jesus, Mary, and the disciples attended a wedding in Cana. However, the wine runs out. Mary told Jesus about it; he then asked the servants to fill the jars with water. He transformed it into the best-tasting wine, which was served to the guests.
One of those jars is displayed in the Wedding Church of Cana; it was preserved inside a glass. And people write wishes and prayers on a small piece of paper and toss them inside the sacred jar.
Since it is the Wedding Church of Cana, couples visiting the Basilica have their weddings here or do their vows' renewal.
Jerusalem: The Passion of Jesus
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities globally. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claimed City as their capital.
Jews, Muslims, and Christians considered Jerusalem a holy place. Therefore, you get to see them all here too.
So, why is Jerusalem significant? Here is where Jesus was arrested, jailed, tortured, tried, crucified, died, and buried.
From the last supper to apprehension
Generally, most people knew what the Last Supper is, especially the 15th-century painting of Leonardo da Vinci. It was the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples.
In Jerusalem, the Last Supper’s room is located on the upper floor of King David’s tomb. It is called the Cenacle. When I visited the place, people were not allowed to enter the room, although we can see it from afar.
After the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, he asked them to stay awake and pray the entire night.
This garden was also the place where Jesus was arrested after he was betrayed by one of his disciples: Judas Iscariot.
In real life, the garden is full of Olive trees. And the oldest one that is still standing today is already 2000 years old. These trees are well-taken care of.
After Jesus got arrested, he was brought to the House of Caiaphas. He was tied here and severely tortured. The ropes that were used were displayed and stored in this place.
Being in this establishment was genuinely disturbing, but the thing that bewildered me was a weird hole where you can peek into a tiny deep dungeon.
Our guide said it was the pit where Jesus stayed the night before he was crucified. And the only entrance and exit point of this pit is that hole. So, imagine how dreadful it was for Jesus.
Currently, stairs were built so visitors can go down into the dungeon. But it is too deep and too small; thus, air circulation was limited.
There was a portion on the wall with an odd discoloration. And our guide said it’s where Jesus sat the entire night, leaning on the wall, bleeding because of the severe beating. He was looking at the hole and talking to God.
The public humiliation and the cross
Jerusalem is where Jesus tried "unfairly." The mob chose a notorious criminal to be saved while convicting Jesus for claiming he’s the messiah. Even Pontious Pilate, the Roman governor, was confused about this trial. Because based on facts, Jesus didn’t commit any crime. But since the mob, chose Jesus, Pontious ordered Jesus' crucifixion. Technically, the Romans ordered the execution.
Devoted pilgrims visiting Jerusalem were allowed to carry a heavy cross behind their back. And travel to the same paths Jesus walked on while being tortured until he reached the Golgotha, the hill where he was crucified.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Currently, the Golgotha is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Although some scholars argued this is not the exact spot because Romans normally crucified criminals outside Jerusalem.
Since I am not a theologist, I was merely retelling the story our guide told us.
Inside the church, visitors allowed to touch the stone where Jesus’ cross was placed. But you have to fall in line and wait for your turn. Don’t hug it too much because the queue is always long.
Another sacred stone people love to touch and do their prayers is the limestone rock that looks like a bed. It is believed, when Jesus died, his body was placed here and cleaned.
Not too far from the Golgotha and the burial slab is the tomb of Jesus. However, when I was there, it was under renovation. Still, visitors were allowed to enter the tomb in small batches, although they have to be very quick. Also, taking photos inside the tomb is not permitted.
It was a surreal feeling to be able to see and touch Jesus’ tomb. It was a tiny cloistered space that can only fit a maximum of six persons. It was dark too. When we were inside, we knelt, so we can all fit.
Visiting the Holy Land and walking the same path where Jesus walked was a remarkable experience. And even if you are not a Christian, you would still get to appreciate these places because historically, the story of Jesus is significant.
For the Christians, he is the messiah. A prophet for the Muslims and for the Jews, he was a historical figure.
The story of Jesus after death changed the world's narrative and greatly shaped our society today.