An incomplete picture


BETHLEHEM - APRIL 09: Interior of Church of St. Catherine on April 09, 2014 in Bethlehem, West Bank. The church, first recorded in the 15th century, is part of the Church of Nativity complex

An incomplete picture


Many years ago I was one of 11 participants of a spring semester course at the Jewish Theological Institute on Rehov Haneviim (Street of the Prophets) in Jerusalem. The others in the group were from Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Iceland and – of course – Sweden. Anders was our archaeology guide and devoted a lot of time planning for trips to sites all over Israel. He constantly reminded us, when we got on the bus, and when we got out: “Stay together when we get to the site. I’ll give you the necessary information about the site, then you can spread out and take pictures”.

John, from Taiwan, was the reason Anders found it necessary to keep reminding us. For some reason, perhaps the English language – which was the common language for all of us but not mother tongue of any, John seemed to be lost with much of the lectures and instructions. His camera, therefore, became his best companion. As soon as we got to a site, he took off from the bus, wandered as far as he could, snapping pictures, as Anders tried in vain to call him back to the group.

At the end of the day he had taken so many pictures that when he had them developed he had difficulty connecting them to relevant sites. I still remember him coming to me with a stack of photos, inquiring, “where was this?” or “what was this?”. It provided me an opportunity to solidify my memory of the sites we visited.

Much as he tried, Anders could not get John to stick with the group when we got to a site. Eventually he gave up and just watched him in dismay as he wandered to snap pictures of unknown objects.

One day we went to the Church of St. Catherine, a Catholic church and Franciscan monastery connected to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is built over some interconnected grottos or caves that lead to the Grotto of the Nativity. One of the grottos is also believed to be the burial place of St. Jerome whose significance lies in the translation of the Latin Bible, or the Vulgate.

There are benches in this undercroft when pilgrims and visitors can sit down and meditate, pray or hear tour guides briefings. That was where we – minus John – sat as Anders talked about St. Jerome and the Vulgate. Meanwhile John was all over the undercroft taking picture.

We had been there close to half an hour when suddenly a group of tourists, no doubt with the likes of John entered and the whole place was ablaze with camera flash lights. John must have gotten the message that this was an important place; so he hurried to Anders as he was still briefing us. He touched his arm to get his attention, and Anders paused.

“What is this place?” John asked.

Anders looked at him for a couple of seconds, then turned to us and said: “Let us get out of this place”.