Israel and Middle East

Plants and Trees of the Bible – What a Fun Show!

by Steve Ray on January 28, 2016

You may not realize how often plants and trees play a part in Scripture! To understand the land and culture of the Bible is to open your eyes to the whole story of salvation.

Recently I did a fun show on Relevant Radio about the Trees & Plants in the Bible. Hope you enjoy it. Starts at 1:00 minute into the show.

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I am back in Israel now! Greetings from the Land! I posted this blog a year ago — but I am posting it again so you can see Bethlehem from a unique perspective, from my bike. I think you will enjoy this fun and educational adventure riding through Bethlehem and Jerusalem today.

Steve with son-in-law Wesley Sorrill

We are in Israel with my daughter Charlotte, her husband Wesley and my wife Janet. We are picking up our bus full of people tomorrow at the Tel Aviv airport. We are looking forward to a wonderful pilgrimage through the land of Our Lord.

We arrived a day before our group so my son-in-law and I decided to take an adventure from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and back. Yesterday was Christmas and here in the Land it will be Christmas until January 6.

Entering Church of Nativity in Bethlehem

So we started our run and bike ride from the birthplace of Christ to the place where he was crucified, buried and rose again. We had a great time together getting good exercise as we explored the land of the Bible.

We all hope you enjoy this video and it again reminds you of the truth of the Catholic Faith. It is rooted in history and is true with a capital T.

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem! 

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Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

by Steve Ray on December 23, 2015

Church of the Agony in Gethsemane

Today we are having Mass at Gethsemane on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. How do we know this is really Gethsemane?

And yesterday we had Mass at Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Really? How do we know?

Two days ago we venerated the place Jesus was born in Bethlehem and had Mass in the Cave of the Shepherds.

It is often asked: how do we know these are the real sites where Jesus and Mary lived and walked. The earliest Christians realized the importance of these sites and immediately viewed them as sites to be remembered and venerated. Small chapels were built and pilgrims came from around the world to visit these spots and to pray.

The spot marking the place where Jesus was bornthese spots and to pray.

 When Christianity became legalized, churches were built on these sites. Tradition, archaeology and the ancient witness confirms the authenticity of the sites. Below is a few examples relating to Bethlehem.

 In a very enlightening side note, Bethlehem was mentioned by St. John Chrysostom in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, written in ad 370: “. . . Since that birth [of Jesus], men come from the ends of the earth to see the manger, and the site of the shed.”

 The early Christians remembered and preserved the location and pilgrims like you visited even in the first centuries. Emperor Hadrian built pagan shrines over the holy places in 135 AD. He thought the memory of the sites and associated faith would be obliterated forever. But then Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. His mother St. Queen Helena went to Israel, asked the locals where Jesus was born, where he was crucified…

Church of Nativity 100 years ago

They pointed to the shrines and showed her what they all still remembered well. Queen Helena knocked down the pagan shrines and what did she find? The remains of early Christian veneration. She built a huge church over the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, another over the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and a large church over the cave on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven.

There is a saying, “The water is cooler and clearer the nearer you get to the source.” Many of the Fathers of the Church – very close to the events mentioned in the Bible – speak with great certainty about the sites in the Holy Land. 

 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The cave-stable is mentioned by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Jerome. After the Romans conquered Bethlehem anew (AD 135) the site of the Nativity was desecrated, probably under Hadrian (117–138; cf. Jerome Epistle 58.3). Jerome lived for thirty-three years in Bethlehem (AD 387–420). Here he helped found and direct pilgrim hospices, convents for women, and a monastery.”

 The Tyndale Bible Dictionary says, “The birth of Jesus possibly took place in a cave in the rocks outside the town. The early Christian writer Justin Martyr 9100–165) thought so, as did Origen (c. 185–254) some years later. Origen frequently resided in the Holy Land and wrote, ‘In Bethlehem you are shown the cave where he was born, and within the cave the manger where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.’

Emperor Constantine and his mother Queen Helena

“Jerome later described the grotto over which the Emperor Constantine had built a basilica. In excavations in 1934–35, evidence indicated a second period of building in the reign of Justinian (ad 527–565), when Constantine’s basilica was extended beyond its original proportions. Steps lead down to the grotto, the rectangular shape of which suggests that Constantine’s builders reshaped the original. But there is no description of the grotto prior to the construction of Constantine’s basilica.”

 These places were remembered! We’ve known their locations for two thousand years. 

 Another Example: The Cave of Machpelah

The Cave of Machpelah was bought by Abraham about 1850 BC as a tomb in which to bury his wife Sarah. It now contains the remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. It is now in Hebron, the city of Abraham. However, Abraham never owned any other land in Canaan before he died.

The Machpelah Cave over Sarah's tomb built 2,000 years ago

Abraham’s descendants were in bondage in Egypt for four hundred years. For an additional forty years they wandered in the wilderness. It was remembered in Genesis 49 – over 400 years later – when the Israelites returned from Egypt. The city of Hebron was built around Abraham’s tomb and King Herod build a huge monument over the graves of Abraham and his family which still stands today in the heart of Hebron. 

Abraham bought a plot of land called the Cave of Machpelah (Gen 35:16–20; 48:7; 1 Sam 10:2). Even today, the Cave of Machpelah is known and can be visited in Hebron. Visiting this site you see a place known for four thousand years!

Another Example: Rachel’s Tomb

 Notice a case in which we can see how important holy sites were and how they were carefully remembered. The Tomb of Rachel can be visited today in Bethlehem even though she was buried there about 3,800 years ago! 

Rachel's Tomb 100 years ago in Bethlehem

Jacob buried Rachel in Bethlehem and the location of the tomb was still known 800 years later when Israel returned from Egypt and after they lived in the land for over 350 years. Wouldn’t expect them to forgot its location over the subsequent eight hundred centuries? It is still there today and we filmed there for our David DVD. Notice the biblical verses below:

 “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (Genesis 35:19) 

“And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:20) 

Eight Hundred years later, “[Samuel said to Saul]  When you depart from me today you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah” (1 Samuel 10:2).

 These are just a few examples from the Old Testament to show how these holy sites were venerated and remembered. The same can be said from the New Testament. Holy people have always remembered the holy sites.

 How much more so for Jesus the Son of God who became flesh! We can be very confident that the holy sites we see today, were the holy sites of old—the very places where God and the saints walked and where we can walk today.

Join us on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and I will be your guide. Visit Footprints of God Pilgrimages.

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West has ‘betrayed the Christians of the East’, says Syrian Patriarch

November 28, 2015

Syria, November 19, 2015: The head of the Syrian Catholic Church, Mar Ignace Youssif III Youan, has said the West has betrayed Syrians and caused an endless conflict in the country. Speaking to Le Messenger, an Egpytian Catholic magazine, Youan spoke passionately about the “chaos” that Western governments have caused by ignoring the advice of [...]

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Pictures from Nazareth over 100 Years Ago (see the Virgin Mary :-)

November 16, 2015

Today we are in Nazareth looking for Mary! We are visiting her home cave where the Angel Gabriel brought the announcement from heaven. We will also visit her cave where she lived 30 years with Joseph and Jesus. These pictures are over a hundred years old from Nazareth. Not much changed between then and the [...]

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Beauty Shots of Sea of Galilee & Is It Safe in the Holy Land?

November 13, 2015

Janet and I are at the Sea of Galilee awaiting our sold out bus of pilgrims arriving on Sunday. We have another sold out bus in December. Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land is almost sold out already for March 2016. But many people are again afraid to come to the Land of Jesus and [...]

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Who Has Right to Temple Mount? Why Fearful of Analyzing Muslim Story?

October 25, 2015

Since we have two sold-out pilgrimage groups still going Israel this year and six more next year, I thought this would be interesting for two reasons: 1) To inform folks that things are calming down and will be no problem for our 2015 pilgrims (it would have been no problem even as it was); and [...]

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Syrian Archbishop “Disturbed” By CIA Involvement in Conflict 

October 2, 2015

STEVE RAY HERE: After meeting with the Bishop of Jerusalem and talking to many people here in the Middle East I conclude that this bishop is absolutely correct. The United States is on the wrong side of this conflict and Russia is on the right side. President Asad has always protected the Christians and toppling [...]

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Jews as Proof of God’s Existence & Faithfulness

October 2, 2015

Winston Churchill wrote “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.“ He is absolutely right! I have often said they are remarkable people –gifted in a [...]

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Who Would Dare to Love ISIS? The People of the Cross, thats’ who

April 25, 2015

The first reaction is to hate ISIS but the People of the Cross, the Christians of the Middle East have sent them a “Letter” in the form of a beautiful video.

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History of Middle East in 90 Seconds

April 13, 2015

Fascinating moving map. Click the image below to see biblical and modern history of the volatile Middle East.

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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress – Excellent!

March 3, 2015

I thought his speech was brilliant and I’m embarrassed that our president and so many of our leaders refused to attend. They’re acting like spoiled brats. Here you see a real world leader — I wish we had one. Here is the link to listen and watch if you missed it earlier today.

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Excellent and Artistic Photographs of Israel by Spirit Juice

March 3, 2015

Rob Kaczmark and his new wife Kimberly joined us in the Holy Land last September. They own Spirit Juice Studios which is a new and talented production company. While they were with us they took magnificent and artistic pictures along the way. Never have I seen such eye-popping images of the Holy Land. Enjoy! Join [...]

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3.3 million visitors to Israel in 2014: Statistics of Travel and Safety, Countries of Origin and Sites Visitied

January 5, 2015

Since we, and our thousands of pilgrims, travel to Israel many times a year, I thought these statistics were very interesting. Of all 3.3 million in 2014 not one was hurt or in danger. The media makes it sound like Israel is dangerous. The facts and statistics on the group prove they are wrong. We [...]

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Two Great Jewish Movies

January 3, 2015

Since we are in Jerusalem, I thought I would share two of our favorite Jewish movies. Recently watched “Everything is Illuminated” again. It is funny and profound about a young man (Elijah Wood – Frodo in “Lord of the Rings”) who discovers his Jewish past after Nazi fascists occupied Ukraine. It is one of my [...]

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“You are Peter” in Jesus’ language of Aramaic

December 30, 2014

Since we recently visited Caesarea Philippi, the site where Jesus renamed Simon as “Peter” or Kepha (Matt 16:13-20), I thought you would find this interesting. So, what did it sound like at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus renamed Simon and made him the rock of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter [rock], and [...]

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