Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Circus of Christianity in Jerusalem

Christian interest in seizing control of the Old City has dramatically waned since the days of the Crusades; however, Jerusalem is still home to several significant churches and sites dating as early as the 3rd century AD. Among the most notable are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ was supposedly buried, and the famed Via Dolorosa that Christ supposedly walked along as He carried the cross. These places are littered with various "Christian artifacts" which serve as placeholders to represent events of Jesus' life. Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times since Jesus's death, and the streets that He walked on are actually about 20 feet below the current streets - as you can see below.
An excavated road from the time of Jesus.
There are many false religious attractions, and Christians from around the world flock to see them. People want to feel close to Jesus - to see something He saw, stand somewhere He stood, touch something He touched. That's a natural impulse, and there's nothing wrong with it. Personally, it was thrilling to stand on the Temple Mount and walk around on the Mount of Olives! However, this desire is often capitalized on to boost tourism and intrigue, and that's just wrong.

In particular, Jesus never actually walked on the Via Dolorosa, since those streets were just built 500 years ago - the road pictured above is the only road that has been excavated from Christ's time period! There's also a "handprint" (read: oval-shaped depression) in one of the walls along the Via Dolorosa that was supposedly formed by Christ resting His hand against the wall there. While some may claim that it's approximately the same route (with no evidence other than tradition, of course), the "handprint" is obviously not Jesus' handprint - but that doesn't stop people from believing that it is!

The Unction rests on the spot where Christ was supposedly taken down from the cross. People touch it and rub cloths on it for... um, I'm not really sure what they're expecting. Luck? It was put there in the 12th century.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher contains a stone slab (the Unction, above) that is billed as the spot where Jesus was laid down as He was taken off the cross. About 50 feet away in a large chamber containing a little hut (the Holy Sepulcher, below) that they claim was built around the actual tomb that His body rested in. I don't think it's a problem to have representations of these events, but to allow people to believe that they are the real deal is a problem. It causes people to give superstitious reverence to places and/or objects.

The Holy Sepulcher - creepy, right? People light candles and take them inside it.

In keeping with the discussion of my last two articles (1 & 2), there is some religious tension involving the Christian population in Jerusalem. However, it's primarily internal fighting among different denominations rather than disagreements with the other religions. When I say internal fighting, I mean it literally! The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is administered by several different denominations that hotly contend for their share of the building and rituals. Check out this excerpt from its Wikipedia page:
Establishment of the 1853 status quo did not halt the violence, which continues to break out every so often even in modern times. On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.
The "1853 status quo" refers to an agreement that was eventually made between several denominations (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and a few others) to stop the fighting over who-did-what-when in the church. As a result, they now vigorously defend their "territory," so to speak.

In any case, the main event in terms of a cultural battle over Jerusalem is found on and around the Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews. Christianity there seems to me a bit more like its own three-ring circus.
It's certainly as flashy enough to be a circus, anyway.

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