Malcolm Explains It All

October 21, 2009

On Tuesday morning we set out on our first day of touring with only four hours of sleep. You forget, at least I do, how hectic a tour can be. Fun and exciting and enlightening but also very hectic. You start early every day and you never really stop until you get back to the hotel late in the afternoon.

Malcolm explains the layout of ancient Caesarea.

In the five times Marlene and I have been to Israel we have always been blessed with excellent guides. They all have an encyclopedic knowledge of the history, geography, and background of the Bible. Plus most of them speak two or three languages and know both ancient and modern Middle East history. 

Inside the amphitheater at Caesarea.

And with respect to that enormous knowledge, their own faith commitment does not seem to hinder them in the least. There are Christian guides, Jewish guides, Muslim guides, and countless variations thereof. What matters is the guide’s ability to gauge the needs of a particular group.

The Romans built this massive aqueduct system at Caesarea.

We’ve certainly been blessed this time to have Malcolm Cartier as our guide. For more than 30 years he has been leading tour groups in the Holy Land. Besides possessing an infectious laugh and an apparently inexhaustible store of jokes and puns, he is a born teacher.

You spend a lot of time getting on and off the bus.

He simply loves the land of Israel–its history, people, and its variegated religious heritage. Israel, he says, is more like a mosaic than a melting pot. Again and again he has stressed that the land of Israel is the center of the world because it lies at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe. No land has seen more battles. No history is more colorful or complex. And of course most of the events of the Bible happened within 200 miles of Jerusalem.

Marvin Just and Carolyn Ersig lead our group down into the deep underground water system underneath Megiddo.

A tour depends upon its guide, and by that standard this tour is already a great success. Malcolm was born to share his knowledge as a bird is born to fly. So we’ve learned about the vast building projects of Herod the Great, the four “P’s” of Caesarea (Peter, Paul, Phillip the evangelist, and Pontius Pilate), the background of the word Tudor, the wonders of the mustard seed, the receding water level of the Sea of Galilee, the explanation for two genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, the crucial importance of Megiddo (“crossroads of the world”), how one kibbutz in Israel grows red bananas, something about Mount Tabor that I’ve forgotten, a recitation of the prayer of Maimonides, how they raise crocodiles in Israel, and the number of seeds in a pomegranate, along with a learned disquisition on the proper dating of Good Friday, and how the New Year should begin in March and not January. 

The mustard seed. Like faith, it starts very small.

I just looked up and shook my head because that paragraph would cover about 30 minutes, I suppose. We get in the bus early in the morning and Malcolm begins to share his wisdom with us. We shuffle off the bus at Mt. Carmel (the “vineyard of God”) where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. Then we get back on the bus and Malcolm regales us with stories as we motor down the highway.

Sharon Schneider wading in the Mediterranean Sea.

Then on to Megiddo for a detailed history that starts with the current Middle East situation and wanders backward to the days of Solomon, covering 3000 years of history in five minutes. 

The trimmings for a falafel lunch at a restaurant near Mt. Carmel.

So we listen and laugh at Malcolm’s jokes and try to keep us with what he says. More than one tour member has said, “I can’t remember all I’ve heard.” And we’re at the start of the trip.

The Israelis discovered these 2000-year-old tombs (with the rolling stone intact) while excavating for a highway project.

I tell them you’ll know it’s time to go home when you realize your brain will explode if you hear one more fact about one more rock or visit one more church or hear about about one Hasmonean ruler. We plan for that to happen (the brain almost exploding) next Tuesday. 

The sun rises over the Sea of Galilee. Viewed from our hotel room in Tiberius.

Meanwhile our little group is rolling merrily through Galilee. We’re dwarfed by the bigger buses, but I doubt anyone could be having a better time. 

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