There have been few sadness’s for me in spending six weeks in Jerusalem – just a few. But one of those was missing the final episodes of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, though I hope that I may find some way of catching up with what happened. Explaining to anyone what is so exciting about watching a tent full of people baking three separate cakes and having them judged is quite difficult. But I love it – and so did 15.9 million other people who tuned into this year’s final and watched Candice win. One of the things that I love is seeing some of the spectacular layering of cake that they achieve. And then the judges, Paul Hollywood and national treasure, Mary Berry, take a slice out of the cake and discover whether or not the layers are of equal depth and balance.
Today we left Nazareth and made our way back towards Jerusalem but via Megiddo. I was working it out, I think it is about 30 years since I was last on this archaeological site. But some of the features that we saw came back to me immediately.
One of the spectacular sights, though one that would be an abomination to modern archaeologists we were told, was a section of the Tel, the archaeological mound that contains the remains of Megiddo, where, some 100 years ago, those working on it took a slice out of it – just like Mary and Paul attacking a mille feuille – and in so doing revealing the layers of history in this place.
Over its long history Megiddo was destroyed 25 timers and rebuilt 24 times and those layers of rebuilding and destruction can be seen in the slicing of the Tel that took place. It’s like cutting into a tree and counting the rings that give the age. The layers here tell the story of a place that was on the frontier, on one of the principal trade routes, so strategic a site that whoever held it was in power. So the Egyptians and the Canaanites and the Assyrians and the Israelites all held the place at one time or another and finally the Persians came and destroyed it so that by the 4th century BC it was uninhabited, never to be inhabited again. A history lasting more than 3000 years came to an end.
But within those layers are the stories that we know from the Old Testament. One of the pantomime baddies from the history of the place is King Ahab. It was under his rule that one of the most memorable features of the place was constructed. This is the tunnel that took water from the spring which was outside the city walls to a place within the walls where the citizens could access it, even in times of siege. The shaft leading down to the tunnel is 30 metres, the tunnel itself 70 metres in length. This was a really sophisticated piece of civil engineering and amazing to walk through.
Ahab was the king who was constantly being confronted by the prophet Elijah, the Tishbite (we saw a sign for Tishbe as we travelled along one of the roads – this was his area), who was married to scheming Jezebel, who desired Naboth’s Vineyard. I love that part of the story in 1 Kings 21 when Jezebel finds her husband depressed and sulking because Naboth won’t give up his vineyard.
His wife Jezebel came to him and said, ‘Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?’ He said to her, ‘Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, “Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it”; but he answered, “I will not give you my vineyard.” ’ His wife Jezebel said to him, ‘Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.’ (1 Kings 21.5-7)
When the prophet hears of it he comes straight over and confronts him in the vineyard, cursing both King and Queen. Then we see Ahab repenting and the chapter ends with God saying to the prophet.
‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.’ (1 Kings 21.29)
He was a baddie and disaster hit his house and this strategic base but here we also see the sophistication and the wealth of his kingdom, here we literally touch the reality of it. Here in the mountains above the plain Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, here in the plain of Megiddo the battles were fought for supremacy.
All those Old Testament readings come alive as you stand on the Tel and realise that the layers you see are the layers of real history. So in a strange way I was grateful to those who used a now discredited technique because they opened up a rich history to me, a history which we still tell each other, a history of victory and defeat, of power and weakness, of duplicity and honesty, of courage and cowardice and the stones were witnesses to all of this.
God of time and eternity,
through your grace and inspiration,
may I learn from the past,
shape the present
and help build a better future.