National Geographic : 1962 Jul
THE BIBLE LANDS at Christmastime were our goal as the Con stellation droned westward from Delhi. Then we landed at Beirut, Lebanon, and faced a crisis. "You cannot go on to Jerusalem," of ficials told us. "Lebanon has a bus strike. There could be violence." But while we waited in despair at the air port, one of our instructors made some quiet negotiations and found two buses from Da mascus that were not on strike. We piled in while attendants warned, "If the crowds throw stones, get on the floor." But no one threw stones, and we learned an important lesson about the Near East: a crisis can be exaggerated. Our bus followed the road that once led the harsh Saul of Tarsus-later to become St. Paul-from Jerusalem. We crossed the River Jordan, skirted the arid shores of the Dead Sea and Jericho's ruins, climbed through Bethany and around the Mount of Olives, and spied Jerusalem outlined against the sky. At one point Mr. Kern pointed to a classic hillside scene: three humble travelers, each leading a camel toward the Holy City. For a moment it seemed to us that time had Jericho's stone tower, unearthed in 1953 by Britain's famed Dr. Kathleen Kenyon, basks in Jordan sunlight. Built about 8,000 years ago, the bastion defended the oldest known walled town. stopped in this season of the Three Wise Men. For most of us, Christmas Eve itself proved a disappointment. We arrived in Bethlehem after a hard bus ride. Hoping to find the dreamy village of the Christmas carols, we found instead a crowded, noisy town awash with floodlights. Outside the Church of the Nativity, where we attended midnight mass, a loudspeaker ironically blared a scratchy recording of "Silent Night." But Christmas was not lost. Next morning we explored Jerusalem, attending services at several churches, retracing the Stations of the Cross, prowling changeless streets, and feeling closer to the drama of Jesus' life and martyrdom. At dusk we returned to our hotel. Several of our party trooped into the reading room sing ing "Joy to the World." The rest of us turned off the lights, stuck candles on saucers, and joined in an impromptu caroling session. Roger Majak, whose voice had won him a national American Legion public-speaking championship in 1959, read aloud the story of the Nativity. We felt the warm thrill we had missed the night before. "At last," said Mr. Kern, "we've had our Christmas." Picture of patience, an ailing camel rides a make shift ambulance. The rubber-tired cart rolls along Cairo's Shari El Corniche, a palm-fringed boule vard that borders the Nile.