Hailing from a country that's not even 300 years old, Charlotte's interfaith travelers in Israel this week have had a hard time wrapping their heads around just how old parts of the country are.
Israeli tour guide Doron Harel wanted to show how many different empires have seized this one-time "city of chariots" in the heart of Galilee over the years. So he asked the Charlotteans to temporarily donate their hats and then piled them -- like so many layers of civilizations -- atop the head of Mary Rothkopf, a member of Temple Beth El. The Canaanites, Israelites, Syrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Christians, Persians, Muslims. "That's just for the last 3,000 years," Harel said. "I'm not talking 6,000 years."
Atop the excavated Megiddo fortress, the Jewish-Christian group could also look down on the lush expansive valley destined to be the site of Armageddon -- that Apocalyptic battle between Good and Evil. At least that's how some interpret the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.
The Rev. Steve Shoemaker, the outgoing pastor of Myers Park Baptist, wasn't buying that scenario, telling the group of 46 that the Book of Revelation has been distorted by some who have literalized and militarized it. Still, he had to admit that he could see why "the ancient imagination saw this as a site for great battle...On this great plain, you can imagine all the great armies of the ancient world sooner or later battled here."
One last highlight from the stop in Megiddo: A Muslim teacher's shout-out to the Tar Heel State. As the Charlotte group explored the ancient stones, they suddenly heard, amid a rush of shouted Arabic, the words "North Carolina!"
Turns out the teacher, lecturing nearby to his 8th grade students -- from the village of Hura in the Negev Desert -- wanted to acknowledge the Charlotte group by reminding his class that he had taught them about the Wright Brothers, whose historic ascent in Kitty Hawk made N.C. first in flight.
According to a later report from one Charlotte pilgrim, a Muslim student seconded the hat-tip to North Carolina by pretending to shoot a basketball Michael Jordan-style.
-- Tim Funk