Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 21, 1969
NUMBER 16, PAGE 4-5a

"The Sacred Shrines' Of Palestine


"A visit to the Holy Land" has become so commonplace in our roving, restless age that the topic tends to become boring to some. On our recent hadj to those sacred sites Brother Ferrell Jenkins told us of the denominational church which was having some difficulty in finding a new preacher. Obviously the victims of over-enthusiastic "scholars, writers, and pilgrims," they stated in no uncertain terms that their new pastor must be "one who knows nothing of Greek; has never written a book; and has never taken a trip to the Holy Land!" No doubt many of our readers will feel a touch of sympathy for and empathy with these long-suffering pew-bound worshippers....a captive audience for some boring pulpiteer.

Having acknowledged the danger of becoming a bore, let us forthwith ignore it, and go right ahead — like most bores do. One of the [most] disappointing (and infuriating) aspects of [the entire] trip to this writer was the nauseous superstition which has caused the "Christians" (Rome Catholics, Greek Catholics, and Armenian) to e(???) elaborately decorated churches and shrines on every hillside, mountaintop, grassy knoll, or wayside spring which by even the remotest stretch of the imagination might have figured in any experience of the Savior's thirty-three short years is a prime example. The exact spot of the Savior's crucifixion and death is unknown, and perhaps will remain forever unknown. He was buried in Joseph's new tomb which was in the same general area as the site of the crucifixion. Biblical archaeologists are unable to fix the spot, but generally tend to believe that the "traditional location" (where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands) perhaps has a bit more in its favor than the other suggested spots. The Garden Tomb, farther out from the old city, is a far more likely looking spot (to western eyes, at least), and certainly can not be dismissed as altogether improbable.

But over the traditional spot stands this monstrous pile of stone and mortar, this foul desecration of the landscape, this bilious affront to the eyes of both God and man, known as "The Church of the Holy Sepulcher." It is controlled and operated by the Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics, and the Armenians, each covey of priests taking turns to hover like a brood of vultures over the actual spot where they say the body of Jesus was laid. It is absolutely impossible in this artificial scene of superstition and commercialism to get any sense of reality at all concerning the awful day when the Son of God lay there cold and stiff in the embrace of death. On special feast days (particularly Easter) the three rival knots of priestly custodians almost come to fisticuffs in their quarrelsome bickering as to which group shall "do the honors" for that day!

Everywhere one goes it is the same sad story. Hawkers of cheap "holy souvenirs" swarm over one like a persistent cloud of particularly obnoxious flies. (One can not, however, but feel a twinge of sympathy for these poverty-stricken, diseased, and dirty people; tourism is their biggest source of revenue, and without the tourists they would be practically on starvation. They almost are anyhow.) For all practical purposes it was the Crusaders who destroyed and desecrated the Holy Land. Crude, cruel, ignorant, and violent, they embarked on their "holy crusades" to "free" the land from its Turkish (and Islamic) occupants. The only "right" these European Crusaders had to Palestine was the ancient right of conquest, they would take the land from the Turks, just as the Turks so many centuries before had taken it from the Romans, who had conquered it from the Greeks who had taken it from the Assyrians, who had taken it from the Jews, who had taken it from...

Once the Crusaders were in control of an area, they immediately set about to erect shrines, fortresses, and churches "to the honor of God." Knowing nothing (or practically nothing) of Biblical history, they were wont to ask the local natives where they might find various sites — the carpenter shop of Joseph, the tomb of Lazarus, the sycamore tree up which Zacchaeus climbed, the house whose roof was torn up to let down the palsied man into the Savior's presence. The "natives" soon discovered that they pleased their conquerors by being able to point out the exact spot they were looking for, and displeased them when they told the truth and said, "I don't know." So-o-o-o, all over Palestine, (and we do mean ALL over it!) these "holy Crusaders" erected their horrible churches to mark the site of Biblical events and characters — and probably not one in a score of such shrines has any real accuracy about it.

In spite of all that, however, the trip was a truly worthwhile one; the experience was unforgettable, and perhaps in the good providence of God, if the bitter fight continues between the Arabs and the Jews, a few score (or hundreds) of these "sacred shrines" will eventually get a stick of dynamite under them, and the whole world will, profit! If, and when, we ever return we hope we may find many of these buildings gone. We will miss them — like we miss a toothache.

F. Y. T.