In September, 1967, we began our journey to Beirut, where Rob would teach chemistry at the American University, and where I would care for two baby boys. We also hoped to explore the eastern Mediterranean, especially the places where Jesus lived and taught (Galilee, Jerusalem, and points in between), and where his first disciples took their electrifying message (in today’s Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy).
Our first flight took us first from Oakland to London. After a few days in Great Britain (and after purchasing a large pram that Mary Poppins would have loved), we flew to Paris (pram and babies in tow). From Paris we went on to explore Florence, Rome, and Athens before finally arriving in Beirut.
Before the trip, I took a brand-new copy of the New Testament and began
to mark it up – reviewing the story of Jesus and his first disciples; digging into first-century history; and finally, in the margins of the Book of Acts, sketching maps of St. Paul’s travels around the Mediterranean. (I still have that old New Testament, with its well-thumbed pages and penciled maps – and that’s why this study is using the translation from that old Bible, first published in 1961.)
It was only after we moved to Beirut that we learned the city was surrounded by refugee camps – where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had settled after escaping from ongoing wars in the “Holy Land” (the latest refugees had arrived just a few months before our arrival, in June 1967).
From long before Jesus’ birth to our own time, the “holy places” of the Middle East have never known a time without violence and war – and as Luke’s Gospel begins, all of Israel is subject to Roman domination.