In 1966, I made an around-the-world trip from Kermit to Dallas, Alaska, Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, India, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Italy, France, England, Washington D.C., Dallas, and back to Kermit.
From Okinawa, after stops in Taiwan and Hong Kong, our approach to the Bangkok airport was into the setting sun and across miles and miles of verdant and seemingly-endless fields of rice. The Thai who sat beside me said, “Billions of acles of lice.”
Due to an airline goof-up, I had a five-hour layover in Bangkok before the next plane took off for Rangoon, Calcutta, and Karachi. Masses of Thai teenagers lined the observatory platform to watch every incoming and outgoing plane. I had needed my overcoat in Okinawa, but that night in Bangkok was scorching and stifling. I mention this as a background against which to tell you the following. I, at 6-feet-4-inches tall, with a white stockman’s hat on my head, a briefcase in my hand and a heavy overcoat across my arm, walked into a large crowd of Thai teenagers whose height ranged from four to five feet. The equivalent awe and amazement would be for a Goliath to suddenly appear in the midst of a crowded gathering of midgets. The awe-struck teenagers openly stared, crowded in on each side of me, followed me to the ticket booth, into the restroom, and to the unusually low airport seats.
And there I sat, a spectacle in an Oriental ampitheater, in a 115-degree evening, in the center of a galore of gawking teenagers, on a 12-inch-high airport seat, with my knees on a level with my eyes, and only five hours to wait for my plane to depart! The five hours finally passed and the teenagers were still there, gawking and gaping and watching the arrival and departure of every plane with one eye, and watching me with the other.
Not knowing what to expect (weatherwise) in India and beyond, I deliberately left my overcoat draped across the back of one of those little 12-inch-high torture racks that the Thais called airport seats. Across the after years, I have often wondered whatever became of that long-tall overcoat in a land of lean and short citizens.
Sinai and the Red Sea
After more than 20 years of studying and teaching The Exodus, I was especially pleased and thankful that, at 3000 feet, we passed over the Sinai peninsula, the Red Sea and the Nile river. The Hareb mountain (Mount Sinai) was clear and distinct to our left. The Suez Canal was to our right, and scores of ships were waiting to form a convoy through the canal.
The peninsula is indescribably harsh and barren, with large plateaus of rocks separated by small valleys of sand and a web of jagged indentations sloping toward the arms of the Red Sea. It is utterly impossible to imagine or understand how the children of Israel existed in this peninsula for 40 years.
Egypt, across multiplied thousands of years, emerged out of a land and culture that were old when Christ was born, and there are still fascinating numbers of ancient things in modern Egypt that almost overwhelm and paralyze the mind. The Nile river, which was already ancient when Moses and Aaron stretched out their hands above it (Exodus 7:19-20), still gives life to the nation. If the Nile died, the nation would die.
The Luxor temple, with its towering obelisks and countless status of Rameses and his consorts, still breathes the aura of ancient Egypt. The Karnak temple, whose construction date is unknown but whose latest addition was built more than 4000 years ago, is absolutely indescribable.
The Thebes of the Dead is on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, where “life ended in the setting sun,” with its Valley of the Kings and its Valley of the Queens. The petroglyphic art work in the tombs of the kings and queens, includes all faces of mankind in heaven and hell.
King Tut’s tomb at Luxor was reached by descending a long rock ramp, then descending a rock stairway of about 40 steps, then following a series of rock tunnels at right-and-left angles where his mummy, encased in a crypt with a glass top, reposed in a tomb embellished with paint that, for longevity, was intermixed with egg whites.
The Sphinx, which is 66 feet high and about half of a football field in length, has the body of a lion and the head of a man. Some Egyptologists suggest that it may have been erected up-toward 5000 years ago.
The Pyramid of Cheops
Cheops is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still extant. It is the largest building in the world. It is 489 feet high, 760 feet square, covers 13.5 acres of ground, and contains more than two million blocks of stone, which vary in weight from 50 to 150 tons. Some scholars guesstimate that it may have been standing there in the Gizeh cemetery, in the sands of the Sahara desert, for up-toward 5500 years.
Herodotus, the 5th-century B.C. Greek historian, said that 100,000 slaves worked 40 years in building it. As a modern emphasis of the vastness of Cheops, I suggest the following and fanciful application of Herodotus’ words:
Other Egyptologists offer historical references (or speculations) regarding the excessive number of slaves that died each day during those 40 years of construction. So, let us surmise that, with constant replacements, there was an average of 100,000 slaves working each day for 40 years. If each slave had been forced to work 12 hours per day, and had been paid the current U.S.A. minimum wage ($5.25 per hour) for regular time and time-and-a-half and double-time each week, the following would have been true.
- Each slave would have worked 84 hours per week.
- Each would have worked 40 hours at regular time ($5.25), and would have earned $210.00.
- Each would have worked 8 hours at time-and-a-half ($7.875), and would have earned $63.00.
- Each would have worked 36 hours at double-time ($10.50), and would have earned $378.00.
- Each slave, per week, owuld have earned $651.00.*Each slave, per year, would have earned $33,852.
- Each slave, across 40 years, would have earned $1,354,080.
- The total 40-year payroll for 100,000 slaves would have been $135,408,000,000.Let me spell that out very slowly: One Hundred Thirty-five Billion, Four Hundred Eight Million Dollars!All of that for a tomb for one mortal man!
A more modern Egyptian wonder is the palace of Farouk, built in 1840, which covers 26 acres of ground, and has 500 rooms. In 1966, when I visited there, it was occupied by Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Ahmed, who was about 70 years old, and who was half Turk and half Mesopotamian, and who had never heard of a Baptist, was my guide in Luxor. ) At our first meeting, he said, “My name is Ahmed. Half of the men in the north are named Mohammed, and half of the men in the south are named Ahmed. He also told me, “Our modern women wear black robes and black head coverings to show their modesty and industry, and count it an honor to be allowed to work in the fields. The secondary purpose of the black robes and black head coverings is to more perfectly reveal the dust of their labors.”
With fluent and well-rehearsed English, and with the dignified mein of an Oxford history professor, he told me, “The ancient Egyptians worshiped the things they feared, such as the snake and lion and jackal and weasel.” He rhetorically asked, “Why do we not see the houses in which the ancient Egyptians lived?” And oratorically answered, “Because they knew that their lives were short, and because they had no interest in their earthly dwellings; but they built well for their eternal tombs. Another Ahmedism was, “The ancient Egyptians cared much for their gods, and absolutely nothing for their fellow men.”
During my last breakfast in Luxor, my waiter said, “Would you like goose for breakfast?” I said, “I’ve never eaten a goose for breakfast, but I’ll try it.” With obvious vexation, he said, “No, No! You do not eat it, you drink it! Goose! Goose!” He was trying to say “juice.”
The five-or-so-mile-long road between my hotel and the Luxor airport was lined with long-robed men, black-robed women, children, horse-drawn carts, sheep, goats, and burros. The taxi horn blared all the way, and every child smiled and waved and shouted, “Hullo.” At the airport, beside my soon-to-depart plane, Ahmed embraced me and emotionally said, “Goodbye, my beloved brother. I hope to see you again, and to also see your lady and son and daughter, after Allah has given all of us long and useful lives and had called us unto himself forever.”
The New Testament Lands
Anticipating the possibility that some may audibly or mentally ask why I wrote so much about Okinawa and so little about the “Holy Land,” I will presumptively answer the question before it is asked; and my answer is fourfold:
- First: Many others, who are far more capable than I, have often told and retold the “Holy Land” story and I had no inclination to try to rehash it.
- Second: The dearest and sweetest of my foreign experiences were in Okinawa, not in the “Holy Land.”
- Third: If, on a personal level, I made any contribution to any individual it was in Okinawa, not in the “Holy Land.”
- Fourth: The land in which Jesus was born, lived and died made a deep and lasting contribution to my life. Just seeing and feeling and touching the places that Jesus touched (such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Gethsemane, Lake Galilee, Bethany, etc.) were inexpressibly moving moments for me; but I did not have a warm and personal relationship with any individual in the New Testament lands.
After a few days of “touristing,” I began to suspect that nothing worth seeing in the “Holy Land” is on a level, that one must either climb up 49 steps to see what is on top or climb down 49 steps to see what is in the tomb or cave, and that most entrances were built for midgets.
The offensiveness of:
- Crass commercialism, blatant tourist traps, rude street-corner peddlers harping their “holy” doodads and doohickeys and gizmos and thingamajigs, and their packets of “holy” soil and bottles of “holy” water and fragments of the “true” cross upon which Jesus died.
- The variety of spurious claims regarding the exact spot where Jesus was born, where he lived, where he worked in the carpentry shop, where he performed miracles, where he pronounced parables, where his cross stood, where Joseph and Nicodemus placed his body to prepare it for burial, where he was buried, where the angel appeared to the women at his empty tomb, the spot from which he ascended to heaven and the spot to which he will someday return to the earth.
- The shameless claims regarding the multiplicity of heads and graves of John Baptists, where Paul was let down in a basket, where Paul was beheaded, where Paul’s head bounced three times, where Peter was crucified on an upside-down cross, and where Helena (the mother of Constantine) found the “true” cross.
The almost-rapturous emotions:
- Of seeing Jerusalem for the first time. (From an airplane.)
- Of standing on Mount Moriah where Solomon’s and Zerubbabel’s and Herod’s temples once stood, and where Jesus raged against the moneychangers and blessed the widow’s mite.
- Of walking the streets of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Jerusalem, and Bethany.
- Of meditating and reminiscing on the shores of Lake Galilee.
- Of standing beside the pool of Siloam.
- Of crossing the vale of Kidron, and climbing the Mount of Olives.
- Of kneeling in Gethsemane.The exhilaration of visiting:
- The haunting places that are known as “Gordon’s Calvary” and “The Garden Tomb.”
Jericho (the oldest and lowest city on earth) where the walls fell down for Joshua, where Jesus found blind Bartimaeus sitting beside the highway, and where Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus.
- Caesarea, where Paul spent two years in prison before being sent to Rome.
Byblos (from which came our word “Bible”) where archaeologists had uncovered evidences and artifacts of 18 civilizations and seven different walls.
- The Damascus road, where the rebellious and ruthless Paul met and surrendered to Jesus.
- Damascus, and the street called Straight where Annanias baptized Paul.
- Petra, where the ancient Naboteans carved an unimaginably beautiful city in the red rocks of Mount Hor. Below the city is the traditional “well of Moses,” and above the city is the tradition “grave of Aaron.”
Amazements of the Dead Sea
I was told the Dead Sea is 47 miles long, 9 miles wide, 1291 feet below sea level, and into which the Jordan River is capable of dumping six million tons of water every 24 hours. I was also told that the salt content of ocean water averages about six pounds per 100 gallons, and Dead Sea water averages about 25 pounds per 100 gallons; one result being that eggs will float on its surface. Another morsel of information was that, contrary to the long-held belief that no life existed in its waters, small amounts of fish live in its southern extremities.
At the Dead Sea, I was told two jokes, one by an Arab and one by a Jew:
- The Arab’s “Slow-Train” Joke
Once upon a time, a Jew on the train and an Arab on a donkey were going up to Galilee. The Arab passed the train and said, “Please pardon my rudeness, but I’m in a hurry.”
- The Jew’s Dead Sea Joke
Once upon a time, a Nabotea, Arab, and Jewish boy were standing by the Dead Sea, boasting about the greatness of their fathers. The Nabotean boy said, “My father once swam across the Dead Sea.” The Arab boy said, “My father once rode a camel around the Dead Sea.” The Jewish boy said, “My father is the one who killed the Dead Sea.”
The Awesomeness of Rome
There is an almost tangible aura and mystique of this mighty municipality that sprawls over the seven famous hills above the Tiber River.
- One senses the invasive and haunting memories of Spartacus, the Tracian gladiator and 6700 of his rebel slaves who, in 71 B.C., were crucified (by the Romans) and left handing on 6000 crosses along the Appian Way.
- One imagines the latent sounds and furies of the Roman Legions (in 70 A.D.) as General Tutus led them away from the “Eternal City” on the first leg of their infamous march that culminated in the total destruction of Jerusalem.
- One catches the essence of the pagan-surrounded lives and deaths of the original members of the Roman church.
- The almost audible “Swish!” of the blade that severed Paul’s head from his “thorn”-infested body.
- The intangible whisperings of faith and prayers and songs of the persecuted believers who gathered in the catacombs to worship their God, protect their lives and bury their dead.
- The massive and towering Saint Peter’s basilica in which (reputedly) 80,000 people once gathered for a special service.On a Sunday morning in 1966, in response to an invitation from Dub and Helen Ruchti, I preached in a service at the Rome Baptist Church in which more than 20 nations were represented.
Finally, from Rome to Paris, to London, to Washington, D.C., to Dallas, to Kermit and the glory of being at home again!