The Green Line

  • Posted: May 11, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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The Jordon River –even the obstinate faithless recognize the name. We of a certain vintage remember Barry McGuire. Even our children, force-fed Sixty’s Music before Sony’s Walkman rescued them, remember Barry McGuire. The endurance of his iconic hit song, Eve of Destruction, is such that he continues as a regular on PBS fundraisers. His lyrics highlight this historic river –

“The eastern world it is explodin’

violence flarin’, bullets loadin’

You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’

You don’t believe in war, what’s that gun you’re totin’

And even the Jordon River has bodies floatin’”

Those of us schooled in the Christian tradition remember the Jews of the Exodus crossed over the Jordon into the Promised Land. Twelve centuries later, John the Baptist baptized his cousin, a certain young Jewish rabbi named Jesus, in it. Today, the Jordon River is the engine powering a new born agricultural powerhouse, bringing prosperity to a land long impoverished.

As the Jordon River flows south, it creates a large fresh water lake in the north of Israel, the Sea of Galilee. It then continues south into another lake, a dead end lake 1,700 feet below sea level known as the Dead Sea. Sometime between then and now, the definitions of lake and sea have been reshuffled.

But the Jordon River begins its journey some 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee at nearly 10,000 ft., on the slopes of Mt. Hermon. Mt. Hermon sits on the border of three nations, Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Its foothills have another name, a name familiar even infamous – the Golan Heights, a name with particular relevance to Mr. McGuire’s memorable lyrics.

The Jordon River begins high on the slopes of Mt. Hermon where a large artesian spring emerges from a gaping hole in the cliff wall, a brooding eye gazing back at its visitors. Standing here looking at this cave, we can be sure that we are standing in the footsteps of Christ. The Bible is often equivocal about place, but Matthew’s account puts Jesus right here on this spot at one of the high points in his ministry.

Like most of the Middle East’s watered sites, people have lived here for a very long time. This headwater of the Jordon River was known as Baal Gad in the time of Joshua & the Judges, Banias to the Seleucid Empire & the Maccabee’s, but at the time of Jesus, it was Caesarea Philippi. Rather than this jagged cave mouth, Jesus and his disciples would have seen an ornate Roman temple dedicated to the God Pan.

This temple enclosed the cave – the cave harboring a pool so deep it could not be measured and known as “The Gates of Hell”. It was here where tourists now meander in search of “selfie” opportunities that Jesus memorably asked of Peter:

“But who do you say I am?”

A question each of us must answer, either now or later as we kneel before the Great White Throne. But here some two thousand years ago, Jesus looking into the eyes of Simon Peter asked it for the first time. Peter, a blue-collar fisherman from the backwoods village of Bethsaida was put on the spot. He answered,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”

Did Jesus smile as he listened to the words of his beloved friend, Peter? “Yes,” Jesus replied, “you got it right but it was God who put the words in your mouth, not your own understanding.” But then, perhaps stretching out his arm and pointing at the Temple of Pan, Jesus goes on with words that have rung down through the ages:

“. . . . I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it.”

No one can deny that Jesus had a real flair for setting the scene. What better place to confirm his deity and announce the beginning of Christianity than before the very Gates of Hell?

This area had a long history of the occult, of demons emerging from spiritual darkness. The Pan of this temple was the Greek name for a god, half man/half goat devoted to dancing, music and sex. But Pan was only the latest version of this ancient manifestation.

Even further back in time, the apocryphal Book of Enoch names the slopes of Mt. Hermon as the home of the Nephilim, the giant demonic human hybrids of Genesis. The Jews of the Exodus times knew this region as the home of Og, the last of that giant race and king of Bashan. The Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy marvel at his iron bed frame, measuring 13’ x 6’.

Traveling through this area with its ancient superstitions, perhaps a bit like Europe’s Transylvania, our tour bus passes the half-century old detritus of war. Again, Barry McGuire comes to mind as our bus passes the burnt out tanks and abandoned Syrian army posts of a half century past. We stop at a viewpoint overlooking Syria, almost within a stone’s throw. Of course we come off the bus true to type, crowding up to the edge, struggling to see the Syrian border, looking for evidence of fences or walls.

There is no obvious border wall. Our guide smiles at our difficulty and drops a clue, advising us to “Look for the green line”. One by one, we tumble to the obvious. Below is green farmland and brown wasteland, bordering each other in lines straight as though drawn with a ruler. One side is the verdant farmland of Israel, the other charitably described as the ill-tended pasture of Syria.

As we travel south down the Jordon Valley, we see the same green line on the border with Jordon. As we travel through Palestinian controlled areas such as Jericho, we pass from well-ordered Israeli countryside to the chaos of trashed slums with graffitied walls and long stretches of uninhabited wasteland.

What to make of this stark contrast? There is one school of thought, of long ascendency in Adorable America, seeing it in Wagnerian imagery. Western Civilization, thoroughly soaked in white privilege and male patriarchy, brutally oppresses the downtrodden forced to live in Syrian wasteland and Palestinian ghettos. These vistas are just one more outrage in a long parade. The parishioners of Adorable America are bobbing their heads in agreement at this thought, a sermon preached to the choir.

But . . . The people making this land green, bringing prosperity to a wretchedly poor area, are Jews. Has any people group ever been more brutally oppressed? Within living memory these very same Jews were being systematically exterminated by the most civilized nation in Western Civilization.

Perhaps there is another school of thought, perhaps there is more to the circumstances of our lives than dreamt by the high priests of the Academy. Perhaps our work ethic, our cultural values, trust and transparency have a lot to do with our circumstances. Perhaps the “Green Line” is not a symbol of oppression but a byproduct of cultural values that create a better way of life?

In an interesting side note – Barry McGuire became a “born-again Christian” and turned his creative talents to Christian music and publishing.

2 Responses to “The Green Line”

  1. rex rinne says:

    a sincere faith and poetic observation enlightens those who read what you put to paper.

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