National Catholic Register

Inperson

Trouble in the Land They Call the ‘Fifth Gospel’

BY TIM DRAKE

August 6-12, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/7/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Steve Ray led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land just before new hostilities flared up between Israel and Hezbollah.

The businessman, Catholic convert and author is in the midst of a 10-year, 10-part video series titled “The Footprints of God,” which looks at salvation history from Abraham to the doctors of the Church through the places where they lived.

Ray spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake.

 

What’s your take on the current wave of violence in the Middle East?

The violence is overblown. The television shows the same bomb going off every five minutes when it’s not that way at all. It’s taking place near the border. If you’re in Tel Aviv or Bethlehem or Jerusalem you wouldn’t know that something is going on. If you’re outside the 20-mile strip, it’s life as usual. Very few pilgrimages are being cancelled.

Basically, you’ve got a guerrilla group within a legitimate country that is trying to destabilize it. Hezbollah is provoking Israel, and Israel has to do something about it. It’s like a physician who has to do surgery on someone with cancer. It has to be cut out.

Youve just completed David and Solomon in your “Footprints of God” series. How many programs are remaining?

There will be 10 total when we’re finished — spanning from Abraham to the doctors of the Church. There are four left. We’re currently working on the apostolic fathers — Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Polycarp and Irenaeus. They are the hinge figures between the apostles and us. They knew the apostles. They are the men who faced backwards in history, who received the deposit of faith from the apostles, and then turned around and handed it on to the future all the way down to us.

After that, we’ll have one on Abraham, one on the doctors of the Church, and one on Elijah and Elisha. It will take us another four or five years to finish the whole series. It will have been a 10-year project.

How many countries have you visited?

So far we’ve been to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. We also plan to visit Iraq and Algeria.

Youve been to places that most of us will never see. What have you seen, that others may not be aware of, that helps to prove the historicity of the Gospels?

In the Gospels, we read about the man born blind whom Jesus puts mud onto his face. Jesus tells the man to go to the pool of Siloam, about a quarter of a mile down the hill to the right of the City of David, to wash himself. Within the past year, archaeologists believe they discovered the real pool.

In addition, if you go to any antiquities dealer, you can purchase denarii coins with Caesar’s face on them. A simple thing like that helps to prove Jesus’ words when he asks the Pharisees to tell him whose face appears on their coins.

How can we know for certain that the locations are where guides say that they are?

Some tour guides will say that we can’t know for certain. I tell the pilgrims that the reason we can know these are the real sites is because the eastern Semitic people cared about things like that. The oral tradition passed it on from one generation to the next.

That’s why 4,000 years since Abraham, we still know where Rachel is buried. Eight hundred years after Rachel was buried, when Saul was looking for his donkeys, Samuel tells him to go to the tomb of Rachel to find his donkeys. Today, you can go to Bethlehem and still find where Rachel was buried. They remembered it for the 400 years they were in Egypt, and remembered it for another 350 years. Do you think they forgot from that time until today? Not on your life. To not know where these places are would be like us saying we would forget where Gettysburg or Plymouth Rock are. In a way, it’s condescending for us to say that these people were ignorant and wouldn’t remember, but we know better.

Geographically, are there things youve seen or experienced that support Scripture?

Sure, in Scripture it tells us that the apostles went fishing at night. Today, fisherman still fish at night on the Sea of Galilee. Why do they do that?

The fish are able to see. Even when the moon is out, they can see the net, so they fish at night because the fish are more blind and get caught in the net.

In Scripture, the fishermen gather at Capernaum. They still do, and the reason why is because there is warm water there because of the springs. In the winter, the fish gather there because the water is warmer. Fishermen will also tell you that this body of water — which is only 7 miles wide and 13 miles long — can have large storms with waves 9 feet high.

The writers of the Gospel were eyewitnesses. These things reinforce the historicity and the truth of what the Gospel tells us.

Are there places where the archaeology supports Scripture?

Yes. It was believed by some that Pontius Pilate was created to be a fall guy. Even up to the 1960s some theologians didn’t think he was real. However in 1961 they found in Caesarea Maritime a stone slab that had been turned upside down and used as a step. They found engraved on it, “Pontius Pilate, prefect of [Judea” within the dedication of a building to] Tiberius.

More recently, while doing a dig in Tel Dan, they found a 3,000-year-old stone that refers to the House of David. These are just two stones that were incidental discoveries.

In our David video, we travel to the Cave of Adullam. Visiting that cave you can see where it could have fit 400 men. Whoever was writing these stories wasn’t trying to convince us that David really lived. He was telling this story.

The Scriptures weren’t trying to prove anything to us. They were telling us the story of David. Yet we can use them to prove that these things are where they said they are. It reinforces the fact that this is true history. Ten years ago, we took our children to the Holy Land. They told us that when they were kids they always believed that the stories we told were true, but when we took them to the Holy Land, it changed them. They realized that it was true.

Our children always believed mom and dad, but when they went to the Holy Land it became a revelation on their own merit. You can see where Jesus was born, his tomb and the fishermen bringing in the fish from the Sea of Galilee. A teenage girl on our most recent trip came back after visiting the Holy Sepulcher and broke down in tears. She said that she realized that Jesus Christ had really been there. There is an incarnational, sacramental aspect to these places. Once God touches something, it’s not the same. This is holy ground. I’ve watched crusty old businessmen sob after visiting these places.

 

Are there experiences youve had that help to prove God exists?

There are things you can only learn from the land. When we were in Jordan, the man who was driving us around kept introducing us to his “brothers.” I asked him how many people were in his family. He said 15,000. They’re a tribe — a Bedouin tribe. In America, we live in distinct units with cousins on the other side of the world. In the Middle East, all of the cousins are “brothers.” That helps you to understand how Scripture can refer to the “brothers” of Jesus. You have to immerse yourself in the Holy Land — the culture, the people, the language — to understand the Gospels. That’s why I say there are really five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Holy Land.

However, there is perhaps no more powerful example for the existence of God than the Jewish people themselves. You don’t find Hittites or Amorites. If you go into any Borders bookstore, there is no Hittite section, but they do have a huge Jewish section. What people are more literate, productive and artistic? For 2,000 years, they didn’t have a land. You would think they would be absorbed and disappear. For an ethnic people to be only 13 million and have as much influence on the world is an incredible thing. God made certain promises to Abraham and his descendants. When I look at the Jewish people, I say God does exist and he keeps his promises. They are proof of God’s fidelity to his promises.

What do you have planned next?

I’m contemplating doing another 10-part series on the “Footprints of the Faithful” that would cover the history of the Church, covering two centuries for each DVD.

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.