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Friday, July 25, 2008

Smithsonian Class V: Christianity: Holy Pilgrimages

It is likely because I am a Christian and am more familiar with its “sacred sites” than the other religions, that I found the “Christianity” lecture to be the least interesting of the five presented by the
Smithsonian Associates in its "Sacred Spaces and Spiritual Journeys” series.


It was not that Anthony Tambasco, professor of theology at Georgetown University who gave the last lecture, was boring or tedious in any way. Far from it. My eagerness to learn a little about the Islamic faith and Buddhism were factors, and I was least attracted to Christianity. Anyway!



He showed class members 60 slides of sites and maps of the Christian faith, providing as much detail as 90 minutes (with questions) would allow. If you can’t go to these “sacred places,” seeing them in color photographs with a bit of their background explained by a renowned teacher is certainly a satisfactory substitute.


Professor Tambasco divided “Christian Pilgrimage” into segments: "Life As A Journey"; "Prayer, Petition, and Praise"; "Penance"; "Purification"; "Rededication"; and "Imitation."
With “prayer” Christians need to ask for healing, he said. “Penance” includes the hardships and choices Christians make during the “pilgrimage of life” while “purification” acknowledges sinfulness, confession, and renewal.


Byzantine Christians selected many of the Christian sites which lay atop former Byzantine churches, Professor Tambasco said. The size and scope of the land Jesus traveled was actually not that big. Professor Lambrusco pointed to a map of Jesus' travels from Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha off and on throughout his lecture.



The supposed site of Jesus' birth is now “very touristy,” and it is a difficult place to pray because of the numbers of people, yet the mountain of the “Sermon on the Mount” now managed by Italian nuns, is quite peaceful and better for prayer.



Locations where Jesus performed miracles (Capernaum, the Tomb of Lazarus) were shown. Each gospel describes a different itinerary for Jesus, Dr. Tambasco said. John’s writings tell of Jesus’ ministry over three years; the others, only 1.5 years.



It is amazing that so many sites, and/or portions of them, remain. Some, like the sites of the House of the Last Supper and the Garden of Olives are not certain, yet the supposed locations approximate the actual places, Professor Tambasco said.



The sepulcher where Jesus' body was placed is generally accepted as the right location.



Suggested readings Professor Tambusco listed were his own, In the Days of Jesus: The Jewish Background and Unique Teaching of Jesus, and The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.



Would I sign up for the series again? Without a doubt. A new acquaintance said she and her husband would not, however, and she suggested an outline at the beginning of the series would have been helpful. Agreed.

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