“Trailing Jesus” Interview – WMUZ Detroit



WMUZ CHRISTIAN RADIO DETROIT Bob Dutko Interview 4/17/03

Bob Dutko: How many of you would just love to go over to Israel, to go into Jerusalem, to walk the very same roads, the very same paths that Jesus walked, to run your hands along the very same stone that Jesus probably ran his hands along? How would you like to walk that same Via Delarosa, go to Golgotha? To level with you, I’ve never been there, and that would be a fascinating trip. I would love to do that. This gentleman has, James Campion, is author of the book, “Trailing Jesus”, and we’re going to talk with him about his styory, his experiences. James, thanks for joining us today.

jc in Sea of Galilee The Sea of Galilee

jc: Thanks for having me, Bob.

BD: You bet. First of all, tell us a little bit about the book. It is, man oh, man, this is a big book, about 600 pages. Laughs. What in the world are you telling us in 600 pages?

jc: Well, I should say at the top, and thanks for mentioning the page count, because it was awhile for me to finish it. Six years, in fact.

BD: I know. I read that.

jc: What I tried to do is I tried to make it like a hardcover read, but in paperback for easier carrying and reading. The print though is more like a hardcover, a larger font, easier to read. It probably could have been smaller, but I figured since the subject matter is interesting to so many different people of different ages and levels of understanding, it would be easier for them to read if the print was just a little larger. I talked with the developers of the style of the book, for which I was actively involved, to make it a more pleasant experience whether on a subway or an airplane or lounging in bed reading. I’m a reader, so I’m cognizant of how larger books can be a cumbersome endeavor. I’ve gotten good feedback on that, but that’s why it’s so large in page number. I don’t want to scare anyone away. It’s a heavy subject, but thanks for mentioning it for not only the time spent researching and putting the book together, but also it’s design as well.

Now to answer your question, certainly when you start to delve into not only the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the actual historical person, as you mentioned, who did, in fact, walk the paths I eventually tread, and had interactions with actual historical people of various cultures of those areas, and get into the motivation of the author, myself, and why I decided to make the trip, it starts to build on itself. It was difficult to handle quickly. So I didn’t take the easy road. I tried to hit all the various aspects of all the different religions that are represented in Israel and in the Jesus story, and appreciate the Holy Land istself. Also I wanted to make note of many of the sects of Christianity that revere the Christ of religious faith, even though this is a story about the discovery of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish peasant from a region in ancient Palestine called the Galilee.

BD: Right, the humanity of Jesus. Sure. Now you did this about seven or eight years ago now, when you were 33 years old, right?

jc: Correct. It’s the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified, from what we understand.

DB: Did you deliberately time it that way or was that a coincidence or what?

jc: It was absolutely planned. What I tried to do from the age of 30 to 33, since I’ve always been interested in the historical Jesus, I decided to deeply ensconce myself in not only the accepted gospels of Christian faith and the New Testament and beyond, Luke’s Acts of the Apostles through the Letters of Saint Paul while delving further into my heroes of Jesus scholarly pursuits, people like John Dominic Crossan and Reynolds Price, John P. Meier, Raymond Brown, Robert Funk, and so on. Many historians who have studied and written volumes on the historical Jesus through the years. And because Jesus of Nazareth more or less began his public life as a teacher, ascetic, revolutionary, healer, etc at around 29 or 30, I thought – obviously I could not reach those heights – but I thought I’d try to study as a young man the feelings of what he might have been going through from, as you mentioned, a human standpoint.

Of course, we know at 33, Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, as three of the four canonical gospels state, and the Gospel of John states for the fourth or fifth time, but as we all know, historically, the last time. And I though to travel to a “war zone”, let’s face it, enter a place of political and cultural unrest, religious fervor, and violent overtones would be not unlike 2,000 years ago when Jesus went there. Of course, I hoped it would affect my experience, which it did tremendously, and I hope adds to what the readers get out of the story.

In Trailing Jesus my aim is to bring the reader, as you mentioned – quite eloquently at the top – along the paths of the Jesus story, from the very beginnings in the purported birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, through the Galilee, through towns like Nazareth and Capernaum and Bethany, and those types of places, all the way to Jerusalem and finally his death, and as many Christians around the world believe, his resurrection.

BD: All right, so let’s start with your journey. You hop a plane to Israel. Where do you go from there? Did you go to Bethlehem first?

jc: Actually I flew into Tel Aviv. You fly in there, and you already have the itinerary booked, because these towns are quite a bit of distance apart. Long cab rides. You can imagine the time it took 2,000 years ago when walking or on a camel. But yes, I tried to walk chronologically through the story, and that’s what I do in the book. I take you with me. It’s written in the first person, in journal form. I subtitled it “A Holy Land Journal”, so people could get through it, I believe, without having to be a scholar, because I’m not. You don’t need to be a theologian – I’m not – to enjoy this book, or at least receive a similar experience to mine. But, yes, I did go chronologically through the Jesus story from Bethlehem and also Nazareth, where many scholars and Biblical historians believe Jesus was actually born. But we know pretty much for sure he grew up there and acted as an apprentice for his father as a stonemason.

jc in the Judean DesertI use stonemason rather than the accepted tag of “carpenter” of Jesus’ vocation prior to his movement, because I tried to be true to some of the original Aramaic translations of words later interpreted in Greek or ancient Hebrew as something else. As we know, Aramaic being Jesus of Nazareth’s native language, and I’d come to learn, or suspect that his being known as an artisan in the gospels meant he likely worked with stone rather than wood, which was not only a rarer trade among peasants of the Galilee, of which Jesus has to be counted, but a rare material for construction. Stone was the chosen material for building at the time. One would do better within his community as a mason than a carpenter.

I was amazed to learn how much construction was going on during Jesus’ youth in the Galilee. We know historically that the capitol of the Galilee, Sepphoris was being built at that time, and Jesus could and would have worked on its construction. Also, scholars I respect have broached his vocation as mason. SoI thought it a good way to begin to separate his humanity from the myths and lore about the man.

It should also be noted that Sepphoris is a pretty large city for the country folk of a town like Nazareth, which opens the eyes of many Jesus scholars, because before the archaeological digs of Sepphoris it was always been accepted that Jesus was more or less a country boy, who never got to see larger city life, with all of its strife, crime and human indignation, as well as culture and art of other lands, until he was an adult in Jerusalem. We know that now not to be true. And his experiences in and around a larger town, even a city, and a capitol city at that, could have structured his teachings about the ills of society that still ring true today.

BD: As your walking through Nazareth, and then, of course, to Jerusalem, I mentioned running your hands along stones that have been there for centuries. I could easily see myself stopping at a big stone, sitting down and thinking, “Wow, Jesus very possibly sat on this very same stone, or ran his hand along this very same wall”, but I would not know that for sure. Did you find any place there where your confidence level was at its highest, that I am in the very same place, occupying the very same space that Jesus did?

jc: That’s an excellent question, Bob, and it sounds like you’ve already read Trailing Jesus, and if you haven’t, you nailed it right there. Yeah, absolutely. There were those kinds of places. I was able to walk side by side with one of the most respected tour guides in Israel for most of the trip, a gentleman by the name of Avi, who is well represented in the book. In Israel one of the most lucrative and sought-after jobs is tour guide, since tourism is predominant among Israel’s influx of foreign money. People study for years to become a tour guide in Israel, not only the historical sites, but the religious significance and the combination of the two when looking at what is a shrine or tradition, or an actual site. And in the case of Jesus, it is paramount, because of his historical significance in all three monotheistic faiths. Jesus is a great prophet of Judaism, and Islam and the focal point of Christianity. So I was lucky to have one of these guys at my disposal, even though for most of my trip I was alone.

Having said that, we only really know, historically, certain stories place Jesus of Nazareth in actual venues, attested by the Bible and other sources. Two main sites, which I visited are the Jordan River, with Jesus’ baptism by John, and his crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Now as for the Jordan, I was able to visit several sites along the river that have been discussed and celebrated as the place where Jesus was baptized, and in all cases it was very moving, mainly because you realize how the Jordan is this living, flowing entity. It isn’t like stone or dirt. It’s been moving through the entire country from north to south for thousands of years, back to the time of Moses, long before Jesus of Nazareth. And you realize what a huge significance the Jordan has to the Jewish faith, which Jesus was born into, and the Christian faith following it. And then when you visit Golgotha, Bob, it’s overwhelming emotionally. You feel it. It’s something quite different than anything I experienced before, mostly because of the archeological findings of the past 20 years, there are places like Golgotha where you absolutely know were visited by the historical Jesus.

Finally, I hope you and all your listeners interested can have the good fortune to get to the Garden of Gethsemane.

BD: James, if you could hold it right there in the Garden of Gethsemane, I want to hear about your experience there, but we have to take a commercial break. You are listening to the Bob Dutko Show with our guest today, James Campion, author of the new book, Trailing Jesus, a fascinating read. We’ll be back right after this on The Light, 103.5 FM, WMUZ.

Continuing our discussion with James Campion, author of the book, Trailing Jesus. We’re talking about his adventures walking literally in the footsteps of Jesus and experiencing the culture and all that stuff. Now James, I cut you off, you were saying about the Garden of Gethsemane.

jc: It’s a good thing to cut me off once in awhile, Bob. I tend to get overly excited about the subject. I’ve spent so much time, most of it in solitary confinement, really, the bane of the writer, with this stuff. And this subject and the ensuing trip was dear to my heart, so these interviews give me a chance to frame it more conversationally, and it’s an exciting, but strange venue, so my apologies for getting too in-depth.

jc in GethsemaneBD: Hey, no need. I’d be excited about it too.

jc: Thanks. Yeah, the Garden of Gethsemane, just to finish the thought, is just amazing. Most of the sites in Israel, especially the Christian sites, have these beautiful ornate churches and basilicas built upon them. But, as a result, they kind of take away from the realism of the history of what I was trying to get back to with the trip and the ensuing book. I wanted to be able to see it, you know, be right there and reconstruct the stories as we understand them, as we’ve come to know them. For instance, sitting on the banks of the Sea of Galilee was more like it. You can picture Jesus and his disciples lounging there and discussing, debating, praying. But specifically, to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, with its bucolic splendor, the nature of it, the smell of it, the visuals, like the four hundred year-old massive olive trees, the way its kept its first-century charm and ambience by an order of Franciscan monks, is mind-altering. Really. It takes you somewhere beyond, give you the flavor of the times long ago. Even Jerusalem itself, the sites and smells of the places and foods and the bustle of the people in the tiny cobblestone corridors really bring to life the city’s incredible history. The way the people are garbed in their flowing robes and turbans and the ancient languages of Hebrew and Arabic. It really is quite arresting, and I hope I was able to capture in the book.

BD: Describe for us, if you would, the Garden of Gethsemane. Paint a picture for us. If you were to describe what it looked like. First of all, how large is it? What types of trees? How big are they? How many bushes? What are the paths like when you’re walking along the garden? How large of a geographic area is it? Paint that picture for us.

jc: It’s cut in two spots. One is walled off for the Franciscan order I spoke of who keep the entire garden in shape. You can still see that area very well through black fences, all the different colors and varieties of flowers. The entire garden itself, as it spanned 2000 years ago, I would say is a couple of miles at the bottom of the Kidron Valley, which is a hill that runs down beneath of the Mount of Olives. Most of the photos and videos you’ve probably seen over the years were shot there above and over the Garden of Gethsemane. The little park that they’ve sequestered for visitors to view is only a couple of hundred feet around. It is neatly arranged around the rather sizable and ubiquitous olive trees, with their large branches sinking toward the grass and stony paths winding through. This area is also sequestered behind a modest fence. This keeps people from ruining the atmosphere that, again, seems like it is preserved from the time of Jesus. Finally, in the center of the garden is this incredibly stunning church with a facing mosaic of Christ in the garden praying, and it’s built over this very long smooth rock, which actually juts from the foundation of the church, as if the structure, or any structure would be silly to try and contain it. In Christian tradition, this is the rock upon which Jesus prayed for deliverance from his subsequent arrest and execution, and in Luke’s gospel, he is described as actually sweating blood with fear. So to sit upon this rock and contemplate all that has gone down over the centuries from the night this peasant preacher from Nazareth came to hide away for a few fleeting moments before mayhem broke loose is beyond moving. This is where history really does go beyond faith.

BD: Sure. Where you able to…is it known for sure where the Sermon on the Mount took place?

jc: No. The Sermon on the Mount, according to the best scholarly knowledge or the best historical evidence is really a composite in Matthew’s gospel of the several locations, and a general portrait of how Jesus taught. There may have been one big all-encompassing sermon given in an elevated area, if not a mountainside, there are plenty of those locations in the Galilee, so you can see where the topography meets history meets religious documentation. Chances are Jesus would have taught in many areas such as this to use as a stage, let’s say, to get his message out to as many people as wanted to hear. Jesus, like many of his contemporaries, knew of the Greek practice and tradition of staging an event or a play, and the gospels write about his growing numbers of students and disciples, so this would make sense as a vehicle to teach. But the Sermon on the Mount as far as I understand it is a clever storytelling tool from Matthew, not unlike screenwriters for today’s films that place two or three events depicted either in real life or in a novel into one location with all the elements of those events tied together for time purposes and impact. It’s very clever writing, and obviously amazingly effective, because it is always the great scene depicted in paintings and films about Jesus. In fact, just by you mentioning it as a point of interest, and tying it to a place of origin speaks volumes of its effectiveness.

There is a place in the Galilee called the Mount of the Beatitudes where they commemorate the event with a gorgeous Byzantine church built upon the apex of this floral mountaintop. It really is done right, and you don’t have to imagine what it must have been like to attend one of Jesus of Nazareth’s lectures, as it were. You get to see most of the valley of the greater Galilee, the Sea of Galilee, everything. It’s quite a sight and experience.

BD: As you walk around there, is it possible to place yourself 2,000 years ago, or are you constantly reminded of today? Here’s a telephone poll, here’s a telephone booth, and oh, by the way, here’s a taxicab. Is it possible, even for a few minutes to see everything as it would have appeared 2,000 years ago?

jc: Overall, they do a nice job in preserving a lot of these places, especially in the Galilee, it’s quite pastoral and has a flavor of antiquity. Since I was alone, and I am a journalist, I have learned how to squeeze into forbidden or hidden areas or talk my way into places. So I was able to see things someone else with less pushy skills might not have been able to see. And I hope Trailing Jesus allows the reader to see those special places as well use my maneuvers for themselves to get deeper into the Holy Land. Mostly, I hope the book serves as an experience for those who cannot or would rather not make the trip for whatever reason, the political unrest and dangers resulting from that, or the cost or the time. But yes, you’re constantly reminded of the 20th century, or now the 21st century there. Whether it’s helicopters patrolling the skies or popular music blaring from car windows or McDonald’s sitting on the corner or IDF soldiers perched at bus stations, it pops up from time to time.

It’s funny, there is actually a small garden not too far from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem where people of the Protestant faith believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. There is a tomb inside there, very different than that of the Catholic shrine inside the Holy Seplecur witihn the Old City’s walls, but anyway, the grotto where the tomb is preserved rests just outside this huge bus station.

BD: How weird is that?

jc: But through the walls and the deep thicket of trees and shrubbery, they do a nice job of sheiliding the garden and it takes you back. You truly do feel as though it could be Joseph of Aramethia’s garden depicted in the gospels. I tend to favor it as the more likely place for the shrine of Jesus’ burial and not the Holy Seplecur.

BD: Before I get to the tomb, by my little timeline here, let me get back to Golgotha. Are you allowed to climb up on Golgotha and stand where the crosses would have most likely been, and do they have it marked at all, and do we know where physically the crosses where Jesus and the two thieves on either side were placed?

jc at the foot of Golgothajc: Another good question, Bob. Golgotha is, as we know historically, where Jesus was absolutely executed. Period. This is irrefutable in most of the documentation and archeological findings since. So this alone makes it quite a stirring experience to visit. Since so many met there end there, I have likened it, and I believe I write this in the book, it is not unlike someone standing on the grounds of Auschwitz or Dachau, the Nazi death camps. Thousands of souls were released on that mountainside. We know this. We know of Pontius Pilate’s thirst for controlling the populace and his viscous sense of punishment, really the whole of the Roman Empire. And this terrible bloodlust was glaring, more than in any other region, as it is in first century Palestine. The rebellious nature of the people under the yoke of Rome in this relatively insignificant, to Rome anyway, patch of land in the desert, an outpost of sorts, leant itself to this horror show.

Today the rise of the mount known as Golgotha, the hill of skulls, is encased in the enormous church known as the Holy Seplecur, built some 1,700 years ago, and then rebuilt again a few hundred years later during the Crusades. When you walk the trail of the Via Delarosa today, through the cramped city streets, you end up at the foot of the Holy Seplecur and as you go inside you can walk the steps built there along the rise of the mountain. So you are ascending Golgotha, in a sense, inside. Finally, beneath the asp inside, underneath this altar, flanked by monks and burning candles is this thick glass, and there you can see the stones, the cuts of the stones where they would fashion the foothold for the crosses, to pitch them up into the rock and raise the victim up to be displayed at the mountain’s apex for all to see.

BD: Wait a minute; I’m wondering where the actual crosses were put into the rock at the top of the mountain. Isn’t that in a location atop a big hill that’s still outside?

jc: No, the traditional mount called Golgotha, and again, a great deal of the places I visited were not the actual historical places per se, the absolute, no questions asked places, nor can anyone truly know where the traditional places and the history meet. I point this out in the book. There are always questions and mysteries. We know more now than ten years ago, or certainly anytime before, but there is still no exact science to knowing where these events actually took place. We know, as I stated before, that Golgotha is the place, but without actual, physical knowledge, how can we be 100% certain? We can’t. But I believe this site to be almost as certain as it gets without complete certainty. Having said that, of all the argued placed for location of the Golgotha mentioned as the place of execution for Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels and elsewhere, I believe, and many scholars and archeologists agree is housed inside the Church of the Holy Seplecur.

The actual mountainside, that was once outside the original walls of Jerusalem are now inside and you walk inside the church up into a shrine built on the site that I truly believe is the site of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, at least to the best of my research and study.

BD: So they have taken the place where Jesus hung on the cross and what your saying is they basically encompassed that within a building or a structure.

jc: Correct. And when you get to the spot, it is bathed in subtle candlelight with monks on either side of the altar built over the site. It’s very moving to be in there, especially if you, as I do, subscribe to the site’s authenticity and the magnification of the event. People have argued against the location’s veracity for years by correctly stating that it now exists inside the circumference of the walls of the current Old City of Jerusalem, as opposed to the description in the gospels and elsewhere that Golgotha was outside the walls of first-century Jerusalem. But we now know, because of archeological digs and studies in the last 20 to 25 years that it is ever more proven to be historically correct, because it was discovered that the walls were expanded five to six hundred years ago by the Turks when they conquered Jerusalem. So the Jerusalem Jesus of Nazareth trod through upon his donkey on Palm Sunday or entered the Holy Temple within, and eventually was tried and executed outside, is not the same one that exists now. This has influenced the modern description of where Golgotha was/is located, which puts it smack in the middle of the Church of the Holy Sepluca. This is a case where science has helped to back the guesswork of the church for a shrine, wherein many cases, studies and archeology has disproved a traditional site, or at least cast serious doubts to its authenticity.

BD: We’ve got just about a minute or so left.

jc: Sure.

BD: So in this last 60 seconds or so, tell us about the tomb Jesus was buried in, which you mentioned earlier. There’s been a lot of debate on this. Has there been any consensus which tomb today is the one Jesus’ body was in, and which he walked out of?

No, there is not, Bob. History argues against Jesus of Nazareth being buried at all, since that was not the custom for executed criminals of the state, which Jesus, in the end, had to have been to meet his fate. But assuming the gospels are correct and Jesus of Nazareth was buried in the tomb of a apologist for his movement, then the debate rages on.

There have been great strides in Biblical archeology in and around Jerusalem over the past century discovering first century Jewish tombs. There are two that are accepted now, the Catholics worship at their traditional spot inside the Church of the Holy Seplecur, which is conveniently at the foot of Golgotha, which I think is unlikely historically, and the Garden Tomb accepted among Protestants as the site of Christ’s burial and purported resurrection. The Garden Tomb is the one I spoke of earlier just outside the walls of the Old City and near the bus station. But no one knows for sure. However, again, it really is about just being in the area to discover and being moved by the places and framing the events that counts, unless you are bound to the rigors of data and science, which, as a writer, and more of a dreamer in a sense, I am not. Only then can you get the same feeling from visiting several locations, which I did and is depicted in the book.

And if I may, Bob, I’d like to give out my web site address for those who might want to write me with questions or read some of the materials on the book or can even order the book online at jamescampion.com, or they can find it at any Barnes & Noble, Borders or online with the booksellers and amazon.com as well. We have signed copies available through the site, and people, if they read it, and want to ask further questions or discuss points, I’m open for that. I’d love to hear from any of your listeners who might have a thought or two about what we discussed here today as well.

BD: Thanks so much for joining us today, James, it’s a fascinating book, Trailing Jesus, we appreciate the time you spent with us today.

jc: Thanks, Bob, love to come back anytime.

BD: You bet. This is 103.5 FM, WMUZ, The Light, and you’re listening to the Bob Dutko Show. E-mail address is, of course, bob@wmuz.com.

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