A Middle East Expedition
Egypt was never an all- Muslim country. The ancient pharaohs believed in a panoply of gods who ruled events on earth. Then, in a strange turn of events around 1352 BC, Chief God Aten morphed briefly into the Only God under Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti. Soon after this, Moses led his fellow enslaved monotheists on the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Perhaps the two one- god concepts were connected. Perhaps not.
In any case, some Jews never left and some came back around 70 AD. They established the first synagogue in Egypt at the spot (Moses' Spring) where Moses' mama hid him in the bullrushes to escape his being thrown in the Nile by the pharaoh's henchmen. Then, the pharaoh's daughter found baby Moses…and you know the rest of the story.
The Ben Ezra Synagogue is also on the spot in Cairo where Jeremiah gathered the Jews in the sixth century after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple. We visited this sacred site and were impressed with its simple yet strong beauty. Egyptian Jews still worship in the synagogue.
Also, in this area called Coptic Cairo are several historic churches. This has been the center of Christian Egypt since the 6th century. The Hanging Church was built over the watergate of the second century Roman fortress on the Nile, hence hanging. The interior is reminiscent of an overturned wooden ark held up by 13 pillars, which represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. One pillar, darker than the others, symbolizes Judas. It is a functioning Roman Catholic church.
The Church of St. George, first built in the 10th century, honors a Roman soldier who was executed by Roman Emperor Diocletian's decree against worshipping Jesus. It houses a monastery.
The Church of St. Sergius is below street level inside fourth century walls supposedly at the place where Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus hid in a cave from King Herod, who was on a rampage to kill all first- born Jews. Nuns live in the adjacent convent. Roman Catholics hold services there on special days.
Down the alley is the Church of St. Barbara. This relatively new church is built over the bones of a Turkish woman, who was beaten to death in 306 AD by her father because she disobeyed him and became a Christian. The father was miraculously disposed of by lightning sent by God.
After being filled with splendor and wonder in Coptic Cairo, Ali's Group of 24 headed for more hedonistic pleasures on the Nile Maxim Cruise Ship with a dinner and show in the Khulkhal Restaurant. We sipped a few Stella beers waiting for the ship to cast off.
While the ship made its way up and down the Nile, we enjoyed a good Egyptian and continental buffet and superb entertainment! A whirling dervish spun for what seemed like hours, changing his costume while he turned. He ended up a galaxy of blue lights. What a performance! A standing ovation.
The orchestra played, and two men danced around the floor. Many of our group accepted their invitation to join them. The Stella worked its magic.
The climax of the evening was a voluptuous belly dancer, who really strained her skimpy outfit. Surely, the gods of the pharaohs, the Christians, and the Jews would not have approved of her actions. But we adventure travelers did. Wow!
(Next week: Luxor)