The pictures were taken on the edge of the new town of Arad in the Negev. Our guide introduced us to an ancient rabbinical reflection: “The Torah was given in freedom in the public domain in a place belonging to no one because if it have been given in the land of Israel, the Jews would have said to the nations of the world, ‘You have no portion in it’, therefore, the Torah was given in the desert, and any person who wants to receive it may come and receive it.”
He was also the second person during our time here to dwell on the way the ‘still small voice’ which Elijah heard in the desert was a ‘decommissioning’; the message he heard was to commission a new prophet in his place. Our guide had an interesting take on this as well, pointing out that Elijah’s words to God were exactly the same words he had used a little earlier, which might mean he had failed to learn anything from the desert experience and so wasn’t really much use as a prophet any more.
And, of course, it was the picture of Jesus’ temptation to thrown himself off a cliff which the site provoked in particular. We had recently reflected on Jesus’ temptations. Our mediaeval chapter and verse divisions and our modern section headings and use of separate stories Sunday by Sunday may be responsible for our seeing Jesus’ Baptism and his temptations as separate stories. But Mark’s text actually reads: “... as he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased’ and immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness...”. It looks as if the one story is about the action of the Spirit. It looks as if the secure knowledge of being a child of God and the experience of being deserted are two sides of one coin, and not alternative or contradictory stories for us at all.