DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14: GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. It was another sunny day, with perfect temps around 75. It would be a day of blessing.
Plain of Bethsaida
Following a great breakfast (with freshly-squeezed orange juice), we left the hotel around 7:30. Driving to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, we then headed east towards Bethsaida (the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip, John 1). While the muddy and rutted dirt road to El Araj (a new possible site for the Bethsaida) prevented us from seeing this new excavation, we drove to a wonderful overlook further east of the region below. Here we could see the eastern shoreline of the lake (Mark 5), Tiberias to the west, and with the good visibility even the top of Mt. Tabor far in the distance in the Jezreel Valley. To the north we could see Mt. Hermon (Israel’s highest peak – 7,300 feet, see Psalm 133). But looking down to the lake we read form Mark 8 (healing of the blind man from Bethsaida) and John 6 (the Feeding of the 5,000).
Continuing to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our next stop. This was a Jewish city from the 1st century BC. The city was one of the first major cities taken by the Romans during the First Revolt (66 AD). We walked to the 1st century synagogue here. Although not mentioned specifically, perhaps Jesus taught here as He did in many of the Galilean synagogues (Mt. 4). We even saw a few griffon vultures.
The Talmudic village of Katzrin (dating from 3rd-7th century AD) was our next stop. We were introduced to the Hebraic background of the culture, and specifically of the life and ministry of Jesus here. Entering the reconstructed house of Rabbi Abun, we read from Mark 2 about Jesus healing the crippled man lowered down to Him through the roof. We could see it happening in a stone house like this! Here, Jesus also displayed authority (s’mekah) in forgiving the man’s sins too. We paused to celebrate God’s forgiveness for us! Leaving the site we walked through the synagogue.
Eating bananas, apples, and snacks for lunch today, we made out way to Bental. We saw a few gazelles along the way! This old Israeli military outpost overlooks the border with Syria. Shlomo shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars that took place in this region. Looking across the border, we could see Kuneitra as well as numerous other Syrian towns. We felt perfectly safe here despite what has happened in Syria so close to the border. The up-close view of Mt. Hermon was amazing!
Descending down off the Golan Heights, we visited Caesarea Philippi. This was a pagan city during the day so of Jesus. Yet it was in this region where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We saw the grotto/cultic center of the city, which included a Temple of Augustus, and shrines dedicated to Pan, Nemesis, Zeus, and the sacred goats.
Our last stop of the day was to the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. Walking along the largest tributary of the Jordan River (Banias and Hatsbani are the others), we enjoyed the beauty of this area. We stopped along the path to listen to Shlomo share a song on his recorder and to read (and sing) Psalm 42. Walking further, we entered the archaeological site. At the altar and high place built by Jeroboam, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. Overlooking the Lebanon border to the north, we also heard Shlomo share about the present situation with this country. Leaving the site, we saw a mud-brick gate that possibly dates to the time of Abraham.
Back to the Hotel
From here we drove back home through the Huleh Valley. Passing Abel Beit Macaah (where Pastor John dug in 2014), we read from 2 Samuel 20 about the “wise woman.” On our way back to the hotel we also passed by Hazor, a major Canaanite city destroyed by Joshua (Josh. 11). We returned to the hotel for dinner and a nice gathering down by the water’s edge.