DAY 7 – SATURDAY, MAY 12: GAMLA, KATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN, OMRIT
(Theme of the Day: Mountain top experiences with God)
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. Other than a brief time of showers around noon (unique for this tie of year!), the rest of the day was sunny, with comfortable temps in the high 70s.
Driving to the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, we unsuccessfully attempted to reach the new possible site for Bethsaida, El Araj. To get to this site we took a dirt road through a field. We got stuck in the mud however. Fortunately, after everyone unloaded, we were able to back up and return to the main road. So ascending the Golan Heights, we stopped at a place that offered a panoramic view of Bethsaida below. We read from Mark 8 and John 6, two stories that took place here.
Driving to the plateau of the Golan, Gamla was our next stop. This was a Jewish city that was taken at the time of the First Revolt (66 AD). Josephus mentions the battle because he was here when it took place against the Romans. From the overlook above the site, we could see the city walls, the towers, and the 1st century synagogue. Even though not directly mentioned in the Gospels, Jesus must have taught here. We also saw a Griffon vulture. They are protected here.
Further north is the Talmudic village called Katzrin. Here we sat in the reconstructed stone house of Rabbi Abun. Houses in the 1st century must have been very familiar to this one. We read from Mark 2 from within the house. The story came alive! Here we also saw the ancient synagogue dating around the 3rd – 7th centuries AD.
As it began to rain a little, we drove to the top of a extinct volcano developed by the Israelis as a military outpost after the 1967 war. It is called Bental. On top we heard about the 1967 and 1973 wars and about the modern situation with Syria. The border of Syria is only a few miles away! The clouds finally broke to allow us to see miles into Syria and the town of Kuneitra. Even with the Iranian rockets shot at Israel a few days ago (none reaching Israel), we were safe and with no concern.
After picking up bananas and cherries for lunch for everyone, we began our descend down the Golan Heights. On the way, Mt. Hermon came into full view (Psalm 133). Before descending all the way, we visited Caesarea Philippi. This was a city developed by Phillip, one of Herod the Great’s three sons. We read from Matthew 16 about the question Jesus asked of His disciples in the region of this city, “Who do you say I am?” Among the ruins at the grotto, we saw the evidences of how how pagan this city was during the days of Jesus (e.g. Temple of Augustus, niche of Pan, dedication of Nemesis, pit of the dancing goats, etc…). One of the three tributaries of the Jordan begin here, the Banias Spring.
Nearby is the site of Laish/Dan. We first walked along another tributary of the Jordan, the Dan Spring, as we made our way to the archaeological ruins. Along the way we stopped for a brief stop to listen to Shlomo play his recorded and to read and sing Psalm 42. At the archaeological site, we saw the location of the altar and we sat on the steps of the high place. We read form Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the pattern of disobedience developed here. We also looked into Lebanon and heard about the current situation with this country. Leaving the site we saw the Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate.
On our way back to the hotel, we visited Omrit. Walking about 15 minutes to the site, we saw the massive stones placed by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus. Some suggest that this served as a monument to Augustus, while others suggest there was actually a temple but here in honor of Augustus. Omrit is certainly a site not visited by many other groups.
We returned back to our hotel for a late dinner and a free evening. It was a long but another great day here in Israel!
DAY 9 – SUNDAY, MAY 13: SEPPORIS, NAZARETH PRECIPICE, MEGIDDO, CAESAREA, JERUSALEM
(Theme of the Day: Learning to trust God in our battles)