DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13: GAMLA, QATZRIN, MT. HERMON SKI LIFT, NIMROD, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today we traveled up to the Golan Heights. It would be a partly sunny day, with perfect temps around 80. We even had a late afternoon shower at our last site, once again very unique for June in Israel. We also celebrated the arrival of our 14 delayed friends. They arrived at our hotel at 11:15 last night!
Leaving shortly after 7:30, we drove to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee (13 miles long). Taking a dirt road through fields, we visited the new archaeological site of El Araj. It is suggested that this was Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). The water’s edge of the lake probably came up very close to the town. While the excavations are minimal at this point, the next season of excavations that begin next week show promising results. We read from Mark 8 and John 6 as well here.
Ascending to the heights of the Golan, we visited Gamla next. This was a 1st century Jewish city located 6 miles east of the northern point of the Sea of Galilee. From an observation area above the city we looked down and saw the 1st century synagogue (one of seven found in Israel) and the city walls. While Gamla is not mentioned in the Gospels, Jesus probably taught in this synagogue. The city was destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD.
Driving further north we came to Katzrin. This was a Talmudic village (3rd – 7th century AD). Sitting in a reconstructed stone house of Rabbi Abun, we read from Mark 2 (the paralytic healed by Jesus who was lowered down from the roof). We could see the story come alive! We also saw the synagogue here.
Syrian Border / Quneitra
Continuing northeast, we stopped for a brief stop on the border with Syria! Both Eli and Shlomo shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars as well as the current situation with the Syrians. We looked across the border and saw both the old and new Syrian cities of Quneitra.
As we enjoyed an “apple, banana, and snacks” lunch, we drove through a few ˆDruze towns to ascend to the bottom of the ski resort of Mt. Hermon. Yes, Israel has a ski resort! Because of the cloud cover and the threat of rain, we could not ride the ski lift to the top.
Coming down off the Heights, we visited Nimrod. This was a massive Crusader stone castle/fortress. While the name of the fortress comes from Genesis, it has no biblical connection. We explored various parts of the castle, including the main chamber, the cistern, and secret escape route.
One of the most pagan Gentile cities during Jesus day in this northern region was Caesarea Philippi (also called Banias today, one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River). Pastor Mike shared with us the most important question Jesus would ask His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It was in the region of this city where Jesus also shared a word of promise about the forward advancement of the kingdom! Not even the gates of death could keep the message from penetrating even Gentile cities! Walking up to the grotto, we saw where the Temple of Augustus was as well as the niche for Pan and Nemesis.
Dan Nature Preserve & Site
Our last stop for the day was the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. We enjoyed walking along the largest of the tributaries of the Jordan. We stopped to hear Shlomo share a son on his recorder. We also read from Psalm 42. At the high place of Dan we read from Judges 18 (Danites taking the city of Laish) and I Kings 12 (Jeroboam’s false worship center established here) about the pattern of disobedience that developed here. Upon leaving the site we, also saw a mud-brick gate (Abraham’s gate?, Gen. 14:14. It dates to the Middle Bronze period) and the Iron Age/Israelite fortification walls and gates.
Driving back home to our hotel, we passed by Abel Beit Maacah (2 Samuel 20) and Hazor (Joshua 11). After dinner we enjoyed a gathering down by the water’s edge.