DAY 4 – MONDAY, OCTOBER 15: BETHSAIDA, GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today was another great day here in Israel as we traveled north to the Golan Heights. We enjoyed a hazy sun with mild temps once again, with highs in the 80s. Our buffet breakfast was also enjoyable. This included lots of salads and dairy products.
El Araj (Bethsaida?)
Leaving the hotel at 7:40, we drove to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee (about 13 miles long, 6.5 miles wide at its widest point, and 140 fee deep). After crossing the Jordan River as it flows into the lake from the north), we took a dirt road to a new archaeological site called El Araj. This is a new alternative site for Bethsaida (the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip, see John 1). We read from Mark 8 (helaing of the blind man from Bethsaida) and John 6 (the Feeding of the 5,000 that took place in this area). We also saw some of there new ruins exposed by this year’s excavation.
Ascending to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our next visit. This was a Jewish city in the days of Jesus. Known as the Masada of the North today, the city fell to the Romans in 66 AD. Sitting in the 1st century synagogue, we read from Matthew 9 about how Jesus taught in many Galilean synagogues. He probably taught here too!
Continuing northward, our next stop was Katzrin, a Talmudic village (3rd – 7-8th century AD). Here we saw a reconstructed stone house, a type of dwelling no doubt very similar to the houses of the 1st century. We read from Mark 2 (paralyzed man being lowered through the roof). We also saw the synagogue here. Today, Katzrin is the largest Jewish city in the Golan Heights.
“Today was another great day of connecting to the Bible. We traveled to the Golan Heights where we enjoyed seeing a nice blend of ancient sites from both the Old and New Testaments, but also some encounters that helped us understand the challenges Israel faces with the Syrian and Lebanese borders.”
From here we drove to the northeastern edge of the Golan Heights to an old Israeli military lookout base called Bental. From the top of this site we had a clear view across to Syria. We could see the Syrian city of Kuneitra. Shlomo also shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Caesarea Philippi (Banias)
Driving west and descending off the Golan Heights our next stop was Caesarea Philippi. One of the three tributaries of the Jordan River begins here (the “Banias” spring). Before ascending to the grotto area, we read for Matthew 16. It was in the region of this pagan city where Jesus asked His disciples (Talmidim) the most important question (Mt. 16), “Who do you say I am?” Jesus also shared here for the first time with His disciples that He would be put to death and rise on the third day. It was probably somewhere nearby on the slopes of Mt. Hermon where Jesus was transfigured (Mt. 17).
Our last stop of the day was to the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. We first walked on a beautifully shaded trail along the largest of the tributaries of the Jordan. In the backdrop of the gently flowing waters of the spring we also enjoyed hearing Shlomo play a song on his recorder. We read from Psalm 42 and sang As the Deer together to complete this quiet time. We then entered the archaeological part of the site. While sitting on the steps of the High Place, we read from Judges 18 (Danites taking the city of Laish) and 1 Kings 12 (Jeroboam building a High Place here). Shlomo also shared some history and perspective about the border Israel has with Lebanon. We could see the border about a mile or so north.
Before leaving the site, we saw a mud-brick gate from the Middle Bronze period (perhaps a gate used by Abraham when he was here, see Genesis 14:14) as well as the Iron Age/Israelite wall and gate structures. It was near here where the famous Dan Inscription was found!
We returned back to our hotel for dinner and a free night. We are looking forward to spending time around the Sea of Galilee tomorrow.