DAY 8 – MONDAY, JANUARY 21: GAMLA, QATZRIN, BENTAL, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today was another sunny day. Although it was a bit hazy, we enjoyed the temps in the mid to upper 60s. Very comfortable. We spent the day in the Golan Heights.
Leaving the hotel again at 7:30 we drove to the Northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee and began our ascent up the Golan Heights. We first made a brief stop to overview the Bethsaida Plain. Bethsaida was the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). It was also the home of the blind man healed by Jesus (Mark 8). We also read from John 6 (the Feeding of the 5,000) that took place below us. Today, there is now two possible sites for Bethsaida itself.
Driving on the plateau of the Golan we arrived at Gamla. This was a large Jewish city built on a camel-shaped hill about 6 miles east of the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Seeing the site from above, this was a city that fell to the Romans in 66 AD. Josephus was a leader here. There is also a 1st century synagogue here. While the site is not mentioned in the Bible, we read from Acts 5 about a certain Judas the Galilean who may have been from here.
The biggest town in the Golan Heights is Katzrin (8,000 residents). There is also a Talmudic Village here (from the 3rd-7/8th centuries AD). At the site we sat in a restored stone house no doubt similar to that type of houses used in Jesus’ day. We read from Mark 2. Jesus came to show compassion to the outcasts of the day (the shamed). He also came to forgive sins. While this story took place at Capernaum, we could picture it happening in a house like this! We also saw the synagogue here.
“I was amazed to see how different the northern part of Israel looks to the south. Standing on Bental and looking north Mt. Hermon looked majestic with all the snow on top! I didn’t ever associate Israel with a snow-capped mountain, but there it was, right in front of us!” – Tour Member –
On the eastern border of the Golan we climbed (with the bus) to the top of Bental. This was an old military outpost overlooking Syria. Shlomo shared some history from the 1967 and 1973 wars. We could easily look across the border just a few miles away. Snow-capped Mt. Hermon also stood majestically in front of us to the north. In fact, on our way to the next site, we stopped for coffee and tea at a Druze restaurant at the base of the mountain!
Descending off the slopes of the Golan we made a brief stop at the Saar Falls. With the abundance of rain and snow fall in the north, the falls were quite beautiful!
The road continued past Nimrod (a Crusade castle) to Caesarea Philippi. Here the Banias spring was also flowing with an abundance of water. We read from Matthew 16. It was in the region of this city Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It could very well be that Jesus was also transfigured somewhere on the slopes of Mt. Hermon (Mt. 17). At the grotto area we saw where the Temple of Augustus once stood as well as the shrine to Jupiter, Pan, and Nemesis.
Our last site of the day was Dan. Walking through the nature preserve here and along the largest of the springs (the Dan springs), we enjoyed a time of reflection and song at our first stop. Walking into the archaeological site, we sat on the steps of the high place while we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. It was Jeroboam who established a golden calf on the high place here. We also saw a mud-brick gate from the time of the Canaanites (when the city was called Laish). While overlooking the border with Lebanon, Shlomo also shared a little about the situation today with this northern neighbor.
From here we drove back through the Huleh Valley (and past Hazor, see Joshua 11) to our hotel for dinner and a free night. Today was our second incredible day here in the north!