DAY 6 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15: GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORBER, MT. HERMON, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN, BETHSAIDA
Today was an interesting weather day, especially for September. While the sun greeted us this morning, when we were ascending Mt. Hermon around noon, it actually showered (the first unofficial rain of the fall). Then it cleared up as we came down the mountain. The rest of the day was pleasant, with highs in the 80s.
Driving around the north side of the Sea of Galilee and ascending the Golan Heights, we read from Matthew 13 on our way to Gamla. This was a prominent Jewish city 6 miles east of the northern tip of the lake. While the road down to the ruins was closed, from the top of the site we could see the walls, towers, and the ancient 1st century synagogue. Perhaps this was one of many synagogues where Jesus taught. We also saw a few of the endangered Griffon Vultures flying high above us.
Driving north, Katzrin/Qatzrin was our next site. In this Talmudic village (3rd – 7th century AD), we saw what stone houses of that day looked like. Sitting in the completely restored us of Rabbi Abun, we read from Mark 2. While this event took place in Capernaum, we could see it happening. Jesus not only heals this outcast paralytic, but also forgave his sins! We also saw the synagogue here.
Next, we drove to the border with Syria and looked into this war-torn country. As Shlomo shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars, we could see the city of Kuneitra and beyond. We learned how critical it is for Israel to maintain control of this strategic region.
We drove through a few Druze villages to get to the base of Mt. Hermon. We read from Psalm 42, 89, and 133, as well as Song of Songs 4 on the way. Today, a ski resort is here, with 4 lifts and about a dozen runs. For 6-7 months a year, this 7,300 foot mountain is snow-capped. Syria actually owns the highest peak of this mountain (9,200 feet). When we arrived darker clouds rolled in. Uniquely for this time of year, it actually started raining a bit. While going up the chair lift, the temperature dropped to the 60s as we were enveloped within the thick clouds. Unfortunately, since we could not see anything on top, we returned down the chair lift back to the bottom. At least the group will never forget this experience. 🙂
“Traveling to the borders with Syria and Lebanon today was really informative. The way the news reports on these areas is so much distorted. It was also neat to go to a really authentic not-developed-yet site like Araj to possibly see where Peter, Andrew, and Philip grew up! Incredible reality!” – Tour Member-
Driving down off the slopes of the Golan Heights, our next stop was Caesarea Philippi. It was in the region of this very pagan city where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16). Here, Jesus promised to His disciples that the church and the forward advancement of the kingdom of God would rest upon the ministry of the apostles! The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17) may also happened somewhere on the slopes of Mt. Hermon nearby. At the Grotto of the site, we saw where the temples/shrines dedicated to Augustus, Zeus/Jupiter, Pan, and Nemesis were.
Nature Preserve & Tel Dan
Before driving back south towards the lake, we enjoyed visiting the nature preserve and archaeological site of Tel Dan. Walking along the water of this largest of three tributaries of the Jordan River, we paused to listen to Shlomo play a song on his recorder. We also read from and sang “Psalm 42” together. We continued to the archaeological part of the site. Sitting on the steps of the high place we read form Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the patterns of disobedience displayed here. Looking across the border into Lebanon, Shlomo shared the current situation Israel faces with these northern neighbors. Before leaving the site, we saw a mud-brick Middle Bronze Period gate (maybe used by Abraham, seeGen. 14:14) and the Iron Age stone walls and gates of Jeroboam’s city.
Tel el Araj (Bethsaida?)
Driving south on the east side of the Huleh Valley, we arrived at our last site of the day, Tel el-Araj. This new archaeological site could be Bethsaida of the Bible. This small village was the home-town of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip (John 1). Overlooking the Early Roman and Byzantine ruins, we read from Mark 8 and Luke 9. It is believed that the Church of the Apostles (dating to the 5th century AD) was located here over the 1st century city of Bethsaida (later called Julius in 30 AD).
We drove a short distance to get back to our hotel for dinner.