Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from April, 2013
April 7-8 (Day 1 & 2)
14 of us met at the JFK airport in NY for our night-flight to Tel Aviv. Everyone made it on time. 12 others arranged their own flights to Israel. Once again, God has brought together a great group from all over the country, with one form Australia. We arrived in Tel Aviv at 5 p.m.. We were greeted by our guide, Shlomo. On the way to our hotel in Tel Aviv, we made a quick stop in Joppa (Jaffa). We read the stories of Peter from Acts 9 & 10 here before driving to our hotel in Netanya. As one group of 26, we enjoyed dinner together, with a few taking a walk to the beach of the Med Sea. We are thankful we arrived safely, and we look forward to our first full day tomorrow.
April 9 (Day 3)
The day began with a 6:30 wake-up call. A few of us enjoyed a quick stroll on the Med Sea beach before breakfast. After loading and boarding the bus, our first stop was Caesarea, the grand port city built by Herod the Great. We read Acts 10, 12, and 26 in the theater about the courage and boldness of Peter and Paul in proclaiming the Gospel to gentiles. We then walked to the palace area, saw the famous “Pilate” inscription” (a replica though), walked through the hippodrome and eventually to the harbor area. We also saw the aqueduct that brought water from the Carmel range. Our next stop was Mt. Carmel, where we read the story of Elijah (I Kings 18). We enjoyed singing in the Carmelite chapel too. From the rooftop, we had our first view of the Jezreel Valley below.
Following a falafel lunch, we drove along the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo, an impressive Canaanite and Israelite city. This archeological “tel” (ancient mound) boasts of about two dozen levels of ruins. We saw ancient gates, an altar, and walked through the water system. We read from Revelation 16 and celebrated that the fact that God will ultimately reign victoriously. From here we added an extra site, Sephoris (or Tzipori). Located only 4 miles from Nazareth this impressive Jewish and later Roman city dominated the region. We saw impressive Romans streets, mosaics (including the “Mona Lisa” of the Galilee, and a theater among other ruins.
Our last stop of the day was to the precipice of Nazareth. We read the story of Jesus reading the Isaiah scroll as recorded in Luke 4. The view from this high place of the Jezreel Valley as well as the city of Nazareth was impressive.
We arrived at Nof Ginnosar, our kibbutz-hotel for the next 3 nights. We enjoyed a great dinner together, followed by an optional gathering by the water’s edge. We enjoyed the quiet as well as some singing.
A great first full day!
April 10 (Day 4)
We began the day by driving north to Dan. We walked through the beautiful nature preserve. Seeing the rushing headwaters of the Jordan was amazing. The nature walk took us also through some of the excavation of the site of Dan itself. Here we saw ruins from the time of Jeroboam (a temple and the foundation of an altar) as well as a gate from the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:14). We also looked into Lebanon from here. Close by is Caesarea Philippi or Banias. We walked along the nature path here as well, ending up in the palace area of Agrippa. We head Matthew 16 from a later-built synagogue. Our third stop and last stop before lunch was Nimrod, an impressive Crusader castle. The view from this “mountain-top” fortress was spectacular.
After eating falafel once again at a Druze place on the foothills of Mt Hermon, we continued southeast to Bental, an old military outpost used by Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Here, we could look into Syria (Kunetra). Continuing back towards the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at Katzrin, a Talmudic village. We enjoyed seeing a reconstructed house, something no doubt very similar to the type of house Jesus would be known in the 1st century. There is also a later synagogue here too (3-4th century). In the town of Katzrin (the largest city in the Golan), we enjoyed the olive oil factory.
Our last stop of the day was Bethsaida. Here we read from Mark 6 about the Feeding of the 5,000. We enjoyed a time of quiet reflection before heading back to the hotel for dinner. Following another great meal, we relaxed the rest of the evening The end of another great day.
April 11 (Day 5)
The day began with an optional sunrise gathering on the lake. Following another great breakfast, we loaded the bus at 8 and headed to the Mt. of Beatitudes. Located on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, we enjoyed listening to Shlomo read the Matthew 5 passage in Hebrew. We enjoyed the time of quietness while easily picturing where this first sermon of Jesus may have been delivered. Also here, we saw the church on the grounds. Next and close by, we visited Chorazin. This 2-3rd century AD town has a synagogue as well as an interesting mikva, a Jewish ritual bath. In the synagogue is a specific seat called the Moses Seat (as mentioned in Matthew 23).
The third stop of the day was Capernaum. Here we sat in a 4-5th century synagogue, saw the possible location for the house of Peter, and enjoyed a time of reading Mark 1 and 2, Luke 7, and John 6, all stories conveying the s’mekah (or “authority”) of Jesus.
The “surprise” experience of the day was to actually be able to visit the new excavation of Magdala. Amazingly, we were able to actually sit in the 1st century synagogue! Being the only Galilean synagogue that dates to the time of Jesus, and being only one of seven total synagogues dating to this time period in all of Israel, it as very special to be able to experience this first hand. While Magdala is not mentioned in the Bible, no doubt Jesus taught in this synagogue Himself. Magdala was the home town of Mary mentioned in the Bible.
After lunch, we saw the 1st century AD boat found at Nof Ginosar followed by an enjoyable hour-long boat ride on the lake. We spent time reading the storm narratives from the Gospels. We even enjoyed witnessing Greg and Karen renewing their wedding vows on the boat.
Next, we visited Arbel, the mountain overlooking the lake. What a great view from here! Visibility was good. We read from Matthew 13 and talked about the mashal (parable) teaching of Jesus. From here we drove to the southern end of the lake and enjoyed an optional baptism in the Jordan River. 9 renewed their baptism. The final stop was to the Kinneret Cemetery. Here, a Jewish pioneer named Rachel was buried. Her poems still live on today for all Israelis.
We arrived back at the hotel for dinner.
April 12 (Day 6)
This new day began with a beautiful sunrise on the Sea of Galilee. Following breakfast we left at 7:30, driving south down the Jordan Valley. Our first stop was Bethshean, a site mentioned in 1 Samuel 31 in the context of Saul and his sons. Their bodies were hung on the walls of the city.
Bethshean is also a huge Roman site, complete with a theater, a Cardo (main street), bathhouses, and mosaics, to mention a few. A few walked 163 steps to the top of the OT tel for a great view to the Roman ruins below.
From here we continued south to Jericho. We read from Joshua 6 and talked about the archaeology of the site as it relates to the biblical story. On the south end the two revetment or retaining walls (upon which was placed the mud-brick wall that came “tumblin’ down”) can clearly be seen. We also enjoyed eating lunch in this “city of palms.”
Driving west and ascending to the Jerusalem Ridge about 4,000 feet in elevation, we spent the afternoon in Bethlehem. We visited the very crowded Church of the Nativity but enjoyed a quiet time of singing carols in a secluded cave in the “Shepherds’ Fields” in nearby Beit Sahor just to the east of Bethlehem.
We also read from Luke 2 and celebrated the birth of Christ in this unique setting. We ended the day by stopping by an olive wood shop owned by a Palestinian Christian family.
We arrived at our hotel, the Dan Botique, for dinner. What a great view of the Old City from here! Following dinner, most of group walked into the Old City to the Western Wall.
April 13 (Day 7)
Leaving at 7:30 again this morning, we headed to the Judean Desert and the area of the Dead Sea. Driving east on this sunny morning, our first stop was Engedi. We were the first group to arrive at this national park. After reading from 1 Samuel 24 about the “cave episode” involving Saul and David (as well as 2 Chr. 20 and Song of Songs 1 that both reference Engedi, we hiked back to the 2nd water falls. In such a “dry and weary land” (Psalm 61), it’s amazing how much water the springs of Engedi produces.
Driving south about 12 miles, Masada was our second stop of the day. This “fortress” (Ps 18:1) built by King Herod in the 1st century BC is best known for the courage of 967 Jews who withstood the Romans for 3 years here, following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Under the command of General Silva, the Romans finally built a ramp on the western side of this “stand-alone” rock fortress. In addition to the ramp, we saw huge water cisterns, house structures, storage rooms, a 1st century synagogue, the northern palace among many other things. 10 of us walked down the Snake Path, about a mile and a half walk down to the bottom 1,000 feet below.
Driving back north along the Dead Sea, our next stop was at Qumran. After lunch (with a few of us exploring the desert cliff and a few caves, we toured the archaeological site here. We reflected upon the miracle of the preservation of God’s Word and read from one of the psalms (Psalm 151) written by David and copied on a Qumran scroll (one of seven psalms that did not make it into our Hebrew Bible).
Our last stop of the day was the Dead Sea. Taking an hour or so, most of the group tried the famous “float” in this 30%+ mineral/salt water. It was a fun time for all. We drove back to our Jerusalem hotel for dinner and an optional walk along the Promenade walkway that offers a nice southerly view of the Old City.
April 14 (Day 8)
Leaving at 7:30 again this morning, heading for the Mt. of Olives. On this beautiful Sunday morning we stood on top of the mountain to the east of Jerusalem and looked down on the Temple Mount. Today occupied by the Muslim Dome of the Rock, this once was where the Temple stood (both Solomon’s, the 1st Temple, and the Herodian Temple, the 2nd Temple). We walked down the “Palm Sunday path” to Dominos Flavet, where traditionally Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We took the time to read the Plam Sunday narrative as well as Zechariah 14. We walked further down to the Garden of Gethsemane where we entered the Church of All Nations.
Walking through the St. Stephen’s Gate and into the Old City, we visited the Pools of Bethesda (John 5) and enjoyed the singing (with its long echo) in St. Anne’s church. We continued to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of the Cross” and walked through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We left the Old City out the Jaffa Gate.
Heading to west Jerusalem, we visited the Israel Museum. Here we saw the an amazing model of 2nd Temple (New Testament) Jerusalem. We also spent a brief time in the archaeological museum, seeing some of the famous findings in Israel. Among the impressive discoveries were the Pilate Inscription, Caiaphas’ ossuary, and the brand new King Herod display.
Our last stop of the day was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. We heard from Shlomo about how many in his own family lost their lives in Poland. We walked through the museum as well as around the grounds. We saw many trees planted (called the Way of the Gentiles) in recognition of the many who helped rescue Jews, including a tree planted in honor of Cory ten Boom and Oscar Shindler.
We returned to the hotel for dinner. The siren’s blew tonight at 8 p.m. for one minute in honor of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Everyone stands in silence, honoring Israeli fallen soldiers. Memorial services took place all over Israel. It is sobering to be here in Israel for this solemn observation.
(Incidentally, according to Israel Defense Ministry figures, the total number of Israel’s fallen is 23,085 since Statehood in May, 1948. Since last Memorial Day 92 names have been added to the list: 37 soldiers, 12 police personnel and 43 disabled veterans who died over the past year.)
April 15 (Day 9)
Leaving at 8:00 a.m. this morning, we drove to the City of David. We spent most of the morning here. We first saw the excavations on the top of the site (e.g. the palace area of David) as well as those on the eastern slope of this ancient site taken by David from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). We then continued to walk further down towards the Gihon Spring, walking through the series of stairs and tunnels called Warren’s Shaft. We saw the 52 foot shaft that some believe David’s men (Joab) climbed up to take the city.
Further down the slope is the Gihon Spring. We walked through the tower structure archaeologists believe Hezekiah fortified when surrounded by the Assyrians in 701 BC (2 Kings 20 & 2 Chronicles 32). Most in the group then walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long). It still flows with water up above knee deep in some areas. Others walked through the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Both tunnels end at the Pool of Siloam (John 9) where we recalled the story of Jesus healing the blind man.
From here, we walked under the Herodian street in what is referred today as the “drainage channel.” This excavation recently opened just last year was remarkable. Like “underground moles” we exited at the SW corner of the Temple mount, at “Robinson’s Arch.” We walked on the Herodian street Jesus would have walked on. We saw the huge stones from the Temple that came down in 70 AD by the Romans.
After visiting the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), we walked to the Jewish Quarter for lunch. We then listened to Moshe, an Orthodox Jew, talk about his Jewish faith. It was very interesting, bringing an understanding what religious Jews believe.
The day ended by walking through the Old City, exiting through the Damascus Gate on the northern side, and arriving at the Garden Tomb. Here we saw the alternative site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection site of Jesus. We shared in a worship service & Communion.
We arrived back at the hotel for a brief meeting and dinner. Some of us walked to Ben Yehuda Street. It was very festive, packed with people, and filled with excitement as tonight through tomorrow is Israel’s Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut in Hebrew).
April 16 (Day 10)
Today was a free day. Most got up early and followed Pastor John into the Old City at 8 a.m. Others enjoyed a relaxing morning and then headed into the Old City on their own. It was a terrific day for all of us. Among some of the sites and experiences we encountered included the following: Mt. Zion (The Upper Room, David’s tomb, & Oscar Shindler’s gravesite), Eastern wall and gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Lutheran Church tower (180 steps up, but what a panoramic view!), David’s Citadel/Jaffa Gate area, the “rampart walk” (walking on the Turkish walls of the Old City), and shopping. It was also fun to simply “people watch.” It’s so interesting to watch people from both Jewish and Arab cultures.
We made it back to the hotel at various times since everyone were on their own. At 6:30 we walked to our “farewell dinner” held at the “Olives & Fish” restaurant nearby. It was a good time of fellowship as we ate great food and re-capped the tour from the beginning. Following dinner, we said goodbye to 7 of our traveling family, those not doing the optional extension to Jordan. We had a great tour of Israel together!
We leave at 7:30 for the Jordanian border/Allenby Bridge. We all are looking forward to this next part of the trip!
April 17 (Day 11)
Today we woke up at 6 a.m., ate breakfast, and loaded the bus. We were off around 7:30 a.m. Our Israeli guide, Shlomo, accompanied us to the Jordanian border called the Allenby Bridge Crossing. All went fairly well but a bit slow at the border. We were greeted by “Mo,” our Jordanian guide, as well as our Jordanian bus and driver.
Once our passports were processed, we drove to nearby “Bethany Beyond the Jordan.” According to John 1, this was the area where Jesus was baptized. We also read Joshua 2 about the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan here. This is also where Elijah (2 Kings 2) ascended to heaven in a chariot.
Next, we ascended from the Jordan Valley to Mt. Nebo and Medeba close by. From Mt. Nebo we read from Deuteronomy 34 and recalled how it was here that Moses viewed the Promised Land. Visibility was fair, allowing us to see the Dead Sea and the Jericho area. It was on Mt. Nebo that Moses died. In Medeba we visited a church where a mosaic was used as the church’s floor. This famous “Medeba mosaic” that dates to the 6th century AD includes a map of this region. Included in this mosaic is a detailed map of Jerusalem, detailing the Cardo and the Holy Sepulcher among other things.
From the Medeba Plateau, we drove south on the Desert Highway towards Petra. The drive took a little over 3 hours. We stopped about half-way for a brief rest stop. We arrived at our hotel just outside the entrance of Petra. We enjoyed dinner together and look forward to entering the site of Petra tomorrow.
April 18 (Day 12)
Today was a day filled with “awe and wonder!” Entering Petra at 8 a.m., we spent nearly the next 7 hours exploring this ancient Nabatean city. While 9 people enjoyed taking the horse-drawn buggies through the Siq (canyon) to the famous Treasury Building (the memorial tomb of Aretas III), the rest of us walked. What an amazing canyon entrance to this red-rose city.
From the Treasury, we walked further into the site, seeing some of the 780 monumental tombs that have been found here. Passing by the Roman theater (that could seat 4,000), and walking down the colonnaded Roman street, 10 of us walked westward to the Monastery Tomb. The walk took about 40 minutes. What a spectacular view we had from here looking across the Aravah valley into southern Israel.
Heading back to the entrance of the site, many enjoyed the camel rides. 3 hiked to the High Place for a great view of the city below. We exited the site at 2:45, driving south towards Aqabah.
Before arriving in Aqabah, we stopped in Wadi Rum for jeep rides through the desert. First, we enjoyed stopping by a Beduion tent for some spiced tea. We then drove around, stopping in and there for spectacular views of this unique place. We settled on a high rock to watch the sunset, an unforgettable experience!
We arrived at our hotel in Aqabah for a late dinner and overnight. The hotel is located close to the Red Sea. Tomorrow we cross back into Israel for our final full day before flying home tomorrow night.
April 19-20 (Days 13, 14)
Today was our last full day. Before breakfast, some ventured down to the beautiful Red Sea. At 8:15 we began our border crossing back into Israel. The crossing was fairly quick. Meeting Shlomo, our Israeli guide on the other side, we headed north to the copper mines of ancient Timnah. Here, we first watched a video about how the Egyptians mined this area. Next, we climbed up and around an area of the site called “Solomon’s Pillars.” A Egyptian temple of Hathor was discovered here. The highlight of Timnah is seeing the full-scaled model of the Tablernacle. This 150 x 75 foot “movable” structure erected with 60 acacia poles as interesting to see, especially in light of Christ fulfilling /making complete the Law and sacrificial system.
From Timnah we drove 20 minutes north to Yovatah, a dairy kibbutz. Nothing like having the best ice cream in Israel here for lunch!
Following this stop, we drove nearly 2 hours through the southern Negev/Wilderness of Paran and the Machtesh Ramon, Israel’s “Grand Canyon.” The view from the northern rim was spectacular!
Given the early closing tine of Beersheba (because of the coming of Shabbat tonight), we were not able to see this ancient site. However, driving around the modern city of Beersheba and to the Shephelah of Judah (“Lowlands”), our last stop of the day was Azekah and the Elah Valley. This valley, one of 4 other valleys of the lowlands, was where David defeated Goliath, the Philistine giant (1 Samuel 17).
We ended the day with dinner in Joppa, our very first site we visited on the trip. Our flight is scheduled for 12:40 a.m tonight (actually tomorrow morning), After dinner we drove to the Ben Gurion airport. We made it through the security and passport checkpoints without a hitch.
We arrived home Saturday morning back in the States. While the customs process took a little longer than normal, we all caught our connecting flights for home.