Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from April – May, 2014 12 Day Israel Tour (with 3 day option to Jordan)
Individual Photos of Tour Members
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY/MONDAY, APRIL 27-28
The day of arrival finally came. 17 of us met in Philadelphia for our non-stop flight direct to Tel Aviv (5 others made their own flight arrangements and met us the hotel). Upon landing after a 10:45 hour flight at the Ben Gurion Airport at around 4 p.m. (Israel time), we proceeded through passport control and baggage. We were greeted by Shlomo our guide as we left the baggage area. We boarded our bus and drove towards the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Joppa. We leisurely walked around this quiet harbor city. We referred to Jonah 1 and Acts 9 and 10, the stories of Jonah and Peter. The view of the Tel Aviv skyline was beautiful.
We re-boarded the bus and headed just a few miles south to Bat Yam, our first night’s hotel. Here we met the rest of the group. We ate dinner together, followed by an “orientation” meeting. A dozen of us or so then enjoyed an optional walk on the warm and soft sandy shoreline of the Med Sea.
We are tired, but we are looking forward to our first full day tomorrow as we head south through the Shephelah (“lowlands”) of Judah and the Biblical Negev before arriving at the Dead Sea.
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, APRIL 29
This was our first full day, and what a great start to the trip it was. Waking up to sun and blue skies, we enjoyed breakfast together overlooking the Med Sea. Boarding our bus, we left at 7:30 and traveled south and east into the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Our first stop was Bethshemesh. We were introduced to what a “tel” was (an ancient mound/site), and could visibly see ancient walls and structures dating to various time periods, including First Temple (or “Iron Age” / Israelite). We read from 1 Samuel 6 about how the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant heading east in the Sorek Valley to this city by placing it on an ox-pulled cart. This was also the area (Eshtaol and Zorah specifically) where Samson grew up.
Next we traveled a bit south to the Elah Valley. Climbing “tel” Azekah, we read from 1 Samuel 17 about the David and Goliath story. On our way up to Azekah, we could see the city of Gath where Goliath was from. It was fun to see the huge flock of sheep and goats being shepherded here. We even saw how small a mustard seed is!
Further south is Lachish. Located on the most southern valley (of the five…. Aijalon, Sorek, Elah, Beit Gurvin, and Lachish), this city was devastated twice, once by the Assyrians (end of 8th century BC) and by the Babylonians (beginning of 6th century BC). Lachish was one of the 31 cities conquered by Joshua (Josh 12). In fact, the city was taken in 2 days by Joshua (Joshua 10). We heard about the famous Lachish Letter (one of 20) that mentions the “signal fires being seen between Azekah and Lachish, just as Jeremiah 34:7 says. While the Bible’s historicity does not need to be proved, archaeology certainly verifies its accuracies over and over again!
Driving to the next region, the biblical Negev, we enjoyed lunch at Roma’s, a famous Israeli sandwich chain. We arrived at “tel” Beersheba shortly after. After seeing a replica of the “horned altar” found here, we visited the site. This included seeing the water well, rounded streets, a typical “4-room” Israelite house, storehouses. We ended the visit by descending down into the cistern system.
Driving further to the eastern part of the Negev, we visited the second most significant site of the region, Arad. Here, we saw the temple that was built here in disobedience to God. It was perhaps Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:1-7) who brought “reform” to Judah by ending the worship practices here. About 1,000 earlier, Joshua conquered the city of Arad (Numbers 21, Josh 12). We drove to tour hotel in En Boqeq along the Dead Sea. We enjoyed floating in this salt/mineral body of water before dinner. After dinner, a number of us enjoyed a walk to a few shops down the street. What a great first full day this was as we explored the world of the Old Testament at all of these sites! (We are also thankful that Dennis and Dona arrived, even though a day late due to flight connection challenges in the US. Welcome friends!)
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30
We left the hotel at 8 a.m. this morning. The weather today in this region of Israel was predictably sunny and warm (95 was the high). Driving north along the western coastline of the Dead Sea (1,300 feet below sea level, the lowest place on earth), we visited four sites, beginning with Masada (Psalm 18:1-2 – “Metzada” - fortress). After taking a cable car to the top, Shlomo shared with us the famous story of the fortress used by nearly 1,000 Jews from 70-73 A.D. We saw the largest of about a dozen cisterns, the Roman ramp, bathhouses, and storage rooms. Over a dozen of the group walked down the Snake Path (about 1.6 miles, descending 1,000 feet or so).
The next site, Ein Gedi, was only a 20 minute drive north. Here we read from 2 Chronicles 20 (referencing the “Ascent of Ziz” and Engedi) and 1 Samuel 24, the story of David and Saul’s “cave” encounter. We hiked back to the 2nd water falls.
Continuing to the northern end of the Dead Sea, our next stop was Qumran. This was where the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some in the group hiked to the cave area, while others enjoyed lunch. We visited the site together, seeing ritual baths (mikvot), scriptoriums, and a few of the caves where the scrolls were found.
Our final stop was Jericho. Here we looked east across the Jordan valley and saw Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34) and the area where Jesus was baptized (Bethany Beyond the Jordan” – John 1). Looking west we viewed the traditional Mt. of Temptation as well as the oldest tower in the world. At the southern end of the “tel,” we saw the two foundation walls of the city, the same walls Joshua saw. The mud-brick wall, the one that fell at the blast of the “shofars,” as built on top of these walls.
From here we drove an hour and a half to Maagan, our “kibbutz-hotel” for the next three nights. It’s a beautiful place that feels like a “retreat center.” After a beautiful sunset on the water, we enjoyed dinner, as well as a time of worship and sharing along the quiet shores of the Sea of Galilee.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, MAY 1
We departed the hotel at 7:30 today. It would once again be a sunny day, with cooler temperatures and wonderful visibility all day long! We spent the entire day in the Golan Heights north of the Sea of Galilee. Driving east up the Yarmuk Valley first, we then made our way up a very windy road, heading north. Once we reached the plateau, our first stop was the Peace Vista. Here we enjoyed an incredible panoramic view of the entire Sea of Galilee. Continuing north, Katzrin was our next stop. At this “Talmudic” village (dating to the 3rd – 6th century AD) we saw a reconstructed stone house similar to the type of house Jesus would have known. We read from Mark 2 about the story of the healing of the paralyzed man being lowered down into the house from the flat roof.
Our “surprise” visit of the day was to the olive oil factory right in Katzrin, the largest city in the Golan (20,000). It was fun to learn how olive oil and other olive-based products are made. Before lunch we headed to the NE corner of the Golan Heights to Bental, an old Israeli military outpost. Here, we heard for of the stories from the 1967 and 1973 wars against Syria. We looked across the Syrian border about 15 miles with the great visibility. Mt. Hermon was also right in front of us, rising to over 9,000 feet.
We drove through a few Druze villages, stopping at one restaurant owned by Druze for lunch. Driving westward, we then descended from the Golan Heights to Caesarea Philippi. We read from Matthew 16, the passage where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We paused to appreciate Peter’s answer and the power of the kingdom of God to even penetrate Gentile cities. We climbed to the grotto area of this pagan city and saw some of the archaeological ruins.
Our last stop of the day was Dan (formerly called Laish). This was a city which had a pattern of idolatry since the time of the Judges. We sat on the steps of the high place was we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. We also saw a Middle Bronze gate that perhaps dates back to the days of Abraham. Did ol’ Abe walk through this gate (Gen. 14:14)? Looking into Lebanon, Shlomo also shared a few more geo-political observations about Israel’s relationship with this northern neighbor.
We returned to the hotel for dinner, followed by a relaxing gathering on the shoreline. It was another great day!
DAY 6– FRIDAY, MAY 2
The day started earlier than usual. Because of a bike race around the Sea of Galilee (and closed roads), we left at 7 a.m. this morning. Once again under a brilliant sun and perfect 80 degree temps, our first stop was Magdala. With the new excavations and display of the 1st century synagogue found here, we all could picture Jesus teaching in this small synagogue, only one of seven found that date to the time of Christ.
From here, Mt. Arbel, 750 high mountain, awaited us. 9 in the group hiked the path to the top, taking about an hour. The top part required using handholds. The rest of the group bussed to the top from the other side, and then hiked themselves to the top. The view was wonderful. We could see the entire Plain of Geneseret and the NW shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.
Returning to the shoreline of Galilee, we visited three sites prior to lunch. The first was Capernaum. We saw 1st century houses, and a 4-5th century synagogue, underneath was probably the 1st century synagogue mentioned in Mark 1, Luke 7, and John 6. We read these passages while sitting on the benches of this structure. We also saw the 5th century octagonal church built here in the “tradition” that this was once Peter’s mother in law’s house.
Up away from the water’s edge now was our next stop, Chorazim. This was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Luke 10). We saw the 3rd century synagogue here, this one built of basaltic stone. The “Moses seat” was also found here (Matthew 23).
Finally, we visited the traditional Mt. of Beatitudes. We heard the reading of Matthew 5:1-12 in both Hebrew (as Jesus would have spoken it) and English. About half the group walked down the dirt path to the water’s edge following a quiet time of reflection.
We ate lunch at Nof Ginnosar. We also saw the “Jesus Boat” here, a 1st century wooden boat found in 1986. We then “sailed” about an hour from here to TIberias, enjoying a time of both worship and reflection. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives where Jesus calms the water.
We ended the day at Yardenit for our optional baptism. 15 reaffirmed their desire to walk as a follower of Christ. It was a special time for all. Following the baptism, we made a brief visit to the Kinneret Cemetary. Here, “Rachel” is born, a Ukrainian Jew (1890 – 1931) who was a poet. She is quite famous now through all of Israel.
We returned to the hotel at 5, enjoying two hours of free time before dinner. An optional shore-side gathering followed at 8. We leave this place tomorrow morning as we head to Jerusalem!
DAY 7– SATURDAY, MAY 3
We left the Sea of Galilee area this morning. Loading up the bus and departing at 7:30, our first stop on our way to Jerusalem was the precipice of Nazareth. From this high vantage-point, the view is great. In one direction, we looked across the valley to the city of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. Looking the other direction is the Jezreel Valley. We saw Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and across the valley to the west, Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We also enjoyed a time of reflection and worship, reading John 1 and Luke 4.
From here we cross the Jezreel Valley (The “Emek”) to Megiddo. This huge archeological site has about 24 levels of civilization. We read from Revelation 4 and 16 and rejoiced in the fact that the final victory belongs to God! We saw a number of city gates from various time periods (including a Solomonic gate), store houses, stables, and a grain silo. We left the site by descending down 180 steps through the water system.
The third stop of the day was to Mt. Carmel and the Carmelite monastery called Muhraqa (“burnt offering”). We met in the small chapel to read the 1 Kings 18 story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal. We also sang a few songs, enjoying the beautiful acoustics of this place.
After lunch at another Druze restaurant, we drove to the Med coastline to visit our last site of the day Caesarea. Built in 22 – 10 BC by Herod the Great, this city was quite impressive. We visited the theater (reading from Acts 10, 12, and 26), the palace, hippodrome and the Crusader part of the city. We also visited the aqueduct that brought water into this city from the Mt. Carmel range.
After driving 1.5 hours and ascending the Judean Hills, we arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem, the Dan Boutique. Following dinner, many enjoyed an optional walk to the Western Wall. We’re excited to be in Jerusalem for the next few days!
DAY 8– SUNDAY, MAY 4
Our first full day here in Jerusalem was once again a sunny and warm one. Blue skies greeted us as we left the hotel at 7:30 for the Mt. of Olives. Beating the crowds, our first panoramic view of the Temple Mount/Old City from the top of the Mt. of Olives was spectacular! We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14 about Christ’s first coming heralded as “King” and His anticipated 2nd coming. From the top, we walked down to the Dominus Flavet church. We also took time to consider Christ’s betrayal His willingness to accomplish His Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane.
From here we walked into the Old City via the St. Stephen’s (or “Lions”) Gate. Our first stop inside the Old City was the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church. We enjoyed singing with the 8-10 second echo inside this Crusader church. We also read John 5 by the pools where the invalid man of 38 years was healed.
Shortly ahead on this same street is the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. We walked this traditional “way of the cross,” highlighted by Purita singing the Via Dolorosa song inside the Coptic chapel at Station #9. After walking to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we ate lunch in the Christian Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, our afternoon was spent in the western side of Jerusalem. First, we visited the Israel Museum. We saw the 1:50 scale model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem. We also saw the archaeological highlights inside the museum itself, including some of the things we saw only replicas of at a few of the sites we visited earlier in the tour (e.g. horned altar at Dan, Holy of Holies of Arad, Pilate inscription from Caesarea, etc…)
Close by was Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. After hearing Shlomo’s personal story and reflections about the dozen family members he lost in Poland during WWII, we visited the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself.
We returned to the hotel for dinner at 6 p.m., followed by a unique experience of attending the Memorial Service (Ha-Zaharon) in Har Gilo, Shlomo’s community. Remembering the fallen soldiers in Israel’s history (around 24,000 total since 1948), was a moving experience. We all stood at attention in complete silence for one minute as the sirens sounded. Shlomo’s son played a number of songs on keyboard and guitar! We were then treated at Shlomo’s house by Rachel with dessert and coffee/tea. It was an amazing evening and another great day!
DAY 9– MONDAY, MAY 5
It was a warm and hazy day today, with temps in the high 80s. We started out from our hotel at 7:30 once again, this time heading south. Our first stop was Herodium, one of King Herod’s fortress/palaces located about 4 miles east of Bethlehem. The site is indeed impressive, as Herod built this “artificial” mountain on the edge of the Judean Desert. We read from Isaiah 40. It as here where Herod was buried following his death in Jericho. We climbed to the top of this “fortress” and saw ruins from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, including a bathhouse, synagogue, miqva (ritual bath) and an elaborate tunnel/cistern system. On the slope where he as buried was a small theater. At the base of the site was a swimming pool.
Just a few miles west are the Shepherds’ Fields. Here in Beit Sahor, we climbed down into a cave (similar to where Jesus was born in), read from Luke 2, and sang a few Christmas carols, including a few in the beautiful Shepherds’ Chapel. Close by was the olive wood store. We enjoyed listening to Joseph, a born-again Palestinian believer, and his shop.
From here we drove into Bethlehem itself and briefly visited the Church of the Nativity dating to the 4th century. Most of it was being renovated. We also stuck our head into the St. Catherine’s Catholic church, where Christmas Eve Mass is held every year.
Driving back to Jerusalem, we entered the Old City through the Zion’s Gate. We visited the Cardo of the Jewish Quarter before heading for a unique tour of the Temple Institute. This is a small section of religious Jews who are preparing for the building of the 3rd Temple. It was quite interesting. Following lunch, we ended the day at Shoreshim, a store owned by Moshe and Dov, 2 Orthodox Jews. Moshe shared his Jewish faith with us and entertained questions about our Christian faith.
We drove back to the hotel at 4:30, allowing us to enjoy some free time before dinner. After dinner, many of us walked to Jaffa Road/Ben Yehuda streets for Israel’s Independence Day celebration. We walked past the windmill in the Yemen Moshe community and Herod’s family tomb (with rolling stone) in the alley near the King David Hotel. 1,000s of Israelis were out and about having fun! We enjoyed it a lot!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, MAY 6
Today was Independence Day (a continuation from last night). Because of it, we virtually had the City of David and southern wall excavations to ourselves. Leaving the hotel at 8 a.m., we drove to the City of David. Here we saw numerous excavations, including David’s palace, First Temple houses/dwellings, city walls, and of course the famous water system. The stories of 2 Samuel 5, 2 Kings 20, and 2 Chronicles 32 we mentioned, along with Isaiah 8:6 and Is. 37. Entering Warren’s Shaft first, we proceeded carefully down the steps and tunnel-ways to the Gihon Spring, the source of water for ancient Jerusalem. Protected by one massive tower, most in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot tunnel chiseled out of the bedrock. Walking through the water, we exited the tunnel at the Pool of Siloam (John 9) where the blind man was sent to wash.
From here the majority of the group walked 350 meters back up towards the SW corner of the Temple through an underground Herodian drainage channel. Upon exiting the channel, we visited Robinson’s Arch (a priestly entrance into the Temple in the days of Jesus) as well as the southern steps of the Temple. We referred to the many stories associated with Jesus and the Temple (Luke 2, John 2, Mark 12, etc…) as well as Acts 2 (Peter’s Pentecost message). Indeed, the Temple was a “magnificent building (Mark 13:1-2).”
Leaving the excavation and after eating lunch back in the Christian Quarter, we briefly visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (including an example of a “2nd Temple” tomb). Walking through the Muslim Quarter and then out the Damascus Gate, we visited the Garden Tomb. We enjoyed a Communion Service here, singing songs of salvation and resurrection as well as reading from John 19 & 20.
We returned to the hotel for a dinner and a free evening. What another great day it was here in Jerusalem.
DAY 11 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 7
It was a free morning for us today! Some slept in while others walked into the Old City to explore a few more sites. A few of the sites visited/re-visited included the Mt. Zion, David’s Tomb, Oscar Schindler’s tomb, House of Caiaphas, Wall rampart walk, Eastern Gate, Western Wall, and the Holy Sepulcher Church. It was a great casual morning of doing our own thing, including shopping. A few of us even got to meet and talk to Eli Shukron, Israeli archaeologist at the City of David dig who found the famous small “golden bell” (that fell off perhaps from the hem of the High Priest and fell into the Herodian “drainage channel” we walked through yesterday), and a iron chisel (used to finish the Herodian stones used for the Temple).
At 1 p.m. we met Shlomo and those who came from the hotel at 12:30 at the Western Wall. Together we visited the Western Wall Tunnel / Rabbinical Tunnel. Walking parallel to this western retaining wall of the Temple Mount about 1,200 feet, we were amazed at the size of stones perfectly placed by the Herodian masons. One stone weighs over 500 tons, and was positioned perfectly 40 feet above the street below. How they not only chiseled these, but also how they moved stones this size is quite amazing!
Leaving the area, some walked back on their own while others rode back on the bus. At 5:30 we loaded the bus and drove to our farewell dinner at a close-by restaurant, the Olives & Fish. It was a great time of fellowship and food talking about all our tour encounters.
Following dinner, about half the group traveled with Shlomo to the airport for the flight home (the flight is 11:30 p.m. / 4:30 EST). The rest of the group returned back to the hotel (after stopping by the old railroad station for ice cream) for one more night here before heading to Jordan tomorrow.
It was a great last day!
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, MAY 8
For those of us doing the Jordan extension, this was our last morning in Jerusalem. It would be a very “unusual” day weather-wise. Having rained last night, we left at 7:30 this morning. It was still raining. We headed to the Allenby Bridge (named after the British General during WWI) where we crossed into Jordan. It was still raining, very unusual for the Jordan Valley area, especially this time of year! The crossing took a little longer than usual. At the Jordanian side, we were met by “Mo,” our guide for the next few days.
After taking care of the passport entry, our first stop was Mt. Nebo. It was still raining. But once we began to ascend to the top of Nebo, the skies began to break. On top, the visibility as the best ever! The Dead Sea glistened in the sun, with places like Qumran and Jericho, and even the outskirts of Jerusalem coming into view. We read from Deuteronomy 31, 34, and Joshua 1 about the death of Moses and the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua. Leaving Nebo, a few of us raced up an adjacent mountain to get a better view of the Dead Sea, but the clouds rolled up in, quickly enveloping us in a cloud of fog. It as very unusual!
After briefly stopping at a mosaic factory, we visited Medaba and the St George Church. Here, a fabulous 6th century map is displayed. It once served as the floor for an early church. The map features the Jordan/Israel areas, as well as a detailed layout of the city of Jerusalem. Leaving the church, we ate lunch at a local restaurant, with mot of us ordering hamburgers and French fries! It was really good!
From here we drove south, primarily on the Desert Highway, and then on part of the Kings’ Highway. As we neared Wadi Mosa (Petra), we got caught in a series of flash floods. The waters flowed forcefully down through the wadi (e.g. dry river bed) and overflowed onto the main street through this one town. People and vehicles quickly were forced to seek higher ground. We took a high road around most of the town, but went through about a foot of water in getting back onto the main road. A few miles further, we even saw snow on the sides of the road. This was quite unbelievable for May 8th!!
We finally arrived at our hotel right at the entrance to the site of Petra (Petra Moon Hotel). We ate dinner and retired early after this long travel day. We sure hope the site of Petra re-opens tomorrow!!
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, MAY 9
We woke up to good news… Petra was open today! The weather was perfect, with lots of sun and eventual highs about 70. Leaving the hotel after breakfast at 8:30, we walked to the entrance of the site of ancient Petra. We would spend all day here in this unique and “7 wonders of the world” site. Located in the heart of the Seir Mountains (Land of the Edomites), it is here according to the Bible that Aaron (Moses’ brother) died (Numbers 20). It is the highest in Petra.
As for the Nabataean city, we entered the site by walking through the siq. We all could see the devastation and erosion caused by the flash floods throughout the site but noticeable even in this mile-long canyon! At the end of the Siq stands the most famous monument/tomb, “The Treasury” or Al- Khazneh. It is amazing how well-preserved this memorial tomb of Aretas IV is (Paul mentions an Aretas in 1 Corinthians 11:32, probably the son of Aretas IV.
From the Treasury building, we walked back into the site. We saw all kinds of other burial chambers and monuments as well as one of the largest theaters in Jordan, carved in the sand stone mountains of Petra.
As we continued, the Royal tombs towered along the one side of the cliff. Walking down the Roman street, some walked out to the famous Monastery tomb. It was a hike to get there, but well worth the effort! Returning to the Roman street, a few hiked up to the High Place as well. Walking up to the top on the back trail, more and more tombs came into view. From the top, the view was spectacular.
Everyone returned back to the hotel at their own pace and timing. We enjoyed another great dinner, followed by walking through the main street of Wadi Musa, Petra’s modern-day city. We then retired for the night here.
What a great day!
DAY 13 – SATURDAY, MAY 10
We left our hotel in Petra at 7:30 a.m. and began our drive back north towards Amman. We left the Petra area (with a great panoramic view) while reading Numbers 20 about the death of Aaron on Mt. Hor. Traveling once again on the King’s Highway (Number 20:17) as well as the Desert Highway, we arrived near Amman. From here we descended west to the site called Bethany Beyond the Jordan (John 1). This is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. This area is also known for the ministry of Elijah, for this is where he was carried into heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2).
At 12:30 p. m. we began the border crossing back into Israel. It was a simple process this time. We were met by our driver who took us back to Jerusalem. On our way from ascending from Jericho to Jerusalem, we stopped briefly for a marvelous view of Wadi Qelt. Here we looked down to a Greek monastery called St. George. It is literally built into the cliffs of the Judean desert.
We continued our climb to Jerusalem where we enjoyed a few free hours prior to driving to Abu Ghosh, the location of our farewell dinner. We at a lot of great food here, served in a typical Arab fashion.
Following dinner, we continued west to the Ben Gurion Airport for our night flight home.
DAY 14 – SUNDAY, MAY 11
We arrived back in Phila, PA at 5:05 a.m., the end of a great tour to Israel and extension to Jordan!