Baseball in Israel at Kibbutz Gezer!

The ancient city of Gezer has been the attention of the archaeological world these last few weeks since the discovery of apparently three Canaanite bodies among the ruins. Here is a recent blog about it (go HERE).

 

Gezer baseball

Baseball field at Kibbutz Gezer, one of three major fields in Israel. This was the first field in Israel, built in 1979.

However, modern Gezer has also been “in the news” recently as well. But not for the discovery of bodies, walls, and other ruins from the ancient past, but rather for (wait for it…..). baseballYes fans, you heard it correctly.

Gezer baseball

Pitching camp in Gezer

A number of years ago, an intentional effort was made to introduce Israel to the game of baseball. The kibbutz at Gezer was the first to build a baseball field in 1979. Since then, as crazy as it seems, lots of money and planning went into trying to attract modern Israelis to this great American pastime. For the most part, these efforts have failed, for the league that was established essentially fell through. There are approximately 2,000 in Israel who officially play baseball.

Play ball!

Play ball!

However, baseball is still played in limited parts of Israel today. The game is played primarily by a younger generation of Israelis who have immigrated from the States. Personally being an umpire, back here in the States I have actually officiated at International tournaments where every other year there is a team from Israel playing! This means Israel is sending baseball teams. In fact, Israel’s baseball team did surprisingly well in the recent World Tournament.

Below is drone video coverage of a game of baseball being played at Kibbutz Gezer. Located in the Shephelah of Israel (the “lowlands of Judah”), the Gezer field actually looks phenomenal!

I have my doubts, but I personally hope that baseball catches on in Israel. In the meantime, play ball!

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Discovery of Canaanite Body at Tel Gezer

In a recent Haaretz article published about two weeks ago, skeletons of bodies were discovered at ancient Gezer. Having participated in last year’s excavation at Tel Gezer, I am excited to hear this news.

Skeleton at Gezer

One of the skeletons found at Tel Gezer. This body was apparently crushed by falling stones (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Often times when bones are discovered at an archaeological site in Israel, such an uncovering potentially puts into place certain steps that requires the dig to slow down and verify what has been found. To be honest, finding bones, particularly human bones, can potentially bring a dig to a halt in that area of excavation because it forces the archaeologist to report the finding of bones to certain authorities who then, in turn, come and evaluate the find. For the religious Jew, finding human bones requires special attention and respect for the deceased, even a proper burial, although the bones may date back to biblical times. In this case at Gezer, it appears that these human bones belonged to ancient Canaanites who lost their lives during the time of the Egyptian destruction of the city in the 13th century BC.  What makes this so interesting is how this find of skeletons matches up well with both other archaeological records as well as with the Bible.

Merneptah Stele

The Merneptah Stele that records that the Egyptian Pharaoh “seized Gezer.” (credit: Webscribe, Wikimedia Commons)

The ancient city of Gezer is mentioned a few times in Egyptian records. Apparently, the Egyptians had great interest in controlling Gezer and this most strategic region of Israel. Located along the Aijalon Valley, Gezer served as the primary fortified city that guarded the south-north route from Egypt. In the 15th century BC, Thutmose III captured the city (this is recorded on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor). Later in the 14th-13th centuries BC, Gezer is actually mentioned in the Amarna Letters. These were a series of about 350 tablets written in cuneiform (the diplomatic language of the day) that preserved the conversation of what was going on in Canaan. The Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II actually addresses the Gezer king by name – a Canaanite named Milkilu. These Amarna Letters are actually displayed at the Egyptian Museum. Dr. Ortiz comments, “We know from the Amarna Tablets that the [Canaanite] kings of Gezer were major players in the region during the 14th century B.C.E. Egypt would have been keen on the great agricultural land in the vicinity.

Canaanite body

The uncovering of one of the bodies (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

But where the find of these skeletons comes into play relates to what is mentioned on the Merneptah Stele (also displayed at the Egyptian Museum). Gezer was again taken by the Egyptians. According to this stone stele, Merneptah (the son of Ramses II and the 4th Pharoah of the 19th Dynasty) seized Gezer.” This accounts for the destruction level found in the 10th season of excavating here at Gezer.

According to the Bible, Gezer was initially captured by Joshua, for the city makes the list of 31 cities taken in the Conquest (see Joshua 12). However, like a few other cities, the Canaanites were apparently able to maintain control over the city (Judges 1:29). Thus, the three skeletons found here (2 adults and one child) were probably Canaanites who were killed in the Merneptah destruction of the city.

Canaanite Body Gezer

More excavation of the Canaanite body in Room 1 (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Furthermore, “the skeletal remains had been reduced mostly to powdery charred dust. The adult was lying on its back with arms above its head. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick,” says Ortiz. “We can only guess what they were doing in the building on the eve of destruction. Were they hiding? Were they fleeing the Egyptian soldiers? Did they go back into the building to retrieve valuables?

Gezer dig

The rooms where the bodies were uncovered (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

In a second room, the excavators found the remains of a particularly intriguing rectangular room with a supporting wall and two pillars in its center. The article continues, “In this room, which had been finely plastered, a third body was found, also telling a tale of gruesome death. This person, 1.72 centimeters tall, was found beneath a jumble of collapsed stones that ironically helped to preserve the skeletal remains.” Ortiz added, “This individual attests to the violent nature of the destruction, as it is clear he experienced the trauma of the event,

To read this full article about this exciting new discovery, go HERE.

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The Old City of Jerusalem

There is something special about the Old City of Jerusalem!  Each of our Israel trips end here (not begin here, as some tours do). It is the highlight in many ways for most people.

Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City and Temple Mount of Jerusalem

While the Old City walls don’t date back to biblical times (they were built in 1537-44 AD by the Ottoman Suleiman the Great), everywhere you walk in Jerusalem you can literally touch the Bible!  This includes many sites within and around the Old City. Whether it is something from the Old Testament or New Testament, Jerusalem provides numerous experiences where the Bible comes alive!

I just produced two videos that capture the best of the Old City. The first video is a short 2.5 minute video taken from the top of the tower of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. The view from the tower provides a 360 degree perspective of the Old City below.

Holy Sepulcher Church Jerusalem

The dome and cross of the Holy Sepulcher Church

The second video provides an opportunity to walk through each of the four “quarters” (or sections) of the Old City with me. It is about a 20 minute video.

To see all our videos, go HERE (our video page) or simply download our “Biblical Israel Ministries & Tours” App on your smart phone or tablet and view them there.

I hope you enjoy both videos.

 

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The 2,000 Year-Old Street in Jerusalem

lot of ancient ruins have been uncovered in Jerusalem. Specifically, much has been found relating to the world of Herodian Jerusalem, or in other words, Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why seeing and experiencing Jerusalem first hand is so very exciting!

Drainage channel Jerusalem

The drainage channel that runs under the Herodian street above.

On each and every tour I lead, people always have the option to walk up through what is now called the drainage channelThis is located under the street where the man is standing in the video below. I just took my June 2017 group through this channel, enabling us to see the bottom of the Herodian pavement above us. It is quite remarkable!

Jerusalem drainage channel

What the Herodian street probably looked like, with the drainage channel below

While the video below is in Hebrew, it is sub-titled in English. It displays the newest excavations taking place in the City of DavidThis excavation is taking place 12 months a year and what is being revealed  is quite stunning!  The aggressiveness of the approach to uncover was much as possible is amazing to see and witness first hand. Each time we go here, something new is unearthed!

Watch the video below.

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 12 Summary

DAY 12 – FRIDAY, JUNE 23:

Temple steps

Steps on the southern end of the Temple in Jerusalem

Today was our last day here in Israel, and it was a good one. It was also the last day of Ramadan which made the Old City a bit crowded in places. The weather was perfect once again full sun, with highs around 80.

We started the day at the Southern Wall Excavations of the 2nd Temple. We saw many things Jesus would have seen and used, including the Roman street, the pinnacle of the Temple (where He was tempted), and the massive stones. On the southern steps of the Temple we recalled the stories from the Gospels of people who used these steps to enter the Temple (Mark 12, 13; Luke 2, 18; John 10; Acts 3, & 5). It was probably in this area of the Temple that the story involving Peter and Pentecost took place as well (Acts 2).

Hezekiah's Tunnel

The “meeting point” in Hezekiah’s Tunnel

From here we walked south a short distance to the City of David. We first enjoyed a 15 minutes video about some of stories form the Old Testament that took place here. This included the capturing of Jesus by David (2 Samuel 5), the Assyrian siege of the city during the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19-20, 2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36-37), and the Babylonian destruction of the city in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 36).

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

Walking through the excavations here (including “Warren’s Shaft”), we came to the water source of the city, the Gihon Spring. This is where Hezekiah’s Tunnel begins. Many in the group walked in water through this 1,720 foot tunnel while others took the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read John 9 in dramatic fashion. From here, some even walked up the Herodian drainage channel back to the SW corner of the Temple.

After a few hours for lunch, shopping, and exploring the city, we walked through the Muslim Quarter and out the Damascus Gate to the Garden Tomb. This site is an alternative site for the crucifixion and burial location of Jesus. Here we enjoyed a time of worship and Communion. It was a great way to end the tour.

Pray for the peace of JerusalemFrom here we drove towards the airport for our night-flight home. We stopped on the way for our farewell dinner. The time was special allowing us to recall all the life-changing experiences we had over the last 11 days here in Israel.

We then drove to the airport and at present we are waiting our night-flight home (departure is about midnight)

DAY 13 – SATURDAY, JUNE 24: FLIGHT HOME
We arrive back in the U.S.A. today.

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 11 Summary

DAY 11 – THURSDAY, JUNE 22: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM

Master Course

The “Master Course” – part of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It weighs a few hundred tons!

This morning we left at 7:30 again. The weather was about the same as yesterday, with sun and comfortable temps in the low 80s. Leaving the hotel we read from Mark 13:1-2 about the “massive stones” that amazed the disciples. Our first site was the Western Wall, a retaining wall containing these stones form the time of Jesus. This

The Western Wall is the most holy place for Jews today because if its proximity to where both the 1st and 2nd Temples once stood. What we did was walk parallel along this wall in what is called the Rabbinical Tunnels. Like the disciples of Jesus, we too were amazed at seeing these stones. One of these (the “Master Course”) weighs a few hundred tons.

Jerusalem Model

The 1:50 scale Jerusalem Model at the Israel Museum

Walking up to the Jewish Quarter, we visited the Temple Institute. This is run by a sect of Jews who are anticipating the building of the 3rd Temple. All the Temple furnishings have been prepared. Nearby we visit Shorashim, a store that is designed to connect people to the Bible. Moshe, one of the brothers who owns the shop, shared with us about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum & Memorial

Following lunch we walked out of the Zion’s Gate to meet our bus. We drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem the way it looked in 70 AD. It is based on archaeology, the Mishnah, Talmud, and Josephus. We focused upon the many things that connected us to the Gospels and Acts. Specifically we saw what the Temple looked like in Jesus’ day. Also, we walked through the Shrine of the Book to see some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Additionally, we walked to the archeological wing of the museum. Here we saw some of the highlights of items found in excavations. This included things like the Arad high place, Asherah figurines, the Moses Seat, the Pilate Inscription, and Herod’s sarcophagus.

Vilna Poland Holocaust

Shlomo sharing at Nad Vashem. He lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland during the Holocaust.

We ended the day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial. We walked through the Valley of the Communities, the Children’s Memorial, and the museum itself. We also heard Shlomo share about losing 12 family members in Vilna, Poland.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free evening. We have one more day here in Jerusalem.

DAY 12 – FRIDAY, JUNE 23: GARDEN TOMB, CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, SILOAM POOL, SOUTHERN EXCAVATIONS, FREE AFTERNOON, NIGHT FLIGHT HOME

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 10 Summary

DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21:

Jerusalem

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem. The weather was sunny but with much cooler temps, with highs around 80. Leaving our hotel around 7:30 again, we drove to the Mt. of Olives. We drove around the western and northern parts of the Old City, and across the Kidron Valley to Gert there. The view from the top was spectacular, providing us a panoramic view of the City of David (to the south), the Old City, and the Temple Mount. Walking down to Palm Sunday path to Dominus Flevit (“the Lord weeps”), we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14 about Jesus’ kingship and 2nd Coming. Further down the slope we enjoyed a reflective time in the Garden of Gethsemane in a private garden. We read from Luke 22 and considered the passion of Jesus. Brother Diego warmly greeted us.

Walking into the Old City through the Lion’s Gate (also called St. Stephen’s and Jericho Gate), we visited the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). On the same grounds is St. Anne’s Church. We enjoyed singing in this Crusader church that has an eight second echo. We sounded like a grand choir!

Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane

Walking through the Old City we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the traditional location for both the crucifixion and burial of Christ. Going inside we saw a classic “2nd Temple” (New Testament era) niche tomb.

After lunch in the Christian Quarter, we walked out of the Old City through Jaffa Gate where our bus picked us up. We drove about 8 miles southeast to Herodium. This was another of Herod the Great’s “palace-fortresses.” This was also where Herod was buried. We climbed this “artificial” mound and saw the ruins. The view in all directions was very good as well. We could even see the Dead Sea from here. Descending through the cistern system, we saw some frescos as well as the place of Herod’s grave.

Herodium

Herodium

Close by are the Shepherds’ Fields. Descending into a cave, we considered God’s redemptive plan in that “just at the right time God sent His Son (Galatians 4:4).” We sang some Christmas carols both in the cave as well as in the small chapel. The gals who sang sounded angelic!

We ended the day by visiting an olive wood factory and store owned by Arab Christians. Bethlehem is known for the production of olive wood products.

We drove back to our hotel for dinner. An optional walk to Ben Yehuda for a taste of more modern Israeli life followed.

DAY 11 – THURSDAY, JUNE 22: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 9 Summary

DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JUNE 20:

Beth Shean

Beth Shean’s Roman City

This morning we left the Galilee area and headed south. Leaving about 7:30 on what would be another sunny and hot day (90s), we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the Kinneret Cemetery. Here a famous Jewish pioneer is buried. Her name was Rachel. She was an Ukrainian Jew who immigrated here in the early 1900s. She wrote many poems that are still read and sung today. She was born in 1890 and died in 1931.

Driving south in the Jordan Valley, our next stop was Beth Shean. While this was both an Old Testament site mentioned in 1 Samuel 31 (where Saul’s body was hung on the walls), it was a huge Roman city. Here we saw the Cards, bathhouses, many mosaics, the agora, many pillars, a public latrine, and the theater. It was perhaps a city similar to this where the prodigal son ran to (Luke 15). Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT tel for a panoramic view of the area below.

Shepherds

Shepherding in the Hill Country of Samaria

Leaving Beth Shean, our route took us through the heart of the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria. Abraham came through this region a few times. So did Jacob. Jesus even did at least once as he confronted the Samaritan woman (John 4). We saw many shepherds along the way.

We eventually arrived at Shiloh. It was here where the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant resided for 369 years. Samuel grew up here as well. It was here where Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him in the night. We read from 1 Samuel 3 as well as Jeremiah 7. Among the ruins we saw an olive press as well as the probably located for the Tabernacle.

The walls of Jericho

The Canaanite retaining walls of Jericho

Driving past Bethel (Genesis 15, 28), and Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14), we drove through the rugged Desert of Parath (Jeremiah 13) and the Judean Desert. Following lunch here, we climbed the tel of Jericho. We first looked east across the Jordan River (Joshua 2, 2 Kings 2, John 1). We then looked south to New Testament Jericho (Luke 10, Mark 10). Among the ruins here, in addition to seeing the oldest tower ever found, we walked to the southern end of the site to see the stone retaining walls that supported the mud-brick walls that “came tumblin’ down” according to the Joshua 6 story. We celebrated the historicity of the Bible.

Wadi Qelt

Wadi Qelt (Judean Desert)

On our way to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt (the main part of the Judea Desert). Here we heard the words of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23 within the context of this unique region of the Bible.

Continuing to Jerusalem, we checked into our hotel. Following dinner we enjoyed an orientation walk to the Western Wall. We are looking forward to three full days here in Jerusalem!

DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21: JERUSALEM, MT. OF OLIVES, OLD CITY, BETHESDA, VIA DOLOROSA, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 8 Summary

DAY 8 – MONDAY, JUNE 19:

Sea of Galilee from Arbel

The Sea of Galilee from the top of Mt Arbel

Today we started out at about 7:30 once again. The sunny temps rose to the high 90s today, but the breeze and shade helped at most sites. Our first site as Mt. Arbel. Ten in the group choose to hike this 800 foot mountain while others bussed around to the other side and ascended to the top on a shorter trail. The view from the top of the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee below was amazing! No doubt Jesus traveled through the Valley of the Doves from the Lower Galilee to Capernaum, going past this mountain many times. While we can’t be sure, Jesus perhaps climbed this mountain from time to time also.

Driving to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, 17 in the group were baptized in the Jordan River at a place called Yardenit. It was a special time of renewing our commitment to follow Jesus. One in the group (Chase, a 15 year old young man) proclaimed his faith and was baptized for the first time!

Jordan River baptism

Our baptism group in the Jordan River

Returning to the NW corner of the lake, Magdala was our next stop. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue recently excavated. Once again, we could picture Jesus teaching in this modest structure. Mary “Magdalene” was from here. Following the Feeding of the 4,000, Jesus and His disciples sailed into the port here. Before leaving the site, we enjoyed some music and singing in the newly-built chapel. The wall mosaics here are beautiful!

Following lunch, we visited Chorazim and Capernaum, two of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11). At Chorazim we read from Matthew 23 in the 3rd century synagogue and saw a replica of the Moses Seat here. At Capernaum (Jesus’ “home-base” for his Galilean ministry), we read various Gospel stories about what happened here (Mark 1, 2 and 9; Luke 7; John 6). This was also most likely where Jesus called His first disciples (Matthew 4). It was special to spend some time on the shore’s edge thinking of this calling.

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee from the Mt. of Beatitudes

At Nof Ginnosar, we saw a 1st century wooden boat excavated from the shoreline in 1986. It is called today the Jesus BoatIt was amazing to see it so well preserved! It was from here where we boarded our own boat for a short ride out on the lake. We enjoyed a time of worship as well as reflection, reading Mark 4 and Matthew 14. These two storm narratives reminded us that Jesus calms even our fears and helps us when the “waves and the wind” blow against us!

Fox in Israel

A fox near the Sea of Galilee

We ended the day on the Mt. of Beatitudes. Shlomo read the first part of Matthew 5 in Hebrew for us. Overlooking the lake below, it was inspiring to consider these “kingdom principles.” Following a quiet time of reflection, most in the group walked down the path to the water’s edge.

We returned to our hotel for dinner and free evening. It was a great day here and around the Sea of Galilee!

DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JUNE 20: BETH SHEAN, MT. GERIZIM, SHILOH, WILDERNESS OF JUDAH, JERUSALEM

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June 2017 Israel Tour – Day 7 Summary

DAY 7 – SUNDAY, JUNE 18:

Gamla

Gamla – the “Masada of the north”

Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. We would once again have sunny skies, with temps a bit cooler (highs around 90). Driving around the the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee, we first stopped to overview Bethsaida. This was the home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). We read from Mark 8 (blind man healed) and John 6 (Feed of the 5,000) the took place in this area.

Driving to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our second stop. It is located 6 miles east of the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee. This was a Jewish city in the time of Jesus, and the first city to revolt against the Romans in 66 AD. Although the road down to the 1st century synagogue was closed, the view of this “camel-shaped” city was great from above. Even though not mentioned in the Bible, we read from Acts 5 that mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who some think may have been from here.

Qatzrin

Qatzrin – Reconstructed house of Rabbi Abun

Continuing north, The Talmudic village of Katzrin was our next stop. Here we were introduced to the Hebraic background of Jesus. Sitting in a reconstructed stone house similar to one during the time of Jesus, we read from Mark 2 (that actually took place in Capernaum) about the lame man being lowered through the roof. We could see the story taking place in front of us! We also saw a synagogue dating to the same time period (4th-7th century AD).

Close by we drove to the border with Syria and looked into this war-torn country. Quneitra is the city we could see directly across the border. Shlomo shared with us some history of the 1967 and 1973 wars with these northern enemies of Israel. Today, Israel medically treats many wounded Syrians.

Mt.. Hermon

View from top of Mt. Hermon

Eating lunch on the go today (apples, bananas, and snacks), we next drove through the dew Druze villages to Mt. Hermon. This is the highest mountain in Israel (7,300 feet!). Taking the ski chair-life up to the top, the view of the region from here was spectacular. Five couples renewed their wedding vows here as well. It was special for all. Most took the ski life back down although a few in the group joined Pastor John in waking down the steep trail back to the bus. We read from Psalm 133 that mentions this mountain.

Descending down off the Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi was our next site. It was “in the region” (Matthew 16) of this pagan city where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We walked to the grotto area of this ancient cultic center. Also here was one of the three tributaries (called the Banias) of the Jordan River.

Lebanon

Looking into Lebanon from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel

Our last site we visited was Dan. This is actually both a nature preserve as well as an archaeological site. The walk along the Dan (the largest of the tributaries) was beautiful. On the walk we stopped for a brief time of song and devotional (Psalm 42). We also considered the stories of Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 while sitting on the steps of the high place of the archaeological site of Dan. It was Jeroboam who established false worship here. Upon leaving the site, we saw the Middle Canaanite mud-brick gate that perhaps was used by Abraham (Genesis 14) as well as the Israelite gate complex from the 9th century BC.

On our way back to the hotel, we ascended to Misgav Am located on the Hills of Naphtali. The view into Lebanon, Mt. Hermon, and the Huleh Valley below was incredible. We read from 2 Samuel 20 (about Sheba and Joab at Abel Beat Macaah) and heard Shlomo share some modern history about Lebanon.

Driving back to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner and an optional gathering down at the shoreline of the lake together. It was another great day here in Israel!

DAY 8 – MONDAY, JUNE 19: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT

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