March 2008

Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from March, 2008

Group Photos

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People

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Tuesday/Wednesday, March 4 & 5 (Day 1 & 2)

Our group convened in Newark, NJ for our Christian Israel Tour and non-stop flight to Tel Aviv.  The group of 52 are from all over the country, with two from Canada and one from Ireland.  Regrettably, there were 3 who missed the flight due to weather-related delays.  Hopefully, they will be able to meet up with us tomorrow without missing too much.  Our night flight, 10 hours in length, was comfortable.

The weather is very pleasant, with temperatures in the high 70’s today when we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport about 4:15 today.  Meeting our bus and guide, Ron Perry, we traveled through the Tel Aviv “rush hour” traffic to our hotel tonight, the King Solomon.  It is located right on the Mediterranean Sea.  After dinner, we had a brief orientation meeting, followed by a nice walk in and around Netanya.  We anticipate a good night’s rest in preparation for our first full day of site-seeing tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 6 (Day 3)

What a great day we had!  The weather was sunny and about 75.  Our first stop after an optional pre-breakfast walk on the Med beach, was Caesarea, the marvelous city built by King Herod the Great.  We read from Acts 10 and Acts 25-26, about Peter and Paul’s kingdom ministry that took place here.

It was on to Mt. Carmel and the story of Elijah (I Kings 18).  It was on top off this mountain overlooking the Jezreel Valley that Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.   After Dr. Tom read the story, Deanna sang for usHis Eye is On the Sparrow, appropriately reminding us of God’s protection and provision over those who place their faith in Him.  We enjoyed lunch at the Druze falafel stop on top of Mt. Carmel.

Megiddo was our next site to see, an impressive OT site mentioned in Joshua and Kings.  It is a site that once had 24 levels of civilization.  Despite the large crowds, we enjoyed walking through the water system.  Here, our 3 missing passengers met up with the group. 🙂

Crossing the Jezreel Valley, we climb the Nazareth Ridge to experience this city of 100,000, the city where Jesus grew up.  We saw the spring (well) and enjoyed singing together a few songs.

Passing Cana (John 2), our last stop was the cliffs of Arbel.  We made it just in time for sunset.  It is the very best overview of the Sea of Galilee.  Everyone enjoyed it.  What was once only seen as a speck on a map in the back of our Bibles, the Sea of Galilee as experienced from this vantage point will indeed change how group will read the Gospels.

We arrived at Maagan, our kibbutz hotel for the next two nights.  Following dinner, about half of the group enjoyed sitting on the beach for a 30 minute wrap-up meeting.  Everyone is ready for bed tonight!

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Friday, March 7 (Day 4)

Here at the Maagan Guest House, we awoke to the singing of birds and a perfectly clear sky this morning here on the calm shores of Galilee.  Following breakfast, our first lifetime experience of the day was a boat ride from Tiberias to Nof Ginnosar.   We enjoyed a worship time with singing and quiet reflection before we landed on the shores of Ginnosar.  We saw the 1st century boat that was found here in 1987.

Heading north, we traveled HWY 90 to within a few miles of the Lebanon border.  We walked through the nature preserve at Dan, seeing the head-waters of the Jordan River.  We also were impressed with the OT archaeological site of Tel Dan, especially the impressive gate structure.  Close by was the next stop, on the slopes of Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights, the site of Caesarea Philippi.  Here, we read Matthew 16, the text of Peter’s confession of Jesus as well as the Transfiguration.  We enjoy a quick lunch nearby, with some eating falafel, and with others eating at McDonald’s. 🙂

Traveling back towards the Sea of Galilee, our stops of the afternoon included the Mt. of Beatitudes (Mt. 5-7) and Capernaum.  These NW shores of Galilee provided opportunities to read passages from the Gospels that speak of Christ’s ministry of teaching and healing.  Passages from Mark 1 & 2 were read in the 4-5th century synagogue at Capernaum.

The day ended with all of us enjoying Ron’s (our Israel guide) singing as we brought in the “Sabbath” (“Shabbat”) as the sun set.  We enjoyed another great meal and the fellowship of one another as we reflected upon the day’s experiences once again while sitting on the quiet shores of Galilee.

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Saturday, March 8 (Day 5)

The day began with an optional sunrise service on the shores of Galilee.  About 1/2 the group enjoyed the time of singing and Scripture.  After breakfast, we departed the Maagan Kibbutz for Yardenet, the place where about 25 were baptized in the Jordan River.  It was a special time for all despite the chilly waters!

From the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee we traveled 20 miles down the Jordan River Valley to Bethshean, a huge Roman city.  In OT days, Bethshean was the place where Saul’s body was hung after his death on near by Mt. Gilboa.

Continuing south, we arrived at Jericho, having lunch there before visiting the site.  Here is where the walls of the city came tumblin’ down.  As archaeology reveals the historicity of the Bible, indeed the remains of this ancient city affirm for us the story of Joshua’s conquest of this Canaanite city.

Leaving Jericho about 3 p.m., we ascended through the Judean Desert (Wilderness) until we arrived on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem.  Seeing the city for the first time was a highlight for many.  We walked down the Mt. of Olives, with the Palm Sunday narrative being shared as well as the prophetic words of Zechariah 9 & 14.  We visited the Dominus Flavit and Church of all Nations churches, the later preserving the area of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The day ended with driving to our hotel, the Grand Court.  After dinner, about 1/2 the group enjoyed an orientation walk around part of the Old City.

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Sunday, March 9 (Day 6)

The day began with an ascent to the Temple Mount.  Once on top, we reviewed the Jerusalem temple history, both biblically and historically.  The most prominent structure on the temple mount is the Dome of the Rock, where both Solomon’s and Herod’s “2nd Temple” once stood.

Leaving the temple mount, we walked along the Via Dolorosa.  We stopped by the Sisters of Zion church where 15 feet below is the preservation of the Lithostrotos, the actual pavement of the court of the Antonia Fortress.  This was the place where Jesus stood while receiving the sentence of crucifixion from Pontius Pilate.  We then walked this “path of the cross” to the Holy Sepulcher, one of two possible locations for both Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

We exited the Old City through the Jaffa Gate.  From here, we traveled 5 miles to Bethlehem to see theChurch of the Nativity.  We enjoyed a wonderful time of Scripture and carols.  We are also blessed by the offering of the song O Holy Night by Deanna.  What a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of Christ!

Entering back into west Jerusalem, our day ended by visiting the Israeli Museum (seeing the Jerusalem Model form the 1st century AD, and the Dead Sea Scroll display at the Shrine of the Book) and the Yad Vashem  Holocaust Museum.

We returned to our hotel, with a few (8) walking to the Western Wall to experience the site at night.  There we saw some kind of celebration/ceremony among Israel women soldiers.

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Monday, March 10 (Day 7)

The day began with a walk through the “Rabbinical” or “Western Wall” tunnel.  Walking along the retaining wall that supported the Herodian Temple Mount was exciting for all!  As we exited this tunnel, our next stop was at the Pools of Bethesda (John  5).  Also located here is St. Anne’s church, where we enjoyed the “9 second echo” as we shared songs together.

Leaving St. Stephen’s Gate (also called the “Lion’s Gate), we traveled east to the Wilderness of Judah and the Dead Sea.  Our first site to see at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee was Qumran.  The Essene Community lived here, a sect of 1st century Judaism responsible for what is known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Over 800 parchments of writings have been found here, including a representation of each OT book, with the exception of Esther.  We enjoyed lunch here at Qumran as well.

Heading further south along the Dead Sea is where Masada is located.  This Herodian fortress was used by nearly 1,000 Jews during the time of the Revolt, from 70-73 A.D.   It is a magnificent site containing ruins from this time in history.  The cable car took the group up to the site, and then back down again, with a few walking down the Snake Path.  The weather was very warm here (about 90).

Our final experience was to float in the Dead Sea itself.  Most of the group took this adventure and enjoyed it very much.  Many coated themselves with Dead Sea mud as well.  It was a very therapeutic and enjoyable time for all.

Upon returning to our Jerusalem hotel for dinner, some took advantage of the optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street to encounter a bit of Israel life and culture.

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Tuesday, March 11 (Day 8)

This new day began with a visit to the southern wall excavations of the Temple Mount.  Explored initially by pioneer archaeologists at the turn of the 20th century, this area was dug in the 1970’s, revealing many ruins from the time of the Herodian Temple and the time of Jesus.  We encountered such things as the original 1st century pavement, collapsed stones as a result of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD,, temple shops, and the preservation of a Jewish mikva (ritual bath).  Further east we sat on some of the original Temple steps that would have led up to the Temple Mount itself.  Here, we read from Luke 2 and Mark 16, hearing Christ’s admonition to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and  strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Leaving this area, we ascended to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.  Here, we saw a section of the Cardo(the main north-south street within the city) as well a portion of Hezekiah’s wall.  We also enjoyed listening to Moshe, an Orthodox shop-owner, who shared with us his Jewish beliefs as they compare to ours.

Following a delightful lunch time in the Jewish Quarter, we left the Old City by way of the Zion’s Gate.  We went to the area of the Upper Room, reading from March 14 and Acts 2.

From here, we walked down Mt. Zion to the City of David excavations.  We viewed OT remains from the time of David, Hezekiah, and Nehemiah.  The many adventurous ones also walked Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot water tunnel dug by this Judean king in 701 B.C. at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  With flashlights in hand, the walk was enjoyed by all.  We exited this tunnel at the new excavations of the Pools of Siloam (John 9).

The day ended with a visit to the Garden Tomb.  Here, we shared Communion and enjoyed a time of worship and praise. It was a inspirational time for all, thus ending the touring portion of our trip with our guide Ron.

Following dinner, we shared our last group gathering for this part of the tour.  A free day awaits us tomorrow as we enjoy the sites and experiences of Jerusalem.

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Wednesday, March 12 (Day 9)

This day of the tour provided a “free day” here in Jerusalem!  The morning started with 14 of us getting taxi’s up to the Mt. of Olives for the sunrise.  It was very clear, with the Dead Sea in view, and it’s waters glistening in the sun.  Also looking east, the areas of Bethany & Bethpage could be seen.  Looking south, Herodium (one of Herod’s palaces) near by Bethlehem could be viewed.  We then walked down the Mt. of Olives and into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate.  We made our way back for breakfast, including the 2 who got separated from the group! 🙂

Most of the group walked together to the Old City through the Damascus Gate.  Meeting in the Christian Quarter, the options were shared: a climb up the Lutheran Church tower for a panoramic view of the Old City, Church of “Galucantu” (the house of Caiphas, called today the “Church of the Crowing” – where Peter denied Jesus 3 times while Jesus was questioned, bound, and beaten by the Jewish leaders), The Jewish Quarter (and Moshe’s Shoreshim shop), the wall rampart walk, the Western Wall, and of course shopping, and much more.  People enjoyed themselves investigating all the sites and sounds and smells of the Old City on their own.

The people doing just the 10 day tour (23) left tonight at 7 p.m. for the Ben Gurion Airport.  The rest of us (29) are getting a good night’s sleep in preparation for our drive to Elat, the Red Sea, the Taba Border, and eventually the Sinai Desert.

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Thursday, March 13 (Day 10)

The morning started fairly early, with a departure of 7:30 from the hotel as we headed to the Red Sea and the Taba border into Sinai (Egypt).  Our Israeli guide, Ron, accompanied us the entire way.  Passages such as I Samuel 24 (David at Engedi) and II Chr. 20 (Jehosophat and the “Ascent of Ziz”) were read as we past where these stories took place.

Before crossing the border, we stopped at the Underwater Observatory in Elat.  Here was could see the fish and coral reefs of the Red Sea.  The bus then drove us a few miles south to the border crossing.  After going through the usual passport control and baggage checks, we walked to the Egyptian side where our guide and bus were waiting.

Once all the formalities were completed, we drove 3 hours to St. Catherine’s.  Located in the heart of the Sinai Desert, this place preserves the traditional location where Moses received the 10 commandments.  Our hotel is located amidst the granite mountains of Sinai, about 10 minutes from the Monastery built here in the 4th century AD.

Following dinner, it is early to bed since our wake up call comes at 1 a.m. in anticipation of our hike to the top of the mountain tomorrow.  Many can’t wait for the experience!

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Friday, March 14 (Day 11)

The morning started early for 12 of the group, as we woke at 1 a.m., in order to travel 5 minutes to the St. Catherine’s Monastery to begin our climb of the traditional Mt. Sinai!   Of the 12 who started out on the hike up this 7,800 foot mountain, 9 took camels 2/3rd’s of the way up, while 3 hiked from the bottom.  Though flashlights were needed, the stars were as brilliant as ever!  The last 30-40 minutes of the climb includes ascending 750 “steps” made by the early monks.  11 of us arrived at the top about 5 a.m.  At the top, we secured a place shielded by the wind and cold (about 35 degrees) as we watched the sunrise over Saudi Arabia.  Once the sun rose, the temps did as well.  Songs and Scripture (Exodus 3 & 20) were shared.  The descent followed, with most arriving at the bottom about 8 a.m.  Those who did not wish to climb the mountain met us there, with Scripture and songs shared together again.

From St. Catherine’s, we re-traced our route to Newiebe where we had lunch by the beautiful Red Sea.  Next, we traveled close to the Taba Border where went through security and boarded our private boat to the Aqaba port of Jordan (thus avoiding the land crossing). The boat ride across this aqua-colored body of water took about an hour.  Everyone enjoyed it.

Our hotel is in Aqaba, located just a block from the beach area and a few blocks from the downtown area.  After dinner, most enjoyed exploring this port city under the balmy 75 degree temps.

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Saturday, March 15 (Day 12)

Awakening to another spectacular clear morning, we drove 2 hours north up the Desert and Kings Highwaythrough the region of Edom.  Arriving at Petra, our first view of this red rose city was a panoramic perspective of the entire mountain range called Sier in the Bible.  Upon entry into the city, most of the group walked through the mile-long Siq (canyon), while a few hired the horse-drawn buggies.

The first view of this 16 square acre city protected naturally by the mountains is the Treasury Building.  It most likely was a memorial tomb for the Nabatean King, Aretas III, who lived in the 1st century BC (his son, Aretas IV, is mentioned in II Cor. 11 by Paul).   The tomb is still quite impressive as it has been preserved for over 2,000 years by virtue of the natural protection it receives by the direction it faces.  This area, of course, is where the 3rd Indiana Jones movie was partially filmed.

Exploring the rest of the city over the next 4 hours was a great experience.  Some climbed to the top of theHigh Place, while others explored the Urn Tomb, the Roman street, and the Monastery among other places.   Around every corner and turn there is an impressive view of the city and its surrounding mountains and cliffs.  We spent a total of 6 hours in Petra.

We left Petra for a 4 hour drive further north to our final destination of the day, the Dead Sea.  After eating a late but wonderful dinner, we retired for the evening, tired but thankful for another great day!

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Sunday, March 16 (Day 13)

It was a leisurely start to this day at the Dead Sea Spa hotel along the shores of the Dead Sea.  Some took advantage of the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea, while others slept in.  It was once again a beautiful morning, with a great view across the Dead Sea to the Wilderness of Judah.

We stopped at two sites before we crossed over back into Israel.  The first site was Mt. Nebo from where Moses viewed the Promised Land.  Dr. Tom read from Dt. 34 and Joshua 1.  It was a great way to celebrate this “Palm Sunday.”  Even though the view was hazy at best, it was a wonderful encouragement to read these passages and recall God’s faithfulness to us all.

From here, we visited Medeba, the location of a 6th c AD mosaic of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.  Specifically, the mosaic includes a rather detailed map of Jerusalem, displaying such things as the Cardo, the gates, and even the Holy Sepulcher church.  Nearby, we also stopped by a place where they make mosaics.

After lunch, we headed to the Allenby Bridge border crossing.  Here, we said goodbye to “Mo,” our Jordanian guide.  Making the cross back into Israel was smooth and quick.  Meeting our bus on the other side, we ascended from the Jordan Valley up to Jerusalem for the last time.  Skirting the north side of the city, we continued to the Shephelah (“lowlands”) of Judah where we made our final stop, the Elah Valley.  Climbing the Tel Azekah, I Samuel 17 was read, the story of David’s defeat of the Philistine giant named Goliath.

Our final bus ride took us into Tel Aviv where we stayed at the City Hotel downtown.  A few enjoyed a brief walk to the Med. beach and a shopping stop to the Supersol grocery store before retiring for the night.

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Monday, March 17 (Day 14)

A day of travel back to the States, a 12 hour non-stop flight into Newark, NJ., the end of a wonderful, life-changing trip!