Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from May, 2013
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY/MONDAY – MAY 19/20 – TRAVEL DAYS
As of this afternoon, everyone has arrived for our Christian Israel Tour. We are staying here in Bat Yam (southern suburb of Tel Aviv) this first night of the tour. With all of us arriving separately for this tour, most enjoyed a relaxing day on the beach, while others explored on their own. It is about 85 and sunny. Our first group gathering in a local cafe for something cool to drink, followed by dinner. It was a joy meeting each other for the first time, and we’re excited about our first full day tomorrow and reading Scripture “in context.” We head south through the Shephelah (lowlands of Judah) and the Negev.
DAY 3 –TUESDAY – MAY 21 – GEZER – BETH SHEMESH – BEIT GUVRIN- AZEKAH/ELAH VALLEY – LACHISH – BEERSHEBA – SDE BOKER – WILDERNESS OF ZIN
We began this first day of the trip by enjoying breakfast on the 7th floor of our hotel, with a wonderful view of the Med Sea below us. Leaving at 7:40, our first stop in the Shephelah (“lowlands”) was Gezer, a city fortified by King Solomon. The Middle Bronze gate as well as the Solomonic gate was impressive to see. Heading from the Ayalon Valley to the next valley to the south (Sorek Valley), we stopped at Bethshemesh. Here we read from I Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines. We also explored the large cistern. Azekah was the next stop. Located overlooking the Elah Valley, we read from I Samuel 17 and the story of David defeating the Philistine giant, Goliath. Located in the next valley, Beit Guvrin, we visited the bell caves of Moreshah. We read from Micah, the prophet who referenced this Judean city. Lachish was the last city we visited in the Shephelah. This double-walled city was destroyed by both the Assryians and later by the Babylonians. We hiked up to the gate (where the famous Lachish letters were found) and inner wall.
Our last stop of the day was Beersheba located in the heart of the Negev. We read the Genesis 21 narrative involving Abraham and the well dug here.
We continued to drive south to the edge of the Wilderness of Zin where we enjoyed camel rides overlooking the Zin. Dinner followed as we gathered in a tent and ate “Bedouin” style. Following dinner we hiked to the top of a hill to enjoy a time of worship under the stars. We read from Genesis 15 about God’s promises to Abraham. We slept all together in a tent, just like in Biblical days.
DAY 4 –WEDNESDAY – MAY 22 – WILDERNESS OF ZIN- MACHTESH RAMON – RED SEA – ELAT
Our day began by visiting the tomb of Ben Gurion in neary Sde Boker. Ben Gurion served as Israel’s first Prime Minister. Next, we enjoy some hiking in the majestic canyon of the Wilderness of Zin. The climb required hand holds and ladder-climbing. We were all amazed at the beauty of God’s creation. From here, we drove further south through this southern desert to Machtesh Ramon, Israel’s Grand Canyon. We enjoyed and appreciated the vastness of this desolate place. What a view from the rim of this geological wonder!
Located along the Arava valley, we ended the day by traveling to Timnah, an ancient copper mine. Here we saw a full-size replica of the Tabernacle. We continued south another 20 miles south to the port city of Eilat located at the tip of the Red Sea. Prior to dinner, we enjoyed snorkeling in the beautiful clear waters of the Red Sea. We saw all kinds and colors of fish. Praise God for the beauty of His “underwater” creation!
We returned to the hotel for dinner, with some exploring the town of Elat afterwards, and others retiring early.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY – MAY 23 – JORDAN – PETRA – ELAT
We woke up at 6:15 am today, ate breakfast at 6:45, and were off by 7:15 or so for the crossing at the Rabin Border in order to enter Jordan for the day. Upon meeting our Jordanian guide for the day (Raed), we drive 2 hours to the famous site of Petra, one of the “7 wonders of the world” located in the heart of the Seir Mountains, the ancient territory of the Edomites. After getting our entry passes, we began our walk of Petra at 10:30 a.m. Our walk through the “Siq” (canyon) brought us to the most famous monument in all of Petra… the “Treasury” or Al-Khazneh.” From this memorial tomb of the Nabataean king named Aretas, the site begins to open up. As we walked further down through the site, many of the over 1,000 tombs and burial chambers discovered here can be seen.
Passing by one of the largest theaters in Jordan, a 3000 seat theater from the early 1st century AD which is carved in the sand stone mountains of Petra, are many of the royal tombs, including the Urn Tomb. Continuing further down the Roman Street, we began our hike to the “Monastery” tomb located at the western edge of Petra. All 11 of us made it to this tomb and were again impressed by its beauty and grandeur. Four of us also hiked to the High Place of Petra, enjoying the additional tombs along the way. We all returned back to the entrance at 5:15 p.m. and loaded the bus for the ride back to the border. We crossed quickly without a problem.
We returned to our hotel in Elat for dinner, a well-deserved shower, and a good night’s sleep. What a fantastic day!
DAY 6 – FRIDAY – MAY 24 – MASADA – EIN GEDI – JERICHO
Another “warm” yet great day awaited us as we left our hotel in Elat at 7:30. Driving about 2.5 hours north, we headed to Masada. Uniquely, our ascent of this wilderness “fortress / stronghold” would take place from the western side. We walked up the Roman ramp to the very top. While on top, we saw various 1st century ruins, including a synagogue, cisterns, the northern palace, bathhouse, and storage rooms. Because of the heat (41 c or 108 or so), we were not allowed to walk down the Snake Path.
We then drove to Ein Gedi, where we re-lived the story of David hiding in a cave from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). We hiked back to the 3rd falls, enjoying getting soaking our feet in the cool waters. Along the way, we saw a coney and a few ibex (“wild goats”). Close by we used the public beach to float in the Dead Sea. It was a unique time of literally floating in this 30+% salt/mineral water.
To end the day, we drove north to Jericho. We visited both the Old Testament and New Testament sites. At the OT site, we saw a portion of the actual revetment wall dating to the time of Joshua, while at the NT site we saw the ruins of one of Herod’s winter palaces. We read from Joshua 6, Luke 19, and Mark 10, respectively.
We drove to our “kibbutz-hotel” at Al Mog, where we enjoyed “Shabbat” dinner and a pleasant stay.
DAY 7– SATURDAY – MAY 25 – QUMRAN – BEIT SHEAN – SEA OF GALILEE
Another sunny and warm day (as expected for this time of year), our first stop was Qumran, the settlement of the first century sect known as the Essenes, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. First, we visited the excavations, complete with many miqvot (ritual baths), a scriptorium, and cisterns. We also saw the famous Cave 4 where the Isaiah scroll was found. Next, we explored one of the cave areas and hiked westward into the cliffs of Qumran. We were able to climb to the place where ropes are required. What a view from there! From Qumran, we headed north along the Jordan Valley to Bethshean, one of the Decapolis cities. We walked along the Cardo (main street), complete with columns, mosaic sidewalks, a bathhouse, shops, a public bathroom, and an impressive theater. We also climbed 175+ steps to the top of the Old Testament tel. It was here where King Saul’s body was hung on the city wall after he was killed on Mt. Gilboa.
Following a quick lunch, we enjoyed swimming at Gan Ha-Shlosha (Sachne), a spring-fed swimming area connected with the spring of Harod mentioned in the Judges 6 and 7 story involving Gideon. While it was crowded, we enjoyed standing under the waterfalls.
From Sachne we continued north to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. We briefly stopped at the Kinneret Cemetery to learn about “Rachel,” a Jewish pioneer and poet from the early/mid 1900s. Many Israelis honor her by coming to her grave. Her picture will soon be on the new 20 shekel bill.
Driving north on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, our last stop was along the cliffs associated with the Mark 5 story of the demon-possessed man from the “land of the Garesenes.” We also we able to begin seeing the life and ministry of Christ “come alive” in this region.
We arrived at our hotel, Kinar Galilee, located on the NE corner of the shores of Galilee. We enjoyed dinner together as well as some time on the beach. We are here for a total of 3 nights.
DAY 8 – SUNDAY – MAY 26 – BOAT RIDE – HILLSIDE OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT – CAPERNAUM – CHORAZIM – ARBEL – BAPTISM
We began the day by driving to the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee for our climb up “Arbel.” This is a mountain that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, providing the most specular view of this fresh-water lake known by Israelis today as “Kinneret.” We got the trail-head about 8:15 a.m., and began to climb. Ascending from the Plains of Genneseret, we hiked towards the top. Some sections of the trail was easy, with the top section requiring using hand-holds. About half way up we went into a series of the caves that were used as hiding places by Jews both in the early days of King Herod’s initial presence in Israel, as well as during the Jewish Revolt in 66 AD. We even ran into a herd of cows/bulls grazing on the slopes. Made it interesting to get by on the trail. We made it to the top and enjoyed the view of the Sea of Galilee below. The hike was the highlight for many so far!
Meeting up with the bus at the top, we drove back to the valley below to Nof Ginnosar where we took an hour-long boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We shared a time of worship and Scripture together. It was special. A group from Uganda joined us. They sang a few songs for us too. At Nof Ginnosar, we ate lunch as well as saw the 1st century boat that was found here in 1986 when the water levels were very low.
In the afternoon we visited Magdala to see (only from a distance, however) the 1st century synagogue that was recently excavated. From here we headed to Chorazim. We saw the basaltic house structures as well as a synagogue dating to the 2-3rd century AD. We saw the “Moses’ seat” (mentioned in Matthew 23). Close by was the Mt. of Beatitudes. Instead of seeing the Catholic church, we walked down the natural “amphitheater” where Jesus quite possibly preached the Sermon on the Mount. We walked down the trail towards the Sea of Galilee to the Church of Primacy, a 4-5th century church built on the shoreline in honor of the John 21 story of the resurrected Jesus with His disciples. We ended the day with visiting Capernaum. We sat in the synagogue (again, 4-5th century) where we read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6, all stories that took place here.
We returned to the hotel at 4:45 pm. In the waters of the Sea of Galilee we celebrated the re-affirmation of baptism of two from our group. It was a special time. Afterwards, most of us enjoyed trying to body-surf the warm waves as they rolled into this NE shore of the lake. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by a free and relaxing evening. Another great day!
DAY 9 – MONDAY – MAY 27 – GOLAN HEIGHTS – DAN – CAESAREA PHILIPPI – NIMROD – BENTAL – QATZRIN – GAMLA
We began the day by driving north to the Golan. On yet another sunny day, the entire day was spent in this northern region of Israel. Our first stop was the nature reserve and archaeological site of Dan. Here we enjoyed the refreshing waters of one of the sources of the River Jordan. We walked through this quiet national park and impressive Old Testament city, including a Middle Bronze gate that Abraham must have seen when he passed by this city (then called Laish, Gen. 14). We even saw a baby viper snake (?) on the pathway. Nearby is Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt. 16). While Jesus probably did not enter this very pagan city, it was in this region where Jesus revealed for the first time what would eventually happen in Jerusalem, namely, his death and resurrection.
Further east in the Golan Heights is the unique site of Nimrod, our third stop. Here we explored this Crusader castle built in the 13th century AD. It was fun walking around this huge fortress complete with tower, a cistern, and massive stones. Following lunch at a Druse place, we traveled to the eastern edge of the Golan to an old military base called Bental. Here we looked into the town of Quneitra in southern Syria. Yoni shared with us some amazing stories that took place in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.
We return back toward the Sea of Galilee to see a few more sites, including Qatzrin, a partially reconstructed Talmudic village. Here we saw another synagogue as well as a Talmudic house, probably the same type of house that Jesus would have known in the 1st century. Our last stop of the day was another unique site as well, a 1st century city called Gamla. This was a Jewish city that was taken by the Romans during the Revolt in the 60’s AD. It fell in 68 AD. It became known as the “Masada of the north.” A few hiked down to one of seven 1st century synagogues in Israel. We drive back to our hotel. Most enjoyed going for a swim again in the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee. On such a warm day, we wondered if the disciples would have done the same?
After dinner we enjoyed a group gathering on the shoreline. The lights of Tiberias were lit up across the lake as well as he lights of Safed and other Israeli towns. This is our last night here. Tomorrow we spend the night in Jerusalem!
DAY 10– TUESDAY – MAY 28 – SEA OF GALILEE – NAZARETH – SEPPORIS – MEGIDDO- CAESAREA – JERUSALEM
This morning we said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee. We headed first to Sepporis, a spectacular 1st century city known for the Mona Lisa mosaic. The small town of Nazareth existed in the shadows of this influencial city where both Jews and Romans lived. Leaving Sepporis, we hiked a portion of the “Jesus Trail” on our way to Nazareth. The Jesus Trail runs from Nazareth all the way to Capernaum, a distance of about 70 kilometers. Meeting our bus, we drove through Nazareth to the “precipice” from which the whole Jezreel Valley came into view.
After eating lunch in Afula, we continues through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo (Har Meggido in Hebrew), which gave its name to Armageddon. Here we saw ancient gates (from various time periods), among other ruins. We walked down 183 steps into the Iron Age water system as well. From here, we made our way through the Mt. Carmel range to Caesarea Maritima, King Herod’s impressive port city. We saw the theater, palace area, hippodrome among other ruins. The famous “Pilate inscrption” was found here. Before leaving Caesarea, we stopped to see the aqueduct that brought fresh water into the city from the Carmel range.
We ended the day by driving to Jerusalem. Driving through Tel Aviv traffic (and slowing us down a bit), we enjoyed a late dinner at our hotel, Lev Yerushalyim. After dinner some of us explored the area outside our hotel for a while. We look forward to 4 days here in Jerusalem!
DAY 11 –WEDNESDAY – MAY 29 – JERUSALEM – BETHLEHEM – HERODIUM – JERUSALEM
This bright and sunny day started with an orientation to Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives. Driving to the top of this mountain situated on the east side of the Old City (with the Kidron Valley in-between), the view was great. We then descended the Mt. of Olives down the traditional “Palm Sunday” route, stopping to read passages such as Luke 19, Acts 1, and Zechariah 14 (a prophecy about Christ’s return). We spent a quiet time among the olives trees of the Garden of Gethsemane, reflecting on the passion of Christ, his betrayal, and his impending crucifixion.
Walking into the Old City through the Lion’s (or Stephen’s) Gate, we saw the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). We also enjoyed singing in St. Anne’s church, perfectly preserved from the Crusader period. The remarkable acoustics made us sound like a full choir. From here, we walked the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of the Cross” all the way to the Holy Sepulcher Church.
Leaving the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we ate lunch in the newer shopping area near the Jaffa Gate.
In the afternoon, we visit Herodium. Located on the edge of the Judean Desert, this is where Herod the Great was buried. The visibility was really good from here, allowing us to see as the Dead Sea, Jericho, Masada, and of course the hills of Moab to the east (in Jordan). We end the day by driving into Bethlehem. We visit the Shepherds’ Field where we gathered in one of the caves and read from Micah 5 and Luke 2, as well as singing a few Christmas carols. We then visited the Church of Nativity. Being remarkably empty (we were the only group there!), we saw even the traditional birthplace of Christ.
We return to our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner, with a few of us walking to the Western Wall and back. What a great experience to see and encounter Jerusalem at night!
DAY 12 –THURSDAY – MAY 30 – OLD CITY – TEMPLE MOUNT – WESTERN WALL TUNNEL – CITY OF DAVID – ARCHAEOLOGICAL TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT
We begin the day early (a 7 a.m. departure) by entering the Old City through the Dung Gate. Standing in line for only 10 minutes or so, we entered the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount was the location of both Solomon’s and Herod’s temples (commonly referred to as the 1st and 2nd Temples). We discussed the location of the Temple in relationship to today’s “Eastern Gate.” Leaving this area, we then visited the Western Wall for a brief time before we entered the Western Wall Tunnel that runs 400 yards to the north. This wall served as the retaining wall for the expanded Herodian temple.
At the end of the tunnel walk, we walked along the Eastern wall of the Temple. Getting our flashlights and water shoes from the bus, we then headed to the City of David excavations. Here, we saw remnants of David’s palace, as well as other ruins from the days of the Old Testament. We referred to 2 Samuel 5 about the method that David’s men used in order to conquer this Jebusite city.
Further down the eastern slope of the City of David we then entered Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Starting at the Gihon Spring, we all walked through water just below our knee to the end. This 1,720 foot tunnel is referred to in 2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36. The tunnel ends at the Siloam Pool (John 9). From here, we ascended back up to the SW corner of the Temple (near Robinson’s Arch) through the Herodian drainage channel. It was a unique experience. Next, we visited the southern area of the temple, including the steps that led into the Temple itself. Here, we referred to Luke 1, Mark 13, and Acts 2.
We ended our day by participating in the Temple Mount “Sifting Project.” Carefully sifting through debris brought from the Temple Mount itself (as a result of the Muslim careless expansion of their underground mosque), we found a few interesting artifacts. We returned back to the hotel at 4:45 p.m.
Following dinner, a few of us taxied up to the Mt. of Olives for the view at night. We then walked back down and through the Old City to our hotel. A long, but another exciting day in Jerusalem!
DAY 13 – FRIDAY – MAY 31 – JERUSALEM – ISRAEL MUSEUM – YAD VASHEM – MAHANE YEHUDA – GARDEN TOMB
We had a leisurely departure this morning, leaving the hotel at 8:15. Our first stop was the Israel Museum. Here, a wonderful model of “2nd Temple” Jerusalem is on display. Using archaeological discoveries as well as historical texts (mainly Josephus), the model depicts how Jerusalem would have look like during the time of Jesus. Next to the model is the Shrine of the Book, dedicated to displaying some of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. Lastly, the archaeological wing of the museum displays some of the most important finds in Israel. We saw artifacts from most of the major sites, including the horned altar at Dan, the Pilate inscription from Caesarea, and the letters written on pottery from Lachish, to name just 3 of many examples. The “showcase” display at the museum was the new section dedicated to King Herod, primarily the finds from Herodium. The last Israeli archaeologist, Ehud Netzer, is responsible for finding Herod’s tomb. The display was fascinating!
Next, we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. We spent nearly 2 hours here, walking through the museum itself as well as seeing other memorials. Leaving the museum, we ate lunch at the Mahana Yehuda, or the “Jewish market. With “Shabbat” coming tonight, it was extremely busy but fun to walk around and encounter common Israel life.
Our last stop was the Garden Tomb. Here, we saw the second possible site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. We enjoyed the quietness of the place as well as Worship & Communion service.
Upon returning to the hotel, we said goodbye to our driver (Achmed), and guide (Yoni). Dinner was late tonight because of Shabbat. The streets are pretty much empty now of traffic. Once again and with the Shabbat candles lit, we enjoyed the fellowship together and talked about our plan for our free day tomorrow.
DAY 14 – 15 – SATURDAY/SUNDAY – JUNE 1 – JERUSALEM – FREE DAY – FLIGHT HOME
Today was our free day of leisure. A few of us left at 8:30 while others slept in a bit and adventured out on their own. A number of us attended one of two Messianic congregation services at 10:30 a.m. It was special to be able to worship with Hebrew songs. A translating device was given so that we could follow the speaking.
The day was filled with exploring in and around the Old City. Some of the sites visited were the Upper room, Oscar Shindler’s grave (both on Mt. Zion), the Holy Sepulcher (as well as other churches along the Via Dolorosa), the Rampart Walk (walking on the Turkish walls built by Suliman, the Great in 1537 AD), the Lutheran tower (for a complete 360 view of the Old City), and “people watching” in the Jewish Quarter, to name a few of our experiences. Our “farewell dinner’ was held inside the Old City.
After the dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Most of the group caught a taxi van to the airport for the flight home. The end of a great time together. Praise be to God for His strength, protection, and life-transforming experiences!