Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from November, 2008
Tuesday/Wednesday, November 4 & 5 (Day 1 & 2)
the day for our Christian Israel – Holyland tour finally arrived! We met at JFK airport, with everyone making there flight (minus a few missing bags). We flew through the night, with most of us getting a few hours of sleep. The “big news” of course was the announcement of the election results. To no one surprise, the world here and elsewhere in the Arab world are rejoicing over the results.
Following our 12 hour flight, we arrive in Cairo about noon today. Sun and 80 degrees greeted us. After checking in at our 5 star Semiramis Intercontinental along the Nile River, we spent 3 hours at the Egyptian Museum. We returned to the hotel where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner. We retired to a good night’s sleep in preparation for the pyramids tomorrow!
Thursday, November 6 (Day 3)
What a fantastic day here in Cairo. Starting at 7:30 this morning, we first drove to Sakkara, the location of the stepped pyramid. Here, we visited a funeral chamber of a vizier (e.g. prime minister) dating to the Old Kingdom (2,400 B.C.). This gives us an idea of the role that Joseph played around 600 later. We also descended into a pyramid (one of the 129 pyramids to date in Egypt).
From Sakkara, we visited one of the famous “Persian carpet” factories, followed by a visit to Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom. After eating lunch nearby, we experienced the Giza pyramids. It is difficult to express with words how large the pyramids are. Close by is the Great Sphinx, a monument 220 feet long. Before dinner at the hotel along the Nile, we enjoyed seeing a papyrus store as well as cotton store. What a great day in this city of 19 million! Seeing the “old” along side of the “new” is quite an experience.
Friday, November 7 (Day 4)
The day started early with a flight to Aswan, 750 miles south of Cairo. This was the day to begin the Nile Cruise! We arrived in Aswan and proceeded to the ship for breakfast. The morning itinerary included visiting the famous Isis Temple at Philea. Getting there required getting on a speed boat. The site was amazing, with towering walls and pillars, all adorned with hieroglyphs. We spent nearly 2 hours here under a warm sun and with temps in the 80’s.
Leaving this island, we continue to see the High Dam of Aswan. As the Nile flows northward, this dam forms Lake Nasser, the 3rd largest lake in the world. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the granite hillside from where many of the Egyptian obelisks were chiseled. The well know obelisk of Hatsepsut (15th c BC) still lies there, cracked from the day it was chisseled.
We returned to the ship for lunch. The afternoon was free of any planned activity, providing some people a time to nap. Prior to dinner, and excursion to the Aswan bazaar was enjoyed by many. We returned in time for a “Captain’s Reception,” dinner, and a group encounter of singing together on the top deck. We all are looking forward to departing Aswan in the morning, heading towards Luxor and many other Egyptian sites to see.
Saturday, November 8 (Day 5)
Our ship departed at 10 this morning, heading “down” the Nile River (as the Nile flows south to north). We all enjoyed seeing both the east and west sides of the river. Beyond the vegetation along the banks of the Nile, there is only desert. Everyone enjoyed this relaxing time on the sun deck. At 12:30, our first stop off the boat was the site called Kom Ombo. Here, we visited the temple dedicated to the two Egyptian gods, Sobek and Haeroris. We returned to the ship for lunch, and an presentation by Dr. Tom on Egypt and Biblical chronology. Later in the afternoon, we visited Edfu and the temple of Horus. The “night time” perspective was special! Once again, the culture and religion of the ancient Egyptians gives us a context in which to appreciate the presence of the Israelites in this foreign country.
Following dinner, a “galabyia party” took place in the lounge area, introducing us to a bit of Egyptian culture. Everyone had a good time dressing up and dancing Egyptian style.
Sunday, November 9 (Day 6)
The last leg of sailing took place this morning as we arrived in Luxor. We departed the ship at 8:30, heading on speed boats across to the west side of the Nile River. Our first stop was the famous Valley of the kings. Here, 62 Pharaohs have been buried. We descended into 3 of them (e.g. Ramses III, Thutmose III, Seti II etc). While it was hot and sunny (90), the area was bustling with people. From here, we bussed over to the Temple of Hatshepsut (perhaps, according to conservative conventional dating, the Pharaoh’s daughter who found Moses in the bull rushes). It is magnificently cut into the limestone cliffs that tower over the Nile valley. Ready for a break from the sun, we enjoyed lunch back on the ship.
Following lunch, we set off for 2 temples on the east side of the Nile, the Temple of Karnak (Thebes) and the Temple of Luxor. This first temple was built by various Pharaohs over a span of 1,000 years. Primary to this temple are the 132 towering columns at the middle of this temple complex. We left this site at sunset.
The Temple of Luxor was viewed under the lights, with each of its walls and columns lit beautifully. The famous Ramses II was instrumental in building much of this temple. His statue is placed prominently at the entrance.
We returned to the ship for one final night. We had dinner and then shared a worship/fellowship time together on the deck of the ship.
Monday, November 10 (Day 7)
This morning we left the ship for the Luxor airport. We flew back to Cairo where we secured our buses for our journey to the Sinai. We read from the Exodus story from Ex. 14 & 15 as we drove close to where this event took place. We drove through the tunnel under the Suez Canal. The bus ride was about a 6 hour drive, including a lunch stop. We arrived at the beautiful Marriot Hotel on the Red Sea in Taba. We arrived early enough for some to snorkel and swim in the sea and in the pools. Late in the evening, the “Mt. Sinai” hikers departed the hotel, while the rest of the group enjoyed a night’s rest at this Red Sea resort.
Tuesday, November 11 (Day 8)
Following a 2 hour bus ride from Taba Heights, we arrived at St. Catherine’s (Mt. Sinai) at 1:30 a.m. There were 27 of us climbing Mt. Sinai, with 17 using camels for 2/3rd’s of the way. Many made the climb to the top for sunrise. The total amount of elevation rise was 2,500 feet (from 5,300 to 7,800 feet). It was a great experience for all, even for those who didn’t make it to the very top. Once the sun rose, we all descended.
From Sinai, we drove back to Taba for the border crossing into Israel. Gila, our Israeli guide, and our bus awaited us on the other side. We drove to the Moriah Classic Hotel on the Dead Sea, with a stop along the way at one of Israel’s famous dairy kibbutz. Following dinner at 7 p.m., we all retired for the night.
Wednesday, November 12 (Day 9)
The morning started with a “floating” experience in the Dead Sea. Many in the group encountered the sensation of floating effortlessly in this body of water, at least 30% salt and minerals. Following breakfast, our first stop was Masada, the Jewish fortress held by the Jews from 70 until 73 AD. This fortress built by Herod the Great in around 30 B.C. was impressive to all as it towers 1,000 feet above the Dead Sea nearby.
As we passed the cliffs of Engedi (I Sam 24) where David and Saul had their ‘cave’ encounter, our next stop was Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Written by Essenses, we saw remains of houses, scriptoriums, miqkas (ritual baths), as well as a few caves where the scrolls were found since 1947.
Finally as we continued northward, our last stop was Jericho. Here, we talked about the relationship between archaeology and the Biblical account. We also saw portions of the double walled fortifications of Jericho where “the walls came tumblin’ down.”
Driving north along the Jordan Valley, we arrived at the Sea of Galilee and Kibbutz Maagan located on its southern shores. This will be “home” for the next two nights as we explore the life and ministry of Jesus in and around this Galilee area tomorrow. We ended the day with a group gathering along the shores of Galilee, singing and sharing together.
Thursday, November 13 (Day 10)
What a great day in following the footsteps of Jesus! We began the day by taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We departed from Tiberias and sailed to Nof Ginnosar. We enjoyed a worship/devotional time on the boat. Arriving at Nof Ginnosar, we saw the “Jesus Boat,” a 1st c AD boat found in 1986 in this area.
Our next three stops included sites all related to the life and ministry of Jesus: Mt. of Beatitudes, Tabgha (feeding of 5,000), and Capernaum. These are sites along the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, the prime ministry area of Jesus.
We traveled up to Caesarea Philippi and the Golan Heights in the afternoon. The weather remained nice, although cooler up north. We came down from the Golan via the eastern route, which took us back to along the eastern coastline of the Sea of Galilee. We ended the day with a wonderful baptism celebration at Yardenet in the Jordan River. A total of 22 were baptized. It was dark yet the full moon was shining while we celebrated these baptisms. We ended the day with an a group gathering while sitting along the southern shores of Galilee, a great way to end a great day!
Friday, November 14 (Day 11)
We left Kibbutz Maagan at 7:30 this morning. While it rained during the night, we departed for Bethshean under a clear and sunny sky. Bethshean is a huge archaeological site that is quite impressive. From here, we entered the Jezreel Valley from the east, crossing the valley before ascending the Nazareth Ridge. We visited the Church of the Well, the water spring of the ancient city.
Megiddo was the next stop, another impressive archaeological OT site. This was the place where the theme of “Armageddon” and Rev. 16 was shared. We also walked down through the water tunnel of this ancient city. Nearby was Mt. Carmel, serving as the western border of the Jezreel Valley. Here I Kings 18 was read, the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. We celebrated our “awesome God” here.
The last stop of the day was Caesarea, a city built by Herod. Peter and Paul were also here as the kingdom of God expanded to Cornelius and his family. It was here Paul have a stirring testimony before Festus and Agrippa. Besides seeing Caesarea’s theatre, hippodrome, and palace areas, we enjoyed the aqueduct that was built just north of the city along the Mediterranean Sea.
We ended the day by driving to Jerusalem, our home for the next 3 days. Following dinner, many of us enjoyed an “orientation” walk to Damascus and Jaffa gates.
Saturday, November 15 (Day 12)
We started promptly at 8 a.m. this morning, with our first stop to the Mt. of Olives. Once again on a beautiful clear morning the view of the Temple Mount was splendid, one of the best in recent memory. We walked down the “Palm Sunday” route, stopping at the Dominus Flavet Church (church of the weeping), and the Church of All Nations (Gethsemane). From here we saw the 2nd Temple Model at the Israel Museum, a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem during the 1st c. A.D. It offered people a great perspective as to the dimensions of the city that Jesus knew.
From here, we headed south to Bethlehem. After visiting the olive wood shop and lunch, we drove to the Church of Nativity where we read Luke 2 and sang Christmas carols together. it was a great “Christmas” celebration. We ended the day at the Garden Tomb where we saw the empty tomb and shared in a meaningful Communion Service.
Following dinner, many of us ventured out on our 2nd night walk, this time to the modern Israeli area of the city, Ben Yehuda Street.
Sunday, November 16 (Day 13)
The morning started with a unique tour of the Rabbinical/Western Wall Tunnel for a walk along the western structural wall of the Temple Mount. After visiting the Pools of Bethesda (Jn 5), we then went up to the Temple Mount itself to get a first hand view of the Dome of the Rock and the ancient location of the Temple. We were fortunate to be the last group through the security gate before they closed for the day.
We exited the Temple Mount onto the Via Dolorosa, retracing the steps of Christ. We stopped in to see the “Lithostrotos” at the Sisters of Sion Church, taking time to consider Christ’s condemnation by Pilate. We actually walked on the very stone pavement of that day! We continued through the stations of the cross until the Holy Sepulcher Church in the Christian Quarter. We walked south to the Jewish Quarter for lunch.
The afternoon included a visit to the “Southern Steps” of the Temple, as well as a walk through the City of David excavations and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. More then 20 got wet through this 1,720 foot tunnel built by Hezekiah (II Kg 20, II Chr. 32). The touring day ended at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum.
After dinner, 17 of us taxied up to the Mt. of Olives for an optional walk down the Mt. of Olives through Stephen’s Gate, to the Western Wall, and then back out through the Damascus Gate back to the hotel. What a great day. A free day awaits us tomorrow before we fly home tomorrow night.
Monday, November 17 (Day 14)
Free Day! It was a great day of experiencing Jerusalem on our own. Most explored the Old City, while others taxied to Engedi (where they saw 30-40 Ibex), and Beersheba. At 10:30, a wedding took place at Christ’s Church right inside Jaffa Gate and the Old city. Many in the group gave witness to the sharing of wedding vows between Steve and Sandy. Others also enjoyed listening to Moshe at the Shoreshim store in the Jewish Quarter. Shopping was fun for all!
We returned to the hotel at 5 p.m. We loaded the bus, enjoyed dinner together at the Ambassador Hotel, and then headed to the airport for our flight home, the end of a terrific trip for all!
Thanks be to God for His guidance, strength, the fellowship among our touring family, and the life-changing experiences we encountered together!