Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from November, 2012
Saturday – Sunday, November 3 & 4, Day 1 & 2
At last, our departure date came for our Christian Israel – Holyland Tour. Meeting at Dulles Airport, DC, we departed on our Austrian Air flight to Amman via Vienna. 14 of us arrived in Amman this afternoon (2 others in the group already arrived yesterday) and were greeted by our Guide, Mo. After going through passport control, we boarded our bus. We arrived at our hotel, the Amman International, for dinner. Before dinner, a brief orientation meeting was held, preparing us for the first full day tomorrow. Following dinner, most of us enjoyed a walk along the main street of Amman. We returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. All 16 of us are looking forward to a great start to our tour!
Monday, November 5, Day 3
Our first full day here in Jordan began by driving an hour north of Amman to the largest of the Decapolis cites, Jerash. This Roman city includes quite impressive temples, a theater, colonnaded streets, and even a well-excavated Byzantine Church with a mosaic floor. It is amazing to think that as large of a city it is, only 35% of the site has been excavated. We spent 2.5 hours here. Next, we drove back through Amman to Medeba. Here we saw the famous Medeba Map, a 6th century map made from mosaic. This original mosaic was used as the floor in a church that is called today the St. George Church. After eating lunch, we drove further west to Mt. Nebo. Reading from Dt. 31, 34, and Joshua 1, here we recalled the stories of Moses and Joshua. Even with the slight haze, we were able to see the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley, and Jericho from this this great vantage point. After visiting a mosaic school nearby, we drove south on the Desert Highway to Petra. Upon arriving at the Petra Moon hotel (right at the entrance to the site of Petra), we enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner, 10 of us did the a night walk into Petra, down the Siq, to the Treasury building. The path as well as the front area of the Treasury building was illuminated with candles. It also uniquely thundered, with lightning for 15 minutes to add to the experience. A great first full day!
Tuesday, November 6, Day 4
What a great day we had in Petra today, this amazing site built by the ancient Nabateans. We started at 8:30 after breakfast, and too advantage of the full day within this red-rose city. 14 of us walked through the Siq (canyon), while two enjoyed the horse-drawn buggy ride. The Siq came alive with a colorful decoration of colors of rock. The further we walked through the Siq, the the higher the walls became. At the end of the Siq is the most famous sites within Petra of them all, the Treasury. This was most likely used as a royal tomb for Aretas III, the Nabatean King. We also thought of Indiana Jones, as it was from here he rides out through the Siq in the movie, “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.” (don’t think he actually found the “Holy Grail” though).
After pictures and exploring, we continued into the site, passing numerous tombs, a theater, and a Roman Street. There your numerous donkeys and camels to avoid, but making the walk interesting, if you know what we mean. From the end of the Roman street most of us began the hike out to another famous tomb called the Monastery. It’s located at the far western edge of Petra. While the hike included many steps, and a gradual ascent, the reward was amazing – seeing the grandeur of this tomb! A few of us even hiked 10 minutes further for an overview of the Monastery as well as a good view of the Arava Valley and the Negev of Israel to the west.
We returned from the Monastery the same way. For the rest of the afternoon, most walked back through the Siq back to the hotel. Some rode camels, while others horses. Four of us ventured up to the High Place,another uphill hike and ascent of about 1,000 feet. Along the way, dozens of more tombs could be seen. The view from the top was spectacular.
For sure, today was a unique and special day. We are all tired, but what we experienced was amazing. We enjoyed dinner at the hotel, and an optional time of fellowship and worship afterwards. Uniquely, we are all wondering what’s happening with the elections back home. We all agree that the results are in God’s hands and according to His sovereign purpose and plan for our nation.
Wednesday, November 7, Day 5
We began the day with breakfast and loading up the bus. Our devotion this morning included the reading Psalm 2 and celebrating God’s sovereign purpose for our lives. Departing at 8:15, we headed south via part of the King’s Highway. As the windy road ascended out of Petra, we briefly stopped for a great view of Petra below. We then continued south, connecting again with the Desert Highway before heading east 15 kilometers to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is best known for the history of the Arab rebellion during WWI. Sir Lawrence of Arabia was a key figure in some of the drama and conflict that unfolded in this desolate region. The 2 hour jeep rides were most enjoyable. The beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation once again blew us away. We rode in open jeeps, soaking in the surroundings of the sandstone and granite mountains all around us.
Following the jeep rides, we continued to Aqaba, the port city of Jordan (with Elat in Israel sharing this port on the other side. Checking in at 3:30, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of swimming in the amazingly clear Red Sea, and in one of the hotel’s pools. We all enjoyed the relaxation as well as the amazing sunset across the Red Sea, with the Sinai mountains of Egypt in the background. Spectacular!
After dinner, we enjoyed a time of fellowship, warm breezes, and worship/sharing by the pool. What a great relaxing day. We look forward to making the “crossing” into Israel tomorrow.
Thursday, November 8, Day 6
Following a great breakfast at this beautiful Red Sea resort, we boarded our bus and drove to the Rabin Border. Saying goodbye to our Jordanian driver and with passports in hand, we crossed into Israel. The border crossing went relatively smooth, taking about an hour. On the Israeli side, e were greeted by Shlomo, our Jewish guide, and Husam, our driver.
After boarding our bus and driving north along the Arava valley, our first stop of the day was Timnah, once an ancient copper mine. We saw a video presentation here, as well as a guided tour of Timnah’s full-scale replica of the Tabernacle. It was marvelous! We also enjoyed a short hike at the Hathorian Egyptian temple area. We climbed up and down a unique sandstone cliff called Solomon’s Pillar. From Timnah, we drove further north for lunch at Yotvata, a dairy kibbutz. Following lunch, we continued north through Israel’s “Grand Canyon” called Machtesh Ramon. Driving through the Wilderness of Zin, we stopped for a brief stop at Sde Boker, a kibbutz where Ben Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel) is buried.
We ended the day by driving east to the Dead Sea and our hotel at Ein Bokek. Most of us ventured down to the water for a quick “float” in the 30+% salt and mineral water (some plan to do this tomorrow). We cleaned up for dinner and enjoyed relaxing evening.
Friday, November 9, Day 7
The day started with a beautiful sunrise over the Dead Sea. After breakfast, and loading the bus, our first site of the day, Masada, was only 15 minutes north. Masada is best known for being a Jewish fortress that withstood the Romans for 3 years following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. We rode the cable car to the top. Among what we saw were cisterns, casemate walls, the Roman camps and ramp, a bathhouse, and a 1st century synagogue. Half of the group hiked don the Snake Path to the bottom. Next was Engedi, where we read about the David-Saul story and hiked back to the second water falls.
Further north along this western side of the Dead Sea was Qumran. This is where the Essene community write the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here we saw more cisterns, a few ritual baths (called mikva), and the caves where the scrolls were found in 1947. Finally, we visited Jericho. We re-told the story of Joshua 6 and saw a portion of the southern double fortification walls (on top of which was a mud brick wall, the one that came tumbling down. Before leaving Jericho we briefly stopped at a Hebron glass store.
Finally, we drove 2 hours north through the Jordan Valley to the Sea of Galilee and the city of Tiberias. We checked into the hotel, ate dinner, and enjoyed the evening together. Tonight is the first rain we have seen, and only the second rain in Israel since the spring, a blessing to Israelis.
Saturday, November 10, Day 8
We had our first rainy day today, although actually it cleared this afternoon. This was the first substantial rain of the season for Israel, a blessing for them! After breakfast we drove to the best lookout over the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, Arbel. We walked about 10 minutes for a beautiful view of the NW Galilee region. It was clear enough to see the coastline. While it rained, we got a sense of the “big picture” of Christ’s ministry. From here, we drove to Yardenit, the baptismal site. 13 enjoyed the waters of the Jordan River as they renewed their desire to follow Christ. Close by is the Kinneret Cemetery, where “Rachel,” an early Jewish settler is buried. Although she lived an anonymous life, she is well known for her poetry. We drove from here along the western coastline of the Sea of Galilee, through Tiberias, to Magdala. This is a new excavation that revealed a 1st century synagogue. While the site is not officially opened to tourists yet, it was worthwhile to see. We all enjoyed a quiet time along the shoreline while reflecting upon Matthew 13.
Following lunch at Nof Ginnosar where we saw 1st century boat (found in 1986), we enjoyed a boat ride on the lake. We shared worship together, as well as reading the storm narratives from the Gospels. While finishing the boat ride, we marveled at the rainbow that appeared over the lake. Beautiful!
Our last three sites were Chorazin, Mount of Beatitudes, and Capernaum. Chorazin is known for its basaltic stone structures and 3rd century synagogue, while the Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus shared his first recorded sermon. Here, we are able to see the natural amphitheater where Jesus may have talked to the crowd. We read from Matthew 5 and heard Shlomo share the same passage in Hebrew. Finally, Capernaum was Jesus’ “home base” of ministry. We read Mark 1 and 2, and Luke 7 in the 4-5th synagogue. The final view from the shoreline was very nice as the sun set. A great day learning and celebrating the life and ministry of Jesus!
We headed back to the hotel for dinner and overnight once again here in Tiberias.
Sunday, November 11, Day 9
Departing once again at 7:30, we headed north to the Golan Heights. Our first stop was Dan. With a few sprinkles on the way, we were ready for this walk along Israel’s most green area. Here we saw one of the the headwaters of the Jordan River. From Dan’s high place, we also were able to look into Lebanon. We also admired a 18th BC Canaanite gate and the Israelite city where an inscription of the “House of David” within the gate structure. Close by was Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt. 16). The ruins here are Roman, and represent a pagan city. Before lunch, we headed to Nimrod, a Crusader castle from the 12th century AD. Control of the castle traded back and forth between the Crusaders and the Muslims.We enjoyed exploring the secret passages and were impressed by the castle’s size.
Following lunch in a Druze village, we continued east to Bental, a old military site captured in the 1967 war and used in the 73 war. Before the the next band of rain came, we had a clear view into Quneitra, Syria. From here we headed back towards the Sea of Galilee, first stopping at an olive oil factory where some bought olive oil for cooking as well as soaps and lotions. Close by was the Talmudic village of Qatzrin. Here we saw a reconstructed Jewish house, something like the type Jesus would have known. Our last stop of the day was marvelous. Enjoying the site of Bethsaida all to ourselves, we watched the sun set over the lake while reading the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 from Luke 9.
We returned to our hotel in Tiberias for dinner. A few of us enjoyed an optional walk around Tiberias. We are excited to be in Jerusalem tomorrow night!
Monday, November 12, Day 10
A nice sunrise awaited us on this third and last morning in Tiberias. After breakfast we checked out, loaded the bus, and departed by 7:30 for Nazareth. Driving through this home town of Jesus, we headed to theprecipice of the city where we read from Luke 1 and 4. The view of Nazareth and the Jezreel Valley was very good. We saw Mt. Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, and the Carmel Range from here. Next, we crossed “The Valley” as the Israelis call it (Jezreel) to the Old Testament site of Megiddo. Here, we saw both Canaanite and Solomonic gates, store houses, stables, a large grain bin, and an impressive water system/tunnel that we walked through. From here we drove to Mt. Carmel to a Carmelite monastery called Muhraqa. The view of the Jezreel Valley from this vantage point was excellent. We read the Elijah/Baal story from 1 Kings 18.
Following lunch at another Druze place on Carmel, we drove to the Sharon/Coastal Plain to Caesarea, Herod’s impressive port city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We read from Acts 10, 12, and 26 about the stories of Cornelius, Peter, Herod, and Paul. We visited the theater before walking across the hippodrome. Entering into the Crusader part of the city, we enjoyed a coffee break overlooking Herod’s famous harbor. Finally, we visited the aqueduct along the beautiful shores of the Med Sea.
It took about 1.5 hours to drive to Jerusalem, our destination for the next 4 days. Arriving at our hotel in West Jerusalem (the Dan Boutique), we enjoyed dinner together, followed by our first optional walk into the Old City and specifically to the Western Wall. We all are looking forward to seeing Jerusalem these next few days!
Tuesday, November 13, Day 11
We were greeted with blue skies as we left the hotel after a hearty breakfast. Our first stop was the Mt. of Olives. What a view from the top! The whole Old City & Temple Mount can be seen. We walked down the “Palm Sunday” route, stopping at Dominus Flevet, where we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. At the bottom of the Mt. of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemene and the Church of All Nations.
We then entered the Old City through St. Stephen’s/Lion’s Gate. We stopped at the Pools of Bethesda (John 5) and enjoyed singing in St. Anne’s Church (the echo is 10 seconds long in this Crusader church). Next, we walked the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross”). Although traditional, we enjoyed walking through the heart of the Christian Quarter to the Holy Seplechure Church (one of the possible locations for the crucifixion and burial site of Christ). We ate lunch nearby in the Old City.
This afternoon’s sites included Herodium, the Shepherd’s Fields, and Bethlehem. The view of the Wilderness of Judah from Herodium was fairly clear, enabling us to see the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab to the east. In the Shepherd’s Fields we enjoyed reading Micah 5 and Luke 2 as well as singing a few Christmas carols. Driving to the Church of Nativity was next. We entered the church, and descended to the caves of Jerome. We ended our time in Bethlehem by going to an olive wood shop owned by the Tabesh family.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. Another great day!
Wednesday, November 14, Day 12
Once again, a nice sunrise was enjoyed over the Mt. of Olives as we departed at 7:30 this morning after breakfast. Our first stop was the Western Wall. We spent about 30 minutes at the Wall. From here we walked about 400 yards along the western wall as it extends northward through what is called the Western Wall Tunnel (or “Rabbinical Tunnel”). Here we saw the massive stones paced by Herod as he expanded the Temple Mount, a project that began in 20 BC. It is suggested that one stone weighs about 450-550 tons. How did they move it into place is the question. Quite amazing! We left the Western Wall plaza and ascended the steps that lead into the Jewish Quarter. We went to a shop called Shoreshim (‘Roots’ in Hebrew) where Moshe, an Orthodox Jew, shared about His Jewish faith. We also ate lunch here in the center of the Jewish Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we headed to west Jerusalem to the Israel Museum. We were impressed by the 50:1 scale model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem. This model really helped us visualize Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. We also entered the Shrine of the Book, the part of the museum that displays some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Close by was Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. We heard Shlomo share his personal stories of how many of his family died in Poland at the hand of the Nazi’s. We walked through the Children’s Memorial (1.5 children lost their lives) as well as the museum itself. We were all touched by being here, and pray along with our Israeli friends that a Holocaust never happens again.
To end the day, our guide arranged a personal meeting with his brother-in-law, a Yemenite scribe of the Torah Scriptures. It was fascinating to hear how scrolls are made and the careful process required. We all appreciated this personalized encounter.
We returned to the hotel for dinner, with few of us enjoying an optional walk afterwards.
Thursday, November 15, Day 13
Another bright and sunny morning greeted us as we left for the Temple Mount at 7 a.m. Unfortunately, due to a Muslim holiday, it was closed. On the good side of things, this allowed us to visit the City of David excavations and walk through Warren’s Shaft and Hezekiah’s Tunnel alone without any other groups ahead or behind us. 2 Samuel 5 was referenced in how David conquered the city from the Jebusites, while 2 Kings 20 & 2 Chronicles were referenced about Hezekiah’s tunnel. 13 of us walked through this 1,720 foot “wet” tunnel” while the others went through the older “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Hezekiah’s tunnel is pitch dark and about shoulder width. The water level was just below the knee. We met up together at the Pool of Siloam (John 9). From here we walked through a unique and present excavation, the Herodian drainage channel! Walking through this underground channel required patience as well as ducking our heads a few times, as we ascended slowly to the SW corner of the Temple Mount. Here we saw the stones brought down in the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and walked on the actual street used in Jesus’ day. We also walked up the southern temple steps, where Acts 2 was read.
About noon, we had a two hours of free time. With the many Bar Mitzvah celebrations going on at the Western Wall, most of us enjoyed encountering this. We all grabbed a bite to eat in the Jewish Quarter once again before meeting/walking together to get our bus to take us to our final stop of the day, the Garden Tomb.
Visiting this alternative place for Christ’s death and burial allowed us to spend some quiet times of worship and Communion. We enjoyed the Swedish guide/volunteer who showed us the site. As we can’t be sure of theactual place of Christ’s tomb, we worship not the place but the person. It was a great way to end of touring.
We came back to the hotel for dinner, with some enjoying an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street. On the way, we saw Christina Amenpaur (from ABC & CNN) report a segment about the Israeli issues they face with Hamas in Gaza. She dramatically reported, “It’s a tense night in Jerusalem…” We didn’t sense any “tension” at all. As we experienced a little modern Israeli life, it was lots of fun!
Friday, November 16, Day 14
What a great day of exploring Jerusalem! We all ventured into the Old City this morning. Some of the sites and experiences we encountered included the Upper Room, Oscar Shindler’s tomb, a climb up the Lutheran Church tower in the Christian Quarter, a walk along the Eastern Wall, a return to the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter, and shopping. It was especially fun to simply sit and watch people, especially the little Jewish kids. Priceless! There was no issues with safety whatsoever despite the many Muslims heading to the Temple Mount for Friday services and prayer. While many of us walked a lot, it was a relaxing day on our own. What a great day! Shared in the pictures below are some random scenes and experiences we enjoyed. (By the way, if you are concerned for us given what I can only imagine the news about Israel has been today, no worries). The issues with rockets from Gaza is south of us.).
We returned to the hotel for our final dinner together. An optional walk followed. We taxied to the Mt. of Olives, and then walked back to the hotel from there. We woke up at 1:15 this morning in preparation for loading our luggage and heading to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight home. All went well.
Saturday, November 17, Day 15
We flew home via Vienna to Dulles. The flight went well. Some of us even bought Swiss chocolate in Vienna during our layover. We arrived in DC, went through customs, and then caught out connecting flights home. An end of a great trip for all!