Oct-Nov 2017 Egypt-Jordan-Israel Tour Update – Day 9

DAY 9: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6:

Today was the first of two days here in the north. It would be another wonderfully sunny day, with a bit cooler temps (as expected in the Golan Heights) in the 70s.

Bethsaida

El Araj - Bethsaida

El Araj – the new possible archaeological site for Bethsaida

We left this morning at 7:30 a.m. We read from Matthew 4 about Jesus’ calling of the disciples. Our destination: the Golan Heights. Making our way from the NW corner to the SE corner of the Sea of Galilee, we included taking a small dirt road to the new excavations of El Araj. It is an archaeological site proposed as the possible location of Bethsaida. It was just excavated this past summer. While standing around this new site, we read from Mark 8 (the blind man) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000), two events that took place here. This possible new site of Bethsaida was also the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1).

Gamla

Gamla

Gamla – the “Masada of the North”

From here, we ascended to the heights of the Golan to Gamla. On the way, we made a brief stop for a panoramic view of the entire northern area of the Sea of Galilee and beyond. Visibility was quite good today. Arriving at Gamla, we viewed this Jewish site from above. This was a Jewish city that was destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD. There is a 1st century synagogue here. Perhaps Jesus taught here (?). We read from Acts 5 about a certain “Judas the Galilean” who led the first revolt. We also saw a griffon vulture.

Katzrin

Katzrin

A reconstructed stone house at Katzrin

Close by is the Talmudic city of Katzrin. Here we saw the stone ruins of this city that dates from the 3rd-7th century AD. We sat in a reconstructed stone house that resembled what a house in Jesus’ day must have looked like. We read from Mark 2 and celebrated the forgiveness He offers to each of us. We also walked through the synagogue here.

Syrian Border

Driving further north (and east), we arrived at the Syrian border. Shlomo shared with us about the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. It was interesting to look across the border at this war-torn country. The Syrian city of Kuneitra could be seen directly across the border.

Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi

The Roman ruins and “grotto” of Caesarea Philippi

Traveling westward and passing by Mt. Hermon (Israel’s highest mountain – 7,300 feet, Psalm 133), our next site was Caesarea Philippi. The Banias spring starts from here. This was a very pagan city during the days of Jesus. We read from Matthew 16 and 17. It was in this region where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Among the grotto area, we saw the location where the temple of Augustus was, as well as the niches of Pan, and other gods (Zeus, Nemesis).

Dan

Our last site of the day was the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. Walking along the main tributary of the Jordan River was amazing. We stopped in the middle of our walk to listen to Shlomo play a Jewish song on the recorder. We also read form Psalm 42 and sang a song. Sitting on the steps of the high place, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the “pattern of disobedience” established here. It was here (and at Bethel) where Jeroboam set up a golden calf.

Jackals

Jackals at Tel Dan

Nearby the high place, we looked into Lebanon while Shlomo shared the current geo-political situation with this country. We even saw three jackals down in the fields. Leaving the site we saw a Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate perhaps used by Abraham (Ge 14:14). We also saw the Iron Age/Israelite walls and gates of the city.

We drove back to the hotel for dinner and a group gathering on the shoreline of the lake. It was a nice time of worship and sharing.

DAY 10: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT, MT. OF BEATITUDES

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Has Ancient Bethsaida Been Found?

HAS ANCIENT BETHSAIDA BEEN FOUND?

El Araj

The recent excavation at El Araj – possible “Bethsaida” of the Bible.

Biblical archaeologists continue to excavate ancient sites in Israel. The discovery of the ancient city of Bethsaida is another one of these sites being uncovered that connects us directly to the Bible.

The Site of El Araj

On the last Israel trip I led (September 4-17 2017), we visited the site of El Araj. Finding the location of this new excavation through the guidance of a few friends, we diverted from the main asphalt road on the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee to a small unmarked dirt lane that took us to the site. Let’s just say that going to “off-the-beaten-track” sites like this is something I like to do with groups and something that every “touristy” Israel tours do not do. For me, visiting this possible site for Bethsaida was the highlight of the trip!

El Araj team

The el Araj team, summer of 2017

About a month ago, the results of the 2nd year of excavation at El Araj were published. I must say that what was discovered at this point is quite exciting. Indeed, the search for the true site of Bethsaida has been ongoing since the 1800s. But it was not until the 1980s when Father Pixner, a Benedictine monk, excavated a site about 1.5 miles north of the water’s edge today (more recently, the University of Nebraska has been digging here). The site called et-Tell reveals an impressive 1st Temple four-chambered gate (9th century BC) and two large Hellenistic houses (2nd century BC). But that is about it. No 1st century ruins contemporary with the time of Jesus or the New Testament have been found. While what Dr. Bryant Wood (of Associates for Biblical Research) has said is important (e.g. “The lack of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence.”), the main leading issue is not just the archaeology but primarily the location of et-Tell. For it to be a fishing village (Bethsaida literally means “house of fishing”), you would expect it to be on the water’s edge. It is not even close. However, this new site, El Araj, precisely is!

silver coins - Nero found at El Araj

The two coins found in the summer of 2017. The left one depicts Nero – 66-67 AD (credit: National Geographic).

We know the El Araj (later re-named Julius by Herod Phillip in 30 AD when he “upgraded” the small Bethsaida to a polis or city) actually was on the water’s edge because of the 1st century Roman bathhouse and mosaic found this year. This one lone discovery tells us that the water of the Sea of Galilee did not come further north (as those who hold to the view that et Tell is Bethsaida contend) or else these uncovered structures would have been underwater. Topographically, el Araj’s location fits much better with the historical (and Gospel) records.

So what has been discovered so far?

map of el Araj

(credit: Biblical Resources)

While I will direct you to a few more detailed articles already highlighting this summer’s most recent finds (e.g. CBN, National Geographic, and Ha-Aretz), the discoveries include Roman structures, mosaics, two coins (one of them a silver coin of Nero – 66-67 AD), a Byzantine Church, and the ruins of a Crusader building. About the significance of the Byzantine Church, co-director Dr. Steve Notley said, “Willibald, the bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria, visited the Holy Land in 725 C.E., and in his itinerary, he describes his visit to a church at Bethsaida that was built over the house of Peter and Andrew. It may well be that the current excavations have unearthed evidence for that church.”  Only time will tell if this was that church!
About the findings this year, archaeologist Dr. Mordechai Avram stated, “[The discovery of] a bathhouse is something that leads us to understand that we are within some kind of a city, some kind of a sphere of people who are building communal structures, public structures and although the dig here is very small, it immediately hinted us that we are in a very good place to suggest that we discovered the city of Julias.” 

Mosaic floor at el Araj

Mosaic Roman floor (credit: Zachary Wong, 2017)

So visiting this new site was very exciting especially in light of the Gospels telling us this was the home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip (John 1). It was also the home of the blind man healed by Jesus (Mark 8). Additionally, the Feeding of the 5,000 took place here too (Luke 9). Lastly, this may have been a small fishing village visited by Jesus Himself!

Stay tuned for further updates upon next year’s excavation! If I can work it in my touring and teaching schedule, I would love to dig here in 2018!
It goes without saying that el Araj will be a site we will visit on each and every upcoming trip I lead!
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September 2017 Israel Tour – Day 4

DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6:

El Araj

The recent excavation at El Araj – possible “Bethsaida” of the Bible.

We began our day with a great breakfast before leaving the hotel at 7:45. We read from Matthew 4 about Jesus calling His disciples on the shoreline as we drove to the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee. Our first stop was to El Araj, a brand new excavation! We took a small dirt road to get there. It is very possible that this site was ancient Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip. Although the ruins were limited, it was thrilling to be here! We read from Mark 8 (blind man) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000), with both events taking place here.

Ascending to the Golan Heights, we visited Gamla next. This was a 1st century Jewish city that revolted against the Romans. In 66 AD the city was destroyed. A 1st century synagogue is located here. Jesus perhaps taught here.

Close by was Katzrin, a Talmudic village (3rd – 7th century AD). We crowded into the reconstructed house of Rabbi Abun. Here we read from Mark 2 about Jesus physically restoring the lame man and spiritually forgiving his sins. We also walked through the synagogue here.

Katzrin Rabbi Abun

Reconstructed Talmudic stone house of Rabbi Abun at Katzrin

With David providing bananas, apples, and snacks for us for lunch, we continued our way to the Syrian border. Here, Shlomo shared some “modern history” about the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. It was remarkable to learn that Israel continues of provide health services to 1000s of displaced Syrians from the war.

Traveling through a few Druze villages, we arrived at the base of Israel’s ski resort at Mt. Hermon. We took the chair lift to the top of this mountain (the mountain is shared by three country: Syria – peak of 9,200 feet, Israel – peak of 7,300, and Lebanon – peak of less then 7,000 feet). The view on top was excellent. We read from Psalm 133 about the “dew from Mt Hermon…”. Seven in the group took the very difficult hiking trail down, while the rest descended by the chair lift.

Mt. Hermon

View from the top of Mt. Hermon

Driving off the Golan Heights, our next stop was Caesarea Philippi. We read from Matthew 16 and heard the question Jesus asked His disciples – “Who do you say I am?” Here in the region of this pagan city, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” We saw the grotto (cultic) area of the city, where the Temple of Augustus was as well as other pagan shrines.

Our last stop of the day was at the nature preserve and archaeological site of Tel Dan. We walked along the Dan spring under the shade of the Eucalyptus and fig trees. We stopped to listen to Shlomo share a song on his recorder. We also read (and sang) Psalm 42. We continued to the high place of Dan, established by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). He continued a pattern of disobedience from the time of the Judges (Judges 18) when the Danites re-located here. We also saw a Middle Bronze-Canaanite gate that dates close to the time of Abraham (Gen 14:14).

Mudbrick gate

The Canaanite mud brick gate at Tel Dan

Driving back to our hotel through the Huleh Valley and past Hazor (Joshua 11), we enjoyed dinner together as well as a gathering down on the shoreline. Under a brilliant full moon, we shared and reflected. About eight in the group went swimming under the moonlight afterwards.

DAY 5 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT, MT. OF BEATITUDES

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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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April-May 2017 Israel-Egypt Tour Update: Day 4

DAY 4 – THURSDAY, APRIL 27:

Today we traveled north and east to the Golan Heights. It was another sunny day, with temps in the upper 80s to low 90s.

Gamla

Gamla in the Golan Heights

Departing after breakfast again at 7:30, we drove to the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee where we made our first stop overlooking the Plains of Bethsaida. We read from Mark 9 (blind man healed) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000). Peter, Andrew, and Philip were from Bethsaida.

Climbing a bit more to the plateau of the Golan, Gamla was our next stop. Although not mentioned directly in the Gospels, no doubt Jesus was here, teaching in the 1st century synagogue here. Gamla was mentioned by Josephus as a Jewish city attacked by the Romans in 66 AD. The only indirect reference to Gamla may come in Acts 5 (which mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who may have been from here). From the panoramic view on top, we could look down and see the synagogue as well as the city’s fortifications. The Griffon Vulture also is protected here. We saw a few flying around.

Katzrin

A reconstructed house at Katzrin (Qatzrin)

Next, we drove to the primary city in the Golan, Katzrin (Qatzrin). Here we visited a Talmudic Village (3rd-7th century AD). Here we were introduced to the Hebraic background of Jesus’ ministry. We sat in the reconstructed stone house of Rabbi Abun where we read from Mark 2. We could see the story unfold before our very eyes! There is also a synagogue here as well.

Driving east to the border of Syria, we looked into the city of Quneitra within this war-torn country. On the top of Bental (an old military site), Shlomo shared a little modern history, particularly about the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. It was amazing to be so close to Syria. We paused to pray for the victims of the war here.

Caesarea Philippi grotto

Caesarea Philippi

This afternoon we descended down from the Golan to Caesarea Philippi. This was a very pagan city in Jesus’ day. We read from Matthew 16. It was in the region of this city where Jesus asked the question, Who do you say I am?” Here we saw the grotto area where the pagan temples and niches dedicated to Pan were located. The Banias spring here is one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River.

Close by is the nature preserve and archaeological city of Dan. We enjoyed walked on the quiet pathway along the largest of the three tributaries of the Jordan here. We paused to listen to Shlomo share on his recorder. We also considered the words of Psalm 42 (“as the deer pants for water…”). It was a nice quiet time of reflection. Continuing on the path to the archaeological site of Dan, we sat on the steps of the high place of Dan. Here we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the false worship that took place here. It was Jeroboam who set up a golden calf here (as well as in Bethel just north of Jerusalem). Upon leaving the site, we also saw a Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate (used by Abraham, see Gen. 14:14), as well as the walls and gates of the Israelite city.

Lebanon

Looking into Lebanon from Misgav Am, Israel

On our way back to the hotel, we drove past Abel Beit Macaah where both Pastor John and Tom excavated in 2014. We read the primary story from 2 Samuel 20 about “Sheba” and the “wise woman” who lived in this city. We also ascended the hills of Naphtali to Misgav Am. Located on the border with Lebanon, we could look into southern Lebanon. We also had a wonderful panoramic view of the Huleh Valley and Mt. Hermon. Shlomo shared some more modern history about the conflicts Israel has had with this northern neighbor.

swimming

Swimming in the Sea of Galilee

Driving back to out hotel, we enjoyed dinner together (a few went swimming in the Sea of Galilee before dinner), followed by an optional devotional gathering on the water’s edge. It was a great day here in northern Israel!

DAY 5 – FRIDAY, APRIL 28: ARBEL, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT – BAPTISM IN THE JORDAN, MT. OF BEATITUDES

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Biblical Israel & Jordan Tour, March 2017 – Day 4 Summary

DAY 4 – THURSDAY, MARCH 16:

Rabbi Abun

The reconstructed stone house of “Rabbi Abun” a Qatzrin

Today we traveled north to the Golan Heights. The weather in the morning was overcast and a big foggy, but in the afternoon we enjoyed breaks of sun. Temps were in the 50s.

Driving from the NW to NE corner of the Sea of Galilee, we made our first stop at an overview of the area of Bethsaida. This was the home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. We read from Mark 8 (blind man healed) and John 6 (Feeding of 5,000), two stories that took place here. We also considered Philip’s words – “Come and see” (john 1) in regard to seeing Jesus as the Messiah. We listened to The Lord’s Prayer before leaving this place.

Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi

Next as Gamla. With the fog setting in, visibility was poor, limiting our view of this ancient Jewish city below. The city was involved in the 1st Revolt against the Romans in 66 A.D. A 1st century synagogue is located here, no doubt one from which Jesus taught. The only indirect reference to Gamla is Acts 5 that mentions a certain Judas the Galilean who may have been from here.

Qatzrin was our next visit. This was a Talmudic village (3rd-7th century AD or so). We gathered in a reconstructed stone house (very similar to a house at the time of Jesus) where we read from Mark 2. We could see the story of the lame man healed physically and spiritually here unfold! We also saw the synagogue here dating to the same time period.

After lunch “on the fly” (bananas and apples), we drove north and east to the Syrian border. Here we learned about the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. We could see across the border to the Syrian town of Qunetra.

Tel Dan

The group at the nature preserve at Tel Dan

Driving west down of the Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi was the next stop. One of the tributaries of the Jordan River (Banias) begins here. We read from Matthew 16 and considered the question Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We walked up to the Grotto area where some of the pagan temples and ritual places once stood.

Close by was the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. Walking along the largest tributary of the Jordan through the wooded preserve was impressive. We stopped to listen to Shlomo play his recorder. We also read from Psalm 42 and enjoyed a quiet time of reflection. Entering the archaeological part of the site, we saw the high place established by Jeroboam. We read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the pattern of disobedience displayed here. Upon leaving the site, we also saw a Middle Bronze / Canaanite gate (Gen 14 … used by Abraham perhaps) and the gate structure dating to the Israelite Period.

Lebanon border

The Lebanon Border

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at Misgav Am. This is located ½ mile away from the Lebanon border. The view was spectacular, not only into Lebanon, but also Mt. Hermon and the Huleh Valley. We read about Abel Beit Maacah, an archaeological tel located below in the valley (2 Samuel 20) and heard some modern history about Lebanon.

Upon arriving back at the hotel in Tiberias, we enjoyed dinner together and a free evening.

DAY 5 – FRIDAY, MARCH 17: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT, MT. OF BEATITUDES

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March 2015 Tour – Day 5

DAY 5– WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18 It was another great day, with sun and temps around 65-70. Today we headed to the Golan Heights. Driving from the NW corner of the Sea ofg Galilee to the NE corner, here we began our ascent to the Heights. Overlooking Bethsaida, we read from John 6 about the feeding of the 5,000. It most likely took place in the valley below us. From here we continued to the plateau of the Heights to Gamla (the “Masada of the north”). It was here where the First Revolt (in 66AD) was met by a strong Roman challenge. The city fell to the Romans, with thousands killed.  From a distance we saw the synagogue (only one of seven … Continue reading

Israel/Jordan Tour – Nov, 2012, 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 three 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 … Continue reading