DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 21: BETHSAIDA, GAMLA, KATZRIN, BENTAL, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. Once again like yesterday, the weather was very nice, with sun and temps in the 60s. We read from Matthew 13 as we left the hotel shortly after 7:30 a.m.
Driving around to the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee, our first stop was was to be El Araj. However, the muddy road through the field to get there didn’t’ allow us to visit. El Araj is a new archaeological site that is possibly suggested as the Bethsaida of the Bible and home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). The question about locating Bethsaida is not only archaeological but also one of topography (e.g. how close to the water was Bethsaida located). It will be exciting to keep an eye on what they find this new season!
So we continued past this site and began our ascent up the Golan Heights. We made a brief stop for an overview of the entire NE corner of the Sea of Galilee. The visibility was absolutely stunning! From here we could see Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley, Tiberias across the lake, the snow-capped Mt. Hermon to the north, and even the Shuff Mountains in Lebanon 50 miles north! We read from Mark 8 (healing of the blind man) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000). It all took place right below us!
Making our final ascent up the Golan Heights, we leveled off and finally came to the plateau. This is where Gamla is located. This was a 1st century city taken by the Romans in 66 AD. From high above the site we saw the synagogue and the city wall and tower. Josephus is the one who tells of the story about Gamla. We read from Acts 5 that mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who may have been from here.
Continuing north on the plateau of the Golan, Katzrin was our next visit. This was a Talmudic Jewish city (4th – 7th century AD). In the reconstructed stone house, we read from Mark 2 about the paralyzed man being healed by Jesus. Sitting in this house made the story come alive! It was probably in a house like this where the healing took place. We celebrated God’s healing grace freely offered to us! Leaving the site we also saw the synagogue.
Located on the border with Syria, the view from Bental, an old military outpost, offers a commanding view of this northern region. Shlomo took the time to share some modern Israeli history related to the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. With the very clear skies could clearly see in all directions! We could see the Hills of Naphtali to the west, villages in Lebanon, and the Syrian city of Kuneitra from here. To gain such a close view of Mt. Hermon was incredible! It was special to hear how much medical care and aid the Israelis offer to Syrians refugees too!
Driving down off the heights of the Golan we made a brief stop at the Saar water falls before arriving at Caesarea Philippi. This was a very pagan city during the time of Jesus. It was in this region that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16). Climbing up to the grotto of the city we saw where the Temple of Augustus once stood as well as some of the shrines dedicated to Pan, Nemesis, and Jupiter. One of the tributaries of the Jordan River, the Banias spring, is located here. We also read about Jesus’ Transfiguration from Matthew 17.
Our last site of the day was Dan. Walking through the beautiful nature preserve led us to the archaeological site. We stopped by the quiet waters to hear Shlomo play as well as read (and sing) from Psalm 42. On the steps of the high place of Dan we read from Judges 18 (about the Danites capturing the city and renaming the city from Laish to Dan), and 1 Kings 12 (about Jeroboam building a false worship center here). Leaving the site, we saw a Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate as well as the Iron Age/Israelite city with its high walls and double gate.
Driving back through the Huleh Valley (and past Hazor, a large OT site taken by Joshua… see Joshua 11), we arrived back at the hotel for dinner and another gathering down by the water’s edge.