February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 8 and 9

DAY 8 – FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16: SOUTHERN WALL EXCAVATIONS, CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB

Today is our last full day here in Jerusalem. The weather was perfect, with sun and highs in the mid 60s. We would encounter the best of both OT and NT Jerusalem!

Southern wall Excavations

Massive Herodian stones

Some of the massive stones of the Temple (Mark 13)

Leaving again shortly after 7:30, our first destination was the southern wall excavations. The Temple of Herod began in 20 BC and according to John 2, 46 years were already invested in this massive building project. Here we saw massive Herodian stones, some weighing hundreds of tons! We also saw the Herodian street. Jesus would have walked on this stone pavement! At the southern end, we ascended the steps that would have led into the Temple. We read from many passages that placed Jesus and others using these steps (e.g. Luke 2, Mark 13, Luke 18, Acts 2, etc…) While sitting on these steps we took some time to reflect about the specialness of this place and the life and ministry of Jesus here!

City of David – David’s Palace, Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Siloam Pool, Drainage Channel

Hezekiah's tunnel

Inside Hezekiah’s Tunnel at the “meeting point”

Walking south out of the Dung Gate, we entered the excavations of the City of David. After seeing a 3-D movie, we began to explore the area. This was where David built a palace after he conquered the city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). Walking down through Warren’s Shaft (a series of tunnels and a 52 foot shaft), we made out way down to the Gihon Spring. This spring served as the water source for the city since its beginning. Over half in the group walked through the “wet” Hezekiah’s Tunnel while the others walked through the “dry” earlier Canaanite tunnel. Both were great experiences!!

Siloam pool steps

The very stone steps of the Siloam Pool (John 9)

Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read the story of the blind man healed by Jesus (John 9) in “dramatic fashion.” From here, some walked back up to the southern excavations through the drainage channel discovered just a few years ago. Others bussed to the Zion’s Gate and walked to the Jewish Quarter.

“Moshe” & the Jewish Quarter

About noon we enjoyed a conversation with Moshe in the Jewish Quarter. He talked about his Jewish faith in the context of our Christian faith. He and his brother own a store called Shorashim. Following lunch on our own, we enjoyed a few hours of free time (for shopping, exploring, and people-watching).

Garden Tomb

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

Our last visit was to the Garden Tomb. This location serves as an alternative site for Christ’s crucifixion and burial. While we worship the person and not the place, what is important is that “He is Risen!” We enjoyed a time of worship & Communion here. We ended the service with an “A-men” and three Swedish “horah’s!” 🙂

We drove back to the hotel for dinner and free evening. It was a great last day here in Jerusalem!

DAY 9 – SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17: FLIGHT HOME

The plans are to drive to the airport for our late morning flight to Toronto and then back home. Keep us in your prayers as we fly home!

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February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 7

DAY 7 – THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, OLD CITY, ISRAEL MUSEUM, BETHLEHEM

Today was our first day in Jerusalem. We were greeted with sun and cooler temps. But we would later enjoy a perfect day with highs in the low 60s.

Mt. of Olives

Mt. of Olives

Standing on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem

Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, we drove around the western and northern side of the Old City to the Mt. of Olives. This is the mountain range east of the Old City and Temple Mount. The Kidron Valley separates the mountain with the Temple Mount. The view from here was fantastic!

Dominus Flavet & Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

From the top we walked down the steep pathway down the western slope of the Mt. of Olives. We made a brief stop at the Dominus Flavet chapel. Here were read from Luke 19 about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem as well as how we wept over this city. Seeing the Eastern/Mercy Gate, we also read from Ezekiel 44 about how one day this gate will be opened. We also recalled the words from Zechariah 14 about the Mt. of Olives splitting into two when Christ returns, with water flowing to the Dead Sea.

A little further down the slope of the Mt. of Olives is the Garden of Gethsamane. From a private garden arranged by a Franciscan Brother Diego read from Luke 22 about Jesus’ prayer – “not my will but yours be done” – and later betrayal here by Judas. We took some time for reflection and journaling. It was a special time!

Old City – Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulcher Church

Edicule Holy Sepulcher

The “edicule” of the Holy Sepulcher church. This covers the traditional tomb of Christ.

Walking into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s & Jericho Gate), we stopped at the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church. We read from John 5 about the healing of the paralytic here. We also enjoyed singing in this Crusader church. We sounded heavenly with the 8 second echo. Walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross), we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is one of two locations for the death and burial/resurrection of Jesus. We ate lunch in the Christian Quarter (pizza!)

Israel Museum

1:50 scale model of Jerusalem

The 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem

Walking out of the Jaffa Gate, we drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw three things: 1). 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it looked like in 70 AD prior to its destruction. It was helpful to “connect the dots” between the ministry of Jesus and the different locations around the city where Jesus served. 2). The Shrine of the Book. Here we saw a few samples of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. 3). The highlights in the archaeological wing of the museum. We saw many special artifacts connecting us to the Bible (e.g. the Dan & Pilate Inscriptions, Herod’s coffin, ossuaries, the Moses’ Seat, etc…)

Bethlehem – Shepherds’ Fields & Olive Wood Store

Pilate inscription

The Pilate Inscription

Our last two stops of the day were south of Jerusalem. First, we walked into a cave at the Shepherds’ Fields. Located actually in Beit Sahour, we enjoyed a time of considering the role of the shepherds in the birth narrative of Jesus. We read from Luke 2 and considered that it was “just at the right time that God sent His Son (Gal. 4:4).” We also sang a few carols both in the cave as well as in the Shepherds’ Chapel. We ended the day by stopping briefly at an olive wood store in Bethlehem.

Driving back to the hotel, we enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional walk to Ben Yehuda street for some coffee shops and shopping.

DAY 8 – FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16: SOUTHERN WALL EXCAVATIONS, CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB

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February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 6

DAY 6 – WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14: MASADA, EIN GEDI, QUMRAN, JUDEAN DESERT

Today was spent along the west coast of the Dead Sea and in the Judean Desert. It would be a perfectly sunny and warmer day, with highs in the 70s. We read from Psalm 18 as we left the hotel, claiming God as our metzada (“fortress”) and strength.

Masada

Masada

Masada, a palace-fortress of Herod the Great and place of refuge for Jews after 70 AD

Leaving shortly after 8 this morning, we drove north along the Dead Sea to Masada. This was one of Herod the Great’s palace-fortress (actually the first one built). Taking the cable car to the top of this 1,000 foot-high stand-alone mountain, we saw ruins from the 1st century. This included the palaces of Herod, the case-mate wall, the Roman ramp, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. Shlomo shared passionately about the remarkable story of this place, with 967 Jews using this site as a place of refuge against the Romans after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Most in the group took the cable car back down while others hiked the Snake Path to the bottom.

Engedi

Engedi

The spring/oasis of Engedi

Driving about 15 minutes north, our next stop was at the oasis of Engedi. This was where David hid from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). We also remembered the story of 2 Chronicles 20 that happened here as well as the romantic language of Song of Songs 1. Hiking back to some of the water falls, we took some time for reflecting and journaling.

Qumran

Qumran

Qumran and the Dead Sea

Continuing north, we visited Qumran. This was where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. During the lunch hour, many in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first scrolls were found (this included the famous Isaiah Scroll). We also then visited the small ruins of Qumran, see many ritual baths (miqvot), the scriptorium, and Cave 4. We read from “Psalm 151,” an extra psalm found here humbly written by David. We also read from Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3. Before we left, we could also see the new cave (Cave 12) that is currently being excavated further.

Judean Desert/Wadi Qelt

Wadi Qelt

Wadi Qelt – Judean Desert

Driving now west and ascending almost 4,000 feet in elevation to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the beautiful Wadi Qelt. It is actually part of the Judean Desert. Here we heard the powerful words of Isaiah 40 proclaimed by this 7th century BC prophet of God. John the Baptist would echo the same words as he “prepared the way for the Lord” (e.g. Jesus) as well! The beauty of the desert in the winter was breath-taking!

The Western Wall

The Western Wall in Jerusalem

Continuing our drive to Israel’s capital, we checked into our hotel and enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner, most in the group walked to the Western Wall, the most holy place for Jews today! This wall served as a retaining wall for Herod’s Temple, a project he began in 20 BC. It is good to be in Jerusalem!

DAY 7 – THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, VIA DOLOROSA, ISRAEL MUSEUM, BETHLEHEM

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Day 13 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 13 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 26: CITY OF DAVID, SOUTHERN EXCAVATIONS, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB

Today was our last day in Jerusalem and the last day of this trip. While it was once again cold, at least the predicted rain didn’t come until we finished the day! What a blessing!

City of David

Hezekiah's Tunnel, City of David

Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long, chiseled from bedrock between 705-701 BC).

After breakfast, check-out, and loading the bus in preparation for tonight’s flight home, we drove to the City of David. This small 11 acre piece of land was first taken by David (2 Samuel 5).

We would spend over 2 hours here seeing the excavations. We saw David’s palace, Jebusite and Israelite fortification walls and houses. Further down the slope we walked through Warren’s Shaft. This series of tunnels leads to the massive tower that protected the source of water for the city, the Gihon Spring. Solomon was made king here (1 Kings 1). It was also here where a number in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long that still flow with water, see 2 Kings 19-20 and 2 Chronicles 32) while others walked through the dry Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Siloam Pool where we read from John 9 in “dramatic” fashion!

Southern Excavations

Temple Steps

The steps of the Temple in Jerusalem

After we all loaded the bus, a number in the group were dropped off at the new Gavati excavations where we walked to the SW corner of the Temple further north through the northern end of the drainage channel just recently discovered a few years ago. Meeting at the SW corner of the Temple (Robinson’s Arch), we saw massive stones lying on the Herodian street. This was a stone street for sure used by Jesus! On the southern steps of the Temple we remembered passages like Luke 2 and 18, Mark 13, and Acts 2 (among others). Jesus would have used these steps many times.

Walking up to the Jewish Quarter for lunch and a few hours of free time, we enjoyed shopping and exploring on our own. Some went to Oscar Schindler’s grave on Mt. Zion. Some also climbed the 178 steps up the tower of the Lutheran Church in the heart of the Christian Quarter. What a view from there!

Garden Tomb

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Our last experience of the tour was to visit the Garden Tomb. This is another possible location for the crucifixion and burial tomb of Jesus. Here we enjoyed a brief time of worship & Communion. It was a special time together!

Flight Home

As we said goodbye to Jerusalem, we drove west through heavy rain (it held off until now) to Abu Gosh for our Farewell Dinner. The meal was excellent (lamb chops!) and we enjoyed a time of reviewing the trip and sharing stories! Continuing driving west, we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport for our night-flight home.

At present… we are through the ticketing and passport procedures and are waiting at the gate for our non-stop flight back to Newark and then to our respective states.

DAY 14 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 27: ARRIVE BACK IN THE U.S.A.

We plan to arrive back in the States early Saturday morning. Praise be to God for a life-changing experience!

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Day 12 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 12 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 25: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM

Today was a colder day, but with just a little rain (the predicted rain came during the night). We were also glad that those who were not feeling well and stayed back yesterday were able to join us today.

Western Wall Tunnels

Western Wall in Jerusalem

The Western Wall in Jerusalem

Leaving just after 7:15 this morning and reading John 2 (a reference to the Temple being built over 46 years) as we left the hotel, we arrived at the Western Wall. Before our walk in the Western Wall Tunnels, we had time to go to the Wall and pray. Many ultra Orthodox were there as well for morning prayers.

The walk through the tunnels was fascinating! Herod’s Temple project (that he began in 20 BC) was an incredible feat! We saw some stones that weighed several hundred tons! We walked the entire distance of this western retaining wall of the Temple.

Jewish Quarter – Cardo, Herodian House, Shorashim

Herodian mansion

The 1st century ruins of the Herodian Mansion in the Jewish Quarter

Exiting the tunnel, we walked to the Jewish Quarter. Here we saw the Cardo (the main north-south street of the city). It dates to the 2nd century AD. We also saw the very impressive 1st century ruins of the Herodian Mansion. This was a massive house destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Close by we met an Orthodox Jew named Moshe. He and his brother (Dov) own a store called Shorashim. Moshe shared about his Jewish faith. We also had the chance to ask him questions. After this interesting conversation, we enjoyed lunch in the Jewish Quarter.

Israel Museum

Dan Inscription

The Dan Inscription (“with reference to the “house of David”)

Walking out of the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw three things: A 1:50 model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book (where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were displayed), and the Archaeological Museum. Here we saw some “highlights” of artifacts found here in Israel related to the Bible.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial & Museum

We ended the day at Israel’s Holocaust Museum & MemorialYad Vashem. We first walked through the Valley of the Communities where Shlomo shared his family story. He lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland. We then walked through the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself. It was quite sobering.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda to experience some more “modern” Israeli life and shopping.

DAY 13 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 26: CITY OF DAVID, SOUTHERN EXCAVATIONS, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB

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Day 11 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 11 –WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24: JERUSALEM, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM

Today was our first full day here in Jerusalem! It would be a colder day, with highs in the upper 40s/low 50s, but we didn’t get the rain that was forecasted. What a blessing!

Mt. of Olives

Mt. of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

Leaving the hotel at about 7:30, we read from Psalm 122 and 125. Driving around the northern side of the Old City, we made it to the top of the Mt. of OlivesWhat a view of the Temple Mount and Old City from here! Walking down the slope of the Mt. of Olives, we stopped briefly at Dominos Flavet, a chapel traditionally connected to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14.

Garden of Gethsemane

Walking all the way down the Mt. of Olives brought us to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. While we can’t specifically pinpoint where this was other than on the western slope of the mountain, this is where Jesus displayed His passion (“Not my will but yours be done“) and was betrayed by Judas. We read from Luke 22 and considered the passion and obedience of Christ even unto death.

Old City – Eastern Gate, Pools of Bethesda, Holy Sepulcher Church

Eastern Gate Jerusalem

Eastern Gate Jerusalem

Next, we walked to the base of the Eastern Gate. It is a massive gate that was closed in 810 AD. Ezekiel 44 mentions that when the Messiah comes, it will be opened. From here we entered the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lion’s) Gate. Our first stop inside the Old City was the Pools of Bethesda. We read from John 5 here. Close by is the start of the Via Dolorosa. We walked to the Church of the Holy SepulcherThis is one of two locations for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We had lunch here in the Christian Quarter.

Herodium

Walking out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we drove southeast about 12 miles to HerodiumThis was where Herod the Great was buried (he reigned from 37-4 BC). We climbed this “artificial mound” to the top. While the view wasn’t great to the east, we could see back to Jerusalem from here to the north, the Judean Desert to the east, Tekoa to the south, and Bethlehem to the west. We walked down through the elaborate cistern system here.

Shepherds’ Fields / Bethlehem

Herodium

Herodium – a palace-fortress of Herod the Great

Driving to the Shepherds’ Fields (in Beit Sahour), we enjoyed descending down into a cave. Here we considered Jesus being born perhaps in a cave like this. We read from Micah 2, 5, and Luke 2. We also sang a few Christmas carols. Before leaving the site, we entered the small chapel and enjoyed the acoustics there too! We sounded like heavenly angels! We ended the day by driving into Bethlehem to an olive wood shop and store.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free night.

DAY 12 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 25: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM

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Day 10 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 10 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 23: NAZARETH, MEGIDDO, MT. CARMEL, CAESAREA, JERUSALEM

This morning we left the Sea of Galilee area. Following breakfast, checkout, and loading, we left shortly after 7:30 this morning. The weather changed from our last three sunny days. Today we had off and on rain and sun the entire day, with high temps in the low 60s. Thankfully at most sites, we avoided the heavier rains. Rain is predicted the rest of the week for Jerusalem.

Precipice of Nazareth

Mt. Tabor

Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley

We drove to the region of the Lower Galilee towards Nazareth. Going through Cana (John 2) and the outskirts of Nazareth (Luke 1), we arrived at the Precipice of Nazareth. Here we enjoyed our first full view of the Jezreel Valley below. On our way to the overview, we saw a number of mandrake plants (Genesis 30, Song of Songs 7). Looking out to the Jezreel Valley, we could envision all of these stories unfolding: We read about Deborah and Barak battling on Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), Gideon fighting the Midianites on the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Saul and his sons dying on Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). We also read from Luke 4 about Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue. We were invited to “come and see” (John 1) Jesus in the light of His Messiahship.

Megiddo

Megiddo

Tel Megiddo

From here we continued through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo (Har Megiddo in Hebrew), which gave its name to Armageddon (Revelation 16). This site has over two dozen archaeological layers spanning a time period of about 2,500 years! After seeing the model of the ancient city, we climbed the site. We saw some of the many ruins here, including three gate structures, storage rooms, a sacrificial altar, and the grain silo. We read from Rev. 16 and celebrated that in the last day, God has the final word! We exited the site by walking down 180+ steps through the water system. The engineering of this system was extraordinary!

Mt. Carmel

Mt. Carmel

The Jezreel Valley from Mt. Carmel

Driving southwest, we climbed Mt. Carmel, a mountain range about 13 miles long that separates the Jezreel Valley with the Sharon Plain. After eating lunch at a Druze restaurant, we arrived at a place called Muhraqah (“burnt offering”) near by. In the chapel we read the OT story about Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).  We also read from Isaiah 35 and Song of Songs 7. We sang a few songs here as well, celebrating the awesomeness of God! Walking to the rooftop of the chapel provided us our third view of the Jezreel Valley below.

Caesarea

theater at Caesarea

The theater at Caesarea

Our last site of the day is located on the shoreline of the Sharon Plain. Caesarea was a city built by King Herod in 22 BC. He was indeed a great builder. Starting in the theater, we read from Acts 10, 12, and 26 (Peter, Herod Antipas, and Paul). Walking north we saw the palace (where Paul was bound?), the hippodrome, many Roman mosaics, and the areas where the Temple of Augustus and Herod’s harbor once stood. We exited the site through a Crusader gate. Before leaving for Jerusalem, we briefly stopped at the aqueduct.

It took about 2.5 hours to drive through the Tel Aviv area and up to the Hill Country of Judah to Jerusalem. Traffic in Jerusalem was backed up because of Vice-President Pence being here today. We arrived at our hotel, checked in, and enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner an optional walk was offered to the Western Wall. 16 went on the walk. To see this most holy site for the Jews today at night was amazing!

We are looking forward to three full days here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel!

DAY 11 –WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24: JERUSALEM, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM

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2,700 Year-old Seal Impression Discovered in Jerusalem

A New Exciting Discovery!

seal impression found in Jerusalem

7th century BC seal impression found in Jerusalem (credit: IAA)

New exciting archaeological discoveries connecting us to the Bible are happening all the time in Israel. It’s exciting!! The latest find took place in Jerusalem. In fact, the discovery was made within 75 yards of the most holy place for Jews today … the Western Wall of the Temple!

Found below the level of today’s Kotel (Western Wall Plaza), a seal impression (also called a docket) bearing the words, “To (or belonging to) the governor of the city.”  This unique seal was actually a stamped piece of clay from the 7th century BC. In their description of this seal, the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) stated, “it measures 13 X 15 mm and is 2–3 mm thick. The upper part of the sealing depicts two figures facing each other, and the lower part holds an inscription in ancient Hebrew script.”

Specifically and in more detail, Professors Tallay Ornan of the Hebrew University, and Benjamin Sass of Tel Aviv University, studied the docket and describe it in this way:

“…Above a double line are two standing men, facing each other in a mirror-like manner. Their heads are depicted as large dots, lacking any details. The hands facing outward are dropped down, and the hands facing inward are raised Each of the figures is wearing a striped, knee-length garment. In the register beneath the double line is an inscription in ancient Hebrew: לשרער, with no spacing between the words and no definite article. It denotes לשר העיר, i.e., “belonging to the governor of the city.” (IAA – You Tube Channel)

Watch the Video

The video produced by the IAA describes the discovery thoroughly. This seal was one of seven others found in this area. Israeli archaeologists share about this incredible discovery dating to about 700 BC:

 

Connection to the Bible

In the Old Testament we have two references to city governors. 2 Kings 23:8 mentions “Joshua, the city governor,” and 2 Chronicles 34:8 mentions “Maaseiah the ruler of the city.” These governors served essentially served as mayors of the city.

The excitement of this discovery also connects us to ancient Jerusalem. Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor today, added his perspective:

It is very overwhelming to receive greetings from First Temple-period Jerusalem. This shows that already 2700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central city. Jerusalem is one of the most ancient capitals of the world, continually populated by the Jewish people for more than 3000 years. Today we have the privilege to encounter another one of the long chain of persons and leaders that built and developed the city. We are grateful to be living in a city with such a magnificent past, and are obligated to ensure its strength for generations to come, as we daily do.”  (IAA – You Tube Channel)

Stay tuned to see what is discovered next in this amazing city of Jerusalem Israel’s ancient and eternal capital!

 

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The Geography of the Christmas Story

Biblical Stories

Nazareth to Bethlehem

Route from Nazareth to Bethlehem

The Bible is filled with stories. They are narratives that don’t take place in a vacuum. For each story of the Bible, there is a cultural context in which it takes place. Many Bible commentators consider the cultural contexts of these stories in order to extract an accurate meaning. There is also an historical-political context to each story. This means paying attention to what took place historically in the region surrounding the events of the story.

“Connecting the Dots”

Additionally, there is also a geographical context to each story. Understanding the geographical surroundings of the story helps the student of the Bible connect the dots between the regions or cities that are part of the narrative. “Connecting the dots” between regions and cities is an integral part of every Israel tour we lead. The Christmas story is one of those narratives where understanding the geographical context sheds light on the amazement of God’s redemptive story.

Nazareth, Israel

The city of Nazareth today

According to the Gospel text, Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. It is located in the Lower Galilee region (today Nazareth is a city of about 80,000 consisting of primarily Arabs who are citizens of Israel). The town of Nazareth was a small city, so insignificant that it is not even mentioned in the Jewish Talmud. The village consisted of perhaps as few as a dozen families. Located just 4-5 miles away was Sepporis, the primary city in the region.  So in this geographical region of Lower Galilee, Nazareth was insignificant in light of Sepporis.  Yet this was where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary (and later an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18f). Isn’t that just like God, to call, use, and inspire common people from common places for His redemptive purpose!

When the Time Came

When the time came, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. The direct distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is about 60 miles. However, most Jews traveling from the Galilee in the north to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the south took the Jordan River Valley route.  Intentionally avoiding the region of Samaria, this would have made the trip about 15 miles longer, for a total of about 75 miles.  This route would have taken the young couple through the eastern branch of the Jezreel Valley and past Bethshean before turing south in the Jordan River Valley. This means the journey to Bethlehem would have taken them a good 5-6 days. In regard to Mary’s condition, how about covering this distance while very pregnant? That’s quite impressive actually! Tradition places Mary riding on a donkey led by Joseph walking on foot. However, there is no reason not to believe that she would have walked most of this herself even in her pregnant condition. It was a difficult trip either way!

The Route

Ascent of Adummim

The Ascent of Adummim. This is the route taken by Jospeh and Mary from Jericho to Jerusalem & Bethlehem (credit: Bible Places)

The route would have continued from Jericho, located just north of the Dead Sea, to Jerusalem. This was the ancient “Jericho Road” that ascended about 4,000 feet in elevation up the Ascent of Adummim (the most difficult section of the route) through the Judean Desert to Judea’s capital city in the Judean Hill Country. Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s final destination, is located about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. While Bethlehem was probably not as small as Nazareth, it, too, was overshadowed by the awe and glory of Jerusalem. Additionally, located just about 4 miles east of Bethlehem was Herodium, one of Herod the Great’s “palace-fortresses.”  While we can’t specifically place this wicked king residing at Herodium at the precise time of the birth of Christ (he was most likely in his palace in Jerusalem though just 5 miles north), this towering fortress represented something “grand and mighty” in comparison to the humble birth of Jesus.

Now enter the “wise men or Magi. Whoever they were, they traveled from the east quite a distance, crossing the desert region. They must have traveled for months before finally first arriving in Jerusalem and staying there for some time before eventually finding the “house” of Joseph and Mary (Matthew 2:11). The geographical distance these Mede / Persian astronomers would have been at least hundreds of miles, up to 500 miles, depending on where they were from.

Real Places with a Real Reason

Jesus light of the worldWhat does knowing a little about the geography of Christmas do for us?  It helps put into context the remarkable ways that God prepared the scene for the coming of His Son. It places the narrative of Christmas in various and unique geographical regions. Some of these regions are hilly (Lower Galilee), flat (Jezreel Valley, Jordan River Valley), and mountainous (Judean Desert, Hill Country of Judah). Most of all, it places the birth narrative of Jesus in real places with a real reason!

Jesus came “just at the right time” (Gal. 4:4) to provide an answer to sin and its consequences. He came to bring light. He came to be the Light in a dark world!

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Oct-Nov 2017 Egypt-Jordan-Israel Tour Update – Day 14

DAY 14: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11:

Today was our last day here in Jerusalem. What a blessing to have a set of fully sunny days these last two weeks! Today’s sun boosted the temps to the low 70s. Perfect once again!

Mt. Of Olives

Jerusalem

The Oct-Nov 2017 Tour Group on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem

We started off at 7:30 p.m. once again. Reading Psalm 137 as we departed the hotel, our first destination was the Mt. of Olives. The view from the top was stunning, enabling us to see the entire Old City of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and beyond!

After a review of things we could see from the top, we began our walk down the western slope of the Mt. of Olives. Our first stop was at a chapel called Dominus Flavet. This area preserves where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Here we read from Luke 19 about the Palm Sunday event as well as Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. The closed Eastern Gate came into view (Ezekiel 44).

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem

A little further down the slope we enjoyed a time of reflection in the Garden of Gethsemane (which means “a place for pressing oil”). In this special garden of the Church of All Nations, we were greeted by Brother Diego. We read from Luke 22, listened to a song, and then spent some intentional time of silent reflection. Jesus took the weight of the sins of the world upon Himself as He poured out His love for us!

Old City

From here we walked into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s/Lion’s/Jericho gate. Right inside the gate we stopped at the Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church (a Crusader church from the 12th century AD). Singing in the church was special with the eight-second echo. We read from John 5 at

Bethesda & St. Anne’s Church

Holy Sepulcher Church

The Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem

From here we walked on the traditional Via Dolorosa (“way of the cross,” although it probably went the complete opposite direction). This took us to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It dates to 325 AD. It preserves the most likely place for both the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. Although it was very crowded, most in the group went inside. Nearby we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter.

Garden Tomb

Our walk after lunch through the Muslim Quarter was, let’s say, quite the adventure. It was jammed packed with people coming and going in both directions. After a few precarious moments of not being able to do anything other than go with the flow of the crowd, we made it out the Damascus Gate and to the Garden Tomb. This location preserves an alternative site for the for the place of crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We really enjoyed a time of not only seeing the suggested tomb, but also a time of worship and Communion.

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

In the late afternoon, some got dropped off at the Jaffa Gate (for some extra exploring and shopping) while others went back to the hotel. Gathering for our “last supper” together, we enjoyed sharing various stories and tour highlights among each other. While the tour came to an end, we will cherish life transformational experiences on this trip.

A number in the group were driven to the Ben Gurion Airport for their night-flight home while the rest of the group fly home early tomorrow morning. Praise be to God for a great and meaningful trip!

DAY 15: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12: ARRIVE IN U.S.A.

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