February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 5

DAY 5 – TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: MT. OF BEATITUDES, BEIT SHEAN, JERICHO, DEAD SEA

Today we left the Sea of Galilee area and drove south. Our final destination today on a day that started with steady rain through the first part of the morning was the Dead Sea. The weather improved as by late morning, with sun and clouds and highs in the 70s.

Mt. of Beatitudes

Mt. of Beatitudes

The Mt. of Beatitudes on a rainy morning

Leaving our hotel shortly after 7:30 again, we first drove to the Mt. Of Beatitudes. This was one location where Jesus delivered His sermon on the kingdom principles (this sermon would be His “go-to” message, and He shared it in other places too, see Luke 6:17-49). Overlooking a natural amphitheater and huddling together under umbrellas, we heard part of Matthew 5 in Hebrew and then in English. We enjoyed a time of reflection, song, and prayer. The words of Jesus came alive here in this place!

Kinneret Cemetery

Rachel Bluwstein

The grave of Rachel Bluwstein at the Kinneret Cemetery

Driving south to the end of the Sea of Galilee, we made a brief “extra” stop at the Kinneret Cemetery. Here Shlomo shared with us about kibbutz life in Israel. We also heard of the story of a Russian/Ukrainian Jew named Rachel Bluwstein. She was an early Jewish pioneer in the land. She is famous for her poems. She died in 1931. Her face is now on the new Israeli 20 shekel bill!

Beth Shean

Beth Shean

The Roman city of Beth Shean

Continuing south through the Jordan Valley, we arrived at Beth Shean. By the time we started our tour of this site, the rain stopped and the sun came out! Beth Shean was one of Israel’s most extensive archaeological site. It was on the ancient walls of the Old Testament city where King Saul’ body was hung after his death on Mt Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). Beth Shean was also a very large Roman city as well, peaking from the 2nd-5th century AD. We walked on the colonnaded stone pavements/streets, saw Roman bathhouses and many mosaics as well as the agora (market place), public latrenes, and the massive theater. Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT tel for a great view of the Roman city below. Following seeing the site, we had lunch near by.

Jericho

Jericho walls

The Late Bronze retaining walls of Jericho

From here we drove a little over an hour south down the Jordan Valley. At the northern end of the Dead Sea is the city of Jericho. This was our last stop of the day. Jericho was the first city taken in Joshua’s Conquest (Joshua 6). We saw the retaining/revetment walls of the city on top of which was a mud-brick wall. It was the later that came tumblin’ down when the shofars (trumpets) were blown (David actually blew a small shofar when we read the story! Just a couple of miles to the south was New Testament Jericho. It served as Herod’s winter palace. It was here where Zacheaus (Luke 19) and Bartemaeus lived (Mark 10). It was also here where Herod the Great died in 4 BC.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea and Moab

The Dead Sea and mountains of Moab (in Jordan)

Driving south along the Dead Sea, we enjoyed spectacular visibility. The mountains of Moab (in Jordan) and clouds in the sky were so colorful as the sun began to set. After we arrived at our hotel in Zin Bokek, we changed into our swim suits for a unique float in the Dead Sea. Again the backdrop of the Jordanian mountains was amazing! Following a good hot shower, we enjoyed dinner together and a free evening.

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

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February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 4

DAY 4 – MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12: ARBEL, CAPERNAUM, CHORAZIM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, MAGDALA

Today was all about Jesus, with a focus on the “where and what” He taught and “how” He shared His kingdom message. The weather was actually very comfortable. While we had some showers in the early morning, we actually had breaks of sun and clouds the rest of the day, with highs in the 60s.

Mt. Arbel

Sea of Galilee from Arbel

The view of the Sea of Galilee from on top of Arbel

Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, we drove to the trailhead (in the Valley of the Doves) for the path that leads to the top of Mt. Arbel. Seven in the group decided to climb this peak (about an 800 foot ascent taking about 80 minutes) while the majority in the group drove to the visitor center on the back side, and walking about 300 yards to the top. The view from the top was breath-taking, enabling us to see the entire NW corner of the Sea of Galilee below. This was primarily where Jesus served!

Magdala

Magdala synagogue

The 1st century synagogue at Magdala

Driving back down through Tiberias, we arrived at Magdala. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue. While not specifically mentioned in the Gospels, it is highly probable that Jesus taught here! Among the other ruins we saw the marketplace, miqveh (ritual baths), and the harbor area. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the newly-built chapel on the grounds. The acoustics were very good.

Chorazim

Chorazim synagogue

The 3rd century AD synagogue at Chorazim

Following a “fish lunch” in the area, we drove to Chorazim. This was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus because of their unbelief and lack of repentence (the other two were Bethsaida and Capernaum). Located on a hillside on this NW corner of the lake and about a few miles away from the water’s edge, we saw the 3rd century synagogue. We read from Matthew 23 about the Moses’ Seat (one was found here in earlier excavations) and about Jesus condemnation of the Pharisee’s hypocrisy.

Capernaum

synagogue Capernaum

The 5th century synagogue at Capernaum

Driving back down to the shoreline of the lake, we visited Capernaum. This city served as the home-base for Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue (built overtop the 1st century one), we read from Mark 1,2, and 9; Luke 7 and 8; and John 6. Jesus taught here and performed many miracles of healing here. Besides seeing some of the 1st century ruins, we spent some reflective time down on the shoreline. It was most likely here where Jesus called at least five of His disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew – see Mt. 4) Each of us also picked up a smooth stone (for painting after dinner).

Boat Ride

Sea of Galilee boat ride

Mt. of Beatitudes from our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

We ended the day with a boat ride on the lake. After seeing the small 1st century boat found here in 1986, we “sailed” to the northern end of the lake. On the way we read from Matthew 14; Mark 4, 5, and 8; and John 6. The two storm narratives were particularly meaningful as we sailing on the water ourselves. We also enjoyed a time of worship, reflection, and journaling.

We returned to your hotel for dinner and a gathering. We painted the rocks we collected from Capernaum. It was a great day of focusing on the life and ministry of “Rabbi Jesus!”

DAY 5 – TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: MT. OF BEATITUDES, BEIT SHEAN, JERICHO, DEAD SEA

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February 2018 Israel Tour Summary/Update – Day 3

DAY 3 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11: CAESAREA, CARMEL, MEGIDDO, PRECIPICE OF NAZARETH, TIBERIAS 

Today was our first full day here in Israel. While the visualities due to hazy skies was very limited today, the temperatures were mild, with highs in the low-mid 70s.

Caesarea

Caesarea Theater

Sitting in the theater at Caesarea

Leaving the hotel around 7:45, we drove north in the Coastal Plains to Caesarea. This was a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. Located on the Med Sea shoreline, we saw some of ruins left from Herod’s day. This included the theater (most reconstructed), the palace, the hippodrome, the Temple of Augustus, and the harbor. We also saw many mosaics from the Late Roman Period. In the theater made these biblical connections: Acts 9-10 (Peter and Cornelius), Acts 12 (Herod Agrippa), Acts 21 (Philip) and Acts 26 (Paul). Paul would sail into (after his mission journeys) and out of the harbor here (to Rome). We also the Crusader part of the city, and the aqueduct (built by Herod) that brought fresh water into the city.

Mt. Carmel

Megiddo water system

The water system at Megiddo

Driving northeast, we ascended to the top of the Carmel Range. At a place established by the Carmelite sect of the Catholic Church called Muhraqa (“burnt offering”), we read from 1 Kings 18. Here, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah. We also read from Isaiah 35 and Song of Songs 7 that refer to this mountain range. While the view from the roof of the chapel was very limited by the hazy sky, we recalled the many stories that took place in the Jezreel Valley below (Deborah & Barak defeating Sisera on Mt. Tabor – Judges 4-5; Gideon defeating the Midianites on the Hill or More – Judges 6-7; Saul and his 3 sons dying on Mt. Gilboa – 1 Samuel 31; and the Nazareth Ridge where Jesus grew up).  We enjoyed lunch at a near by Druze restaurant.

Megiddo

Megiddo water system

The water system at Megiddo

Driving down to the Jezreel Valley, our next stop after lunch was Megiddo. This is a 35 acre archaeological site that spans about 2,500 years with over two dozen levels of occupation.  Megiddo was a strategically-located city that guarded the entrance into the Jezreel Valley from the south. It was a city taken by Thutmose III (Egyptian pharaoh in the 15th century BC) and later on also by Joshua (Joshua 12). Still later, Solomon re-fortified the city (1 Kings 9). Climbing the site we saw three gate structures, stables, and the Canaanite altar area. Overlooking the valley (e.g. Armageddon),we also read from Rev. 16. We celebrated that in the end times, God as the final word! 

Precipice of Nazareth

Precipice of Nazareth

Reflection time on the precipice of Nazareth

Driving across the Jezreel Valley, our last stop was the precipice of Nazareth. From here we could at least see the Hill or Moreh and Mt. Tabor.  We read from Luke 4 (Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue) and John 1. We were invited to come and see Jesus anew! We also enjoyed a time of journalling and reflection in this quiet place.

From here we drove through the outskirts of Nazareth and through Cana to get to our hotel on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. After checking in, we enjoyed dinner followed by a gathering down by the water’s age.

DAY 4 – MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12: ARBEL, CAPERNAUM, CHORAZIM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, MAGDALA

 

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Day 7 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 7 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 20: YARDENIT/JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, MAGDALA, CHORIZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE

Today was our first day here in the north. We were greeted by sun and comfortable temperatures. The high would be about 65. Some in the group enjoyed getting up early for the sunrise on the Sea of Galilee!

“Rachel”

Rachel the Poet

The grave of Rachel the Poet at the Kinneret Cemetery in the Galilee

Following breakfast and a later departure this morning (8 a.m.), we drove through Tiberias towards the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. On the way we read from Matthew 4 about Jesus calling His first disciples. We stopped at the Kinneret CemeterySome of the first Jewish immigrants to Israel in the early 20th century are buried here. It was established in 1911. This included a Ukrainian poetess known simply as Rachel. She was born in 1890. Many Israelis visit her grave our of respect for the poetry she wrote. She died in 1931. Just recently, her picture was put on the new 20 shekel Israeli currency bill.

Yardenit

Yardenit

Baptism at Yardenit (Jordan River )

Just south of the cemetery is where the water leaves the Sea of Galilee and forms the lower Jordan River. Here there is a place called Yardenit. Nine re-dedicated themselves through baptism. One also was baptized for the first time. Yes, the water was cold but hearts were warmed by this special time

Hamat Tiberias

Hamat Tiberias synagogue

Hamat Tiberias mosaic floor of synagogue

Driving back north towards Tiberias, we made an extra stop at Hamat TiberiasHere we saw a 4th century synagogue. The mosaic floor of the synagogue was quite impressive to see. Like at many other synagogues, these Jewish synagogues used various Jewish symbols (e.g. menorah). But even pagan symbols (e.g. zodiac) were also used, serving as decorations.

Magdala

Magdala

The 1st century synagogue at Magdala

Our next stop was Magdala. Located north of Tiberias, Magdala is a “one-level” archaeological site. It was the home of the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels. Here we visited the 1st century synagogue, one of only seven others that date to this 2nd Temple period. Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible, this city must have been where Jesus visited and taught. The synagogue is small and modest, holding only 50-60 people. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the new retreat chapel built here a few years ago. The acoustics were amazing! The wall reliefs were special too, especially the one of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mark 5).

Chorazin

synagogue at Chorazin

Chorazin synagogue

Following a traditional “fish lunch” we drove to ChorazinLocated on a hill off the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, we saw the basaltic ruins of the 3rd century AD city. It was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11). We read from Matthew 23 from inside the synagogue. A Moses’ Seat was found here. Among the other ruins we saw a miqveh (ritual bath) and other house structures.

Capernaum

synagogue at Capernaum

Sitting on the benches of the Capernaum synagogue

Located nearby but down on the water’s edge is Capernaum (Kfar Nahum – the village of Nahum). Visiting this place mentioned so many times in the Bible was very special given that Jesus made Capernaum the “home-base” of his Galilean ministry. This was where Jesus also called His first disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew/Levi the port tax collector). Inside the 4-5th century synagogue we read the stories that took place here (Mark 1,2, 5, 9; Luke 7; and John 6). Among the other ruins we saw included the 1st century house structures and a 5th AD century octagonal church. We also spent some reflection time down on the water’s edge.

Boat Ride

Sunset Sea of Galilee

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee

We ended the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection out towards the middle of the lake. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives. It is precious to know that Jesus cares for us too when we encounter the unexpected storms of life. The sunset was spectacular!

We walked back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. What a great day retracing the footsteps of Jesus!

DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 21: GAMLA, KATZRIN, BENTAL, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN

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Day 6 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour

DAY 6 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: WADI QELT, SHILOH, BETH SHEAN, GALILEE

Once again, we left the hotel shortly after 7:30 following breakfast and check-out. We woke up to no power in the hotel due to the unique storm in this Jericho area last night at 4 am. Today would be a day of driving through the Judean Desert, the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria, the Jordan River Valley, and finally to the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. The weather was rainy at times throughout the day, especially the further north we went, with temps very cool/cold in the 40s – 50s.

Judean Desert- Wadi Helt & Desert of Pareth

Judean Desert

Judean Desert looking west to Jerusalem

Our first stop was Wadi Qelt and the heart of the Judean Desert. The view of this “wilderness” was spectacular even though we were there with wind and rain. We heard the words of Isaiah 40. It was here where this OT prophet “prepared the way” for the coming of God’s promise and redemption! About 700 years later, John the Baptist proclaimed the same words as he prepared the way for the Lord’s coming! From here we uniquely drove through another area of the Judean Desert referred by Jeremiah as the Desert of Pareth (Jeremiah 13). This wadi (dry river bed) was gushing with water! As we drove we stopped for very nice panaramic views of this unique region as well as for the dozen or so gazelles we saw along the way. We also drove through the area of Michmash, the location where Jonathan defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 13).

Shiloh

Shiloh and Tabernacle

Shiloh and the location where the Tabernacle once stood for 369 years!

Driving north of Jerusalem we past by Bethel where Abraham built an altar (Genesis 12, 28). It was around here where it started sleeting! Arriving at Shiloh, we walked through the rain climbed the tel and enjoyed a vey good presentation of the stories that took place here. Samuel was called by God here (1 Samuel 3). The Tabernacle, which stood here for 369 years, was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). We saw a few of the ruins from ancient Shiloh as well as the area where the Tabernacle most likely stood! During a wonderful break of sun, we paused to pray in celebration of the holiness of this area and God’s call upon our lives!

Beth Shean

Sheep and shepherd

A shepherd and his sheep in the Samaritan Hill Country

Our last stop of the day was a massive archaeological city located on the edge of the Jordan Valley called Beth Shean. On the way, we stopped to see huge flocks of sheep and goats along the road. The rain and flooded wadis in this generally dry area of the Samaritan Desert was exciting to see. We explored much of the Roman city here. The excavation of Beth Shean is the largest in Israel.

Beth Shean

Beth Shean – Roman city

We saw the bathouse, Roman street, many stone pillars, the theater and even the public latrines. A number in the group climbed the OT tel where Saul’s body was hung (on the walls, 1 Samuel 31).

Sea of Galilee

Driving north to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and then around the western side of this fresh-water lake, we arrived at Nof Ginnosar, our kibbutz-hotel for the next four nights. Along the way we enjoyed a rainbow over the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Following check-in, some relaxing time, and dinner, we enjoyed a time of gathering down on the water’s edge.

We are looking forward to spending three full days here in the north!

DAY 7 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 20: JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, TIBERIAS, MAGDALA, CHORIZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE

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Oct-Nov 2017 Egypt-Jordan-Israel Tour Update – Day 10

DAY 10: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7:

Today was a day spent all around (and on) the Sea of Galilee. The brilliant sun provided warm temps in the 70s. We have been blessed with wonderful weather so far!

Mt. Arbel

Mt. Arbel

The Sea of Galilee from the hike up Mt. Arbel

Leaving the hotel again around 7:30 (and reading Mt. 6 as we departed), our first destination was only 5 minutes away – the trailhead of Mt. Arbel. About 15 in the group enjoyed a hike up this cliff – an ascent of about 800 feet. The rest in the group bussed around to the other side and walked about 300 yards to the top. The view from on top was spectacular! We could look down and see much of the region of the Sea of Galilee, including the Mt. of Beatitudes and Capernaum on the NW corner of the lake.

Jordan River Baptism

Driving south to Yardenit, we enjoyed an optional renewal of our baptism in the Jordan River. Fourteen in the group entered the waters of the Jordan for this special time of reaffirming our faith in being followers of Christ. Pastors John and Phil officiated. We had the entire place to ourselves.

Magdala

Magdala synagogue

The 1st century Magdala synagogue

Driving back north through Tiberias (a city Jesus would not have entered), we entered the archaeological site of Magdala. This was the home of a certain “Mary Magdalene.” Here we saw a 1st century synagogue. No doubt Jesus must have taught from here. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the newly-built prayer chapel. The acoustics were wonderful!

Jesus Boat

After lunch (a nice St. Peter’s fish lunch), we saw the ancient boat (“Jesus Boat”). It was discovered in 1986 by two brothers from the Nof Ginnosar kibbutz. This wooden boat dates to the time of Jesus.

Capernaum

Capernaum

The shoreline of Capernaum near where Jesus called his disciples

Driving to the NW shoreline of the lake, Capernaum (Kefar Nahum, the village of Nahum) was our next stop. This city was located right on the main route through this region, and because of this it served as Jesus’ “home base” for his Galilean ministry. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue, we read from Mark 1, 2 and 9; Luke 7; and John 6 … all stories that took place here. In addition to seeing stone structures (e.g. houses) from Jesus’ day, we enjoyed some reflection time on the shoreline. This was where Jesus most likely called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew, the port-tax collector.

Mt. of Beatitudes

Up on the hillside nearby, we enjoyed listening to portions of the Beatitudes. This was shared by Jesus to probably 1000s of people. This “Sermon on the Mount” is found in Matthew 5-7. We listened to the Beatitudes shared first in Hebrew and then in English. Following a time of reflection once again, some in the group walked down the path to the road below.

Boat Ride

sea of Galilee sunset

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee

We ended the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. As the sun was setting over the cliffs of Arbel, we enjoyed a time of worship, Scripture (Mark 4, Matthew 14), and quietness on the calm waters of the lake. It was a great way to end a great day of focusing on Jesus, the Master.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional gathering down on the lake’s shoreline. We leave this place tomorrow morning.

DAY 11: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8: NAZARETH PRECIPICE, MEGIDDO, MT. CARMEL, CAESAREA, JERUSALEM

 

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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 5

DAY 5 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7:

Sea of Galilee - Kinneret

The Sea of Galilee from the top of Mt. Arbel

Today was a great day of focusing upon the life and ministry of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. The day would be another sunny day, with highs around 90. Leaving shortly after 7:30 and reading the kingdom parable from Matthew 13 on the way, we drove to the trailhead that leads to the top of Mt. Arbel. 15 in the group hiked to the top (about a 800 foot climb), while the rest of the group bused around to the western side and walked up a more gentle path to the top from there. The view of this NW corner of the lake below was wonderful!

From here we drove to the southern end of the lake to the place called Yardenit. It was here where 20 reaffirmed their commitment to be followers of Christ in the waters of the Jordan River. It was a special time for all.

Baptism at Yardenit

Baptism in the Jordan River

We returned to the NW corner of the lake and visited Magdala. This was the home of Mary Magdalene. We walked around the 1st century synagogue discovered just a few years ago. No doubt Jesus would have taught from this modest synagogue. We also enjoy a time of devotion and singing in the newly-built chapel.

After lunch, we visited Chorazim. The ruins at this site date to the 3rd century AD. Standing in the synagogue here, we read from Matthew 23 where it mentions the Moses Seat. One was found here. Chorazim (like Bethsaida and Capernaum) was condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11).

Chorazim synagogue

Synagogue at Chorazim

Driving back to our hotel, we visited the museum that houses the famous 1st century wooden boat discovered here in 1986. It was probably a boat like this that the fishermen used in Jesus’ day. Taking our own boat ride from here, we “sailed” for 45 minutes or so along the coastline. We enjoyed a time of worship together. Reading from Mark 4 and Mathew 14 (the two storm narratives), we paused to consider that when we encounter the unexpected “storms of life,” Jesus cares for us!

We ended the day on the Mt. Of Beatitudes. Reading from Matthew 5 (in Hebrew and in English), we considered the kingdom principles that Jesus shared here. Most in the group walked down the path that leads to the shoreline of the lake. We walked in silence, reflecting upon the words Jesus shared in this area.

The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mt. of Beatitudes

We returned back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. Some went swimming in the lake and the pool. It was another great day here in Israel!

DAY 6 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8: CAPERNAUM, BETH SHEAN, JERICHO, DEAD SEA, JUDEAN WILDERNESS

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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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