DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28:
What a great new day here in Israel. We were greeted by some sun and clouds over the Med Sea, with temps in the 60s. Highs would be in the 70s today.
Following a great breakfast, we loaded the bus and headed to our first site, Gezer. It is the first of five Old Testament cities we would see today here in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Located in the Ajalon Valley, Gezer is mentioned 14 times in Scripture. We learned of the city’s geographical importance, guarding the natural route from the south to the north. Solomon fortified the city here (1 Kings 9). We also read from Ecclesiastes 3 about the “seasons” (matching quite closely the Gezer Calendar that was found here. On the site, we saw the Canaanite wall and tower complex the water system, and an Israelite/Iron Age gate build by Solomon, and messabot (“standing stones”) probably used for cultic purposes.
Next in the Sorek Valley, we made a brief stop to Beth Shemesh. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was returned from the Philistines. We read from 1 Samuel 6, complete with “sound effects” (e.g. “mooing” like cows). Besides some archaeological structures dating to this time period, we also descended into a cistern used in ancient days to contain water.
Continuing south in these “lowlands” of Judah is the Elah Valley. We visited a fairly new archaeological site, Kh. Qeiyafa, another site not visited by any groups. We stood in the Israelite/Iron Age “chambered gate” (the city had to of them actually) while we read from 1 Samuel 17. It was in the Elah Valley below where David fought Goliath, the Philistine giant from Gath. From here we cold also see Tel Azekah. Gath was located only a few miles west of Azekah.
Continuing south, we enjoyed lunch at Beit Guvrin. Following our introduction to the “Israeli sandwich” (called a falafel), we visited the Roman ruins and the amphitheater here (one of only two in Israel). From here we visited the Maresha Caves (in the Beit Guvrin Valley). Of the hundreds of caves carved here by ancient Roman quarrying, we entered two of them, the columbarium (for raising pigeons), and the bell cave. We read from Micah 1 & 5 (Micah as from Maresha), listened to Shlomo play a song for us on his recorder, and sang a few songs together. The acoustics were amazing. We also saw a young Jewish couple taking their wedding pictures here.
Our last site of the day is Lachish (in the Valley of Lachish), a city that was attacked by the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36) and later conquered by the Babylonians. We heard about the famous “Lachish Letters” and ”letter #4,” specifically telling us that Lachish and Azekah were the two lasting-standing Judean cities (Jeremiah 34:7). We also climbed the tel to see the place probably built by King Rehoboam (2 Chr. 11), and the city wall & gate structure.
We end the day by driving south to Beersheba located in the Negev. We enjoyed dinner and a meeting afterwards. Before retiring for the night, some enjoyed a walk around this city of 200,00 people.
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29: BEERSHEBA, SDE BOKER, WILDERNESS OF ZIN, ARAD, JUDEAN DESERT
(Regions to be visited (Negev, Wilderness of Zin, Judean Desert)