1 Joffa

Tel Aviv.

Our last nights in Israel were spent at a hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the beach—just our style. The hotel staff were very polite and helpful and directed us to a nice little restaurant with an outside deck where we could people watch and enjoy the cool evening.

We tuned into the news that evening and learned that there had been some shooting in the streets of east Jerusalem that day. We had originally planned on being in Jerusalem at the end of our trip, so we were fortunate our schedule was changed and we were out of the area at that time. This event was a repercussion from a terrible tragedy that occurred earlier during our stay in Israel. These two events would be the match that sparked a recurrence of violence between Hamas and the Israeli government and armed forces. Having met so many citizens of various religions and backgrounds, I have been saddened by the news that so many innocent people are being hurt, both physically and economically. Tourism pays the bills for a lot of people there and I’m sure they aren’t hosting many visitors.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be'er Sheva.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be’er Sheva.

Tel Be’er Sheva

For our last bit of sight-seeing, we drove a couple of hours to the Tel Be’er Sheva which is believed to be the biblical town of Beersheba. That bit of information didn’t tell me anything, but when we discovered this was the place where Abraham lived for a while and the well outside the gates is called Abraham’s well, I became more interested. When we arrived, we checked out a replica of a horned altar, which in biblical times was a square structure with four “horns” on the top of each corner that acted as a sanctuary for anyone running from the law or vengeful parties. If you grasped one of the horns, you were “safe.” You couldn’t be taken or killed or tried as long as you held a horn. In other times, the Jewish Kings set up a system similar to this but they designated entire towns where people could run to and be free from persecution–whether they were guilty or not. An interesting system–sorta, kinda of reminds me of that old movie “Escape from New York.”

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The steps down to the cistern at Be’er Sheva.

We also stopped by the well just outside the gates. An interesting factoid: in ancient times, the wells were located outside the city walls because their traditions hold that anyone who journeys through that land will be given access to water. In that environment, water is life and if the gates were closed at night and travelers came by, they could get water from the well. Not a great system for a defense of a city when under siege, but very hospitable.

We walked among the ruins that have been excavated on this hill overlooking grassy fields. The Tell had multiple layers of civilizations—some were from the Chalcolithic period, which was about 4,000-5,000 years B.C. Some of the walls were from the Roman period. We walked down uneven steep stone steps that ran along a square area (for lack of a better description) holding tight to the railing that led down to the huge cisterns. Again, a sophisticated system of water storage kept these people alive through the hot sun and long droughts.

It made sense that a community sprung up here as it was located at the intersection of two rivers. Through my camera lens I could see camels wandering around some of the fields—like the cows do at home. There are even camel crossing signs along the road.

All in all, a nice last stop to ponder the history of this ancient land.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

Shopping and the Soothing Sea

At this point we were done hiking around archeological sites and were in the mood for a relaxing final afternoon. So, our guide dropped us off at the beginning of the Carmel market and we enjoyed a final Shawarma before hitting the market for our last chance to pick up gifts for some of my favorite little people back home. There were all sorts of products and food sold up and down this street. Just like in Jerusalem, the shops were small little cubby like holes with tables out front. I saw so many products—cell phone covers, backpacks, t-shirts, spices, sweets, jewelry, shoes, tourist gifts, and more. I had to get some shirts for my buddies Cayden and Carter. Wasn’t sure what their sizes were so I just told the man their ages and he did a pretty good job of picking the right shirts.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

Back at the Embassy Hotel (which coincidentally was right next to the American Embassy), my parents took a nap and I headed across the street to a lovely beach. I paid some guy in an official looking t-shirt a few shekels to sit on a lounge chair and just enjoyed the sun and cool breezes. I went into the Mediterranean a few times—the water was so nice—not too cold and the waves were mild enough not to be scary. The crowds were sparse as it was a work day but one woman did come by and wanted me to get some kind of massage. After saying no thanks and her continuing to touch my legs, I had to get a little more firm in my tone, but she left and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing and wonderful day on the Tel Aviv beach before heading back to the hotel.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

For our final dinner, my parents and I found a pizza place on the beach and had wonderful service from very friendly American transplants. We didn’t go looking for an American restaurant, it was coincidence and a nice one at that. On the way back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn how the smut industry in Tel Aviv conducts their marketing. They scatter business cards over the street where people will see them as they walk home. So basically the filth creates even more filth that someone else has to clean up.

Security

The next morning was an early one—which is never fun for me. As our guide was driving us to the airport at five in the morning she gave one more plea to us to tell our friends how safe it is in Israel and how there are no issues between the religious groups. The drive was a bit silent, not just due to the hour but we were all wondering if she had her head in the sand the last two days and didn’t notice TV reports of gunfire happening in the streets of Jerusalem and the tragic deaths of several boys on both sides.

I found it interesting that as fast and easy as it was to enter the country, it was a long, multi-layered process to leave the country. You would think it would be the other way around. Israel is known for its expertise in security (go figure). First was the very long line to get through the first part of the airport. This was just to check passports and have a quick (in our case) or long (for the single men and a few young couples) conversation with some guards. Next a quick stop at the airline counter, then on to what we would consider security in the U.S. They manage to do all this without making us take off our shoes. Hmmmm.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

Final Thoughts

It was wonderful to see ancient biblical sights and rediscover the stories of the bible in the context of where they happened. There were beautiful places with grass and flowers and hills, and other places in the sandy wilderness where the ancient people learned how to survive without electricity and cell phones.

Going with a private tour guide had its pros and cons. We could map out our own itinerary (except we weren’t able to go to a couple of places because our Jewish guide was not allowed in the Palestinian towns). We were able to go at our own pace and change our mind as we went according to our moods and didn’t have to wait on others. But, if you’re going this route, make sure to have multiple conversations with multiple guides to make sure you are a good fit for each other as you will be spending a lot of time with this person. Our guide had some good points and some not so good points and at times we were annoyed with her, but all in all we tend to be grateful for our blessings, and when we travel we want to keep it positive and look to make it a great experience.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

We learned quite a bit about history, archeology, the culture, and even some modern day politics from a number of guides, movies, books, and more. If you’re a Christian and want to have a spiritual experience along with a vacation, I would recommend going with a church group led by someone you’ll have a lot of fun with who knows what they are talking about.

We had a great time and as usual are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the wonders of our world.

Genesis 26: 3-4

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

Revelation 21:1-3 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

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The land is barren and yet sometimes filled with Date Trees and other life sustaining elements.

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McDrive.

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The roofs are covered by water tanks. One of the ways people of the desert use resources to survive and thrive.

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Not just ancient stones and churches inhabit Israel. They also have interesting modern structures.

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A random scene of life in Tel Aviv. Old friends chat, others eat lunch and shop.

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A view of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

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Goodbye Israel. A view of the coast from the plane.

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The land of Jesus. Carvings on the ship altar in the church of Magdala.

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So many gorgeous stain-glassed windows. This one in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

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Another beautiful scene adorning the Church of Transfiguration.

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Roman pillars at Caesarea.

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A Roman aqueduct near Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

A section of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.

A section of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.

Our journey through the Holy Land was coming close to the end. We reluctantly left the Sea of Galilee and made our way west back toward the Mediterranean coast. It was fun to see random ruins along the side of the road. Our guide explained that in ancient times, inns dotted the roadway and were spread apart within a day of walking so travelers always had places to stay.

We drove through the Jezreel Valley, the area where Elijah worked and lived. It was in this region he met a widow and her son who were about to starve to death but fed him anyway and in return God took care of them. The drive through the country didn’t take long—it’s a pretty small country, so in no time we were on the coast at the port town of Haifa.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens.

Baha’i Gardens

A friend of mine whose family lives in east Jerusalem and who visits her family each year, gave me some invaluable advice on what to do and see while in the Holy Land. I was very grateful for her suggestions, especially the recommendation to visit the Baha’i Gardens. We parked on the street and walked up to the entrance, all along getting a spectacular view of the steep hill filled with gorgeous trees, greenery, flowers, and a waterfall.

Our guide once again tried to dissuade us of going there but I ignored her and walked up to the entrance and into the gardens. I climbed up the first level easy enough and although the top portion was locked, I was able to see the garden up close. I grew up only two miles from one of the best botanical gardens in the country, Longwood Gardens, and have had the joy of seeing some beautiful artistry. But even with that comparison, I was very impressed by the clean lines of trees and flowers and the symmetry that went on and on up the hill to the temple at the top. The Baha’i religion is fairly new and I don’t know much about it, but they sure do have a wonderful garden in Haifa overlooking the port and the sea beyond.IMG_1594

From the gardens we drove to our lunch destination at a wine and chocolate shop. This was a happy place for me. We had a yummy pizza for lunch and I got to sample all four of my favorite food groups; chocolate, wine, bread, and cheese. They also had a very cool system for people who bought some sort of membership or subscription—a vat of wine stood in one of the dining areas where you could bring in your own bottles and fill them up with the current selection of wine. Yes, I want one for Christmas. Filled and smiling, we made our way to Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

Akko

This ancient city’s name is spelled a number of different ways; Akko and Acre among them. It has excavated castles and ruins, some built back in the Roman times and most of the current structure that has been unearthed stems from the Crusader period. It had been buried for a long time because the Bedouin leader who took control after the Crusaders, filled most of it with sand, knocked off the top part, and the built upon that. In more recent times it was used as a prison by the British during their occupation. In addition to parts of the castle including a Knight’s hall, a dining hall, tunnels, a sort of morgue, and a courtyard, we also toured a Turkish bath house (complete with a cheesy movie narrated by a fictional Ottoman). We learned a lot about the history and the centuries of invaders, but to be honest, I pretty much walked away more impressed by the Crusader latrines that had two levels, rows of toilet seats, and a sophisticated system of plumbing (at least for those days).

Caesarea

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Down the coast we made a stop at a national park that was known in ancient times as Caesarea, a city built by Herod and named in honor of the Roman Emperor. I liked touring these ancient ruins and the location was lovely. My blood pressure always goes down when I’m walking along the sea coast, so a stroll down the path along the hippodrome was calming, even with the sea spray covering us and cooling us off.

We watched a great movie about the city and its history before walking up to the theatre. The seats seemed steep and we could see some of the original stone. As we descended the steps, a modern company of thespians were setting up for a concert of sorts to perform later. From there we stood among a few leftover pillars of Herod’s palace.

Caesarea was also the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who was the first gentile convert to Christianity. He was a God-fearing man who was given a vision. He sent for Peter, who came to visit with him. This was a monumental event, because the Jews—the first apostles were all Jewish—did not mix with gentiles. It was considered an unclean act. But Jesus wanted His lessons and His grace extended to everyone and now it was time to spread the Word to all parts of the world.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

Nearby we made one last stop at a section of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It was massive and stretched on for what looked like a quarter of a mile. It had large openings where some lovebirds were getting their wedding photos taken.

Our final destination was Tel Aviv, which I’ll cover next time.

Psalm 139: 9-10

If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.

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A view from the first level of the Baha’i Gardens out to the port at Haifa.

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Looking up the steps to the temple building of the Baha’i Gardens.

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The main courtyard area of the Crusader castle at Akko.

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The Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

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The stands of the hippodrome at Caesarea. The colored blocks are depictions of how the walls were decorated back in its heyday.

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The remainder of the palace at Caesarea.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

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The Baha’i Gardens.

 

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

Continuing our time in the Sea of Galilee, our accommodations at the Arbel Guest House were like staying at a cozy home. We had a two bedroom apartment with a mini kitchen and living room area and outside our door was a patio with table under a wood roof with lights. Upon arrival we went right over to the pool and had a glorious swim. A cute dog followed me to the pool and I looked around the gardens before getting ready for dinner. The Arbel Guest House is owned by the Shavit family. The father is a wonderful cook and we enjoyed one of our best meals in Israel—a pot of

Our apartment at Arbel.

Our apartment at Arbel.

lamb stew topped with ice cream for dessert. The entire surroundings—in and out—were homey, lovely, and comfortable. At night I lingered on the patio where I watched a group of tiny kittens skirt around the property playing and looking for food. After they ran off we got more visitors—some neighborhood dogs who were very friendly and also looking for the free handouts the owners put out when the dining room closes. The family was very friendly and helpful and I highly recommend this place—it’s even easy on the wallet!

Cana

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

In the morning we were picked up by our guide and began the day with a trip to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. He was attending a wedding and when they ran out of wine, His mother asked him to do something about it, so He turned some of the water jugs into the best wine they ever tasted. The bride’s father even mentioned how good it was because normally they serve the best first and the dregs last, but this time the best wine came last. Jesus did this because He was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be when we became the bride of Christ.

Here’s the context. Back in ancient times, when a woman and man became engaged, they went back to their respective homes and waited for the wedding day. At that point the man needed to build a house for his new bride and prepare a home for her. Once the house was ready to go, he could come and fetch her. When he did, everyone in town dropped what they were doing and they had a week long party (a.k.a. wedding reception). A motivated man would finish his house in a hurry. We are the bride of Christ as He is preparing a house for us in Heaven. We don’t know the exact date it will be ready, but when it is, He will come back for us and we have to be ready to go at that moment.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

We went to the church in Cana and spoke with one of the Monks there. He said he goes where they send him but some places are better than others.

Nazareth

From Cana we climbed the hills of Nazareth, parked in a tiny gravel lot, and walked up the street to the Church of Annunciation where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was going to have a baby. The church was very large and quite beautiful with interesting stained-glass windows adorning the walls. Outside the church along a long porch we viewed the many mosaics of Mary and Jesus that were designed by artists from countries across the world and given to the church. Each mosaic depicted Mary as she would have looked if she came from that culture (e.g., the mosaic from Taiwan depicted an Asian-looking Mary in clothes that are worn in that culture). Inside the church we viewed a grotto area where Gabriel spoke to Mary. Ruins of the old town of Nazareth, which was very small, were visible underneath part of the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

Somehow we made our way out of the town (no street signs in this place) and had lunch at a place called Meat the Best. We had another yummy meal with 20 bowls of salad and Shawarma.

Mount Tabor

In the afternoon we made our way over to Mount Tabor which is the site of the transfiguration. Jesus took two of his buddies (John and Peter) up a very steep and big hill (mountain) to the very top—maybe being closer to heaven made him feel closer to God or maybe the long, arduous walks were good for the soul. Once at the top, Jesus had a moment. I’ll let Mathew tell it. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

The church grounds were lovely and we walked around looking out over the valleys and hills around us. More beautiful mosaics lined the walls and monks wandered silently around us.

Megiddo

Our last stop of the day was to the Tell at Megiddo. This is the site where the end of the world will come to a crescendo. The Hebrew word for mount (as in Mount Megiddo) is Har. If you put them together it’s Har Megiddo (keep going with it in its Greek form and you get Armageddon). Many major battles over the centuries have taken place here as it’s a major crossroads from and to the major cultural centers of the world such as Syria and Egypt. As we lingered at the top of the hill I could see the Jezreel valley below and the intersection of two roads. I took some video of the view (see below).

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

We walked around the site viewing the various ruins of the ancient city. There are 26 layers of ruins here—a testament to the importance of this area. And when Jesus returns, this will be the location of the last big battle between good and evil. Jesus will lead the army of heaven and defeat Satan and his cronies. I was imagining that battle as I looked at the horizon around us.

Back on the road, we journeyed back to our home at Arbel and another wonderful night in the pool and hanging out with the neighborhood pets before setting out for the coast the next day.

John 14: 1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Making pancakes (or something) on the street in Nazareth.

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Mosaic of Jesus’ transfiguration (with Moses and Elijah and John and Peter looking on).

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An outside altar and benches on Mount Tabor. The hot sun shines through the slits in the ceiling cover.

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The Church of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

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A lovely stain-glassed window in the Church of Annunciation.

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A Mary and Jesus mosaic from China (on the porch wall of the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth).

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The pool at Arbel Guest House is cute, comforting and refreshing.

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The dining room at Arbel Guest House.

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Dessert was done in style!

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Lovin the cool waters after a day of hiking the gospel trails.

 

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A short video view of the Jezreel valley from the top of Mount Megiddo.

My favorite part of our trip to the Holy Land was the area around the Sea of Galilee. This is the heart of where Jesus and his disciples traveled and it’s also a lovely area. If this was a lake at home there would be million dollar homes and resorts along the shores. Tiberius does rise above the water into the surrounding hills and there are a few resorts, but it seemed so peaceful with farms and churches for the most part.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Capernaum

After Kursi (see last post), we continued around the eastern shore toward the North and stopped in Capernaum, the town where Jesus lived and started his teachings. It was here that Peter built a house and where the Byzantines and then the Catholics built churches over ruins. The church there now is quite beautiful. There is a glass floor where you can see the rocks of the ruins of the house below. Jesus told Peter he was to be the rock upon where His church would be built. Peter had issues during the trial of Jesus but he was steadfast in his faith when Jesus was ascending to Heaven and leaving His message in the hands of his friends and disciples. He knew Peter had what it took to stick with his faith through any hardship. He was a rock of faith.

Peter's Church in Capernaum.

Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

The Church had a calming and peaceful ambiance. I was hushed by a monk when explaining a story to my dad—there were no “lessons” allowed inside the church. It was a perfect place to meditate with windows that looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Spirit dwelling within. Outside, we walked around some more ruins of the village and sat by the Sea for a few minutes.

Tagbha

The church of the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves was our next stop along the Sea. There was a beautiful mosaic in the floor representing the miracle where Jesus fed thousands of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a  few fish. I love this story for several reasons. The first is that recently I heard a sermon from Christine Caine who used this miracle to explain how God uses the uncounted—people who don’t “seem” to matter—to fulfill His miracles. You see, in those days, when crowds or cities were counted (how many people were there), only the men were counted. Women and children were not important enough to count. So when we read that 5,000 were fed, that was only the men—it was more like 10,000 or 20,000 fed if you include the women and children in the audience. So, that day along the shore as Jesus was teaching, some mother packed a small lunch for her son to take with him to hear the sermon. Two people who didn’t “count” were instrumental in the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

I also love this story because I think God still blesses us in the same way over and over. The more we give of ourselves to others, the more we get back and then His blessing multiplies to others. The Masterpiece Fund, our family’s charity to honor the memory of my brother, Greg Crowe, is based on this principle. We believe that the more that’s given to the charity, the more it earns and the more we can give to people who maybe aren’t counted enough in our world.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

Mount of Beatitudes

Back to our trip—from Tagbha we journeyed up the hill to the Mount of Beatitudes—the location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The spot was absolutely lovely—overlooking sloping grassy hills and the wind-blown waters of the Sea of Galilee. The Catholic Church there was very pretty, octagonal in shape with windows looking out on the water and gardens of the church property. I loved this place and we sat and rested peacefully while looking at the boats sailing on the water and the lovely trees and flowers surrounding the property. I could just see Jesus teaching and thousands of people sitting on the hillside listening to His beautiful words.

Church of Magdala

The Church of Magdala.

The Church of Magdala.

It was a long day but we had one more stop at a quaint and striking church on the shore of the Sea. A young man (an intern) who was a theology student and participating in a mission, guided us around the excavation site and through the church. This place was going to be a resort developed by a reverend where Christians could come on pilgrimages. But as what normally occurs in Israel, the law states you have to excavate land to check on any ancient finds in the land before new construction happens. Well, they unearthed an ancient synagogue and little town (the village of Magdala where Mary Magdalene came from).

The reverend built a church on the site to honor the women of the bible. Several small chapels with paintings of various bible scenes surround a central hall that leads into a larger sanctuary with a window that looks out to the Sea. The altar is built into a beautiful boat. This was a treat and the experience of being in this modern church was a fitting end to a day of touring the gospel trail.

Peter's church.

Peter’s church.

Our guide took us up around the western side of Tiberius to the Arbel area and a guest house that we called home for two nights. I’ll talk about that more later as it’s worth a great review all on its own.

 

 

 

 

Matthew 5: 1-11

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Entrance to Peter’s church where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

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Peter’s church in Capernaum–an octagonal structure built over old ruins.

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Statue of St. Peter. Mth 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. “

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View of the Sea from the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The Catholic church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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View of the church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The church of Magdala.

The River Jordan looking over to the Jordanian side with people getting baptized.

The River Jordan looking over to the Jordanian side with people getting baptized.

Onward we went on our trek through the Holy Land, from the Dead Sea to an area we consider filled with life. A little back story to start off. Jesus’ name in English is Joshua which means salvation. Fitting name for our savior. We have to have faith to follow Jesus and to trust that He will take care of us. Another Joshua in the bible played a prominent role in our next destination. Joshua and his buddy Caleb were two of a group of the men tasked by Moses to check out the land across the Jordan and report back what they found. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones to give a positive report and to encourage Moses and the Jews to act now and enter the Promised Land as God wanted them to. However, the Jews heard other stories of giants and mass armies and they got scared. The result? Forty years of wandering in the desert until finally, Joshua led the Jews across the Jordan and into Israel.

Just two guys hanging out on the Sea of Galilee.

Just two guys hanging out on the Sea of Galilee.

At the time of the Jewish crossing, the river was running very fast and flooding. It was scary and dangerous. The Jewish people had to have faith in God that He would take care of them to get them across the river. It wasn’t until the priests took the first few steps into the river as an act of faith that God stopped the flow of water to allow the people to cross safely. Everything in the bible flows together perfectly. It makes sense that this river, the place where the Joshua led his people to the Promised Land, would be the place Jesus was baptized.

Jordan River

A view of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side in 2007. The Israel area was not tourist friendly back then.

A view of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side in 2007. The Israel area was not tourist friendly back then.

As we drove up through the West Bank, we entered an area that had fencing on both sides of the road. Beyond the fence were mines (or maybe used to be mines) from the days when it was a no-man’s land. As we got close to our destination, my parents and I realized we had been there before—just on the OTHER side of the river. Wow, it was something special to see the place we had visited while touring Jordan back in 2007. Back then, the Israel side was not used as a tourist destination, but now, there were groups of people in long white shirts walking into the water to be baptized. We could see the steps where we waded into the eastern shore of this very narrow river seven years ago. This time, we were able to step in on the Israeli side. I think most people visiting the river Jordan would be surprised at how narrow and small it is. It’s very calm, and has a greenish/brown color with a lot of vegetation along the banks. It would be very easy for someone to cross over the border here—and in fact there was at least one crossing years ago. On the Jordanian side there is a baptismal altar that showed up there very suddenly one year when the Pope visited. Funny thing, it used to be on the Jewish side.

Sea of Galillee. The water was crystal clear.

Sea of Galillee. The water was crystal clear.

Sea of Galilee

We continued North past Jericho and through the west bank to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We could tell why some of the fishermen of Jesus’ time had issues—the wind comes down over the mountains and blows nicely across this beautiful body of water. White caps could be seen out on the water but as we stopped at a Kibbutz for a dip in this water, it was calm and clear as clean glass. The bottom was rocky with lots of little stones, and the surrounding countryside was filled with flowers and banana tree farms.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Fish and Bistro Restaurant in Ein Gev. The ambiance was lovely, the service was good, and the fish was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend a stop there—our guide was on the mark with this selection.

Israel's jibe at an old Syrian leader.

Israel’s jibe at an old Syrian leader.

After lunch we got back on the road and saw a black steel silhouette of a man sitting on the side of the hill with a fishing pole. This is a Jewish joke. I guess if you’re Israeli you have the right to make this kind of bold insult, but I think they went considerably out of their way to poke fun at a deceased Syrian leader who had promised that he would be fishing off the shore of Galilee near the Golan Heights before he died. He did not accomplish his desire and so a monument stands to his failure.

Kursi: the Miracle of the Swine

Mosaic floor in the ruins of the Byzantine church.

Mosaic floor in the ruins of the Byzantine church.

Our next stop was at Kursi, the location of a miracle of Jesus. This is where Jesus met a man who was possessed by demons (so many that they identified themselves as Legion). Jesus healed this man and allowed the demons to enter into a herd of swine that was grazing in the area. The possessed pigs ran down the hill and into the sea where they drowned.

The site of Kursi hosts the ruins of a byzantine church that had a beautiful mosaic floor courtyard surrounded by pillars with pictures of animals. It was pretty hot that day so we continued on around the Sea to more Christian sites. I’ll talk about those in the next post.

 

Hebrews 11: 1

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

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Mom and Dad and I on the banks of the River Jordan.

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Here, the Jordan is calm and narrow.

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Signage is always in three languages in Israel.

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An interesting Dr. Seuss-type tree grows in Kursi.

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Lots of banana farms surround the Sea of Galilee. They are covered by some kind of mesh.

Flowers bloom in the area around Galilee.

Flowers bloom in the area around Galilee.

 

Our trip through the holy land continued with a ride through the Negev (desert) on our way to the area of the Dead Sea. Our guide started off the day telling us we couldn’t go to Masada due to the heat (it would eventually make it up to 44 degrees Celsius, or 111 Fahrenheit, but it was not there yet and I’ve been through worse in D.C.). After being a little miffed at her for what I considered to be unprofessional behavior for a tour guide, we politely insisted on going, seeing how the trip was expensive and we wouldn’t likely be getting to Israel again and Masada is one of those sites we definitely wanted to see.

The Snake Path up the side of Masada.

The Snake Path up the side of Masada.

I had known the tale of Masada from one of my small group studies. We watched a video by teacher and historian, Ray Vander Laan, whose ministry is focused on understanding the Bible in light of the historical and cultural context in which God placed it. I highly recommend these video lessons. In addition, before I arrived in Israel I had just finished reading an excellent book titled The Dovekeepers, an historical fiction based on several women who were at Masada at the time of the massacre.

A view of Masada, the palace was spread across several layers . The path to the water cisterns can be seen along the side.

A view of Masada, the palace was spread across several layers. The path to the water cisterns can be seen along the side.

What is Masada?

Masada was a fortress palace built by the crazy and paranoid King Herod. It’s in the middle of nowhere overlooking the Dead Sea. In ancient times, the only way to get to the compound was via the snake path, a narrow, windy path that snaked up the mountainside. Anyone climbing the mountainside could be viewed for many miles by the guards (and killed if you were an invader). An extensive and brilliant water system allowed anyone living in the compound to have access to plenty of water to survive for a long time. Huge cisterns and long storage buildings provided enough food and water to sustain the inhabitants through many months of siege.

And that is precisely what happened around the year 74 AD. A group of Jewish zealots who wanted to live a life away from the big cities and out of the control of Rome established a compound at the vacated mountain top of Masada. The Romans could not abide anyone rebelling against them, even a small group of unimportant people in the middle of nowhere. They camped out along the dessert at the base of the mountain and laid siege. Waiting the Jews out was not enough, so the Romans got their slaves to start building a ramp. Many lives were lost, but finally the ramp was wide and high enough for the Roman soldiers to break through the walls and invade. While they were planning the final invasion, the Jews decided they would rather die than be enslaved, so 10 men were appointed to make their way through the compound killing their friends, families and neighbors. All but a handful of the Jews were dead when the Romans came through the walls.

Ruins of the storage rooms. There were many obstacles for invaders to get through before reaching the palace. Herod was a paranoid freak.

Ruins of the storage rooms. There were many obstacles for invaders to get through before reaching the palace. Herod was a paranoid freak.

Masada Tour

In the near 100 degree heat, we hopped on a gondola and zipped up to the top in no time. We stopped in shade to hear lessons from our guide and saw the palace baths, store houses, guard posts, dovecot (where they kept the doves who helped fertilize the orchards and were used for sacrifices), cisterns, mikvehs (cleansing baths), and the ramp the Romans built. It was totally worth the trip, the heat wasn’t that bad, and the views of the Dead Sea and down the mountainside were beautiful.

Ein Gedi

Cave in Ein Gedi

Caves in Ein Gedi

After an easy ride down the mountain, we enjoyed some more Shawarma in the cafeteria before heading out to visit Ein Gedi, a lovely park where we walked along a path lined with Christ’s Thorn Jujube (the crown of thorns was made from branches of this tree) to a waterfall. It was so hot, we took off our shoes to wade in a bit before walking back and viewing all the caves—one of which may have been where David cut King Saul’s robe.

The Dead Sea Float

Floating in the Dead Sea.

Floating in the Dead Sea.

Our final stop of the day was a beach along the shores of the Dead Sea. The Sea has been evaporating a lot over the years, as was evident in the large distances from the current shore line to where it used to be. This body of water is famous for a number of reasons, mostly due to its chemical makeup and the fact it’s the lowest place on earth. It was formed by tectonic shifts near Haifa that created springs. These springs overflowed into the Jezreel valley and throughout the lands. All the minerals from the land were mixed into the water. The salt concentration is so thick that we had to be very careful not to touch our eyes. That old saying, don’t throw salt into the wound was never so relevant as I could feel the sting in every tiny cut in my fingers and toes. Mom and I lathered on some of the mud on the shore and floated for a few minutes. Our skin felt great but there was no swimming (just careful floating because of the buoyancy of the water) and it was so hot that we didn’t spend too much time in the water. It’s a nice experience to have and now I can say I did it. But it’s not the kind of thing you relish doing again. Upon existing the water, we delighted in the cold showers located on the beach.

Looking across the Dead Sea to Jordan. An interesting shape in the mountainside.

Looking across the Dead Sea to Jordan. An interesting shape in the mountainside.

It was interesting to look across at this large Sea all day and not see any boats or people or activity. In addition to the salt destroying boats that would try to sail, it is also the border between Israel and Jordan. So not so good to be risking a crossing like that.

That night we stayed at a Kibbutz, a type of farming commune that was popular in Israel for a time. Many still exist in various types of forms. I was not impressed by this one—the Kalia Hotel. The pool closed early so we didn’t have time to enjoy that on this very hot day (kind of weird considering guests are usually touring during the day). There was a mix up about dinner (they didn’t serve it other than on Fridays and holidays) so we missed that and were treated rudely by the diva at the registration counter. So two thumbs down on that place.

Dead Sea Scrolls

A portion of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran.

A portion of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran.

In the morning, we visited Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Many years ago, a young Shepard boy was trying to get his goat to come out of a small cave when he discovered the jars left behind by members of the commune that lived there thousands of years ago. He told his father who told the local Sheik who sold them for a pretty penny. The area is very barren and is about a four day walk from Jerusalem. We learned more about how these desert dwellers survived using large water cisterns and planting date trees that sustained them in many ways. They prayed and wrote down spiritual stories in their scrolls, which they stored in air tight jars in caves to keep them safe.

All in all, the heat and desolation of this dessert area made me very grateful for our modern comforts—praise God for air conditioning and cars!

Next stop—our drive through the West Bank to the beauty of the Sea of Galilee.

View this clip from Ray Vander Lann’s series about the Dead Sea scrolls at http://www.rvl-on.com/clips/the-dead-sea-scrolls/.

Isaiah 48:21

“They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts. He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.”

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A replica of what the palace at Masada looked like thousands of years ago.

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Excavations of the baths in the palace at Masada. You can see the steam pipes in the walls.

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A view of the Dead Sea from Masada.

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An outline of one of the Roman encampments below Masada.

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The dovecots at Masada.

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Looking down at the massive ramp built up by the Romans at Masada.

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One of the massive cisterns at Masada.

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The Christ Thorn tree at Ein Gedi.

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A view of the salt works (where they collect the salt) at the southern end of the Dead Sea.

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A bar at the beach along the Dead Sea.

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You can see how much the Dead Sea is evaporating by looking at the docks and resorts along the previous shoreline.

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Evidence of the super hot day in the Negev of Israel.

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The tunnel along the wall. The stone to the bottom right is original.

Our stay in Jerusalem began with a walk to and around the Old City. In the morning we went on a tour through the tunnels that ran under the Muslim quarter and along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The city was built up upon platforms so there is room underneath the homes and businesses to walk around close to the foundations.

There’s something about touching stone that is thousands of years old. Imagining what it was like for the 150,000 slaves and 30,000 free workers who built Herod’s temple was a stretch. It was hard to figure out how they managed to move the one stone that comprised the Wall because it was—wait for it—560 tons.

Let’s digress for a moment and ponder how heavy that is. When fully loaded at take-off, the massively huge A380 Airbus airplane we flew out on weighs as much as 110 adult elephants, which coincidentally is about 560 tons. I’ll let you think about that and then imagine a bunch of ancient slaves heaving that up Mount Moriah and into place. I walked up that hill from the valley with just a back pack and thought I was going to faint.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and  were huge.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and were huge.

As we walked through the narrow tunnel and touched the ancient wall, we got closer to the holiest place for the Jews. Why so holy? Well, back several thousand years ago when Abraham was living in this land, God told him to sacrifice his youngest son Isaac. Abraham was going through with God’s command but was stopped by God at the last minute. It was on that sacrificial rock that the inner most room of the temple was built and where the ark of the convent was kept. (You remember Indiana Jones, right?)

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The view of the Western (Wailing) Wall with the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount.

Only one guy could go in to see the ark and only once a year. The room was called the holy of holies. The closest place to the holy of holies along the walls of the Temple Mount, is a spot in the tunnels. Not everyone can go there at will, so most people pray along the plaza of the Western Wall.

We also went to the plaza area. It was separated into two sections, one for men and the other for women. Standing there, touching it and looking up at how high it was and being so close to something so ancient and so famous throughout the world was a unique experience. My parents and I wrote out blessings or prayers and placed them in the cracks of the walls. Our guide said those notes are considered holy and are collected and buried.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

We beheld so many historical places on our trip through the Old City that it can’t be told all at once. So for now, I’ll end with our quick trip to the museum which was very nice—a good place for visiting if you make it to Israel when peace is at hand.

Israel Museum

We were pretty tired after a day of walking and decided to drive over to the Israel museum. Nice and cool, out of the 100 degree heat, we strolled through more ancient relics, artifacts, anthropods (kind of like an Egyptian sarcophagus), ossuaries, and more. We viewed an amulet with a scripture from Numbers, and some of the Dead Sea scrolls that were actually the book of Isaiah.

To keep costs down we stopped at a market and picked up some dinners and snacks and Israel wine and enjoyed a nice meal on our terrace patio.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.