Turkey Day 1 – Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and the Museums

I am currently leading a “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in western Turkey. I have been planning this trip for a long time and I am very happy to be traveling with some good friends. I am using Tutku Tours, the same company that helped me with the May 2019 Israel trip. They did a great job helping me plan the itinerary and (so far) everything has gone according to plan. 

To answer your first question: Yes, we are quite safe. We are traveling almost exclusively in southwest Turkey, very far from anything which might be considered troubling, And there is less risk of getting sick here than in the States, at least at the moment. Sadly the paranoia about the Corona Virus has reduced tourism greatly. We are the only group staying in this hotel and most of the usual tourist sites are not as crowded as expected.   

Hagia SofiaOur day started with a drive through Istanbul traffic to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more popularly known as the Blue Mosque, is currently under renovation and many of the beautiful mosaic domes are unfortunately not visible. When I visited in 2018 the Mosque was totally closed, at least we could get inside this year. There is scaffolding blocking the view of the main dome, which is unfortunate. The mosque is  know for its 20,000 hand-painted glazed ceramic tiles, which we were able to see in the main gallery.

The Hagia Sofia is just a short walk from the Blue Mosque. Built in A. D. 537 by the emperor Justinian, the church is known for its dome and many mosaics. There are a number of stunning mosaics in various parts of the church as well as four seraphim in each corner. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the church was converted to a mosque. Fortunately the mosaics were plastered over rather than destroyed. After Atatürk converted the mosque into a museum in 1935, this plaster was carefully removed and many mosaics were restored. Other than a few large groups of school children, the usually crowded site was not very full at all. 

Basilica Cistern After Hagia Sofia, we crossed the street and made a short visit to the Basilica Cisterns. The cistern is about 100,000 square feet at has capacity for about 21 million gallons of water, although most of the water is now drained for cleaning. Last time I was there the water was a few feet deep and there were large fish. Most of the columns in the cistern are recycled from other places, so there was a need for bases of varying sizes to support the columns. The most interesting of these are two blocks featuring medusa heads. I noticed one block which looked like it had been dressed for an inscription, but was never actually inscribed (a factory reject?) If none of this interests you, the Basilica Cisterns were featured in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love and the film, Inferno, based on the Dan Brown book.

We ate lunch at the famous Pudding Shoppe, always a good lunch with great service. If you do not know why it is famous, read this.

After lunch we made a short walk to the Istanbul Museum. Like everything else in Istanbul, large portions of the museum are being renovated. Unfortunately this meant we were not able to visit the floor with many important archaeological finds from Israel, including the Siloam Inscription and the Gezer Calendar. The whole section for Greco-Roman archaeology was also closed, I do not know how long this area will be closed, but if you are planning a trip to the museum you might want to check to see what is actually open at the time. The Museum book store had a number of very good books on archaeology sites in Turkey, I managed to restrain myself and selected only two published in Turkey (one on the Terrace Houses in Ephesus and another on Luwian history). 

Ishtar GateThe Ancient Near Eastern museum was open and is well-worth a visit. There is a nice collection of Hittite, Assyrian and Babylonian items, including panels from the neo-Babylonian period Ishtar Gate and a collection of uniform documents. In the main museum, several new displays (to me) were open. Although they they were nice, they did not make up for my disappointment at missing the biblical archaeology. The section of Greco-Roman tombs is always interesting.

Tomorrow, we fly to Antalya and begin tracking the first missionary journey of Paul at Perge.

Book Review: Barry J. Beitzel, ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.

Lexham Geographic CommentaryThis new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.

Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.

The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.

Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.

A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.

Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.

The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.

The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.

Logos Version. Since the book was published simultaneously for the Logos Bible Software library, I had the opportunity to use the book in that format. Clicking a photograph open the Logos Media library so the image can be copied and pasted into Word or PowerPoint (or any other software). The Media tool gives the description of the image as well as photo credits. Maps open in the Logos Atlas tool and can be copied and pasted. Using these tools to enhance your teaching and preaching is an added incentive to purchase the electronic version. 

As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.

One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.

All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

  • Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
  • The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
  • The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
  • Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
  • A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
  • The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
  • Early Church Demographics
  • Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
  • The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
  • The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
  • The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
  • The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
  • Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
  • The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
  • The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
  • The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
  • The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
  • Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
  • Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
  • The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
  • Famines in the Land
  • The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
  • Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
  • Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
  • What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
  • The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
  • Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
  • Paul’s Journey to Rome
  • The Social and Geographical World of Rome
  • Paul in Spain and Crete
  • Paul’s Travels After Acts
  • The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
  • The Geography of Galatia
  • Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
  • The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
  • The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
  • Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
  • The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
  • Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon
  • Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor
  • Geography of the Island of Patmos
  • The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pergamum
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thyatira
  • The Social and Geographical World of Sardis
  • The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia
  • The Social and Geographical World of Laodicea

 

En-Gedi, Qumran, and Qasr al Yahud

Hyrax, En GediThe last day our the 2019 Israel tour began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few hyrax with their pups on the hike and a large group of ibex on the way out of the park.

From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. Even the video at the beginning of the tour tacitly suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for Biblical studies.

Since we have a long drive to Tel Aviv, we stopped only briefly at Qasr al Yahud, the more likely of the traditional sites for Jesus’s baptism. This site has been open since 2011 and is now on the Israel National Parks card, so it is an easy add-on for for groups using the parks pass (see this Times of Israel story on the re-opeing of the site for tourist groups). Qasr means castle, and Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist does indeed look at bit like a castle. Unlike the site at Yardenit in Galilee, this is a far more authentic location since it is in the general area John the Baptist was active (although it is still not certain this is the place). Another clear difference is the lack of commercialism compared to Yardenit. The majority of the crowds queuing to be baptized in the muddy stream of the Jordan were Orthodox, although there appeared to be a handful of protestants. The site on the other side of the Jordan is only a matter of feet from this location in Israel. The Jordanian site is called Al-Maghtas, “immersion” in Arabic. UNESCO listed the Jordanian side as a world heritage site, but not the western side (likely due to the political situation in West Bank).

Qasr al Yahud, Baptism of Jesus

My plan was to return to the Old City in Jerusalem for final shopping, but it was the first Friday of Ramadan and many streets were closed to traffic. We could have walked to Jaffa Gate, but that would have cut down on our time. Our guide suggested driving to Jaffa instead. As it turned out this was a good idea. He walked us through several points of interest in Jaffa, although there is little I can say is authentic. There is a traditional site for the home of Cornelius and a Franciscan church commemorating Peter’s departure from Jaffa to Rome (although that is not in the Bible, if he left for Rome by ship Jaffa is the likely port). After a 45 minute walk, we turned the group loose in the shops and they contributed much to the local economy.

We stayed at the Tal Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a block from the Mediterranean. This was a very nice stay, although it was far too short: our wake up call was for 2:00 AM and we were at the airport by 3:15 AM for a 6:15 departure. Since I am now back in Michigan, I can cay they long day of travel went well despite an hour delay in Vienna for engine maintenance and extremely long lines at immigration in Chicago (easily the worst I have ever experienced there).

Masada, Arad and the Dead Sea

Since we are staying at the En Gedi Hotel, we are not far from the entrance to Masada. In fact, we were one of the first groups to go up on the cable car. I have done Masada at the end of a day when it is very hot, but this morning it was cool and breezy. Masada is a highlight of any Israel tour, although I am surprised some Christian groups day-trip from Jerusalem or skip it altogether. This is unfortunate for both biblical and modern history.

Masada

Masada was king Herod’s monumental fortress on the top of a flat mountain some 1500 feet above the Dead Sea. To get to the top we ride a cable car (which claims to hold 80 people, and they put about 120 in the car I rode up). We spent most of our time on the north end of the mountain, where we had several really good conversations about what “really happened” here and how Josephus knew (or did not know) the speech of Eliazer. Several students walked down the 180 steps to the rooms on the front of the mountain

After walking down the back of Masada and meeting our bus, we drove to Arad. There are two parts to this hike, a lower city excavated to the Canaanite period and an Israelite upper citadel excavated and restored to the eighth or ninth century. I take my group through the Canaanite section first, but many groups skip it entirely in order to get to the “good stuff” more quickly. I want my group to see the differences and similarities between Canaanite culture and Israelite. One example is the Arad House, a reconstructed Canaanite house. At Tamar there is a partially reconstructed Israelite four-room house. The contrast between the two is one of the indicators of when Israelite culture enters The Negev.

But the real highlight of Arad is the Citadel. There is a massive Solomonic gate and a number of smaller rooms, but the main thing to see here is a Israelite high place. It is similar to the Solomon’s temple, but much smaller. There is an altar for sacrifice, a holy place and a Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies is a Canaanite standing stone, which may indicate the site allowed for both the worship of the Lord and the local Baal. In 2 Kings 18:4 Hezekiah removed all the high places, perhaps shutting down this particular Temple. Josiah will do the same thing in 2 Kings 23.

Since the time was getting late, we skipped Mamshit and drove back to the Dead Sea for the traditional swim in the salt water. We went to the En Gedi Spa this time, which was overly crowded with day trippers since it was the Jewish Independence day. We ate lunch there, but it was busy, expensive and not all that great. The swimming was good, although you have to take a shuttle down to the beach since the Dead Sea has receded so far.

Tomorrow is En-Gedi, Qumran, likely a stop at Jesus’s baptism site near the Dead Sea, then a final few hours in the Old City.

From the Red Sea to En Gedi

Every tour has a necessary travel day, in this case we left Petra about 7:5 and drove to the Arava Border crossing to return to Israel. The drive was uneventful, except for a short bathroom break at a new shop with very clean restrooms.

The passage through the Jordanian was quick and easy (you pay the money they let you through), but the Israeli side involved a lengthy bag inspection, about 75% of our group had to open their bags and the search was quick thorough. Since I tend to buy books as souvenirs I always get tagged for inspections (the xray machines cannot see through two or three thick books). It might be frustrating but I appreciate the extreme care for safety and security, as well as the generally friendly people digging through our filthy clothes to check out water bottles filled with Sea of Galilee water.

The only event on the agenda was a swim in the Red Sea at Coral Beach. This is on the national parks pass so entrance was paid for, but snorkeling gear cost about $10 to rent. Some of the group snorkeled, the rest waded into the water in the one or two open swim areas. Several sat in the shade and read a book (my favors option at the beach). It was a very cool day compared to previous years and there was a pleasant steady breeze.

After a stop at the shop at Yotatava (the one with the cows), we drove straight to the En Gedi hotel. This is a beautiful kibbutz turned hotel, The location is right next to the En Gedi Nature Park and the grounds of the hotel are a wild garden of plants and trees. Dinner was exceptional (finally, stuffed grape leaves!)

Tomorrow we will will visit several desert sites, including at Masada, Arad and Mamshit. Our internet is slow here, so I will add some photographs later.

Visiting Petra 

Today was our big walk through Petra, for many of our students this is a major highlight on the trip. I have been coming to Petra since 2005 and during this time the park has undergone a number of significant changes as tourism has continued to increase. The visitors center now has a large plaza with the number of shops and a small museum. Jeff’s Books and the Indiana Jones store is still there, but the whole entrance is cleaner and well organized, A new addition this year is a very nice museum just outside the entrance. I highly recommend a visit. It takes about an hour; there are several short films on aspects of Nabatean Petra as well a a good mix of artifacts from each period of the site. I would have a room dedicated to the Bedouin who lived in the caves until only a few decades ago, but other than that it is a well-designed museum.

Our guide Mo’Taz led us down the long walk to the treasury building, stopping from time to time to explain various features of the tombs or the water system in the Siq (the famous gorge through which one enters Petra). This is the coolest day I have ever had for a May visit to Petra, barely 80 degrees Fahrenheit most of the day (the morning was even quite chilly in the Siq).

Pwetra Group Picture

There was quite a crowd at the Treasury, which means tourism in Jordan is doing much better. I also noticed there are far fewer little boy is trying to sell things in the past few visits. Occasionally someone will try to sell a postcard set for a dollar but it was less oppressive then previous years. I also noticed several of the shops along the way have closed or perhaps moved. I’m not sure if this has to do with a lack of tourism over the last few years caused by fears of traveling in the least, but it is sad to see some of these shops closed. Nevertheless I did see a familiar older Bedouin selling obviously fake coins. Capitalism wins in the end

After our lunch of sandwiches and fruit (and ice cream, naturally), we split up into several groups. One other smaller group hiked up to the Canaanite cultic center. Although I’ve never been up there I understand it has an excellent view of the entire Petra area. Another group went up to the Monastery. This is another tomb like the Treasury, but it is quite a distance from the main site at Petra and up about 850 steps. (Better left to the young in my thinking.) There were a few really ambitious people on this trip who went to both (and visited the Royal Tombs as well!)

Another group went with me to the temple of Zeus and they walked to the Byzantine church to the Royal Tombs. This is a fairly easy walk up a series of steps, and provides an excellent view of the entire valley. I had not visited the church before, there are some unusual mosaics in the church (I would like to find documentation to identify a few of these). There was a cache of papyri found in this church as well.

By the time we reached the Urn Tomb there were fewer tourists and we were able to spend some time in the cool of the cave looking at the patterns on the walls. The Park service has put a large fence type barrier up inside the main cave so that you can’t walk all the way up to the front anymore. We walked back to the Treasury for final pictures and more water before the long uphill walk back up the seek to the visitor center. I got back to the visitor’s center about 4 PM so I visited the new museum for an hour before meeting the  rest of the group. I did contribute to the local economy by purchasing two books at the museum.

We met at 7 o’clock for dinner most of the students told me they were absolutely exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep. SO naturally they stayed up late playing games in the hotel lobby for a few hours. that might have had something to do with teh lack of air conditioning in the rooms.

Tomorrow we crossed back into Israel at the Arava crossing near the Red Sea. Will have some time for the students to swim in the Red Sea and do some snorkeling if they want.

Jerash, Amman, Mount Nebo

This morning we left Ma’agan in Galilee early in order to cross the border to Jordan. This was relatively painless although one of our group had two Israeli flags confiscated. I have never had this sort of thing happen before and it struck me as odd.

We met our guide Mo’taz who us eased us through the entry process and immediately started winding out way through the hills to our first stop, Jerash. Since it was the first day of Ramadan most of the villages were nearly deserted and we made excellent time. For most of our students, this was their first experience in an Arab country and I have already had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip.

IMG_2099.JPG
Jerash is a large Roman city with several structures which illustrate what a huge imperial city looked like in the late first century and early second. First is the Hadrian Gate on the south side of the city. When Hadrian went on a grand tour of the Empire, many cities honored him with a new Gate or arch. Jerash built this new gate well south of the city, but it does not appear the city ever expanded south as planned.

Second, just inside the gate is a large hippodrome. Only one section has been restored but the ends of the structure are clear. The guides will usually walk a group through the hippodrome; if you have been to virtually any other hippodrome (such as Ceasarea) you can skip this.

Third, after passing through the actual south gate of the city there is a spectacular Oval Plaza leading to the Cardo (the central street in a Roman city). From the Oval Plaza you can see the Roman Temple of Zeus, which is built on top of the Hellenistic Temple. There is a small museum below this temple but I have only been able to enter it once; as usual it was closed on this visit.

Forth, a short walk up the hill from the Plaza is a very nicely restored Roman theater. All the acoustics are restored so people can speak from the central part of the stage and be heard throughout the theater. I enjoy watching the students speak a few words, the step on to the central stone and hear their voice projected all around them. Virtually every time I have visited this theater a Jordanian bagpipe player and drummer are there to show off the acoustics.

Jeresh

Fifth, we walked across the hill to the Temple of Artemis. This is an incomplete temple, like Sardis in Asia Minor. I have read speculation that the eastern Empire became increasingly Christian so work was stopped, but it is just as likely they ran out of money, perhaps because Rome withdrew from the region. Usually guides like to demonstrate how the pillars flex just a bit by putting a spoon in the lower crack and pushing the pillar (our guide did not even walk us up to the temple platform; I insisted on taking the students up myself). It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway?

From the temple of Artemis we walked down the sacred ascent to the Cardo (the easiest route even though it would be more authentic to walk up the stairs to the Temple). I noticed a Latin inscription with the name Diana and a Greek inscription opposite it about three-quarters up the steps. They were unidentified and I am not at sure where they were originally located.

Sixth, walking down from the ascent to the Temple we joined the Cardo and worked our way back to to the Oval Plaza. This central colonnaded road is lined with shops and a few sacred spaces. I noticed there are far fewer inscriptions at Jerash than Ephesus or Perge (for example). I am not sure if there were many Greek inscriptions and they have been moved or lost, but compared to virtually every city we visited in Turkey, Jerash is inscription-less.

By now it was getting late in the day and traffic through Amman was terrible. It is always terrible, but since it was Ramadan many were leaving work jsut as we came through the city. This meant it took more than an hour longer than planned so we had to skip the Madaba Map (which is an interesting visit but difficult to get to quickly). Instead we visited Mount Nebo, the place where Moses died after viewing the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-2). Several students asked about whether this is really the place, so I pointed out it is Mount Nebo and the best viewpoint to see the land in the area is there, and a pass through the mountains is at the foot of the mountain. So it is plausible this is Nebo, even if it is not at the exact place of the Church.

We did not arrive to our hotel in Wadi Musa until 8:30, so we had a quick supper and tried to get a good night’s sleep to prep for a long day at Petra. The Grand View Hotel has a good reputation, but the hotel itself is long past its prime and in serious disrepair. Although it does have a great view, I cannot recommend the hotel to anyone not looking for a budget stay. We had trouble with bugs in one room (on the order of an Egyptian plague) and none of the rooms had working air conditioners. Fortunately we could open the windows and get a slight breeze.

Tomorrow we hike Petra, the highlight of any trip to Jordan!

Jesus in Galilee

Our day focused on sites in Galilee associated with Jesus and his ministry. We stopped at Yardenet yesterday. Yardenet is the pilgrim baptism site on the Jordan River. It is set up for large groups to participate in a baptism in the Jordan River, although this is not the site Jesus was likely baptized. He was probably baptized near the Dead Sea since those were John the Baptist was baptizing in the Gospels. Nevertheless this is an interesting location because it preserves A portion of the Jordan River for Christian pilgrims. We didn’t perform baptisms today, but I did read from the Gospel of Matthew and talked briefly about Jesus is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

This year we went round the lake counter-clockwise.We did this on the advice of our Israeli guide who thought it would be better to visit Mount Arbel later in the afternoon so the sun to the west and the viewing of the Sea of Galilee is better. This means the day began by driving from Ma’agan to Kursi, the traditional site of  the exorcism recorded in Mark 5. There is a small Byzantine church on the site which has only partially been restored. We talked through the story, look at the cliffs and wondering how the pigs made the leap into the sea. The simple solution is the pigs were far closer to the Sea than the impressive cliffs, or this traditional site is not correct.

Kursi, Mark 5 , Demons

We arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about ten AM, and it was packed full of pilgrims. We managed to weave our way through several larger groups and find a nice mostly shaded spot to read from Matthew 5 and talk a bit about the Beatitudes. (See this post, What are the Beatitudes?) The group was able to visit the octagonal chapel then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately.

We drove from there to the Church of the Primacy of Peter. For whatever reason, I have never visited this site before. This is a traditional location of Peter’s restoration in John 21. There is a beautiful garden (although most of it is fenced off from tourists) and several place for Catholics to celebrate Mass. We walked around to the back of the church and found a quiet spot to read the story of Jesus’s third resurrection appearance in John’s Gospel. (For more details on this story, see this post.) Although the passage has many intriguing details (153 fish and the different words for love), my focus today was on Jesus’s final words to Peter: “You follow me.”

Since Capernaum is not closed at noon, we visited the location of Peter’s house about noon. This was to our advantage since most of the larger groups were clearing out for lunch. For most the highlight here is Peter’s house, although it is difficult to see much of the house due to the large church built over the top. There is also a beautiful synagogue, although it dates to the fifth or six century, long after the time of Jesus. For me, the highlight of a visit to Capernaum is walking out in the beach near the Sea and reading the Bible. In this case I read Mark 2 since the healing of the paralytic takes place at Peter’s house

After lunch (Aroma Coffee, avocado sandwich and ice coffee) we stopped at Migdal. Although this village was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. Some scholars have suggested the stone was carved to look like the Second Temple, although this is not particularly conclusive. What is important is this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth.

Migdal Synagogue Stone

Finally, we drove through Tiberius to Mount Arbel. This is not so much a biblical site, but a hike up to the top of Mount Arbel to view the Sea of Galilee. Usually I do this site early in the day, but as I said the guide suggest the end of the day for better viewing. My concern is that it would be blazing hot by the time we made the half-mile hike from the visitor’s center to the top of the hill. Turns out we were both right, the details are clearer in the afternoon sun, but it was also extremely hot and there is no shade sine the carob tree at the top of the hill was struck by lightning (it is recovering, but is a few years away from provide shade). From the top of the cliffs we can see the west and north quarters of the sea, essentially where all of the Jesus sites are located.

Mount Arbel

When we finally turned back into the Ma’agan parking lot we had traveled around the whole of the Sea of Galilee. My students were very tired out by this time and were looking forward to the pool (or a nap) before dinner.

Tomorrow we enter Jordan and visit Jerash on our way to Petra.

Caesarea, Megiddo, and The Sea of Galilee

We left at 730AM for a drive north and west to Caesarea. Everyone was on time, but due to an extremely large group in the hotel and the complication of Sabbath elevators, a few were just a bit late.

Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco Roman city.

As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caesarea with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial will Felix was the governor. It is what it was it Caesarea that Paul made his famous appeal to Caesar. There is a cistern in Herod’s palace at Caesarea which claims to be the prison of the apostle Paul, but I think this has about a zero percent chance of being accurate. Since Paul was a Roman citizen it is highly unlikely he he would have been held in a cistern for two years (or at all for that matter).

From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel to Megiddo. I have not visited this site in many years, and although not much has changed, what is there to see is quite important. According to 1 Kings 9:15 Solomon fortified Megiddo along with Hazor and Gezer. Jehu assassinated Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and Josiah was killed in battle by the Egyptian army led by Necho II (2 Kings 23:29). Aside from the spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, there is a 3000 BC Canaanite cult center and a major granary and other storage buildings. But the main thing to see at Megiddo is the water system, a passage carved through the rock to a hidden spring. (Megiddo is the inspiration for James Michner’s The Source).

Megiddo

We continued across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth, although we did not do much in this very crowded and busy city (which looks nothing like it did in Jesus’s day). We drove up to a view point some 1290 feet above sea level. Although it is highly unlikely, some Christians this this is the place where the people Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff in Luke 4:29. The precipice is outside of town and clearly very high, but it is so far from the original Nazareth village of the first century to be an authentic location.

From Nazareth we made our way to the Sea of Galilee, stopping at Yardenet, the location for baptisms in the Jordan River in Galilee. Like the precipice, this is not  the place Jesus was baptized (that was near the Dead Sea). But this is the place many Christians come to remember Jesus’s baptism and participate in the ritual. We spent some time reading the baptism story in Matthew 4 and discussed  the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit.

We arrive at Ma’agan Holiday Village on the Sea of Galilee about 5:00, allowing the students plenty of time in the pool. Ma’agan is one of my favorite places to stay in Israel. And one of my favorite things to do with a group is to gather down by the shore after dinner and talk about the trip so far. Since we were near the half-way point, this is a good chance for students to share their experiences and thoughts about our travel in Jerusalem. This was one of the best times I have had, most of the students shared and were thoughtful as they reflected on their spiritual and cultural experiences.

Tomorrow we will visit quite a few sites related to the life of Jesus.

Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives

After a lighter walking day yesterday, we started at the Mount of Olives with the goal of walking across the Kidron Valley, up to the City of David, through Hezekiah’s tunnel, back up to the Southern Wall excavations and the Davidson Museum. I also planned to give the students some free time to experience shopping in the Old City (which really is quite the experience!)

We left the Hotel about 7:30 hoping to avoid the crowds at the Mount of Olives. this was successful, there was only one other small group there when we arrived so we were able to get one of the prime viewpoints on the Mount. By this time we’ve walked around the Old City and seen several models of the city of Jerusalem so the students were asking good questions about locations of various things we were seeing.

From there we walked down to Dominus Flevit, a church about halfway down the Mount commemorating the location where, according to tradition, Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 20:41-44). There were no other groups when we arrived so we has a nice spot to look over the valley and discuss the Triumphal Entry and Jewish Messianic expectations in the first century. As we were leaving a very large pilgrimage group from India entered the gate to the church singing hymns and waving olive branches.

Continuing down the steep walk we visited the Church of all Nations, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another site which is usually crowded, and today was no exception. After a quick look at the olive trees many of the students went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus wept on the night he was betrayed. We read Luke 22:39-46 (Jesus’s prayer) and 22:47-53 (the arrest). This gave us a chance to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s prayer asking God to “take this cup” from him.

Our guide suggested we visit the Tome of Mary, just a short walk from the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a Greek Orthodox church commemorating the death of Jesus’s mother Mary; the Dormition is the Roman Catholic site and there is a place in Ephesus which claims Mary moved there before she died (or ascended to Heaven). The reason to visit this crusader era church is to see how deep the Kidron valley was in earlier centuries, the tomb itself is 25 feet or more below the current level of the valley. What made this visit very special is that we were able to witness part of a Coptic celebration of the Eucharist. After two men sang several hymns, the priest consecrated the bread and the wine. To be honest, I did not see any other Coptic Christians there, but it was the first time many of my students had even heard of Copts. To witness this this very ancient liturgy was very memorable.

Fir the last several tours I have led the students on a a walk through the Kidron Valley. This involves crossing the busy street (probably the most dangerous thing we did on this tour) in order to follow a walking path down past the Tomb of Absalom and back up the other side of the valley to the City of David. The parks service has cleaned this area up considerably ]and there are free toilets (not the cleanest in Jerusalem but good enough!) In the last two years the the City of David has sponsored a Bedouin style tent experience (we shared some nice mint tea) and there are camel rides steps for mounting the camels (this is more humane than forcing them to kneel). For the first time in the years I have been taking students down into the valley Uzziah’s Tomb was open. Like the tombs of Absalom and Zechariah, this tomb had nothing to do with the biblical king, dating to no more than 150 B.C.

There is a promenade on the west side of the Kidron which makes for an easier walk (I did stop halfway to explain the view and catch my breath). The walk ends at the south east corner of the Temple Mount, near the Southern Temple archaeology park, offering a unique view of that end of the southern Wall. It is just a short walk from there to the City of David. Many of the viewing areas have been upgraded (in front of teh Stepped Wall, for example).

What most people want to see at the City of David is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is the water system built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. After a short walk down through tunnels to the Canaanite spring, there is a split in the Tunnel between the “wet” tunnel and the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. The wet tunnel has water flowing over the knees, and is completely dark. About half the group walked through the wet tunnel. I, however, took the the rest of the group through the dry tunnels.

The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls, and the park has re-configured the walk further down the hill to the pool of Siloam. We no longer exit the park and walk along the street (which is busy and potentially dangerous). There are now a series of wooden walkways within the park and partially through a private neighborhood. This is much more convenient and it appears the site is developing additional viewpoints along the way.

The pool of Siloam is mentioned in connection with Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:7). In the first century it may have functioned as a public mikveh for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem from the south. Since the pool was discovered more than ten years ago, additional work has been done to expose steps which appear to lead all the way up to Wilson’s Arch. After a shuttle ride back to the entrance to the City of David park, we entered the Givat Parking Lot Excavation, an ongoing new work across from the Dung Gate. The highlight of this part of the City of David experience is that the first century sewer has been cleared from the excavations, under the modern road and most of the Davidson museum, exiting just under Robinson’s arch. The tunnel is not too small, occasionally about five feet high (but higher in places) and just wider than my shoulders. It was quite a thrill to get to the end of the tunnel and see the Herodian stones and climb the stairs to the first century streets on the southern end of the Western Wall.

We had to hurry through the Davidson Museum since we arrive near closing time, but had a good long visit to the excavations on the southern end of the Temple Mount, The highlight for most people are the steps leading up to Herod’s Temple. This is one of the places in the Old City where we can say with some confidence Jesus walked up and down these steps, as did the apostles when they went up to the Temple to worship in the book of Acts.

Most of us had a late lunch (yes, I did have falafel again), some were satisfied with ice cream a short rest. Most people took the rest of the afternoon to shop in the Old City. I always enjoy watching people as the encounter the sights and smells of the market and try to negotiate the often bewildering bargaining style. Oddly enough, most Americans are not prepared for the aggressive tactics of some of the shop owners. I noticed more shops with signs indicating the prices marked are in Israeli shekels and are non-negotiable. I appreciate this, especially given some of the more guilt-based sales techniques. I personally just get the old “hey Mr. Mustache, come into my shop” followed by a really awkward pat on the belly.

We leave Jerusalem early tomorrow morning and head north to Caesarea, the Megiddo and finally our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.