In May 2019 I traveled with 27 students, parents and friends to Israel and Jordan. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader; without his help it would have been impossible to manage a group of this size. The students were remarkable – very attentive and inquisitive and (almost) always on time. I wrote these posts while in Israel or Jordan on my iPad, so think of them as “live reports from the field.” I revisited them once I was home to add additional photographs when internet was bad and correct some typos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
May 2005 was my first trip to Israel. I had only 14 students but we did just about everything on that trip. We stayed several days longer than any other trip and made day trips to Petra and St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. Tourism was at a low point in 2005, so we were able to book nicer hotels for very competitive rates. We used an Israeli guide for the whole trip and I learned a great deal from him about how to design a tour.
There was no wifi in 2005, the only internet available was in internet cafes or a computer in the hotel lobby. It did not matter much since no one had wifi enabled devices yet (it was two years before the first iPhone and I was not blogging until 2007).
People ask me which trip was my favorite, but I avoid the question since I do not want to play favorites. Secretly, it was this first trip, when everything was new to me and we had an adventure together.
May 2007 was only the second time I visited Israel. I only had a handful of students, so Dale DeWitt joined with three people from his church in South Dakota and one student brought a friend and another brought her brother. This was my first time guiding some sites myself, although in Jerusalem I used an Israeli guide. I was still learning about how to design the tour well, and there were some serious bumps on this one.
I was not blogging regularly yet and there was little access to the internet at the time. One of the students put this slideshow together from his own photographs.