Israel Tour, Day 8: Arad, Masada, and “Do not lick the Dead Sea”

May 10

We started the day with a walk around tel Tamar.  We stayed at this site for two nights so we have had the opportunity to walk around the tel already.  I started the group out at the front of the tel and explained that this site is unique since there are a number of occupation levels exposed.  There is evidence of a middle bronze Canaanite village, although this has yet to be fully excavated.  there is a ninth century Israelite town with small Solomonic gates, as mentioned in First Kings. The town was controlled by Edomites in the sixth century b.c. and by the Nabateans in the first century b.c.  There is a major Roman presence in the first through third centuries a.d., including a bathhouse and tax collection booths.  The top of the tel has an Ottoman water system and a house from the British mandate, as well as an Israeli bomb shelter.  This is all within a relatively small sized archaeological park.

After our Tamar tour, we drove from Tamar to Tel Arad.

Kaliegh, as “water”

I personally love visiting tel Arad since it is an excellent archaeological site, covering both Canaanite and Israelite levels.  Maybe more important, it is rarely visited by Christian tours.  I have rarely encountered anyone else at the site.  It is nice to have the run of a major dig like tel Arad for and hour and a half.

There were several improvements to the site since my last visit. They have reconstructed a Canaanite house completely with a roof for shade.  This gives a nice feel of the size of a fairly wealthy Canaanite. I noticed that there is some on going work on the south side of the tel, and there is a major excavation under the Holy of Holies in the Israelite temple.  I would love to know if anything has been discovered in this work, it looks to me as if they are trying to dig under the existing temple without disturbing the Israelite level.

After Arad, we made the long drive back to the Dead Sea for a visit to Masada.  This is always a highlight, not only for the spectacular architecture of the site, but also for the fantastic view of the Dead Sea.  We have a fairly clear day so we could see across the Sea to the mountains of Moab.  Last trip there was so much haze you could not even see the Dead Sea.  We thought that the gondola was only available until four pm, since it is a holiday in Israel today, so we had to rush a bit.  As it turned out we did have until five, but I wanted to get us to the Dead Sea for a float.  Several of our group walked down the Snake Path this time.  

Our driver suggested a different location for floating in the Dead Sea, as it turns out it was exactly the same place we went last year. The name was different, and there were many more people there.  It was still less crowded that the beach at En-Boqeq.  Most everybody swam for at least an hour Shelby, Jessica, and Kayleigh went way in the Sea, thoroughly enjoying the float.  Despite my advice, several of the kids “tasted” the water, which is a huge mistake.

After a great dinner of spaghetti and meatballs at Tamar, Kate showed us her art.  She has an excellent selection of prints of watercolors she has done, many of them are scenes from around Tamar although she has done some nice scenes from Jerusalem as well.  She has some jewelry made from shell casings collected from the area, either necklaces or earrings.  I bought a print of tel Tamar and Amy bought a smaller print of the well at the top of the tel.  I will have the framed and display them in my office.

It was a beautiful, cool night in the desert, at least one card game has broken out, Scott Shaw and Josh Tweist are teaching our driver Tae Kwan Do, probably revolutionizing the Middle East peace process.

Tomorrow is our big archaeological day, starting at eight in the morning. We are all looking forward to learning how archaeologists do their job, sifting a bit of dirt and maybe discovering a new Dead Sea scroll or something.

Israel Tour, Day 7 (part 2): Evening Devotional

After I finished my post for this evening, we gathered for a short time of worship and sharing.  This was a really good time since most of the group was Able to share a story from the trip that impacted their thinking about the Bible.  Having just come from Galilee we had opportunity to think abut Jesus and what he claimed about himself.  Ryan led us in “how great the father’s love for us” (an excellent choice) and David Keller, a professor from Rochester College, gave an excellent devotion on how this land of Israel is a part of our spiritual heritage.  After a time of prayer many went out to look at the stars and enjoy a cool desert breeze.

It was a great way to mark the half-way point of our journey through Israel.

Israel Tour, Day 7: Qumran, En-Gedi

May 9

It was a big travel day today, leaving Ma’agan in Galilee and traveling to Tamar, south of the Dead Sea.  The Ma’agan resort is really a remarkable place, well worth a long visit if you ever visit the Galilee.

We drove south along highway 90, with our first stop at Qumran.  The temperature at Qumran is usually blazing, but it was low 80’s today with a gentle breeze.  We were able to take a slow walk through the site, stopping for a long time at the shade area at cave 4 for questions.  The breeze made it so nice we could have stayed longer, but for some, the gift shop is hard to resist.

After Qumran, we drove to En Gedi for lunch.  It was more than a little expensive (apologies!) but as we were told, the restaurant has not changed their prices, our dollar had lost value.  My last trip there were four shekels to a dollar, now we are at 3.2 shekels, some locations were on giving three shekels.  Our buying power is therefore greatly reduced.

After lunch we walked down to the Dead Sea at En Gedi.  The water is deep there and the color is quite blue.  Some the students climbed on what appeared to be a jungle gym for a few pictures, but it turned out to be an unused sun umbrella and we got yelled at.  No harm done, and they got a great picture.

We hiked the wadi David, otherwise known as En-Gedi. The walk is pretty easy, although there are a few flights of steps which might be challenging for some hikers.  The highlight is the waterfall at the back of the canyon. There was a nice breeze cooling us so we hung out there for a long time. Since it was after one pm when we started, there were not many other tourists, making it a real highlight of the trip.

The drive to Tamar was uneventful, although I always enjoy the view of the Dead Sea.  We had a great dinner, Kate had barbecue chicken for us, and it was excellent!  I chatted with several of the students and they already enjoy the life at Tamar.  There is nothing quite like life on an archaeological site.

Tomorrow we head to Arad and then Masada, with a quick dip in the Dead Sea in order to find out where we have cuts and bruises.

Israel Tour, Day 6: The Jesus Sites

May 8

We visited a number of sites related to Jesus today. We started at the Jordan River baptismal site, although the real baptism of Jesus was in the south near the Dead Sea.  This is an convenient location for tourists and there are several baptism areas to accommodate larger groups. Josh Tweist commented that it was a bit more touristy than he expected.  He was right.

We drove through Tiberius and up to Mount Arbel, one of the Horns of Hattin.  This is a very high scenic overlook into the northwest corner of Galilee, essentially all of the locations we were about to visit.  The cliffs are rugged, but we are quite safe, despite the impression you get from this picture.  From Mount Arbel, we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes. While this is not the actual location of the Sermon on the Mount, it is the general area of Jesus’ teaching large crowds and I think that it is a good place to visit and reflect on the Beatitudes.  The church closes from noon to two, so we had to rush a bit, especially in the gift shop.  I was fine with this, but I got a few glares.

From the Mount we drove to Capernaum.  The crowds were manageable, and we got to Peter’s house at just the right moment, in between two very large groups.  While I was teaching in the shaded area an unusual thing happen.  A man had a video camera and I thought he was just taping the synagogue scene behind me.  He was video taping me as I talked through Mark 2:1-12.  It was more than a little strange, and he stayed right on me until I was finished. He never said a word to me.  (if you every read this blog, mystery man, let me know what you thought of the lesson!)

"Over by that Tree"

We got to walk down to the Sea at Capernaum, something I have never been able to do before.  We had a nice view of the sea, looking south to Tagbha (the traditional site of the feeding of the 5000) and the Church of the Primacy (the traditional site of the restoration of Peter). Both of those were closed for Mass, so we did not get to see the nice mosaics at Tagbha.

We had an excellent lunch at the Jesus Boat museum in Ginosaur.  Pizza was a popular choice,  but I maintained my commitment to falafel.  The Jesus Boat tour is always good, the way the boat was discovered and preserved is amazing.

After the Jesus Boat we drove to two of more out of the way locations, Korazin and Kursi.  Korazin was one of the cities which Jesus cursed when they rejected him as messiah.  It features a nice third century synagogue with a “seat of Moses” and some interesting decorations.  Kursi is the traditional site of the casting of the demon Legion into a herd of pigs.  There is a little Byzantine chapel there, but little else that could confirm the location.  It is more or less opposite Tagbha, where the disciples set out the night before, but it is impossible to be certain.

Tomorrow we head into the desert, visiting Qumran and En Gedi.  We eventually will get to Tamar south of the Dead Sea.

Israel Tour, Day 5: The Golan Heights

May 7

We started the day by driving to Bet Shean, a city which is nicely excavated to the Roman era, although the Tel has has some remains from early Israel history.  It was an unusually cool and cloudy morning, making the time spent exploring this site quite nice. I have been there several times before and I noticed several improvements and continued excavation.  For example, a portion of the main street (Cardo) has been modified to show the condition after the major earthquake which destroyed the city.

From there we drove up into the Golan Heights and had an excellent overview of the whole Sea of Galilee.  The day was so clear that we could see across the lake and all the way from the north to the south.  The road up to this overlook is extremely winding, causing a few stomachs to turn!

We made our up to Mount Ben Tal, which is about a far as you can drive north in Israel.  The place was a military site until the 70’s, but is now a destination for Israelis and those of us who want a good view of Mount Hermon, and into Syria and Lebanon. Do not worry it is perfectly safe, there is a huge military presence in the area, and the UN observers are usually present as well.  A highlight for me is Coffee Anan, a coffee shop with a nice gift shop which sells items made in the Golan Heights.  Anan is the Hebrew word for cloud, so the shop is “coffee in the clouds.”

Sadly, it was so overcast, we could not see Mount Hermon, although there was snow still at the lower elevations.  It was also quite cold, maybe in the low  60’s.  Along with a high wind, it was chilly.  Our driver, Feras, warned us that we would be very cold, so I explained to him what “we are from Michigan” means weather-wise.

We drove to Ma’sada, a Druze village where we had a nice lunch.  I had Druze bread, which is a sandwich made of a thin bread, like a tortilla but even thinner, with two sauces spread in the inside.  I ate a little dish of fresh local olives as well.  Very tasty.

Our next stop was Banias, which is the site of Ceasera Philippi.  I read the story of Peter’s confession in Mark 8.  After a short time talking about this passage we walked up to the Temple of Pan and looked at some the Roman remains.

Our last stop of the night was Tel Dan, a nice hike though the jungle-like national park.  The highlight is the city gate and the sacred area.  They have a large metal structure set up to show the general size and shape of the altar Jeroboam built there after the kingdom split.  Remember that he built to golden calves in Bethel and Dan, this was the norther limits of his kingdom.  We were able to hike over to the middle bronze era gates to the city, which are the only such gates Israel (perhaps the world, or at least that was the claim of another another guide who came in after us).

It was a long drive back to Ma’gaan, but since it is Sabbath here there was light traffic, especially driving through Tiberius, which is usually a real traffic mess at that time of day.

Sadly, we have a prayer need.  One of the Rochester kids, Robin, seems to have eaten something which bothered her, and she was quite I’ll on the bus.  My guess is the road up to the Golan Heights was a contributing factor, but she spent most of the day sleeping on the bus.  She seems better now, hopefully a good night sleep will put her right again.

We visit several “Jesus” sites tomorrow, I expect a great day.

In the Pistachio Tree