A Day at the Museums

After the long walking day yesterday the group was more than happy to visit two excellent museums in Jerusalem. First, we visited the Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. Ironically, as we arrived at the museum our bus had some sort of an electrical fault and the doors would not open. The reason this is strange is the trip started with a breakdown on the our college bus so that the door did not open. What are the chances we would have two busses with the same exact fault?

A typical visit at the Yad VaShem begins at the Children’s Memorial. This is a short walk through a dark room illuminated by reflected candlelight, giving the appearance of thousands of points of light. As you walk through the very dark space, a voice reads out the names and ages of children who died during the holocaust. The experience is extremely moving, as you see images of the children who were killed in the Holocaustt. After leaving the memorial there are several pieces of art depicting the loss of these children.

Once in the museum itself, the students work their way through the various galleries. The Yad VaShem is one of the best designed museums I have ever visited in terms of presenting a large and complex topic like the Holocaust. The early rooms develop the factors which led to the rise of Nazism and Hitler. Along with German propaganda depicting the Jews as vermin, there are several quotes from Christian leaders encouraging violence against the Jews. Although there were some exceptions, it is an embarrassment and shame the Christian church did not speak out against the evil against the Jewish people.

The museum has a number of short videos from Holocaust survivors narrating their experiences. I have seen many of these before, but there are always a few that are new to me. I find these personal testimonies to be the most moving experiences in the Yad VaShem. In fact, I purchased two books in the museum bookstore with some of these testimonies, as well as a collection of letters describing a woman’s experience during the Holocaust.

IMG_1929The second museum of the day was the Israeli National Museum. There are several things at this museum of interest to biblical studies students. First is the scale model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. Most of my students were very impressed with this model, and asked a series of questions about where things were located and even making observations about our visit to the Davidson Museum and southern wall excavations. Sometimes the model doesn’t quite match what we saw the previous day. I was pleased to see my students noticing these differences.

The second thing to see at this museum is the Shrine of the Book, the Dead Sea Scrolls museum. The presentation is brief, but we do get to see a nice selection of original Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a small selection of artifacts depicting daily life at Qumran, although our trip to the site  later will fill in most of those details. Because the hall is so dark, many of the students had trouble making out the details. Some of them left the gallery early and went next-door to the Nano Bible display. This appears to be a Bible that  fits on the head of a pin, or something like that. It always disappoints me people are far more fascinated with this technological Bible than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The third and perhaps most exciting thing at this museum is the archaeological wing. Artifacts are displayed very clearly with excellent signage, beginning in the earliest periods of the history of the region. Therefore too many things in this museum to narrate here, so I will just touch on a few.  The Tel Dan inscription is one of the more important recent finds, and quite controversial since it appears to refer to the house of David. If this is the case, it is the earliest inscriptions evidence for David’s kingdom. Two particular items were of interest to us, the Holy of Holies from Arad in the Edomite temple from Tamar. Since we will be visiting both of the sites later in the tour it was good to see the Edomite gods in the museum.

Most groups go straight to the Second Temple period displays. A large Christian group did this, completely skipping over the extremely important Old Testament artifacts. I think this is very disappointing, but perhaps understandable if a group is trying to move through the museum as rapidly as possible. But honestly I don’t think that’s the best way to experience this particular museum. Everything in this section of the museum is important for new testament studies. For example, there is a fragment of an inscription from the Temple warning gentiles not to pass the barrier (perhaps this is the background to Paul’s “dividing wall of hostility” in Ephesians 2:15). This is sitting next to the original Trumpeting stone found in the southern Wall excavations, an early menorah carving and an ossuary bearing the name of Simon, a builder of the temple.

There is a large display of ossuaries which I had not seen before. An ossuary is a “bone box” used for a secondary burial in the late Second Temple period. Of primary interest is Caiaphas’s ossuary, likely the high priest mentioned in the Bible. The Talpiot ossuaries were on display as well.

Although it was a replica, I was thrilled to see the ossuary and ankle bone discovered in the 1980s with a nail embedded in the bone. This is the only archaeological evidence from a crucifixion to be discovered. The crucified man was buried in a tomb, and after the body decomposed, his bones were transferred to the ossuary. It appears the nail could not be removed after his crucifixion, so the ankle bone and nail were both placed inside a bone box. Even though it is a bit gruesome, this does give a good illustration of the size and shape of nails used in a typical crucifixion, as well as visualizing how Jesus may have been crucified. The Bible does not mention how his feet were placed on the cross, so they may have been nailed on the sides as illustrated by this particular find.

We did not walk as far this day as the previous, the students were still fairly worn out and excited to get back to the hotel for a rest stop before dinner. Tomorrow we start at the Mount of Olives and will hike all the way to the City of David and Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

GBC – Israel Tour 2015

At Jaffa Gate 2013

At Jaffa Gate 2013

I am leaving today to lead a tour in Israel and Jordan.  This is my seventh trip to Israel since 2005 and I am looking forward to this one a great deal.  I have 24 students along with me on this trip and they are all ready for an adventure.  We arrive in Tel Aviv and begin with a walk through the Old City, the Rampart Walk, Western Wall and Davidson Archaeological Park.

We have a couple of days in Galilee, visiting all the “Jesus sites” as well as Tel Dan.  We will cross into Jordan at Tiberius, see Jerash and Mount Nebo on the way to Petra.  Finally, after crossing back into Israel at Eilat, we get a few days in the Negev, visiting Arad, Masada, En Gedi, Qumran and a few other sites.

Ten Dan, 2011

Ten Dan, 2011

I am particularly looking forward to the Southern Temple and City of David excavations, there are always and exciting things to be seen there.

I plan on walking down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley, then up the other side to the City of David excavations. While it is a long walking say, I think it will be an education on just how far people walked in and around Jerusalem in the first century.

Here is the basic itinerary, days 1-2 are travel and arriving in Jerusalem.

  • Day 3: (Wednesday-April 29) Jerusalem. Jaffa Gate and Old City of Jerusalem. We will pass the Citadel of David and begin the “Rampart Walk.” We continue to walk through the Old City market to the Western Wall, including parts of the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
  • Day 4: (Thursday April 30) Jerusalem. We will spend the morning at the Yad VaShem Museum and Israel Museum (Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem Model, and the Archaeology wing of the Museum).
  • Day 5: (Friday-May 1) Jerusalem. The day begins on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley. Walking down the Mount we will visit Domiunis Flevit (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We will walk across the Kidron Valley past Absalom’s tomb and up to the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel and the pool of Siloam. Finally we visit the Davidson Archaeology Park on the Southern wall of the Temple.

    At En Gedi, 2009

    At En Gedi, 2009

  • Day 6: (Saturday-May 2) Galilee. We will begin the day by driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, through Nazareth to Beit Shean, and finally arrive at Maagan Holiday Village in the late afternoon.
  • Day 7: (Sunday-May 3) Galilee. We will begin this day by visiting Mount Arbel, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi and/or Tel Dan, Kursi.
  • Day 8: (Monday- May 4) Jordan, Jeresh, Mt. Nebo, Amman. We will leave the Galilee early and prepare to cross into Jordan at the King Hussein Bridge and transfer busses in Jordan. We will stop at Jeresh for a tour of this spectacular Roman city.
  • Day 9: (Tuesday-May 5) Petra. We start out for Petra early, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra. We will ahve a full day to explore this fantastic site!
  • Day 10: (Wednesday-May 6) Aqaba, Eilot, Tamar. We will head south to the Red Sea, crossing the border back into Israel at Eilat. After some time swimming in the Red Sea we will arrive at Biblical Tamar Park.
  • Day 11: (Thursday-May 7) Mamshit Tel Arad, Masada, the Dead Sea, Tamar. We will be on the bus early to explore several sites in the desert. Our first stop will be Mamshit, a Nabatean trading village which has been beautifully restored by the Israeli Park service. Then we will visit Arad, an ancient Canaanite city captured by Joshua. We will visit the Israelite citadel and travel to Masada, the famed fortress built by King Herod 2,000 years ago.

    08 Mount of Olives 04 Group

    Mount of Olives, 2013

  • Day 12: (Friday-May 8) Ein Gedi, Qumran, The Dead Sea. We will hike to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul, then visit Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We end this day with a float in the Dead Sea.
  • Day 13: (Saturday-May 9). We will depart Tamar Park and visit a few sites on the way to Jerusalem to spend our last few hours in the Old City for shopping.

One of the highlights of my tours is spending a few days at Tamar, an archaeological site south of the Dead Sea.  The site is small but unique, with remains from the Iron Age (include a small Solomonic Gate and a four-room house), an Edomite shrine, a Roman bath and store rooms, a Turkish water system, a building once used as a jail during the British mandate, and an Israeli bomb shelter.

Look for frequent updates from Israel and Jordan over the next two weeks!

Tel Dan 2007

Tel Dan 2007

GBC Israel 2005

Israel 2013, Day 11 – Homeward Bound

This was our last day in Israel, and we made it count. Staring at Tamar at 9AM, we drover north to En-Gedi. This is the canyon where David hid from King Saul in 1 Sam 24. While there are plenty of caves, I doubt any of the current caves are the place where David was hiding when Saul came to “cover his feet.” With a supply of water, shade, animals and defensive lookouts, it is little wonder that David would have used this canyon as a base of operations in the Negev. The Israeli Parks service has made this an easy hike, although there are a few scrambles up rocks. We started about 9AM, so the park was not really crowed, only a few small groups. We had a few photo ops with rock badgers, but the wild goats were all in hiding from the heat. We did see an unusually large fresh water crab.

Kodie samples the water at David's waterfall

Kodie samples the water at David’s waterfall

After drinking water (and eating ice-cream, just like David did I am sure), we continued north to Qumran. The site is little changed from previous visits, but this time there were almost no other visitors. It was about noon by this time and quite hot. Most groups do not even go out to the site, they stop for the buffet and shopping area. This is sad, because Qumran is one of the most significant sites for the study fo the New Testament. Since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the site, I usually take the time to talk a bit about the Essenes and the problems with the relationship between the villa at Qumran and the presence of the scrolls. I tend to accept the “standard” view that the villa was used by some Essenes and that they collected the scrolls and stored them away in the caves prior to A.D. 70. Because of the heat, we walked the site quickly and spent some time in the shaded area near the cave view talking about the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls and why they are important to the study of the New Testament.

After some lunch and shopping, we drive to the Inn of the Good Samaritan, a relatively new site on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. This was a new site to me since it was only recently added to the National Parks pass. The main attraction is a nice museum of mosaics from various synagogues and churches. There is a room dedicated to the Samaritans as well. The museum is built on the site of a crusader era church dedicated to the Good Samaritan. If you have an hour or so, and do not have a group of tired college kids with you, it is worth a stop.

After the Inn of the Good Samaritan, we drove to the Jaffa Gate for a final few hours of shopping in the Old City. Since it was a Friday afternoon, the crowds were a bit lighter than our previous visit. While most of the students had shopping lists of souvenirs they wanted to buy for people back home, I really just wandered around watching people. I listened to a Guide give an explanation of the Holy Sepulchre which was sad indeed. He gave far more time to the story of the Keeper of the Key than to Jesus. His talk was devoid of real history (mostly legends about the building) and he had no real idea who Jesus was. I guess it did not matter, most of his group were playing on their cell phones and not really paying attention.

After we re-gathered we headed to the airport. As I said, this is Friday evening. Ben Gurion Airport was in Shabbat mode. Only a single coffee stand was open and the place was as silent as a grave. This was a pleasant change from the usually midnight flight crowds. Since our fight did not leave until 12:40 AM, we had to hunker down for a few hours.  Passing through security was a big part of that time, since several of our people had to open bags and explain their 30 tiny jars of honey (or other odd images). Our return flights were smooth and on time. In fact, we got to Chicago before our drivers arrived to pick us up!

This was a great trip overall. The students were excellent, attentive, and well behaved (at least in front of me). I thoroughly enjoyed the trip despite being sick for most of the time. Thanks to all of you who have been reading along. I obviously finished this last installment after I caught up on some sleep over the weekend!

Israel 2013, Day 10 – The Negev

We got an early start from Tamar, driving north and a bit east to Mamshit. This is a well preserved Nabatean trading village along the Incense Route. I have only visited this site once before, in January 2012, so there are a number of this I wanted to explore, at the top of the hill there is an early Byzantine church with a number of Greek mosaics and a most interesting baptismal in a side room. The size and shape both strike me as odd, since it seems to have been used for immersion (there are steps), it it is so small it would have to be a self immersion at best. Mamshit also has a large Nabatean mansion with several nicely reconstructed rooms. Since we saw the Nabatean tombs at Petra, it is god to see how the wealthy lived.


From Mamshit it is a short 40 minute drive to Tel Arad. This marvelous site has been on all six of my tours for several reasons. First, the Canaanite villages allows visitors to see a Canaanite home (in contrast to a four room house) as wee as a Canaanite sacred precinct. At the top of the Tel is an Israelite fortress excavated to the eighth century B.C. The large gates loom over the site, but the real highlight is an early Israelite temple at the center. This complex of rooms is the same general proportions as Solomon’s temple, although the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple rather than at the end. A standing stone was found in the Holy of Holies, but it has been moved to a museum. Two incense stands were found buried in the ground, either as the result of Hezekiah or Josiah’s reforms.

From Arad we drove to Masada, the highlight of any tour of the Dead Sea region. Masada was a desert fortress / palace built by Herod the Great on the top of a steep, flat-topped mountain. He had cisterns and a water system built to collect the minimal rainfall and provide water for most of a year, and storehouses for food, wine, weapons and other supplies. While the Herodians planned for a worst case scenario, it was a group of Zealots who captured the citadel when Jerusalem rebelled against Rome. When Jerusalem fell, the Zealots held put at Masada for over a year, finally choosing to kill themselves rather then be captured by Rome.

Our visit was early afternoon, so it was beastly hot. We made our way to the store rooms, northern palace, bath house and fantastic view of the Dead Sea valley, looking to the north. Most of the kids went down the stairs to the palace, I stayed on top to take their picture. Not that I couldn’t walk back up those stairs…


We had more than an hour for the Dead Sea float. We went to a private beach behind a cosmetics store, which has a nice patio with cold drinks and that type of thing. Everyone went into the water, although I neglected to warn the ladies to not shave their legs that morning (I never remember that, for some reason).

Tomorrow is our last full day in Israel, starting the the desert at Tamar, hiking at En Gedi, visiting Qumran, and a final fling in the Old City.



Israel 2013, Day 9 – Swimming in the Red Sea

This is a short Entry because today was a long travel day. Seems like every tour has a day where you have to drive more than you visit. We left Petra at 9am, and made it across the border by noon. It went very smoothly entering Israel at Eilat, other than the fact the security agents thought some of our boys were cute and hassled them an extra long time. One girl told Ben Stout that his Snicker Bar was illegal in Israel, which confused him hinge he bought it in Israel! (I personally think there is something sick about a person that its a Snicker bar and keeps it for several days before eating it…)

To break up the travel, I dropped some of the kids off at Corel Beach, a national park on the Red Sea for a little snorkeling. This is not really a “biblical” site or activity, but it was popular with the students. They had a great time swimming, and the break from the tour was good. The rest of the group went a bit further down the beach to a public beach with a mall and several coffee shop options. I did have a nice latte in Cafe Neto and later an iced coffee at Cafe Cafe, which is probably an indication of some sort of addiction.

That night we arrived at the camp at biblical Tamar, which is about 35 miles north of Petra, in Israel. It would have been more convenient to drive across the Aravah, although quite a bit more illegal. Tomorrow we visit Mamshit, Arad, Masada, and will float in the Dead Sea.

Israel 2013, Day 5 – Heading to Galilee

Today was a travel day, north from Jerusalem to Caesarea and then on to Galilee. It is amazing how minimal the traffic is on Sabbath in Jerusalem. Later in the day we were in Beit Shean and there was no other car driving and only a handful of people on the street.

Caesarea is a thoroughly Roman city built by King Herod the Great to show that he was a king over a wealthy land that honored the Roman emperor. It turns up the in the Bible several times, primarily as the seat of Roman authority. Pilate lived there, and Paul appeared before both Felix and Festus in the city. Philip the Evangelist settled there, and eventually the city became an important location for both Jewish and Christian scholars (Origen and Eusebius, for example).

We started in the large theater, which originally held about 4000. Today it was set up for a rock concert. Not exactly an authentic experience, but perhaps Pilate enjoy a nice heavy metal show now and then. We walked to the imperial residence, which is all but swallowed by the sea. There are usually a number of fishermen on the rocks. Funny how college kids want to go collect shells when they see an ocean! After a few minutes of collecting sea shells by the sea shore, we continued through the hippodrome (horse track) and up to the Byzantine Period houses. These have well preserved mosaics, a number of which contain scripture. In the Tax Records office there is a warning that those who do good have no need to fear the government, based on Romans 13:3.

After poking around several other of the Roman period rooms (including the Mithraeum, although I did not see much there that made it clear what the room was), we walked through the Crusader castle. One of the things that makes Caesarea an interesting site is this wide range of periods nicely preserved and presented. Plus, I had a pretty good Turkish coffee.

The plan was to drive from Caesarea to Beit Shean, but due to a miscommunication our driver that we wanted to be dropped in Nazareth at the Church of the Annunciation. This was not too far out of the way, so I thought we could at least look around Nazareth for a half hour, use the bathrooms, and move on. As soon as the driver pulled away, I realized I had left my cell phone in the bus and could not call him when we were done. I could still see the bus, so I sent the group up to the church and I took off running (well, walking briskly) thinking that I could catch the bus because of the traffic. I figured that Scott and Luann Shaw (triple platinum belt in Tae Kwan Do) could handle things

I did not count on the bus turning, and I did not see where he turned. This is all a great deal funnier if you know how crazy traffic in Nazareth is, and the likelihood that i am going to out tun a bus. At the bottom of the main drag I guessed he probably turned left, but I simply did not see a lot for busses. After walking a block I saw a bus poking up above a fence and found the Nazareth Municipal Bus Lot. I saw a friendly looking Arab Christian (who was using Rosary beads at the time, so he got to be honest, right?) I asked him if he knew where the tourist busses parked, but his English was not good. He led me to the back of the lot, which sounds scarier than it was, where I found our bus and driver. He thought it was all quite funny since I had just ran (well, waddle rapidly) about a mile at that point. He gave me a water bottle and a ride on a municipal bus back to the church. Other that wasting time and taking a year off my life, there was no harm done.

We arrived at Beit Shean, which was quite hot but virtually empty by this time of the day. Beit Shean was a Canaanite city at he time of Saul. When he fell on his own sword, the people of Beit Shean took his body and displayed in on their walls (1 Sam. 31:8-13). It is later controlled by Solomon, but little else is know about the site until Rome re-founded the city as Scythopolis. While it does not figure significantly in the NT, the archaeology of the site is excellent and the National Park service has done a great job presenting the city at the Roman level.

Despite the heat, the kids troop all over the city, and quite a few went to the top of the Tel to get the panoramic overview. I stuck to the main city and walked through the Bathhouse with Becca and Brianna.

We arrived at Ma’agan Holiday Resort, the best place to stay in Galilee and maybe in all of Galilee. Tomorrow we visit the Jesus sites and I hope to end the day at Tel Dan.

Israel 2013, Day 4 – Down The Mount of Olives and Up the Kidron

After writing most of this post, I realized that we saw a lot today, I amazed that we could fit all this into a single day. This might be the difference between traveling with college students rather than older adults, but I will say I saw some tired people on the bus ride back to the hotel! In fact, there is so much here I will split this post into two, just to make it a more manageable read.


On the Mount of Olives

We started the day at the top of the Mount of Olives. As always, the drop off for the walk down was crowded, lots of guides trying to jockey for position along the wall so their group can get that “perfect picture.” Since we have already walked throughout the Old City, the group asked really good questions, pointing out the places they have seen and trying to get their minds around the geography of the city. I had the impression that there were less vendors this year, I was not approached once. Maybe I just looked surely.

From the top of the Mount of Olives we walked down to Dominus Flevit, a small church at the traditional site of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We read from Luke 19 and talked about what the crowds, especially the disciples, thought Jesus was going to do when he went up to the temple. One of the highlights of this church is the cave near the entrance with a collection of ossuaries. This indicates that the Jewish tradition of burying the dead on the Mount of Olives goes back to the first century.

The garden of Gethsemane was packed with tourists, as usual. we arrived at the same moment a Russian Orthodox group was leaving the Church of Mary Magdalene, so we were somehow lost in the crowd. My first visit in 2005 you could still walk between the trees, but there are far too many people for that now. Inside the Church of All Nations there are some renovations going, the center arches are being refurbished so there is a large scaffold in the center of the church. They did a nice job disguising the work, but it was not as solemn as usual.

After waking down the Mount of Olives, we were near the bottom of the Kidron Valley, so I marched across the street to walk down into the valley and see Absalom’s Tomb and the other monuments. I have only done this once before (in 2007) and did not think too much of it at the time. The walk then was not conducive to tourists, and it was full of broken bottles and trash. The Parks Authority has done a wonderful job cleaning the area and building excellent stairs down past the graves to the monuments. I should explain that these are all Hasmonean tombs and have nothing to do with Absalom or Pharaoh’s daughter, those are the traditional names.

Another new feature is a stairway up the other side of the valley that end a short distance from the City of David. It would be possible to have the bus drop a group across the street from the Church of All Nations and hike down the Kidron, up the other side to the City of David, then down the Canaanite tunnels to the pool of Siloam, the up the Herodian steps and sewer tunnels to the Davidson Museum to tour the excavations there at the Ophel. That might make for a long day, but quite exciting to me. Maybe on the 2015 tour?

I will be posting a bit more from this long day a bit later. Stay tuned!