Crossing the Jordan to Visit Jordan

We left the hotel early in order to cross the border to Jordan. This was relatively painless although it took much longer than anticipated. Moving 35 people through the lines simply took longer on both sides, and with only a couple of exceptions the security people did not hassle us.We met our guide, Mohammed, who helped us through the entry process. Mohammed guided for me in 2013 and I recognized him immediately. We took the short cut to Jerash, through a number of smaller Jordanian villages. This was good for the students to see and I have already had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip.

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.
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 (it is closed most of the time?) .

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. In this case, they nearly sparked a rave among a few of the students).

Fifth, we walked across the hill to the Temple of Artemis. This is an incomplete temple, like Sardis it does not seem to have been completed. 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. Guides like to demonstrate how the pillars flex just a bit by putting a spoon in the lower crack and pushing the pillar. It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway? Perhaps this one pillar is the best example.

We walked down the sacred ascent to the Cardo, which is probably the easiest route, but it would be better to walk up from the bottom to experience the Temple as a second century Roman would have. 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.

It was extremely hot, perhaps as high as 95, but a slight breeze made the walk endurable. We rested in the shade drinking water and eating ice cream for. A vendor who was only charging a dollar. Naturally most of the students saw this as an opportunity to eat three.

By now it was getting late in the day and traffic through Amman was terrible. It is always terrible, but an accident had the bus at a standstill. This accident put us as much as 45 minutes behind schedule 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.

Speaking of the church, they have finally completed renovations of the church and as of October 2016 here is a nice museum display of the mosaics. The renovations have also changed the way groups walk up to the viewpoint (it is much nicer and paved for an easy walk).

I wrote this post on our long drive south to Petra. Tomorrow morning we will hike down to Petra, a Nabatean city and one of the “wonders of the ancient world.”

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.

Arrival as Planned…Almost

I am currently on a tour of Israel and Jordan with students and friends of Grace Bible College. We made it to Jerusalem after a very long day of travel. We left campus on time (which is strange) and hit virtually no traffic on the way to Chicago’s O’Hare airport (which is far stranger). This meant we were a half hour early for check in and moved through TSA as quickly as might be expected. With everything going right, we had a long time before our flight boarded. 

Flights were a little bumpy but Turkish Air does a good job taking care of passengers (plenty of good food). Our flight arrived on time, but the gate for the Tel Aviv flight was on the other side of the country (only a slight exaggeration!) Even after this long walk, we made the flight without any problem. 

After what felt like more than 24 hours of travel, we got to Tel Aviv, through passport control with little hassle, and all our luggage was waiting. So you may be asking, when does the disaster hit? For every other tour the driver is in the airport with a sign, waiting expectantly to take us to the hotel. We were a little late, but no more than a few minutes No driver. I panic for ten minutes as we look fo a driver with a sign, but no luck. I tried the bus company, but they are closed. Finally I manage to find the number I was given for our driver, he is also the transfer driver. Turns out he was waiting just outside, expecting me to call.

All this really did is make us miss dinner, but after a long travel day and lots of airline food, most people have opted for an early (or late) bedtime. We are up early for the Garden Tomb and the Old City, so tune in tomorrow.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 13 – Back Home Again

[The group has now returned home after a long day of travel from Tamar in the Negev to Tel Aviv to fly through Newark to Chicago and finally a bus ride to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I took a day to recover, and now I am teaching a summer session Jesus and the Gospels course, but I thought one final travel report was necessary.]

The highlight for most of the students on the drive from the desert was a stop near Beersheva for one more visit to Aroma Coffee, but we did stop at the Valley of Elah for a short walk in the general area of the well-known battle between David and Goliath (1 Sam 17). We talked about the story for a few minutes and most people took a stone or two from the dry river bed. I have often wondered where all those stones come from, since every American tourist seems to take a handful home with them.


We spent our last four hours in the Old City. Some of the students revisited the Holy Sepulcher, others walked back to the Western Wall, and a few went all the way to the Pool of Bethesda. I visited the Tower of David exhibition just inside the Jaffa Gate with Josh and Lisa Tweist. I have never gone through this site before and it was well worth the shekels. They have done a nice job making use of the limited space to present Jerusalem from the Hasmonean era through Herodian, Crusader and Ottoman periods. We were in a bit of a rush since the Museum closed at 3PM, but were able to seem most of the outside displays.

There are two maps of Jerusalem within the site, one small model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod is designed like the National Park models. It is rather small, but should give some basic orientation to the Old City. Near the exit is a larger model created in the later 1800s by Stephen Illés. This is a fascinating map since it is a model of the city as it was seen by Illés in 1864-1873, showing the height of Robinson’s Arch for example. For anyone who has been around the Old City for a while, this model is worth visit.

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Tower of David


After the Tower of David I visited the Christ’s Church bookstore and then camped in their coffee shop for an hour and a half for some quiet reading and espresso before getting to the airport for the late flight back to the states. Overall, this was one of the best student trips I have had the pleasure of leading. The students were always interested and excited about what we did each day and asked great questions.

Now that I am back, I plan on editing the previous dozen posts (writing on an iPad is always an adventure!) I will also add a few more pictures for days I was unable to transfer my photos, so check back in a few days for some updates.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 12 – En Gedi and Qumran

This was our final full day touring the Dead Sea region. We started early at En Gedi, a nature park with a 1.8 mile hike back into a canyon to “David’s Waterfall.” This is the location called the Crags of the Wild Goats in 1 Samuel 24:2 and the general environment on the wadi give the story the ring of truth. It is very easy to imagine David and a few men hiding back in the bushes in a small cave when King Saul comes and takes some time to relax in the shade and “cover his feet.”

IMG_0677 EnGediSince we arrived earlier than the big tour buses from Jerusalem we were the only people at the  waterfall for most of the time we spent there. I thought there was far less water than in the last two or three visits, the pool was certainly much smaller. We saw a very conservative Jewish family hiking in full black coats a first for me at En-Gedi. Aside from being hot in the sun, I thought it was interesting the children were playing in the water in there long black coats!

One warning for anyone driving to En-Gedi: there is a serious road construction project in front of the En-Gedi with a detour and traffic jam caused by one-lane traffic. The public beach across from En-Gedi is closed as is the gas station and resturant. I had planned to picnic at the beach, but had to adjust and eat at Qumran.

Getting to En-Gedi early means a hot afternoon at Qumran. After the vertigo-inducing video we walked out the the archaeological site, working our way quickly to the shaded viewing area of the cave. This was a particularly good time of discussion of who the Essenes were and why the the Dead Sea Scrolls are important. It also gave me a chance to correct the goofy suggestion in the video that John the Baptist was once part of the Qumran community.

Funny story: when I was giving some explanation in the little museum after the video, a young Jewish couple from New York hanging around listening. I chatted with them a bit and they were visiting Qumran for the first time. The stayed with us for most of our talk and seemed really interested. Strangely this was the second time someone has joined us on the tour.

Everyone Takes this Picture

Everyone Takes this Picture

After some shopping at Qumran, we drove to a beach for a float on the Dead Sea. There was a large group of American Jewish high schoolers, but they left soon after we arrived. Most of the students chose to float in the warm water, several collect some salt to stink up their luggage on the trip home. We enjoyed some excellent kosher pizza before heading back to Tamar for the night. Most of us are very tired after ten solid days of hiking, yet as I write everyone is hanging out playing games and snacking.IMG_0722 Dead Sea

I hear some of the students are planning on hiking up a hill behind Tamar to watch the sunrise. It really is a spectacular view and I wish them well. We head to Jerusalem tomorrow for final shopping in the Old City and then to the airport for home.


GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

Today was an all-Negev day, beginning with a drive to Mamshit (or the Greek Mampsis for those who are sensitive). Mamshit is a Nabatean trading post built in the first century AD as a caravansary. There are two old churches at the top of the hill; the Nilus church has several interesting mosaics (including the dedication by Nilus) and the western church has a small baptismal font that is worth seeing. It is very small indeed, but is not for infant baptisms nor is it a font for holy water since there as steps down into the cross shaped pool.

IMG_0604The second highlight of Mamshit is the large Nabatean merchant home. We entered through the upper door to a large courtyard and explored the “stables.” The gate to the frescos were open, so we snuck a few photographs of Eros and Psyche (no flash, of course). One of the largest coin hordes was found inside this home, and I had trouble restraining the students from digging for next year’s tuition.

From Mamshit we drove about an hour to Arad, one of the highlights of the tour for me. One reason is that it is so very well preserved and presented, a visitor can see the layout of the Canaanite city as well as a citadel dating to the Israelite period. A second reason is that few people visit Arad so we almost always have the entire archaeological park to ourselves.

We walked up the hill in the Canaanite city, examining the walls and sitting for a few minutes in the restored Canaanite home. I compared this style house to the four-room house at Tamar, pointing out the differences between Canaanite and Israelite designs. We walked through the west gate to the “palace” (a bit of an ambitious name for the administrative center) and the sacred district.

Up the hill is the highlight of Arad, the walled citadel. The massive Solomonic gates are nicely restored, but the parks department has done a wonderful job restoring the Israelite temple. I have visited this small temple on six other occasions, and finally all the restorations are complete. The temple has a main altar, holy place, and holy of Holies. This holy of Holies is reproduced in the Israel museum to display the original standing stone and incense altars. What is new in this restoration is an staircase leading to a chamber down below the temple. I know this has been an ongoing project for many years, but it looks to be complete now, with the exception of explanatory signs. If any readers have information on the chamber, please leave a comment. Is this a Canaanite high place? Was anything of significance found?



After a lunch break (Aroma coffee is excellent), we drove to Masada. This is one of the most impressive sites we visit, Herod’s fortress by the Dead Sea. Like most visitors we worked our way up to the northern buildings including the bathhouse and the palace on the north end of the mountain. The students thoroughly enjoyed the two+ hours we spent on the top of the mountain (more than half went down he Snake Trail while the less intrepid (like me) took the tram.

I will update this post with a few pictures later, the Internet is free but slow here.

Tomorrow we visit En-Gedi, Qumran and the Dead Sea.


GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 10 – Crossing the Red Sea

Just a quick report today. We crossed back into Israel this morning by 10AM at the Aqaba/Eilat border crossing. The transfer went absolutely smoothly and our guide Ash was very professional in helping us on the Jordanian side.

We drove to the Coral Beach National Park at let the student snorkel for a few hours. The beach was quite cool and the water was frigid, but the students had a great time swimming. I expect the go-pro videos will be posted eventually. All I managed to do is fry the heck out of my legs. I let the kids have some shopping time in Eilat and then we headed north to Tamar.

The Red Sea

The Red Sea

It was still quite hot when we arrived, but as usual the temperature drops after sundown. There was a light breeze, so we gathered in the sukkah next to the cafeteria and had a time of sharing. Many of the students shared their thoughts about traveling in Israel and how some of the sites. Several thought the Mount of Beatitudes was a highlight since it gave them a chance to reflect on the teaching of Jesus. But they also found it reassuring to sing hymns with Christians from other cultures.

Most of the students are tired, but a serious Euchure game has started. There may be blood. In other news, while I was writing this blog a scorpion skittered across the cafeteria floor, and I stomped the life out of it. I think that is in the Book of Revelation (when the Bible teacher rises in the desert and slays the Black Scorpion of Doom…)

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 8 – Visiting Jordan

We left our hotel very early to cross the the border into Jordan. This went very smoothly until we got to the other side and our Jordanian guide was not there. He was caught in traffic near the border, a small village had a “market day” and caused a disruption. After a tense twenty minutes, our guide Ash arrived and was extremely apologetic. There were no problems at the border and once he arrived we were able to move quickly to Jerash. Well, as quickly as one can move through small Jordanian villages. Traffic is terrible and there only seem to be general guiding principles for traffic flow.

 Since it was getting close to noon we had a quick “sandwich” at a shop in the Jerash parking lot. I had a kabob, roasted beef with some vegetables and a few fries, but chicken was also available. With a drink it was $9 (or 6 dinar), a reasonable price. Strangely the shop was playing Joan Baez’s Greatest Hits, probably because the first song was Amazing Grace and we were a Christian group. It was somewhat surreal to hear her music in a Middle Eastern shop. As much as I enjoy Joan, it didn’t quite fit.

Jerash is a large city and was once part of the Decapolis. It does not have much biblical interest (unless Paul visited during his three years in Arabia), but it is a well-preserved Roman era city, much larger than Bet Shean (another Decapolis city in Israel which we visited two days ago). There are many highlights and I hate the fact we can only spend a short time at the site. Hadrian’s Gate opens to a street and hippodrome, although it is not fully restored. The oval plaza leading to the Cardo is breathtaking, a great picture opportunity.

IMG_3218From the oval plaza we walked up to the a fully restored theater. From a central spot you may speak in a normal voice and be heard throughout the theater. It is fun to watch students speak a few words then step onto the spot, they are always amazed at the amplification. Naturally the bagpipers have to play, although I am not sure why. I would prefer to have a quiet visit, but people seem to like them. I would also like to visit the temple of Zeus nearby, but we did not have the luxury of time.

Passing by the mosaics in the three churches, we walked over to the Temple of Artemis. This massive temple has some of the best pillars we see on the tour and demonstrate how they sway in the wind. There was a coffee vendor (with a fake British accent) so we shared some Turkish coffee (with Cardamon, of course!) We then walked down the sacred steps (seven sets of seven steps) to the Cardo. There is much more to see here, we were only able to visit a few of the highlights.

From Jerash we traveled south past Amman to Madaba and Mount Nebo. We were running behind, so we skipped the Madaba map and only viewed the Dead Sea from Mount Nebo. This is the traditional location where Moses viewed the land before he died. Between the evaporation from the Dead Sea and modern pollution there was quite a bit of haze, but the Sea was visible even if Jericho was obscured.

The long drive to Petra was uneventful, it is a sadly dull drive through the desert and the last part is in the dark. We made it to dinner by 9PM and most people were exhausted. The Petra Marriott is very comfortable, and we have an early start at Petra in the morning.


GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 7 – The Jesus Sites

IMG_0359 Jordan Open BibleThis was another day of great weather for our tour, just a bit over 80 and breezy. We started the day Yardenet, location in Gaillee on the Jordan River for Christians to get baptized. Well, not all Christians, I suppose. We spent only thirty minutes talking about the likelihood this was the place Jesus was baptized as well as the reasons Jesus wanted to be baptized by John in the first place. It really is a lovely place early in the morning before the tourists start showing up.

From there we drove through Tiberias to Mount Arbel. This is a National Park which includes a hike to one of the most spectacular viewing points in the Galilee. Located on the west side of the lake, we can see all of the significant Jesus sites in Galilee. Since the Parks service took over Mount Arbel, they have improved the trail and provided toilets and a cold water tap. If you have the time to get there first thing in the morning, I highly recommend the walk.

Coming down from Arbel we drove to several of the traditional locations for Jesus’ ministry. For the most part these traditions go back to the Byzentine period, but they are still only traditions. I personally think it is better to say a particular site is “in the general area of where Jesus did something” without claiming absolute certainty (or worse, sacred ground). For example, the Mount of Beatitudes is as likely as any of the surrounding hills for the Sermon on the Mount, but it is probably not the mount. Jesus taught in many such places, and the Sermon was not really delivered in one location. But the Mount of Beatitudes is a nice place to read and reflect on Jesus’ teaching.IMG_3211

We ate lunch at “Jesus Boat” at Nof Ginnosaur on the plain of Gennesert. There is a display describing how the boat was discovered and preserved, and you can pay for a multimedia tour and see the actual boat. I have done this a few times and I have enjoyed the presentation, but I am not sure it is worth the money for college students. I called the cafe ahead of time and they had falafel, schwarma, schnitzel, and pizza waiting for us, $10 or $11 including a drink (including juices, $3 alone). They spiff the plate up with a few chips and offer a piece of chocolate for desert. The shop is good for a few Christian souvenirs (“ie., “Jesus Junk”), but I thought the prices were higher than usual.

After lunch we drove up to Capernaum. The site is significant as the traditional location of Saint Peter’s house and more importantly, a fifth century synagogue which has been nicely restored. We happened to get there before many of the big tour groups had finished lunch, so the park was virtually deserted. I was able to go right to Peter’s house and everyone entered the church to look down through the glass floor into the house itself. After this we looked at the various archaeological pieces on display before entering the synagogue.

The highlight of visiting Capernaum today was our time on the beach. We had an amazing spot by the lake, and I read from John 21, the catch of fish and restoration of Peter. (People from my church might recognize that as my sermon a few Sundays ago, but that is not likely!) the time we spent reading Scriptue and talking by the sea was probably the best time I have had at this (usually crowded) Christian site.

One other note:  this is the first time I have visited Capernaum since they have finished renovations on the entrance. They have moved all the lintels to the left of the synagogue and opened up a huge space decorated with a mosaic. Peter himself has been moved to overlook the lake. There is now a wide open area for people to sit in front of the church. I hope they now continue this project and use brick for the area guides sit and talk to the groups. The area had many benches and shade, but it is paved with gravel so it is impossible to move 25 people quietly past another tour group.IMG_0405 GBC Bag

We ended our drive around the lake at Kursi, the traditional place where Jesus cast out a demon into some pigs (Luke 8:26-39). There is a late Byzentine church there, but the chances the cliffs just behind the church are the actual cliffs the pigs run off seems remote. It is the right general area, however, since the villages in the area would have been Gentile, and the lake is nearby. Kursi is a strange place to visit since I have never seen another group there and even the person in the ticket booth seemed surprised to see 25 people marching into the church. Yet the grounds are very well kept, the trees and plants in the church are quite nice.

We returned to the hotel at Ma’agan for pool and dinner. Tomorrow we crossed into Jordan and visit Jeresh, ending a long day of travel in Petra.


GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 6 – Heading to Galilee

We started very early today and drove from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Herod the Great’s tribute to the Roman Empire on the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of the best presented sites in Israel and I have always enjoyed the walk along the beach. We started at the theater and spent quite a bit of time looking at the various columns and other architecture behind the theater itself. Several students took some pictures on the columns of Herod’s palace (without my approval of course).

At Caesarea

At Caesarea


The palace has a cistern which is labeled as the pit in which Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea, but this seems to be unlikely since he was a Roman citizen under house arrest. Another room  has a sign indicating it is the location of Paul’s appeal to Caesar, but I am not sure how that can be known. It seems to me it is best to just say Paul was at the location and leave the details vague.

After the students put their feet in the Mediterranean, we walked across the hippodrome to the aristocratic homes overlooking the sea. I noticed a few Greek mosaics I had not seen before, although I might find I had photographs of them already. We finished out Caesarea in traditional fashion for my tours, at the gelato shop near the exit.

We traveled across the Jezreel valley, stopping at the MacDonald’s near Megiddo for lunch. This was quite the experience. First, they have a “Big American” burger that I have never seen in American, the thing is as big as a small pet and probably was about 9000 calories. But I got a small fry and diet coke, so I am going to be okay. Second, Anna Lange was ahead of me in line and tried to pay for her meal (19.40 shekels) with an American $20 bill. A manager was called to make change, and he gave her two coins totaling .60 shekels. She asked me if that was right, and I called for the manager who sheepishly gave her the additional 65 shekels she was owed. It was a pretty clear attempt to steal from an innocent tourist.


Bet Shean Theater

After our lunch, we drove to Bet Shean, another favorite of mine. Like Caesarea, this site is excavated to the Roman period, although the city has a long and important history. After starting in the theater (where Ben Stout reenacted scenes from Lord of the Rings, or maybe Gladiator, I could not really tell), the group divided, with some hiking to the top of the Tel while the rest followed me through the bathhouse, agora/market, and sacred precinct. There are several pools and a nicely restored public toilet. It was a bit cooler today, but still quite warm without shade, so we only stayed about two hours before heading to our hotel (and pool).

We arrived at Ma’agan Holiday resort in Galilee in time for the students to enjoy an hour or so in the pool before dinner. I have been using this hotel for ten years now, and I have to say it is my favorite in Israel. While the rooms are a little smaller than most hotels, but it is right on the Sea of Galille and the grounds are immaculately landscaped. The hotel has expanded and modernized the resturant. Most of the tables have a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee and the dining area is much more appealing. Several students commented they enjoyed this food better than the Leonardo, and I thought the fried eggplant was phenomenal.

When I got to my room, I noticed my iPhone had slipped out of my pocket on the bus. Despite telling the students to double check their seats, I left my phone (and camera) behind on the bus. Fortunately the driver noticed it and called me on my Israeli phone to let me know. The downside is I do not have any pictures to post tonight. I will fix this when I get my phone back. Hopefully I can get this posted, the free internet at the hotel has not been reliable (although the Bruno Mars CD that has been playing all evening is working fine, sadly enough). Some of the guys are watching a soccer match in the lounge, looks like they are having a great time with some Israeli fans.

Tomorrow is devoted to the “Jesus sites” around Galilee, check back for updates tomorrow.