In May 2022 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.
I have an Israel / Jordan tour planned for May 2023. If you are interested in the Seven Churches of Revelation tour, I highly recommend the Global Smyrna Meeting hosted by Tutku in June 2023. This is a tour of all seven churches with Bible Conference meetings one day and in the evenings (at least go check out the speakers at the conference). For more information on either trip, contact me directly via email or a direct message on twitter @plong42.
Today was the 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. I highly recommend you visit the museum just outside the entrance, a thorough visit might take an hour. (I bought two museum publications in the bookstore, they have a nice selection of serious books among all the usual tourist stuff). 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 Osama led us down the long walk to the Treasury, 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 was one of 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 chilly in the Siq).
The area in front of the Treasury was extremely crowded when we arrived, which means tourism in Jordan is doing better after COVID. Unfortunately, the sellers were everywhere and there were far more camels that I ever remember. I did see a familiar Bedouin selling obviously fake coins and “silver” bracelets. If you visit Petra, you must remember there are no real coins for sale there.
After our lunch of sandwiches (falafel for me, with pomegranate juice), we split up into several groups. One brave group went up to the Monastery. This is another tomb like the Treasury, but it is quite far from the main site at Petra at the top of about 850 uneven steps. If you can make this hike, you ought to do it, but maybe leave that one to the young. Another group went with me to the temple of Zeus a Byzantine church (called the Petra Church) and then 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. I have an excellent singer in the group, and she led us in How Great Thou Art. The music echoed beautifully, very inspiring. We walked back to the Treasury for final pictures and more water before the long uphill walk back up the Siq to the visitor center.
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. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I did more that 22,000 steps today, which google tells me is over ten miles.
Tomorrow we crossed back into Israel at the Rabin / Arava crossing near the Red Sea. We should have sometime to swim and snorkel in the Red Sea, but we have to do another COVID test to re-enter Israel so that may take us some extra time. FYI, Israel announced they are discontinuing the test requirement on May 20, three days after we reenter! The theme of this tour seems to be “bad timing.”
This morning we left Galilee early in order to cross the border to Jordan. Today was a classic example of best laid plans…we left on time (rare on this trip!) and got to the border crossing all in good time. But someone decided that today everyone must use the shuttle bus. After an hour of arguing (our guide and driver making calls), we had to wait behind three other tours caught in the same bureaucratic nonsense (“formal stupidity” was the phrase I heard). The upshot of all of this is that we were three hours late meeting our guide Osama in Jordan. That really upset our plans for the day, which were already difficult since we intended to visit Jerash, Mount Nebo and then drive to Petra.
The drive from the border crossing to Jerash is a winding road through the hills. 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. Our driver took a few “short cuts” which brought us to the back side of the archaeological park to get an overview of a few things we cannot see on such a short visit.
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. If you are wondering what the flags in the gate are, the site was filming one of those Amazing Race shows and that was one of the checkpoints.
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 Caesarea) 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.
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 three hours late on the border crossing meant we arrive just as the Mount Nebo site was closing, so we were only able to see the norther view of the Jordan Valley. Mount Nebo is 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 10:00 PM. I am certain a few traffic laws were bent/broken on the way (it was a wild ride, especially since we were in a thirty passenger bus; we felt every bump along the way). Our driver cut at least a half hour off of our estimated time (and we kept the bathroom break to just that, no snack shopping!) We had a quick supper and tried to get a good night’s sleep to prep for a long day at Petra. We are in the Movenpick across from the Petra site, and the hotel is excellent. I cannot say enough about the service considering how late we arrive. .
Tomorrow we hike Petra, the highlight of a trip to Jordan!
For the next two weeks I am leading an Israel / Jordan tour with students from Grace Christian University on a tour of Israel and Jordan. This is my tenth Israel trip and the first since COVID. We have 27 in the group, with a wide range of ages. This is a diverse group and I look forward to getting to know the whole group as we travel together. I am using Tutku Tours for the second time in Israel, previously they have done two tours in Turkey for me. I have traveled in Turkey, Greece and Egypt with Tutku, always excellent trips. If you have questions about biblical studies travel, please contact me directly via email or a direct message on twitter @plong42
Days one and two are travel from Grace Christian University to Chicago, a flight through Istanbul to Tel Aviv. By Wednesday we will be in the Old City. I include a basic itinerary of the trip here, I plan on posting each day, so check back often for updates. There is a tab near the top of this page with posts from previous trips and a few videos.
Beginning on May 11 we will be in Jerusalem. We start the tour by walking from our hotel to the Garden Tomb, then to the Jaffa Gate and a visit to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. We will be touring the Temple Tunnel, the Western Wall and the Davidson Archaeological Park on the Southern wall of the Temple.
On Thursday May 12 we will spend the morning at the Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem We will spend the afternoon at the Israel National Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book, the Jerusalem Model, and the Archaeology Wing of the Museum.
On Friday May 13 we begin 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.
On May 14 we heard north to Galilee, driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Megiddo, through Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee to finally arrive at Ginosar Village in the late afternoon. On Sunday May 5 Galilee we will start the day at Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galillee and then visit the synagogue at Magdal, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and other sites Jesus.
We cross the border to Jordan on May 16 and visit Jerash and Mount Mt. Nebo on our way to Petra. Jerash for a tour of this spectacular Roman city. May 17 we will spend the day at Petra, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra. On Wednesday May 18 we cross back into Israel at Aqaba visiting Eilat for a swim in the Red Sea. We are staying at the En Gedi Kibbutz Hotel (this is my second time there, it is excellent!)
Thursday May 19 starts with a visit to the Nabatean trading village Mamshit, Tel Arad, and the highlight of the day, Masada, the famous fortress built by King Herod and the site of the last stand of the Jewish zealots in the first Jewish War against Rome. On Friday May 20 we will start the day with a swim in the Dead Sea, then on to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, hiking to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul, then a visit at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We will finish out the day with some shopping in the Old City in Jerusalem before driving to Tel Aviv for our last night in Israel.
All of these places are important historical and cultural sites, but they also challenge students to think more deeply about the story of the Bible and will encourage them in their walk with God. Plan on following along with our adventures as I post updates Reading Acts each day.
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.