Israel / Jordan 2011

In May 2011 sixteen Grace Bible College students  traveled to Israel and Jordan. Unlike other Israel trips, this time we flew Royal Jordanian Airlines to Amman and spent a few days in Jordan before crossing into Israel. This trip was special because my thirteen year old daughter Amy went on the trip along with Ken and Diana Johnson, longtime friends from California. This was Professor Scott Shaw’s first of many trips to Israel with the Grace Bible College group.

This trip was unique because we spent a morning doing an archaeological project at Tamar. We had a nice cool morning (only 90 degrees) and we found nothing but two buckets of pottery fragments (no coins or Dead Sea Scrolls). This was a good experience and more or less cured everyone of any interest in being an archaeologist.

Heading to Israel! (2011 Version)

Day 1: Travel to Jordan

Day 2: Amman, Madaba, Mt. Nebo

Day 3: Petra (in the rain)

Day 4: Jeresh, Welcome to Israel!

Day 5: The Golan Heights

Day 6: The Jesus Sites

Day 7: Qumran, En-Gedi

Day 7 (part 2): Evening Devotional

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

Day 9: Quick update – archaeology is happening

Day 10: Archaeology at tel Tamar

Day 11: Walking in Jerusalem

Day 12: Southern Temple and the City of David

Day 13: Rainy Days and Demonstrations Really Get Me Down

Days 14-15: Back in the USA

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra 2011

Israel / Jordan 2017

In May 2017 I traveled with 34 students, parents and friends to Israel and Jordan. This was my eighth trip to Israel and by far my largest group. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader (this was his fourth trip), 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.

Day 1 – Reading Acts is Going to Israel

Day 2 – Arrival as Planned…Almost

Day 3 – Beginning from Jerusalem

Day 4 – A Day at the Museums

Day 5 – From the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron

Day 6 – Caesarea, Bet She’an and The Sea of Galilee

Day 7 – Following Jesus in Galilee

Day 8 – Crossing the Jordan to Visit Jordan

Day 9 – Hiking at Petra

Day 10 – Swimming in the Red Sea

Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

Day 12 – Hiking at En-Gedi

Day 13 – Slouching towards Bethlehem

Day 14 – The Long Road Home







Hiking at Petra 

Today was our big walk through Petra. Because our hotel is right next to the entrance, we were able to leave at 9 AM and walk over to the visitor center at Petra. The students seem very happy at the extra sleep, especially since we got to the hotel at nearly 10 o’clock last night. The hotel dining room was open to eleven and the service and selection is excellent. Everyone seemed very happy to have pasta (and the dessert tray!)


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 is still there, and I probably spent way too much money on books on my way out.

Our guide Mohamed led us down the long walk to the treasury building, 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). The high temperature was close to 95 Fahrenheit, but the morning was cool and there was a stiff breeze. Unfortunately this stirred up some dust and one of the students needed to change their contact. Another girl unfortunately took a little bit of a stumble had to limp most of the way.

There were not very many groups on our walk down to the Treasury, but there was quite a crowd taking group pictures and far too many selfies. Visit of the treasury before, I noticed that there are far fewer little boy is trying to sell things in the past few visits. Occasionally someone will try to sell a postcard set for a dollar but it was less oppressive then previous years. I also noticed several of the shops along the way have closed or perhaps moved. I’m not sure if this has to do with a lack of tourism over the last few years caused by fears of traveling in the least, but it is sad to see some of these shops closed. Nevertheless I did see several familiar older better win man selling obviously fake coins. Capitalism seems to win in the end.


Our guide led us on a little bit of a back way hike through some of the tombs that are not on the main road. This would not be in accessible hike for an older group, but from my college kids it was exactly what the wanted. The were several excellent views of the whole valley and we squeezed our way through a few little caverns and tombs. Not everyone joined us on this hike, but they walked through the traditional trail and we’re supposed to meet us at a particular seller where I had arranged for a “box lunch” (it is actually in a plastic bag). Due to a lack of proper signage, they unfortunately walked well past the restaurant and got to experience a little bit of Petra we don’t usually walk through. It was about 20 minutes before they actually joined us. The cool breeze had stopped and there was absolutely no shade where they walked. When they came back in to where we were already eating they did not look particularly happy.

This box lunch was an excellent deal. There were two type sandwiches, one cheese and the other some sort of meat, a bag of chips, a little cup of water, a juice box, a hard boiled egg, an extremely bruised banana, and two vegetables, a cucumber and a tomato. Eating a cucumber like a carrot is actually pretty good, and I highly recommend it. Eating a tomato like an apple doesn’t do much for me. I was sort of hoping for an orange and perhaps some cookies, but for the price I could hardly complain. I also purchased more water, which is probably the most important thing the students could’ve done as well. I’ve drank six water bottles in addition to the two that I brought with me in the morning. I will be leaving the bathroom tonight, but I do feel pretty good right now.


After our lunch, we split up into several groups. One group went back to the hotel to rest. There’s also a very nice pool at this hotel I suspect that may have affected their decision. One other smaller group hiked up to the Canaanite cultic center. Although I’ve never been up there I understand it also has an excellent view of the entire Petra area. Another group went up to the Monastery. This is another tomb like the Treasury, but it is quite a distance from the main site at Petra and up about 850 steps. (Better left to the young is my thinking.)

One group went with me to the Royal Tombs, which were converted into a Byzantine chapel. This is a fairly easy walk up a series of steps, and provides an excellent view of the entire valley. There were not any tourists there when we arrived, so we were able to spend some time in the cool of the cave looking at the parents on the walls. One thing that is changed is that the Park service has put a large fence type barrier up inside the main cave so that you can’t walk all the way up to the front anymore. It was not like this in 2015, and it is unfortunate since there are some interesting tombs and an inscription at the front of the cave.

By the time my group had finished at the Royal Tombs, it was well into the 95° high. We walked back to the Treasury for final pictures and more water before the long uphill walk back up the seek to the visitor center. I got back to the visitors center about 3 PM, which is typical of our tours in the past. I contributed to the local economy by purchasing two books from Jeff’s Books. I’ll probably say something about them later since one is a nice looking collection of oral testimony about the early days of Petra before it was a major tourist destination.

By the time I reach the hotel lobby, I must’ve looked pretty lathered. The hotel is used to seeing people walking in from Petra and had a nice tray of chilled cool rags for us when I entered the lobby. This is the sort of classy thing that I like about this hotel.

We are planning to meet at 7 o’clock for dinner and I expect most of the students to be absolutely exhausted and ready for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow we crossed back into Israel at the Arava crossing near the Red Sea. Will have some time for the students to swim in the Red Sea and do some snorkeling if they choose to. We will be at Tamar archaeology park by the early afternoon.

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.”