Visiting Petra 

Today was our big 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, A new addition this year is a very nice museum just outside the entrance. I highly recommend a visit. It takes about an hour; 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 Mo’Taz 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). This is 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 quite chilly in the Siq).

Pwetra Group Picture

There was quite a crowd at the Treasury, which means tourism in Jordan is doing much better. I also noticed 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 a familiar older Bedouin selling obviously fake coins. Capitalism wins in the end

After our lunch of sandwiches and fruit (and ice cream, naturally), we split up into several groups. One other smaller group hiked up to the Canaanite cultic center. Although I’ve never been up there I understand it 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 in my thinking.) There were a few really ambitious people on this trip who went to both (and visited the Royal Tombs as well!)

Another group went with me to the temple of Zeus and they walked to the Byzantine church 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. 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. 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 visitor’s center about 4 PM so I visited the new museum for an hour before meeting the  rest of the group. I did contribute to the local economy by purchasing two books at the museum.

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. SO naturally they stayed up late playing games in the hotel lobby for a few hours. that might have had something to do with teh lack of air conditioning in the rooms.

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 want.

Grace Christian University Tour of Israel and Jordan 2019

For the next two weeks I am leading a (mostly) student group from Grace Christian University on a tour of Israel and Jordan. This is my ninth trip leading a group to Israel, and this time I have 27 students and parents traveling with me.This is a diverse group and I look forward to getting to know the whole group as we travel together. I am doing things a little differently than previous years. First, I am using Tutku Tours for the first time in Israel. I have traveled in Turkey, Greece and Egypt with them and had excellent trips. I have two tours planned with Tutku in 2020, if you are interested in my “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in March 2020, check out the brochure on the Tutku website. If you have questions about the 2020 tour, contact me directly via email or a direct message on twitter @plong42

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives, May 2017

Days one and two are travel from Grace to Chicago, a flight through Frankfurt 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 two videos.

Beginning on May 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 we heard north to Galilee, driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Megiddo, through Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee to finally arrive at Maagan Holiday 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 6 and visit Jerash and Mount Mt. Nebo on our way to Petra. Jerash for a tour of this spectacular Roman city.  Tuesday May 7 we will spend the day at Petra, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra. On Wednesday May 8 we cross back into Israel at Aqaba visiting Eilat for a swim in the Red Sea, then a drive through the Arabah, a visit to Tamar Biblical Park.

Thursday May 9 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 10 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 an will encourage them in their walk with God. Plan on following along with our adventures as I post updates Reading Acts each day.

The Garden Tomb

At the Garden Tomb in May 2017

 

 

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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reading Acts is Going to Israel

For the next two weeks I am leading a (mostly) student group from Grace Bible College on a tour of Israel and Jordan. This is my eighth trip leading a group to Israel. I have 35 students and parents on this trip, so it is by far the largest group I have led.

Days one and two are travel, by Wednesday we will be in the Old City. Here is our itinerary with some links. 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 two videos.

At En Gedi, 2009

Day 3: (Wednesday-May 3)  Jerusalem

We begin our morning at the Garden Tomb for communion (8:30 AM appointment), then a walk to the Jaffa Gate and Old City of Jerusalem to visit the Tower of David museum. We continue to walk through the Old City market to the Western Wall, the Davidson Archaeological Park on the Southern wall of the Temple, including parts of the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Day 4: (Thursday May 4Jerusalem

We will spend the morning at the Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem (9:00 AM appointment). 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.

Day 5: (Friday-May 5)  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.

Day 6: (Saturday-May 6)  Galilee-Maagan

We will begin the day by driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Megiddo, through Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee to finally arrive at Maagan Holiday Village in the late afternoon.

Day 7: (Sunday-May 7)  Galilee-Maagan

We will begin this day by visiting Mount Arbel, the synagogue at Magdal, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and other sites Jesus visited before returning to Maagan to enjoy the swimming pool!

Day 8: (Monday- May 8)  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. We will visit Mt. Nebo and possibly Madaba on to the Petra Movenpick Resort.

Day 9: (Tuesday-May 9)  Petra

We start out for Petra early, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra, a tomb carved out of the mountain stone by the Nabeateans about 2000 years ago. We will have time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site before returning to our hotel.

Day 10: (Wednesday-May 10)  Aqaba, Eilat, Tamar Park

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 11)  Mamshit, Tel Arad, Masada

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 Tel Arad, an ancient Canaanite city captured by Joshua. We will visit the Judean fortress and a reconstructed temple at the top of the Tel. Finally, we travel to 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. Masada is also an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Day 12: (Friday-May 12)  Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Qumran, The Dead Sea.  We will hike to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul. We will 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 13) Bet Guverin, Emek Elah, Old City

We will leave Tamar early to travel into the central hill country to visit the Bell Caves at Bet Guverin and make a quick stop at the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath. We will spend a final few hours in the Old City for final shopping. We will end the day at the Sadot Hotel, fifteen minutes from the Ben Gurion airport.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 9 – Petra 

This was one of the nicest days I have had for walking in Petra. The temperature was no more than mid-80s in the afternoon, and with the breeze almost chilly in the morning. We left the hotel and drove only about 15 minutes to the entrance to the park. This is the first time I have been to Petra since they have finished the new visitor’s center, and it is a huge upgrade. Shops circle a lovely plaza with plenty of room for groups to meet and guides to give some orientation. It was good to see some of the traditional shops are still there (such as the Indiana Jones Gift Shop and my personal favorite, Jeff’s Books), but I did not see the Titanic shop.

IMG_3219One change that might be a problem for some visitors is that the shops inside the Park are no longer allowed to sell “box lunches” to visitors. The only restaurants are the very expensive and crowded, well past the center point of the hike. We were warned by our guide not to try and sneak in a lot of food, although there were no bag inspections. We stopped for water (and Turkish coffee, naturally), and the venders had snacks like chips and cookies, but no sandwiches are allowed any more.

Our guide Ash did a fine job explaining the details of the Siq, the long canyon leading down to the Treasury. There are several places guides typically stop and give an overview of the Nabateans and there culture. Ash kept these brief and to the point, something appreciated by the students. He also pointed out some recent damage to the cliffs caused by the extreme cold last winter in Jordan. One of the major factors in preserving Petra for 2000 years is the lack of rain and freezing temperatures. Some of the facades of the tombs could easily be damaged by freezing rain.

The students took lots of pictures at the Treasury, although  a few too many of the cats which run around the area. I thought the area was less crowded than previous visits, but they have allowed the donkeys back in the area, so there was far more evidence of donkeys (ok, poop) than before. You have to watch your step on the uneven stones and because of the piles!

After a break, most students climbed up to the Royal Tombs. This hike gives a spectacular view of the whole valley. I went with a few others to the Temple of Zeus. This is a huge complex and has been very well preserved by Brown University. It is remarkable to me so few people visit it, most just walk up the first flight of stairs and take a quick picture and move on. There are many this to see and I spent more than an hour poking around the nooks and crannies with Zac Thompson.

Usually no one hikes up to the Monastery since there is just not that much time left in the day, and the Royal Tombs are also something important to see. But when I said you probably could not climb to the Royal Tombs and the Monastery, Cameron Cramer and Jeremy Herr too that as a personal challenge. They ran from one to the other, although the steps slowed them down. They win the Iron Man away for this trip, since they made it to the bus with plenty of time to spare. Amanda gets the Miss Popularity award, it turns our people think she is a Jordanian super-model.

It seems to me everyone is exhausted after a long day at Petra. Some headed to the pool, but I think a few took before dinner. Tomorrow we will cross back into Israel and visit the Red Sea for some snorkeling.

Paul in “Arabia”

One of the more tantalizing aspects of Paul’s early ministry is his “three years in Arabia.” In Gal 1:17, Paul states that he did not go to Jerusalem immediately, but rather he went to Arabia for a period of time before returning to Damascus. This period of time is not spent in modern Arabia, but rather the Nabatean kingdom on the east side of the Jordan.  As Robert Smith states, the term “Arab” “could be used as a virtual equivalent of ‘Nabatean’ (1 Macc 5:25, 39, 9:35, and 2 Macc 5:8)” (ABD, 1:326).

Jeresh, JordanSummer  of 2013

Jeresh, Jordan,
Summer of 2013

Paul gives us some details of these events in 2 Cor 11:32-33.  While Luke indicates that the Jews were plotting against him, 2 Cor adds an important fact: The local guard was looking out for him as well.  He specifically mentions Aretas IV, the client-king over the Nabateans.  During the reign of Aretas IV (9 B.C. – A.D. 39) Nabatean culture was at a high point.  The king was responsible for the development of Petra and developed a number of cities along the Petra – Gaza trade route.  He controlled territory as far north as Damascus and as far south as northern Arabia.  To a certain extent, Aretas IV was the “Herod the Great” of the Nabatean kingdom. . Since Aretas IV died in 39, the latest date for Paul’s conversion is 36, if not earlier.

After an initial confrontation with Jews in the synagogue in Damascus, it is possible that Paul traveled from Damascus to other major cities in the Nabatean kingdom. This would have included cities of the Decapolis, perhaps even the modern site of Jeresh.  It is possible he visited Petra since it was a major trading center at the time.  He may have used Damascus as a “base” since there was already a community of believers there. We simply have no real facts to deal with for this three year period, other than he was living in that territory for three years and that he did not consult the other apostles until three years after his experience on the road to Damascus.

As James Dunn observes, the more difficult question is why Paul spent three years in the Arabia. Paul makes an emphatic statement that after receiving a commission from the resurrected Jesus to be the “light to the Gentiles,” he did not “consult flesh and blood” but went to Arabia (Gal 1:7). Like Dunn, I think that Paul is simply following through on the commission he was given, to take the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles. The Nabatean kingdom provided him with ample opportunity to do just that.

Sometimes this period is described as a spiritual retreat into the desert, to work out the implications of his encounter with Jesus.  I think that it is certain that Paul begins working through what “Jesus as Messiah” means, and what his role as the ‘light to the Gentiles” should be.  He likely spent a great deal of time reading the scripture developing the material that he will use later in Antioch, then on the missionary journeys.

But this period is not a monastic retreat!  Paul is preaching Jesus and being faithful to his calling as the light to the Gentiles.

Israel 2012, Day 10 – Hiking in Petra

At Petra, January 2012

We arrived quite late to our hotel in Petra the Beit Zaman. This is a very nice hotel although it is a ten minute drive to the gates of Petra.  The hotel is a series of bungalow style rooms designed to look like the original village of Beit Zaman.  I found the beds comfortable and the food quite good.  The only problem is that the rooms are laid out like a maze with little (or no) signs to mark the correct path to your room.  Since all the rooms look alike, the directions “go out and to the left” sent our group on a hunt for their rooms.  To make matters worse, they were tired and hungry from the long drive down to Petra.  Eventually we found our rooms, got the luggage to the right rooms, had a late meal and got a great night’s sleep.  I slept right through the night, although I was awakened at 5:15 AM by the call to prayer.We planned to start our day at Petra at 9AM, so naturally it was about 9:20 before we heading to the gates.  For those of you who have visited Petra more than a year ago, the visitor center is still under construction, although it is getting close to finishing.  I talked to a shop owner who said he expected to be back in his regular place in six months.  The parks authority has raised the rates for Petra quite a bit in the last five years (now 50 dinars, it was 21 in 2009).  Hopefully all that money will result in a nice visitor’s center.  I also noticed that the donkey boys were more prominent than my other visits but perhaps that is the result of being here in January when there is no school.  (Although in my experience the children of Petra often skip school to sell in the park – this is another thing that needs to change since the children are missing their education and are being used to more or less beg from the tourists.)

Our guide Suliman did a great job explaining the major points of interest on the walk down to the Siq, stopping briefly to point out significant tombs or comment on the carving process.  Our whole group walked down together and everyone did a great job keeping up.  I have always enjoyed watching people as they finally get to the point where the Treasury is visible from the Siq – jaws drop then the cameras start (as if the cliffs are going to close up before a photograph can be taken!)

It looks like they have continued to dig around the front of the Treasury, although I have not read any kind of a report on what has been found in the lower rooms.  Since they are working in front of the building, the steps are now off-limits.  I think this is ultimately a good thing for the site since the human damage to the Treasury would only increase as visitors continue to arrive. We had a few brave souls who rode the camels for a few minutes, providing great photo opportunities! Joyce and Joan in particular seem born to ride a camel, but the Kemper clan has mastered the signal to make the camel kneel.

There seemed to be more Bedouin than tourists wen we arrived, although as we were leaving I noticed many more tour buses int he parking lot, even at 3PM they were still arriving and starting what must have been a very fast walk to the Treasury and  back again.  (Honestly, this is a disservice to the tourists since they pay a lot of money to visit the site, to hurry them through in less than 2 hours is ridiculous!)

After a “box lunch” (not the best I have had in Petra) the group split off into several directions.  A few went up to the Monastery, others to the High place, both offer spectacular views.  Karin blazed her own trail, winding around the site in a way that I did not think possible.  I wandered up to the Royal tombs, not the highest of the hikes possible, but I just happened to get there at a time when there was virtually no other person on the cliff sides.  This gave me the time to poke my nose into several tombs (one occupied by a donkey) and get several very nice photographs.

We had six full hours at Petra and saw only a tiny fraction of the site.  You can spend four days hiking to some of the more remote locations.  I think that our group had good experience and hopefully will all return in the future.  I was chatting with our guide about the drop-off in tourism due to recent word vents in Arab countries.  Jordan is by far the most stable Arab country to visit and has a great deal to offer.  You really could make a ten-day tour of just Jordan, our two days seems far too short.

Tomorrow we are off to the border for a last visit to Jerusalem then the long plane ride home.