Caesarea, Megiddo, and The Sea of Galilee

We left at 730AM for a drive north and west to Caesarea. Everyone was on time, but due to an extremely large group in the hotel and the complication of Sabbath elevators, a few were just a bit late.

Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco Roman city.

As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caesarea with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial will Felix was the governor. It is what it was it Caesarea that Paul made his famous appeal to Caesar. There is a cistern in Herod’s palace at Caesarea which claims to be the prison of the apostle Paul, but I think this has about a zero percent chance of being accurate. Since Paul was a Roman citizen it is highly unlikely he he would have been held in a cistern for two years (or at all for that matter).

From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel to Megiddo. I have not visited this site in many years, and although not much has changed, what is there to see is quite important. According to 1 Kings 9:15 Solomon fortified Megiddo along with Hazor and Gezer. Jehu assassinated Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and Josiah was killed in battle by the Egyptian army led by Necho II (2 Kings 23:29). Aside from the spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, there is a 3000 BC Canaanite cult center and a major granary and other storage buildings. But the main thing to see at Megiddo is the water system, a passage carved through the rock to a hidden spring. (Megiddo is the inspiration for James Michner’s The Source).


We continued across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth, although we did not do much in this very crowded and busy city (which looks nothing like it did in Jesus’s day). We drove up to a view point some 1290 feet above sea level. Although it is highly unlikely, some Christians this this is the place where the people Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff in Luke 4:29. The precipice is outside of town and clearly very high, but it is so far from the original Nazareth village of the first century to be an authentic location.

From Nazareth we made our way to the Sea of Galilee, stopping at Yardenet, the location for baptisms in the Jordan River in Galilee. Like the precipice, this is not  the place Jesus was baptized (that was near the Dead Sea). But this is the place many Christians come to remember Jesus’s baptism and participate in the ritual. We spent some time reading the baptism story in Matthew 4 and discussed  the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit.

We arrive at Ma’agan Holiday Village on the Sea of Galilee about 5:00, allowing the students plenty of time in the pool. Ma’agan is one of my favorite places to stay in Israel. And one of my favorite things to do with a group is to gather down by the shore after dinner and talk about the trip so far. Since we were near the half-way point, this is a good chance for students to share their experiences and thoughts about our travel in Jerusalem. This was one of the best times I have had, most of the students shared and were thoughtful as they reflected on their spiritual and cultural experiences.

Tomorrow we will visit quite a few sites related to the life of Jesus.

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.