Going through passport control at Ben Gurion Airport, the passport agent took our picture. That was the first sign that security was a lot tighter here. We finally found our friends and got on the bus into Tel Aviv. At the Herod Hotel, lots of seaside activity with biking and running paths.
According to Acts 25, this Roman Theatre is where Paul stood before King Agrippa. This seaside port on the Mediterranean was built by Herod the Great (22-10 B.C.E.). A block of limestone was found here in 1961 with a partially intact 1st Century inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate, the prefect in the Roman province of Judea. The inscription reads:
To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum…Pontius Pilate…prefect of Judea…has dedicated [this]
We stopped at the hill in Nazareth where in Luke 4:28-30, the mob followed Jesus with the intent of throwing him off the cliff . . . later we went across the Jezreel Valley (below) to Megiddo (1Kings 9:15), the focal point of the Book of Revelation. Excavations have unearthed over twenty layers of civilization.
We got dirty when we participated in a dig at an archeological site in the Southern District. One of our team found a 2000-year old nail!
The Dead Sea
After our bus took us to the desert where we rode camels, we ended up in Ein Bokek, on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea.
North along the Dead Sea is Herod’s great fortress/palace in the middle of the desert. In 73 C.E., after the Romans sacked Jerusalem, approximately 1000 zealots escaped Jerusalem and chose death in the fortress of Masada rather than becoming slaves to the Romans.
In these caves the Essene scribes hid ancient scrolls 2,000+ years ago. These parchments were discovered in 1947 in the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century and became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Qasr-el-Yehud was thought by most to be the authentic place of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist on the Jordan River. The river is the border between Jordan and Israel. Until the 1994 Peace agreement, the site was impossible to visit. Even after 1994, visiting the site involved a lot of red tape and a military escort. In 2011, the Israeli National Parks Authority has managed it, and there is now free and easy access to the site.
Sea of Galilee
Once out on the sea, we turned off the engine and remembered the miracles Jesus performed in these waters. In 1986, during a drought, fishermen from a nearby Kibbutz discovered a 27 ft. long 2000 year old boat sticking out of the mud. The boat is now in a museum nearby.
Located in the Northern District, this is the site where the biblical account of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines took place in around 1100 BCE. After the Israelites’ defeat, the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of the city. Later, around 1000 BCE, King David recaptured the city. Excavations from Roman times have found a well-preserved theatre and a hippodrome.
This is the site in northern Israel where in Matthew 16, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you think I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Amazingly, there is a huge rock cliff here, with an opening where a spring gushed forth that fed into the Jordan River. A pagan temple was located here, dedicated to the Greek god Pan, half man, half goat. Worshippers would throw goat sacrifices into the cave opening. If the animal survived, it was a good omen. To the pagan mind, the cave created a gate to the underworld, where the fertility gods lived during the winter. It was thought to be a gate to Hades. So it is significant that Jesus chose this place to declare to Peter that he (Jesus) would build his church on this rock, and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it.
The Mount of Beatitudes
Here is the site where Jesus is believed to have given the Sermon on the Mount, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. A Byzantine church was near here until the 7th century when a Franciscan chapel (below) was built in 1937-38 by the Italian architect Barluzzi.
What was so interesting here was that groups of Christians from all over the world came to honor our Lord . . . this sign shows the Beautitudes in Vietnamese.
Church of the Primacy of Peter
Here is where Peter was asked by Jesus, “Do you love me?” three times. He then conferred leadership to Peter with the command, “Tend my sheep.”
It happened after Jesus’ resurrection, in the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples were fishing early one morning and hadn’t caught anything. Jesus (as yet unrecognized) was standing on the shore, and called out to them to let the net down on the right side of the boat. They took in a huge catch; Jesus built a fire, cooked fish and served them, then asked Peter this question.
Garden of Gethsemane
Walking down from the Garden, toward the Kidron Valley toward Jerusalem, we had a glimpse of the Dome of the Rock.
One of the eight gates into the Old City, this north facing gate is the entrance to the Muslim part of the city. Once inside, lots of shops line the streets.
The Temple Mount
After passing through the guard station (where I was told to put on a longer skirt because my knee-length skirt wasn’t long enough), we climbed steps to the Dome of the Rock. Earlier, we were told not to bring bibles because there is a ban on prayer by non-Muslims.
Islam resists representations of living beings because of the belief that the creation of living forms belongs to Allah.
The Western Wall
The Wall is open 24 hours, and has separate area for men and women. Underneath is a tunnel that runs the length of the wall. It was opened in 1967 after the Six Day War.
There is evidence that this is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried in a nearby tomb. Golgotha, or Place of the Skull (Calvary in Latin) was located near a major junction on the road to Damascus, where those crucified would be visible to travelers.
The Garden Tomb
Nearby Golgotha is the tomb where Jesus may have been laid. There is some question about the authenticity of this tomb, because it has been carbon dated to a much earlier date than Jesus’ lifetime, which contradicts the accounts of the gospels of Matthew and John, where Joseph of Arimethea gave a new, unused tomb for Jesus’ burial. (Another possible site of Jesus’ crucifiction and burial tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is near Jerusalem.)