|Days Seven & Eight||1:52 PM, Jan 16 2010|
The last two days of our tour were busy like all the rest! On Day Seven, we visited Banias, which is not too far from the border with Syria, on the slopes leading up to Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights. This is a rocky site, where a spring gushes out of the mountain. It is full of evidence of ancient idol worship, especially to the god Pan. Perhaps in the first century or two after Christ, a church was established at the site, but that has long since joined the ruins there. At the top of the site was a small Druze community (the Druze trace their heritage and belief system to Jethro, Moses' father-in-law).
We then went to the excavated ruins of Bethsaida, seeing an amazingly excavated village where Jesus often ministered. Actually Bethsaide is about two kilometers (1 1/2 miles) north of the current shore of the Sea of Galilee, but in Jesus' time it was right on the edge of the water, which has since receded. We even saw what may have been Peter's home (as evidenced by what looks like a fish storage tank used to keep the fish alive and fresh!)
|Day Six-- Galilee||2:52 PM, Jan 12 2010|
We started out with a visit to Korazim National Park, the site of the ruins of an ancient Jewish community just up the mountain to the north of the Sea of Galilee. An amazing thing to see there were the holding tanks they had for keeping fish alive (and thus fresh) right beside their homes! As well, this site had one of the best preserved ancient Jewish synagogues in all of Israel, which was probably one that Jesus himself had visited when he lived in the area.
We then visited a 500-year old synagogue and saw the ancient Torah scrolls in Safed, another community in the Upper Galilee area. After that, it was up the mountain road into the Golan Heights where we saw ruins of Caeserea Philippi, also known as Panias (a place that became a worshiping site of the god Pan) in the foothills of Mount Herman, the highest point in Israel. There was evidence that the temple to Pan had been destroyed by an earthquake, and that early Christians had a church at that site as well. The Panias River starts at this point, bubbling up out of the mountain. It flows into the Jordan River.
Our last stop on Day Seven was at the Sea of Galilee. Everyone was impressed to see the remains of a 2000-year old boat (in a museum) that had been reclaimed from the mud of the lake during a dry spell back in the 1980s. Could this have been Peter’s boat that Jesus rode in? Maybe.
We took a trip onto the Sea of Galilee to end our day. The boat we went on, was operated as a ministry by a Jewish believer in Jesus. He even sang some worship songs which he had translated from English to Hebrew! What a wonderful experience to be on the lake where Jesus walked on the water, and where much of His ministry happened along the shores. We sang to the Lord, with Pastor Armand Valdez from the Philippines playing guitar, and we had a prayer while we were out on the lake. But, no one got out and tried to walk on the water.
|Day Five-- School of the Prophets, Jordan River, Gilgal, and Scythopolis||2:48 PM, Jan 12 2010|
We visited The Tomb of the Prophet Samuel which is the site of a Muslim mosque, on top of a Christian Church, on top of a Jewish synagogue. As the site is in Jewish hands, it is now a tourist attraction and only the synagogue was in use when we visited. The mountain the tomb sits upon was also the site of the “School of the Prophets” operated by Samuel in Bible days. It is a very strategic spot and whenever there have been battles down through history, that mountain (on the north of Jerusalem) has been one that armies have tried to take. It was fascinating to see so many biblical sites from our vantage point up there. Especially interesting was seeing ancient Gibeon just across the valley, which is of course, where the Gibeonites came from. It was this group who deceived Joshua and the Israelites into believing they were from a far land, agreeing to a peace treaty with them, even though God had told Joshua to wipe them out. God held the Israelites to that treaty and the Gibeonites became their water carriers and wood cutters.
We then proceeded to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized at the age of 30 by John the Baptist. Our entire team took off our shoes and rolled up our pants and stood in the water. We were only about 50 feet from another group of tourists visiting the river from the other side in the nation of Jordan! This is the same Jordan River that stopped flowing when Joshua and the elders of Israel stepped into it (at flood stage) and crossed into the land of milk and honey, Canaan (later to be known as Israel).
Next, we went to the site of Gilgal, which had a rock outline amazingly shaped like a gigantic right footprint, easily visible from up on the mountain. The acoustics of the spot were astounding which showed that even without a sound system, it would not have been hard for the ancient Israelites to hear their leaders. The fun part of being at Gilgal was that we all dressed up in biblical outfits (robes, head coverings) and carried Torah scriptures, large banners and shofars (which the men blew loudly)!
Our last stop on Day Six was in Galilee at Beth She’an, which is the site of the ancient city of Scythopolis, one of ten cities of the Roman Decapolis. This site was breathtaking for its vast architectural wonder, which had been unearthed by archaeologists over the past 25 years, much of it dug up from 30 feet of soil. An amazing Roman theater, broad avenues of giant columns, mosaics on the floors, and even well-preserved public toilets, were all there! Some of this city had clearly been destroyed by an earthquake at some point, which our Jewish guide pointed out was not a surprise considering how the Romans had mistreated his people.
|Day Four-- John the Baptist's Cave, Rehoboam's Palace at Gilo, Masada, and Qumran Caves||4:38 PM, Jan 10 2010|
Another amazing day of seeing historical sites. We started out by going to a kibbutz, a few miles west of Bethlehem, that was growing apples & other fruits in a secluded valley that contained a secret that few tourists ever see-- A spring & cave that was likely occupied by Canaanite Baal worshipers, who were then confronted by both Elijah and John the Baptist! Tour participant Tom Norcross was fascinated by our tour guide's descriptions of the similarities between Elijah and John the Baptist and the fact that the evidence at the cave site (including an ancient drawing of John the Baptist on the wall) showed that he had been there.
Our next stop was full of history. It was called Ramat Rachel and is the ancient site of Gilo (near Bethlehem) where Rehoboam built his palace. Extensive archaeological digging has uncovered an astounding site which was clearly in a strategic mountaintop location. We stood in the gate of the palace compound which was the place where David poured out the water before the Lord that his mighty men had brought him from Bethlehem after breaking through the enemy lines. Interestingly, this was also a battle site in the Six Day War of 1967, which Israel won.
One of the highlights of the trip for many was standing at the top of Masada, the stunning mountain fortress of Herod next to the Dead Sea. The site is incredible to see in person, and the story of the Jews resistance against the relentless seige ramp attack of the Roman army is awesome to picture while standing right there where it happened. If you ever get a chance to visit Israel, do not miss Masada!
Our last stop was at the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. In fact, hundreds of ancient scrolls including many ancient copies of the Old Testament books were found in these caves. It's awesome to realize how God has preserved His Word down through history.
|Day Three-- The Old City, Via Dolorosa, Pool of Bethesda, and Garden Tomb||11:23 PM, Jan 09 2010|
The highlight of Day Three was a visit to the Garden Tomb which is right next to Golgotha (Calvary) where we could see the place of the skull (the rocks appear as a skull in the rock-quarried wall which is today above a bus stop!)
In the peaceful garden, we were able to see and enter into the tomb where many believe Jesus was buried and rose again. We can all testify that indeed, "He is not here. He is risen!"
|Team Comments on Day Two||11:17 PM, Jan 09 2010|
Mary Payne has always loved the story of Ruth and Boaz, but was blessed to actually stand above the valley where Ruth gleaned in Boaz' fields. Like many of the team, she had always pictured a field and not a valley. She also said it was amazing to learn what "no room at the inn really meant" as our team was shown a cave with room divisions that very well may have been the "inn" that Joseph and Mary were denied staying at as it was full.
Rebecca Davis (and many others on the team) were deeply moved by praying at the Western ("Wailing") wall at the end of the day. At that site were many orthodox Jews praying as well, as it is the nearest place they can get to where the Holy Temple once stood before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Tim Davis was moved by being at the Bethlehem site and picturing the angel, shepherds, and the manger scene while standing in a circle with the team, holding a 500-year old Torah scroll and singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and other songs to the Lord.
|Day Two-- Pool of Siloam, Hezekiah's Water Tunnel & Bethlehem Shepherd's Field||11:03 PM, Jan 09 2010|
Days Two saw our tour group visit many fascinating sites including the tomb site of David & his family which is also the most likely site of the Upper Room (Acts 1 & 2). Near that same location in the lower City of David is the recently excavated Pool of Siloam and Hezekiah's Water Tunnel. As well, the steps that ascend from the Pool of Siloam have been discovered by archaeologists and we actually climbed those steps for a fair distance underground! Wow! The proof of the Bible's narrative is still being uncovered day by day in this ancient city.
We also had an amazing time in the shepherd's field of Bethlehem, near the place where Jesus was born, and where Ruth met Boaz while gleaning in his fields (which were right there down in the valley!)
|Day One-- Texas team hits the ground in Israel running!||8:42 AM, Jan 08 2010|
After long flights from the USA the tour group from various Texas churches hit the ground running in Israel. The best way to combat jet lag is stay awake when it's daytime, so that's what the group did as they arrived in mid-morning on January 7. Joining the Texan pilgrims were Pastor Armand and Lilybelle Valdez and Rev. Ken & Cris Sandberg from the Philippines.
Father's House director Byron Stinson and tour guide Moshe Bronstein, a messianic Jewish believer, greeted the team members with a hearty "Welcome Home!" As the bus headed up the Judean hills towards Jerusalem, we passed the fields of the Philistines that Samson had burned after tying 300 foxes together by their tails and lighting them on fire.Read More