A Holy Land Pilgrimage

Last updated: 4 March 2000

    On the 8th of August, 1999, 30 people from Columbus Ohio (mostly members of  Bethel Presbyterian Church) and 10 friends from places in California made a 2 week pilgrimage through the Holy Land in Israel.  This is a collective journal of our trip and the experiences it brought us.  Our purpose in going was more than just to see "holy places or shrines", but more to seek our Christian roots, to learn more about the places and people (both ancient and modern) that bear witness to our Faith.  We were all richly rewarded and would like to make this record of our experience for the benefit of ourselves and others.


    One doesn't go on a trip of this sort without doing some preparation.  Many of us were first inspired to make this trip after watching the popular video series That the World May Know, by Ray Vander Laan.  This series showed us that historical places connected with events in the Bible are not only interesting places to visit, but have lessons to teach us today.
    Our friend (and Bethel Church member) Dr. Sam Meier, professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern Languages at Ohio State University, was coaxed into designing and leading a tour through the Holy Land for those who might be interested in going.  Dr. Meier taught a very interesting Sunday School class on the history, peoples and places of the Land that we were about to visit.  We even learned some useful Hebrew words.  Thirty people signed up to go from Columbus, Ohio, joined by ten people from California who are friends and family of Dr. Meier.
    The tour was facilitated by MTS Tours in Ephrata, PA.  They put together a tour package that included the places we wanted to visit.  The package included air fare, hotels, 2 meals a day, a tour bus and driver, a tour guide, and entrance fees.  MTS did an excellent job of handling all these arrangements.
    During the last several weeks prior to leaving, we had a few meetings to talk with people who had been to Israel and discuss details of preparation for the trip.  After a year of planning and preparation, we were ready to go.

Sunday, August 8:  USA - Tel Aviv

    The group from Columbus boarded their first plane at 2:00 PM on Sunday afternoon for a flight to Chicago where we were met by the group from California, then a connecting flight to Frankfurt, Germany, then another flight to Tel Aviv, Israel.  We arrived at 3:05 PM on Monday, August 9.  The flights and layovers took about 18 hours.  The time difference between Columbus and Tel Aviv is 7 hours.  They showed 2 movies during the flight from Chicago to Frankfurt: Dance With Me and Entrapment.

Monday, August 9:  Tel Aviv

    After the airports we had been in the Ben Gurion Tel Aviv airport was not impressive.  In many ways it looked like an airport still under construction.  But our first glimpse of our long-awaited destination was a welcome one.  After a year of planning, and many hours of travel, we were finally in Israel!  We descended the steps from the plane to the pavement in bright sun and temperature somewhere in the 90's F.  We got onto a bus and rode to the baggage claim building which had an impressive sign on it saying, "Welcome to Israel".  Entering the building we found several long lines of people waiting for passport checks.  We waited for an hour or more to go through these.  Our lines were barely moving.  This was our first chance to observe how the "rest of the world" waits in line.  They don't; but move in wherever they please--saying nothing.  The lines for people with Israeli passports were moving much faster.  Finally, all of us got our passports stamped and made it thorough the baggage claim.  Everyone found their bags except for one.  Adrienne Zahniser's luggage was missing.  She was compensated with only 400 shekels (about $100 US).  What a disappointing start for the two weeks!  (She was not to be disappointed for too long, however.)
    Our tour bus was waiting at the airport.  Our luggage was loaded onto the bus and we got to meet our driver, Badaran, and tour guide, Jackie Feldman.  They would be with us for the duration of the trip.  Jackie grew up in New York, but moved to Israel about 19 years ago to become a citizen.  He has just finished his Ph.D. in anthropology at the Hebrew University.  He is a very experienced tour guide, having guided many tours for various groups in the past.

A Guide and a Driver

    I think all of us "pilgrims" would agree that we couldn't have gotten a better tour guide than Jackie Feldman.  He is very knowledgeable in the history and geography of the area and was very good at communicating that knowledge to us.  (I only wish we had it all on tape.)  At each place we stopped during the tour, and at many places we passed in the bus, he gave fascinating explanations of the meaning and significance of what we were seeing.  He displayed an excellent understanding of the religious beliefs and sensibilities that have shaped the culture and history of the land and its people.  And this not only of his own Jewish background, but of Christianity and Islam as well.  He never seemed to get tired or impatient with the many questions we asked.  He was very accommodating to the special needs and interests that people had during the trip.  Not only this, but he was also a great joke and story teller!  He went out of his way to make the whole trip a very enjoyable and educational experience for all of us.  We loved him.
    Likewise, it was great to have Badaran for our driver.   He kept us supplied with plenty of fresh bottled water at a reasonable price.  He was always there when we needed him.  He took that bus places where we thought no bus could go.  Like Jackie said, "If you want to know how to get a camel through the eye of a needle, just watch Badaran drive."    --Paul Dubuc
    Once on the bus we had a brief ride to the Avia Hotel for dinner and a night's sleep before starting our tour the next morning.  Jet lag was taking its toll on most of us.  We had gotten very little or no sleep on the plane trip and our biological clocks were set 7 hours earlier (10 hours earlier for those from California).  Still, some hearty souls couldn't resist a swim in the hotel pool before dinner.  Dinner at this hotel (as it was for most meals at all the other hotels) was a buffet, with a good variety of foods to choose from.  There were some familiar food items as well as the local cuisine.  Those who were less adventuresome in their culinary pursuits, could usually find something that they could chew and swallow.
    Of all the hotels we stayed in, the Avia was probably the one hotel that we would have left off our list.  The food and service were good, but the quality of the rooms was a problem.  Many had inadequate air conditioning, or other problems.

Tuesday, August 10: Tel Gezer - Ashkelon

Tel Gezer

    After breakfast at the Avia Hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed to the excavations at Tel Gezer.  While trying to find the road back to the site, we got a tour of a nice looking neighborhood nearby.  We parked the bus and walked on the hot, dusty dirt road leading up to the site.  On the way we found a large fig tree with plenty of ripe fruit for us to enjoy.

Surprised by a Fig

    The back yard of the small house where I grew up in Texas had fig trees which produced large brown (Texas size) figs in late summer.  We ate them off the trees; sliced them over cereal for breakfast, and made a winter treasure, fig preserves.  I loved fresh, ripe figs and have missed them since moving to Ohio.
    Jesus too seemed to have some kind of fig as a favorite fruit.  I say "some kind" because surely the figs that grew in Texas were significantly different than the figs Jesus ate.
    Then comes the first day and we're off to the desert and Tel Gezer.  Jackie, leading the way, points out a lonely fig tree adding, "the brown ones are the ripe ones."
    I knew that, but still they had to be somehow different.  With the experienced eye from my youth I spot a small one that yells, "ripe" and pick it.
    Then comes the surprise.  With the first bite I am mentally and emotionally no longer in Tel Gezer; I am a boy in Texas.  But just as quickly I imagine a young Jesus experiencing the same rich sweetness because I am not in Texas but in his land.
    The epiphany!  God incarnate, Jesus and I shared - share the taste for the same fruit, experienced the same sensations - the pleasure of eating fresh, very ripe, figs.  The divine was miraculously very human and for a few treasured moments, very close on a hot dusty road leading up to Tel Gezer.  Jesus too, had he been there would have reached for the same fig.
    In some strange way, maybe he did.    -- John Kirn
    After the long hot climb up the hill of the tel, we were rewarded with the sights of the excavation. The first thing we saw were some "standing stones" marking a Canaanite "high place" of worship dating back to 1800 BCE.  This city had strategic importance, guarding access to the trade route from the hill country.  It was fortified with 30 foot thick solid walls made of stones.  A portion of this wall had been excavated.  There was also a water tunnel, descending to the water table from inside the walls.  We also saw the excavation site of the the city gate from the time of King Solomon.  The foundations and outline of the gate could be seen clearly.  Also excavated were some casemate walls near the gate.

Beth Shemesh

    We traveled to Beth Shemesh, the sight of many Israelite conflicts with the Philistines.  Geographically this area was situated between the lowlands near the Mediterranean Sea, controlled by the Philistines, and the hill country of Judea.  This  territory was often in dispute.  Here,  where we could clearly see these hills and lowlands, Jackie spread out his map and gave us a very interesting overview of the area and its history.  It was here, for example, that the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the Israelites after it had been captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4-6).  With a little imagination, one could see two oxen, yoked to a cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant up the valley below and back to the people of Israel.
    Somewhere in here we stopped the bus near the dry stream bed where David chose five smooth stones for his battle against Goliath (1 Samuel 17).  Almost everyone got off the bus to pick up some smooth stones of their own.  There are plenty of stones in Israel.  A few less won't be missed.

Beth Guvrin National Park

    Next we visited some caves that were originally made under surface dwellings dating back to the 2nd century BCE.  Here the earth is made of relatively soft chalk under the surface.  These caves were made to hold water, raise doves, and store other supplies.  The the caves were connected into a large network of underground rooms.  Walking through them was a cool, refreshing change from the hot weather on the surface.  One room contained carved fittings for three large olive presses (used to make olive oil).  One press was reconstructed so we could see how it worked.  Long wooden beams were anchored into a wall of the cave at one end and placed over the olive press.  The other end of the beams were weighted with heavy stones to squeeze the large basket containing the olives.  The oil ran out into large vats dug into the floor of the cave.
    We also visited some large bell shaped caves that were dug in the 6th - 10th centuries CE.  These were chalk quarries, also dug in the bell shape so that the roof of the caves would be supported.  We could see figures carved into the walls in some places.  These were made by those who originally worked the quarry.  The acoustics were wonderful.  We sang some hymns here.
    We visited the Tomb of Apollophanes, one of the Sidonian Tombs in the area.  Carob trees were growing around the parking lot.  Some of us picked the pods and chewed on them.  Don't eat the seeds.  Jackie told us that a carob seed weighs one carat. This unit of weight for gems originally came from the carob seed.  All the seeds did seem to be of very uniform size and weight.
    The tomb was very interesting to see.  It was a family tomb in a cave with several burial chambers carved into the sides.  The wall paintings of animals originally found in the tomb have been restored.  Jackie read translations of some of the amusing inscriptions on the walls.


    At the end of the day we drove to Ashkelon, to the Shulamite Gardens Hotel on the Mediterranean Sea.  There was a beach there and some of us enjoyed a wonderful swim before dinner.  Dinner was an outdoor barbecue and buffet.  There was plenty of good food to eat and wonderful desserts.  Those of us who are used to waiting in line patiently while others ahead of us get their food at the self-serve tables would end up waiting a long time.  For the most part Israelis don't practice queuing.  Just jump in where you see an opening and try not to feel like you're being rude.  After dinner the hotel put on a loud party until midnight, which kept some of us awake for longer than we wanted.

Wednesday, August 11: Ashkelon - Arad

Mitspe Ramon

    After breakfast, we loaded up the bus and left Ashkelon and continued south by way of Beer-Sheeba to Mitspe Ramon and the massive Maktesh Ramon crater.  This is truly an awesome sight!  There's a small visitor's center on the edge of the crater where we saw an educational film and learned about how the crater was formed.  Geologists say that this crater was once part of a mountain whose summit was worn away by erosion leaving many layers of the earth's crust exposed on the walls of the crater.  The view from atop the visitor's center and the other lookout points was breath taking.  The massive trench formed by this crater is nearly 1000 feet deep and stretches for miles.  Large areas of black volcanic rock and reddish colored rock can be seen on the bottom of the crater.  There is a small mining operation there which extracts silica sand for making glass.  Walking along the edge of the crater we saw many birds flying near the walls.  It was a strange sight to look down on flying birds.
    On our way to Maktesh Ramon, we saw an observatory.  Jackie remarked that it would probably be a busy place this afternoon with a partial (80%) solar eclipse taking place.  We would be riding camels during the eclipse.

Mamshit Camel Ranch

    Our next stop was at Mamshit for a visit with the local Bedouins and a ride on their camels.  Our bus pulled up and the men working this "camel ranch" gave us a friendly greeting.  The camels seemed less happy to see us.  Most of them were saddled and lying in the fenced yard looking hot and tired.  Our hosts served us some sweet Bedouin tea that had quite a remarkable taste.  It contained mint and other herbs.  After drinking it most of us felt more like climbing up on a camel and riding off into the desert.
    After our tea we were taken to the camel pen to get atop our camels.  Each camel had a saddle that would hold two persons.  The camels were lying on their stomachs with legs folded under them.  Some of them gave loud groans of protest as they were being coaxed to their feet under their human load.  The voice of Chewbacca in the Star Wars films was probably played by a camel.  After all the camels were up and on their feet, the men led us out about a half mile or so into the desert in a camel train.  Their dog, a large Great Dane, trotted along with us.  One needs a big dog to herd camels, perhaps.  We bumped along on the backs of our camels, winding our way along some pretty steep hillsides until we came to a flat spot near the edge of a ravine where we could get off and listen to our host talk about camels and answer our questions.  Many of us didn't realize to what a great extent camels are designed to live in desert conditions.  After a drink of water, we got back on our camels and rode back to the ranch.  This was great fun.


    Next we traveled to the excavations at Avdat, a city originally built by the Nabateans in the 2nd century BCE.  Much good excavation and restoration work has been done here and there were many interesting things to see:  Nabatean burial caves, a kiln and pottery workshop, a Roman camp, a Byzantine bath house, wine press, house, two churches, monastery and fortress.  This city had been built and rebuilt many times over the centuries.  There is a large cistern in the middle of the area surrounded by the fortress walls and a nice view from the towers on the walls.  Inside the North Church ruins there is a model showing what the church probably looked like when it was built.
    This city lies along an ancient trade route between the Mediterranean Sea and Saudi Arabia.  When the trade route shifted, the Nabateans developed desert agriculture in order to survive.  One side of a hill was terraced for planting crops and channels were dug along the other hillsides to divert rain water to the terraces.  Though there is very little rainfall and the land is very dry, the loess soil prevents much of the rain water from sinking into the ground.  By diverting the runoff into the terraced area of the hill where crops are planted, the Nabateans were able to grow grapes and other crops requiring 3 to 5 times the normal rainfall of the area.  There is an actual agricultural demonstration of this method maintained on one of the hills near the city ruins.

Tel Arad

    After Avdat we drove to another very interesting site; the excavations at Tel Arad.  This is probably the best example of an early Bronze age city in the country.  On top of the hill was a fortress with high walls (restored) containing the remains of an Israelite temple constructed on a smaller scale to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Inside the temple are an altar of sacrifice and a "Holy of Holies" flanked by two small incense altars (reproductions of the originals found there).
    The older city, lower down the hill from the fortress, contained a large cistern in the middle.  The city was designed catch runoff from the surrounding hills in the rainy season and divert it to the cistern.  Several houses and other buildings have been excavated and partially restored.


    To end the day's trip, we got back on the bus and drove to the Margoa Hotel in the modern city of Arad for dinner and a good night's rest.  This hotel was very nice and comfortable.  Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the wonderful news that Adrienne's luggage had been found and was waiting for her there at the hotel.  We all cheered.  What a relief!
    The modern city of Arad is only 30 years old.  The only ruin seemed to be a burned out hotel just down the street from ours.  Just past this hotel was a beautiful overlook where we could see part of the Dead Sea in the distance.  After dinner we gathered in the courtyard of the hotel for conversation and for prayer.  Later at night several of us went star gazing.  It's wonderful to see so many stars in the sky on a clear night away from the lights of a big city.

Thursday, August 12: Arad - Jerusalem


    In the morning, back on the bus, we began our long decent toward the Dead Sea.  But first a stop at Masada.  To better appreciate the significance of this site it is good to read Yigael Yadin's account of the excavations here during the 1960's: Masada: Herod's Fortress and the Zealot's Last Stand. This book has a fascinating account of the excavations, many good photographs, and includes the account of the fall of Masada to the Romans in 73 CE, given by Josephus.
    On this huge, flat-topped, hill in the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea, King Herod the Great built a well appointed fortress to protect his family in case of revolt or treachery.  Here are the remains of two large palaces, Roman style bathhouses, a swimming pool, large storerooms and casemate walls with towers around the whole top of the hill.  There are also the partially restored remains of a synagogue and ritual baths (mikve) used by the Zealots, and a Byzantine church.
    We pulled up in our bus to the western wall of Masada.  We were going to climb up to the top by way of the earthen ramp built by the attacking Romans over 1900 years ago.   At the base of the ramp, near the parking lot, were some of the original siege works and catapults used by the Roman soldiers (in the Hollywood movie Masada).
    It was still early in the morning, but the sun was already very hot as we began our climb up the ramp.  On average it took 20 minutes to reach the top.  The ramp is a huge structure made of chalky earth.  Remains of some of the wooden beams used to stabilize the ramp as it was being built can be seen along the path up the ramp.  Along the face of the hill you can also see openings that were used to collect water for the large cisterns that were dug underneath.  Masada is flanked by two wadis that provided plenty of water to these cisterns in the rainy season.  Halfway up we entered some shade that made the rest of the walk cooler.  Michael Davis (Bethel Youth Director and designated video cameraman for the trip) found the quickest way to the top.  Part way up the ramp he found a short cut; climbing straight up using some metal rungs that were driven into the rock.  (Way to go, Michael!)  At the top, the first thing most people wanted to do was find some shade and take a long drink of water.  Fortunately there were places to sit in the shade, water and rest rooms for visitors.
    When we were all at the top, Jackie led us around through some of the more important places on top, stopping in shady spots to provide interesting details and background to what we were seeing.  We walked through Herod's western palace and saw the mosaic floors, wall paintings and the luxurious (considering the location and climate of this place) bathhouses.
    The largest bathhouse had three rooms off the entrance: cold, warm and hot.  The hot room had a raised floor, and its walls were lined with clay tile pipes.  Hot air from a furnace outside was circulated under the floor and up the sides of the walls through these pipes.  Water could then be poured onto the floor to make a steam bath.
    At the northern palace there is a splendid view of the valley below and the Dead Sea.  Herod built a palace on this end at three levels, terraced on the north facing wall of Masada.  This not only provided a wonderful view, but the most protection from the heat of the sun and south wind.  Near here there was also a model of what the buildings on the northern part of Masada originally looked like.  Most of the southern part was undeveloped and used for quarrying rock, collecting rainwater, or growing food.
    When it came time to descend on the eastern side we had two choices:  Either take the cable car; a nice ten minute ride, or walk down the 'snake path', a long grueling walk in the full heat of the sun.  Most of the group seemed to prefer the cable car, but there were plenty who chose the path.  If the walk down was hot and dusty, the view on the way more than made up for it.  Don't try it without plenty of water in your bottle.  Of course, the view from the cable car was wonderful as well, if shorter lived.  One sight the cable car riders from our group spied was that of eleven-year-old Bryan Dubuc practically running down the snake path.  (Trying to beat the cable car to the bottom?)  He was one red-faced and thirsty boy when he got to the bottom.  Fortunately there was plenty of refreshment at the end of this journey.  An air conditioned gift shop and restaurant lay at the bottom and drink stands selling an irresistible, ice cold orange juice drink.  (What did it cost?  Who cared what it cost?!)  We rested and had our lunch in the restaurant before boarding the bus for the Dead Sea.

Time Travel

    The only regret I can think of having for the whole trip (besides not taking better notes while Jackie was talking) was that I didn't spend more time on top of Masada.  The heat was intense and it was easy to get tired and hot.  But I had spent a lot of time reading about this place and wanted to see as much of it as I could.  I did get to see most of what I had read about.  Still, I would have liked to descend to the lower levels of the northern palace and to have explored the casemate walls and the cisterns.  (As it turned out, there would have been enough time for more of this if I had hung back for a while and caught up with the group later.  Oh, well ...)  This is a fascinating place.  I can't help but stand in places like this and try my hardest to imagine what it might have been like to have been there in the times to which these ruins bear witness.
    What was it like to visit in Herod's day?  What a spectacle it must have been to see such luxury on top of a hot rock in the desert on the shore of the Dead Sea.  What was it like during those final hours for the Zealots when the Roman soldiers broke through the walls?  Did the Romans find them all dead like Josephus says?  How must it have felt for these Jews to have been faced with such a decision?  Things like this are hard to imagine.  (And I can't say that Hollywood movies like Masada help much.)  I chafe against the bond of time.  I wish I could see it as it really was.  This is one of the things that I hope will be possible when I exchange this mortal life for an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:53) and can see things more as God sees them (1 Cor. 13:12).    --Paul Dubuc


    Masada was one of those places I most wished I could magically go back in time and see in its full glory.  Mind you, I would not want to have lived back then, the sewage in the cisterns convinced me of that.  It was, however, for me one of those places where Jackie worked some of his magic.  I had read Josephus’ account of Masada years ago.  We were assembled in what was assumed to be a synagogue constructed by the Zealots in what had once been a villa.  Jackie described the events that lead to the fall of Masada.  But when he got to the part of describing the assembly of the defenders probably on the very spot where we were, he quoted part of the speech Josephus placed in the mouth of Eleazar the Zealot leader, “...let us die before we become slaves under our enemies, and let us go out of the world, together with our children and our wives in a state of freedom....  Let us therefore make haste, and instead of affording them (Romans) so much pleasure, let us leave them an example which shall at once cause their astonishment at our death. ...”  Amazing!  Jackie had not only memorized whole sections of the Old and New Testaments but knew at least this part of Josephus as well.
    It may have been Jackie who said that all recruits and draftees into the Israel army are taken to this spot perhaps for induction into the army.  I can imagine that that speech being part of the induction ceremony as a reminder of their heritage.  Maybe it is memorized by school children in Israel with the addition of  “Never again.”
    It should be noted that Jackie did not consider Josephus infallible.  When we were at the scale model of Jerusalem, he was asked where Josephus would have been with Titus when he attempted to negotiate the surrender of the city on behalf of Titus.  Jackie’s response was, “we have a saying” which he quoted in Hebrew, and then “in English it means ‘respect him, but suspect him.’”    --John Kirn

Dead Sea

    Back in the bus, our next destination was the Dead Sea.  No one expected it to be a cool and refreshing dip and it wasn't; even on a very hot and dry day like today.  Still, it would be a shame to come out here and not be able to say afterwards that you floated in the Dead Sea.  Not all were agreed on this point.  Some decided they would rather watch.
    We pulled up at a beach were there were changing rooms and showers.  Those who wanted to do the Dead Man's Float in the Dead Sea changed into their bathing suits and headed down to the rocky shore where it was hard to find a place to put down one's foot in order to walk into the water.  The Dead Sea doesn't contain the kind of water that you can jump into and splash around in.  Just sit back and float and paddle around gently.  Don't get the water in your eyes or mouth or you'll be in for a stinging experience.  The water was very warm and left a gritty, oily sensation on your skin; like you had just rubbed yourself with mineral oil.  For people who normally have a hard time floating in other water, this was quite an experience.  Absolutely no effort is needed to stay afloat here.  This was quite good fun.  Many say that bathing in the Dead Sea can have healing effects on some skin problems.  Still, this isn't the kind of beach to which anyone wants to go and spend the whole day.  We were all done with our salt water bath within an hour and were ready to rinse off in the showers and be on our way.

En Gedi

    After the Dead Sea we traveled a short distance to visit the spring fed stream at En Gedi, a cool and refreshing place for a swim.  There is a nice spot for swimming a short way up the trail.  Some of us stayed there.  Others hiked further up the trail to a beautiful waterfall.  In contrast to its hot and dry surroundings, lush tropical vegetation grows around the stream here.  Cave openings could be seen in the sides of the canyon walls.  It was in some cave in this area that David cut off a part of King Saul's robe (1 Samuel 24).


    After a refreshing visit to En Gedi, it was back into the desert and on to Qumran.  Here there was a visitor's center where we saw a film about the Essene community that lived here.  We walked through the site where excavations showed the buildings, ritual baths, and cisterns built and used by the Essenes.  There seemed to be no individual dwelling places here.  The Essenes were a religious community who separated themselves from the worship at Jerusalem to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah and to devote their time to writing, making pottery, work, study and worship.  They held all property in common.  Josephus describes the Essenes in some detail in The Jewish War.   From here we could also see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

    After Qumran, our next stop was the Ritz Hotel in Jerusalem.  It didn't quite live up to its name, but was still a pretty nice hotel in the Arab section just outside the Old City.  We would be spending the next few days there, seeing the sights in and around Jerusalem.

Friday, August 13: Jerusalem

Mount of Olives and Gethsemane

    Our morning in Jerusalem we boarded the bus and drove up to the top of the Mount of Olives.  We posed there for a group picture.  We also got our first experience with street vendors selling postcards, bookmarks, maps, pictures and other trinkets.  They can be very persistent.
    From atop the Mount of Olives we had a very good view of the Old City of Jerusalem.  The Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, dominates the view of the Temple Mount.  Jackie stood facing us, with his back turned toward the city and accurately described the important places and buildings that we would visit later.  Jackie lives here in Jerusalem and knows the city very well.  This hillside, covered with olive trees, is a very desirable place to be buried.  It seemed to be one huge cemetery, with tombs dating back thousands of years and some graves still new or yet to be used.  Many Jews believe that those buried here will be among the first to rise from the dead.
    After taking in the view, we walked down the hill toward the "Tombs of the Prophets", a very old part of the cemetery and our first "holy place".  Inside we stopped at a large open tomb similar to the one that might have been used for Jesus.  Inside we could see the small stone containers (ossuaries) that were used to bury the bones of the deceased after the body had decomposed.

Holy Clothes

    Visiting a holy place, requires special attention to dress and demeanor on the part of the visitor out of respect for the sensibilities of those who highly revere these places.  Women (and men) should, at a minimum, have their shoulders and knees covered by their clothing.  Women might also want to have some sort of head covering.   Public displays of affection (hand holding, hugging or kissing) by couples are frowned upon (or worse).  If you are not dressed properly, you may be stopped at the gate and asked not to enter.  In our group, men and women who wore shorts, brought along loose fitting long pants or a skirt to slip on over their shorts.  For people who are caught without proper covering, some gatekeepers have a supply of brightly colored veils they will lend.  (We saw some men who looked pretty funny wearing these around their waist to cover their bare legs.)  In addition, visiting a mosque required taking off our shoes before going inside.
    Walking further on, we visited Dominus Flevit, a tear shaped church built to commemorate the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37-39).  We entered this beautiful little church and had a brief devotional reading and sung a hymn together.  The church faces the Old City of Jerusalem  and has a window in the front offering a very good view of the city.
    We then entered the area of the Garden of Gethsemane and visited the Church of Nations (so called because many countries contributed to the expense of building it)  It is built around a large rock in the garden, chosen as the traditional site where Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal.  The rock is encircled by a low iron work that resembles a crown of thorns.  Some of the other tourists there went up to the rock and touched it, or kissed it, or had their picture taken there.
    Outside we found an area of the garden, enclosed and planted with flowers and olive trees.  Some of these olive trees are purported to be 2000 years old, but they probably weren't standing at the time of Jesus.  The Romans almost certainly would have cut all the olive trees down when they destroyed the city in 70 CE.  It's possible, though, that some of these trees grew back from the stumps of those that were here in Jesus day.  In a small, quiet and peaceful section of the Garden we had time together to read the account of Jesus betrayal and arrest and to pray together.

A Jewel in God's Ring

    As I stood in the garden, looking across the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem, I remembered in a wave of emotion, how Jesus wept over the city.  There it was in all of its limestone splendor, rising up from the valleys as a setting in God's ring--the city for His chosen people set on a hill.  Just now, considering this, I am reminded of those first views of Earth from space, and how the same thought wrapped me round.  (Luke 19:41-44)  --Vivian Sidle


    After Gethsemane we boarded our bus again and drove to the fortress of Herodion, build on top of a hill resembling a volcano.  This was another of Herod the Great's building projects.  At the base of the hill we could see the remains of a large swimming pool with a small circular island in the middle.  Also in the excavations nearby are a Byzantine Church building and what is believed to be a chariot race course.  (Herod must of enjoyed drag racing.)
    After getting out of the bus we broke up into two groups:  Those who wanted to climb to the top by way of the stairs, and those who wanted to get inside via the tunnels.  These tunnels were made during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132-5 CE.  They connect three cisterns under the fortress with a network of tunnels.  Those who took this route climbed the many steps up through the tunnels, emerged inside the fortress walls, and were greeted from above by those who had taken the shorter route up the outside steps.
    Once inside we wandered around the ruins.  The fortress is circular.  It's walls surrounded a large courtyard and rooms containing a bath house, a large dining room (later converted to a synagogue by Jewish rebels) and living quarters.  The view from the top of the wall is magnificent.  Even on that hazy day we could see part of Jerusalem (Herod probably counted on being able to keep an eye on the city from here), the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, and many other small villages and towns.


    Back on the bus after our visit to Herodion, we drove to Bethlehem.  First we visited the Church of the Nativity, built over a cave that was supposed to have been the birthplace of Jesus.  We went down into the cave to see the shrine then up into the Armenian Orthodox section of the church where a service was being performed by four priests.  The church is in a bad state of preservation because the different branches of the church contend for ownership and won't let each other preserve or improve the common areas.
    We drove through the narrow streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to eat lunch.  We stopped at a place called "The Christmas Tree Restaurant" for falafel and schwarma.  By this time Michael Davis had had enough of the food we'd been eating and found a great American-style pizza place just down the street.
    We drove by the Tomb of Rachel on our way through Bethlehem.  It is a holy site, heavily guarded by Israelis since Bethlehem is in the Palestinian West Bank.
    Also, near Bethlehem, we visited a place called the Shepherd's Fields.  Here is a very peaceful garden and a small chapel inside a shepherd's cave.  The places where shepherds would have watched their flocks by night were in caves.  Here we had a devotional reading of the angels' proclamation of Jesus' birth to shepherds (Luke 2:8-14).
    Our last stop was at a very fine shop called the Bethlehem Souvenir Center.  Here they sold all sorts of fine olive wood carvings, jewelry and other items.  This is a very good place to buy mementos of the trip and gifts for friends and family back home.  After this we returned to our hotel in Jerusalem.

Saturday, August 14: Jerusalem

    Today was spent seeing sights in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.  Entering through the Dung Gate, we began by visiting the south-west sections of the wall of the Temple Mount that had been recently excavated.  Up until these excavations were done the only part of this wall, dating back to the time of Herod's Temple, was the Western Wall (formerly known as the Wailing Wall).  We could see the huge blocks of stone with drafted margins framing the edges of the stones at the base of the wall.  These are characteristic of Herod's building.  When the Romans destroyed the temple they threw down many of these stones from the upper part of the wall so that the Temple Mount could no longer be used as an inner fortress of the city..  Many of these large stones were then reused in other building.  In the 7th and 11th centuries, the Temple Mount walls were repaired with smaller stones.
    We walked around to the southern part of the wall where we could see the original steps leading up to the Temple Mount.  These were the steps built by Herod and were there in Jesus day.  There is a wide set of steps (used for leaving the Temple area) which are partially covered by a medieval tower.  It may have been on these steps that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple (Matt. 24:1-2).  There is also another narrower set of steps further East which were used to ascend to the Temple.  Many of the original stones remained but much had also been restored.  The gates at the top of these steps had been blocked up long ago.  Near these steps we could also see many baths (mikve) used for ritual purification before entering the Temple courts.
    We also visited the Western Wall.  We had to go through a security check to enter this area.  It was the Jewish Sabbath and there were many people coming and going and praying at the wall.

The Wall

    It's Saturday, the Sabbath.  We're in Jerusalem.  A bright sunny morning, heading for hot, day.  We can't take pictures on the Sabbath.  We're overlooking the Wailing Wall which, because it is the Western Wall, is in cool shadow while we stood in the morning heat of an August sun.  The entire
expanse before the left section wall is filled with dense clusters of men--old and young--and boys.   Black is the dominant color.  Black suits.  Black hats--some looking like small fur squat barrels.  Black yamakas.  There are prayer shawls, white shawls draped casually across shoulders.  There are lots of beards and curled locks.
    Give these men a haircut and a shave; put them in blue jeans and polo shirts and they would blend anonymously into any Western European crowd.  They'd look just like us.  Perhaps what was so disconcerting that the reverse was true.  We could easily look like them.  We are part of the same family.
    But those folks before the wall were acting outside of our Western, Protestant norm.  Clearly they were venerating a place.  Some seem detached.  Others were part of a small group.  There was a low hum of a not-in-unison cant as the Torah was read.  The general focus of each group was The Wall.
Here and there men rocked back and forth where they stood reading.  Different.  Strange.
    Jackie explained that the Wailing Wall is the closest point available to the Jew to the location of the Holy of Holies.  It was the retaining wall put up by Herod the Great to shape Mt. Moriah into a massive floor on which to build the Second Temple complex.  From where we stood access to the wall is
divided, men on the left, women on the right.
    I made my way to the wall.  Up close it was massive.  I was small.  I reached out, touched it with my fingers, then placed my right palm against it.  Telling myself I came here to pray I bowed my head and searched for words.  No coherent words came but suddenly there was a growing sense of awe--a presence--arriving in waves.  I knew that if I stayed praying I would be in tears.  Men don't allow themselves tears and certainly not around oddly behaving strangers.  I willed my hand away from the wall, took a deep breath and backed away.
    I walked back up to the observation area above the wall.  I found Adrienne Zanhiser.  She looked rather dazed.  I asked her if she went down to The Wall.  She nodded, took a deep breath and said, "I had not expected it to be so emotional."
    I understood and yet I didn't ... and still don't.    --John Kirn
    On top of the Temple Mount we visited the El-Aksa Mosque.  We had to take our shoes off before entering.  The interior of the mosque was spacious, its walls decorated with elaborate colored tile.  The floors were covered with small rugs.  The center area was roped off for visitors and the surrounding areas were used for prayer and study.  We also visited the Dome of the Rock nearby.  This beautiful building dominates the Temple Mount.  By its location (on the site of Herod's Temple) and ornate construction (competing with Christian churches of the time) it was meant as a statement of Islamic supercession over both Judaism and Christianity as well as a shrine to Mohammed's night journey to Jerusalem.  We only had a short time to look around inside at the Dome.  It was getting close to prayer time and visitors were being encouraged to leave.
    Moving off the Temple Mount we came to the excavations of the Lithostratos and the Roman pavement from the time of Christ.  We had to go below street level to see these.  This may have been the place where Christ was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.   We saw the King's Game scratched into the stones here.  This is thought to be a game that Roman soldiers played to amuse themselves at the expense of a slave.  The winner was treated like a king for the day, then killed.  Some think that perhaps the Roman soldiers' treatment of Jesus after his arrest was similar to that given to the 'winner' of this game.
    Back on the surface we walked the Via Dolorosa; the traditional way of the cross where Jesus was led to his execution.  We walked through the narrow streets, lined thickly for most of its length by a busy market place.  Crowds of people pressed together moving along the streets and pressed from both sides by vendors selling food, souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, shoes, luggage, you-name-it.  This market was called the "suc" (rhymes with "Luke").  Jackie went first and waited downstream to pull us out of the flow near the place we could eat lunch.
    Whether or not the route was authentic, this experience of being led through a narrow streets full of noisy distracted people going about their business was probably an authentic experience of Jesus as he was lead off to die.  People might turn their attention to him for a little while to see who the Romans were going to crucify this time, then turn back to their dickering over the price of a lamb or a goat.
    After lunch at a street cafe, we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, this church is a shrine that is divided among different branches of Christianity.  Many of the common parts of it are in disputes over ownership and have remained in a state of disrepair for centuries.  As a notable exception, restoration work was completed in 1997 on the beautiful dome of the church.  In the central part of the church, under the dome, hundreds of pilgrims were lined up to see relics of the tomb of Christ.  The original tomb found on this site was destroyed by Hakim in 1009 CE.  All that is left are fragments of later reproductions of the tomb and a piece of rock that may have been part of the stone that originally covered the entrance.    The building complex also includes Golgotha, the place nearby where Jesus was crucified.  Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's description of this place seems appropriate:
    "One expects the central shrine of Christendom to stand out in majestic isolation, but anonymous buildings cling to it like barnacles.  One looks for numinous light, but it is dark and cramped.  One hopes for peace, but the ear is assailed by a cacophony of warring chants.  One desires holiness, only to encounter jealous possessiveness: the six groups of occupants--Latin Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians--watch one another suspiciously for an infringement of rights.  The frailty of humanity is nowhere more apparent than here; it epitomizes the human condition.  The empty who come to be filled will leave desolate; those who permit the church to question them may begin to understand why hundreds of thousands thought it worthwhile to risk death or slavery in order to pray here."    (The Holy Land, p. 45.)
    There is a good probability that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does sit on the actual site of Jesus crucifixion and burial.  However, the last place we visited today felt closer to the scene for our group.  This is a place called the Garden Tomb.  This spot is maintained as a peaceful garden adjacent to a tomb that is more typical of tombs in the 9th - 7th century BCE.  The side of a hill behind the garden vaguely resembled a skull to General Charles Gordon who was the first visitor to popularize this site as Golgotha in 1883. Although it is certainly not the real sight of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, it definitely is a beautiful place in which to pray, and to reflect on those events.  Our group had a wonderful communion service in this spot.  It was a beautiful way to end the day's journey.  The souvenir shop in Bethlehem had given our group some small olive wood cups to use in this service.  In his message, Pastor Watson reminded us of the way Jesus said that he wanted to be remembered.  Not so much with beautiful buildings and shrines, but in the simple act of sharing a meal together.

The Garden Tomb

    A tall, massive rough stone outcropping arose prominently from the face of the hill at the end of the lovely shaded garden walkways.  It has the look of a large skull, and on top of that hill was what could have been the place of our Lord's crucifixion.  At the base of the hill and to the left of the skull was a smooth limestone facade in which was carved a door and a window.  Through it is claimed that this might not be the actual place of His burial, nonetheless the scripture accounts fit perfectly believable.
"And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull" (Mark15:22); "And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  And in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no on had yet been laid." (John 19:40-41);  "Joseph (of Arimathea) took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away." (Matt 27:59-60).
        To step inside and stand alongside the stone platform on which Jesus may have been laid made it seem the legitimate place.  There were no lamps, wall hangings, glitter of gold, or anything to detract from what could be a simple statement of fact, uncluttered by man's embellishment, which in many spots where Jesus walked or acted, made it hard to feel "beyond" the glitter.  (Man gets so in the way!)  It was a "special moment" to cherish.  --Vivian Sidle

Ambivalent about Shrines

    The present condition and atmosphere of some of the more significant Christian shrines like the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity are perplexing to me and many other Christians.  Our guide, Jackie, was sensitive to this sentiment in our group and tried to give us a good understanding of the historical events and thinking that have shaped these places.  Most of us would probably have liked them to have been preserved in their pristine condition, if at all.  Why all the gold and glitter, marble and brick building over, and obscuring of, any sense of what it might have been like to "be there"?  We would have been more inspired to get a glimpse of the humble beginnings of our faith rather than the gaudy trappings encrusted over it by so many centuries of often misplaced Christian piety. Some of these places, like the Church of the Nativity, almost certainly do not sit on the actual places they commemorate.  Like Jackie said, Jesus' disciples didn't walk behind him with a piece of chalk, placing an 'X' marking the important places of his life and ministry.  Furthermore, Christians were persecuted for the first four centuries of the existence of their faith, and could not preserve holy places in any conspicuous or permanent ways.  The present form of these shrines has more to do with the people who built and preserved them than the One who inspired them to be built.
    When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the emperor Constantine and his mother commissioned the building of churches and shrines to mark important places of Jesus' ministry.  As to location, people often had to make their best guess.  As to the magnificence of the shrines, well Jesus was a king wasn't he?  Kings live in beautiful palaces don't they?  By the reasoning of earthly kings, a heavenly king required that much earthly splendor be put down in his name.  It would have been unthinkable to do otherwise.  Yet Jesus is as much an unthinkable sort of king as he was an unlikely Messiah.  In lavishing this kind of expense on places to honor Jesus Christ, kings may as well have been justifying their own grand style of living.  I enjoyed the fine architecture and beautiful atmosphere of many of the shrines we visited (the Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, for example).  But the more that they seemed to focus on the preservation of relics or places as objects of affection rather than on the glorification of God as such, the more I felt alienated by them.
    If the alternative to the present form of these Christian holy places were that they not be preserved at all--perhaps having a parking lot or supermarket built over them--then I suppose we have a far better of two less than ideal outcomes.  Still, I can't help but feel that these attempts to preserve the Manna from Heaven in gilded containers made with human hands as resulted in a much decayed testimony to the life giving power of Jesus Christ today.    For me, at least, a simple communion service in an unlikely place of Jesus death and resurrection did the most to renew by desire to be his disciple.  It's always a wonder the way God often shows himself in ways, times, and places that we least expect to see Him.  --Paul Dubuc

Sunday, August 15: Jerusalem

    Sunday morning was free time for our group.  There were no scheduled activities.  We had spent the time after dinner yesterday evening discussing the different ideas people had for what to do this morning.  Some attended Sunday service at a nearby church.  Others set out to explore various parts of Jerusalem.  Another group explored Hezekiah's Tunnel and walked the Old City ramparts.

Hezekiah's Tunnel and a Walk on the Ramparts

    Early Sunday morning, seven of our group (Sam and Sammy Meier, Stuart Boulton, Jenny Daniel, Paul, Jessica and Bryan Dubuc) headed out for a walk through Hezekiah's tunnel.  This is a tunnel built by King Hezekiah (727-698 BCE) to carry water inside the city walls from the Gihon Spring (2 Chr. 32:2-4,30; 2 Kings 20:20).  In order to get to the tunnel we walked through part of the Kidron Valley to the Gihon Spring.  Many old tombs could be seen on the sides of the valley.  We explored one large empty tomb and found it littered with trash and debris.  Others were being used for living quarters.  Part of the valley contained heaps of unsightly trash; a real dump.  The spring is underground.  A medieval stairway leads down to the tunnel entrance which was blocked by a locked gate. The gatekeeper came and tried to let us in, but some women were inside apparently bathing in the spring.  We waited about 15 minutes for them to finish.
    Water still flows from the spring, through the tunnel and into the Pool of Siloam.  The water was cool and clear.  It rarely got more than knee deep (lower than usual due to a serious drought in Israel).   The passage was, perhaps 28 inches wide and varied in height.  In some places we had to stoop to get through.  In other places the roof of the tunnel appeared to be 25 feet high.  This was done to provide more ventilation for the workers digging the tunnel.  We could see clearly the marks in the hard rock walls made by the axes of the workmen who dug the tunnel.
    This activity may not have been fun for the claustrophobic, but we all had a great time.  It was fun to turn off our flash lights and feel our way in the dark.  It was impossible to get lost.  Though there are many twists and turns in the tunnel there is only one passage.  It took us about 40 minutes to walk through, perhaps, three quarters of a mile.  We emerged at the Pool of Siloam where we had to wait for (yes) more women to finish bathing before we could emerge.  All that walking in cold water had cooled us off considerably.  We walked up the hill through an Arab neighborhood to the Old City.
    Back inside the city wall, we ran into a few more people from our tour group who were out shopping.  Some of us went shopping with them while four others (Sam, Sammy, Bryan and me) went for a tour of the city along the ramparts.
    We had to purchase tickets to get up on the walls.  From there you could walk almost all the way around the Old City; and we nearly did.  The present wall was built in medieval times.  Steps up onto the walls were at the gates of the city.  We found a gate that was open to the upper walls and started our walk.  It was quite a long hike, but we enjoyed some excellent views of the City and surroundings for our efforts.  The ramparts weren't crowded.  We only saw a few people up there.  We came down near Stephen's Gate (also called Lion's Gate) and walked through the city and out the Damascus Gate (pressing our way through the crowds) after grabbing a falafel and a drink for lunch.  From there it was a short walk back to the Ritz Hotel.    --Paul Dubuc
    At about 2:00 in the afternoon, the whole group got on the bus and we headed out to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum where parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display.  It was all Hebrew to us, but Jackie gave us a fine appreciation of the background and importance of the ancient scrolls and manuscripts on display here.
    We also visited the Yad Vashem, a memorial to the martyrs and heroes of the Nazi Holocaust.  A walk through the museum was a sobering tour through a very dark period of our history.    Outside there were groves of carob trees; each planted in memory of a Gentile who helped save Jews from the Holocaust.  We saw one new tree there planted for Corrie ten Boom.  The Hall of Remembrance was closed part of the time due to a service going on inside.
    Our last stop was a visit to a 50:1 scale model of how Jerusalem is thought to have looked in the first century.  Jackie gave us a wonderfully original and entertaining tour of this city and a good feeling of what it might have been like for a Jew from Galilee to go to Jerusalem for Passover.  This was a very valuable aid in helping us put together the pieces of first century Jerusalem that we have seen.  Without this it can be very hard to visualize the way things might have looked in Jesus' day.

Monday, August 16: Jerusalem - Tiberias


    We left Jerusalem this morning to drive North through Samaria.  Our first stop was at Nablus (biblical Shechem).  We visited some excavated ruins behind an auto repair shop.  We had a good view of Mt. Ebal and Mt Gerizim.  It was here that Abraham received the promise of the Land of Israel; the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph from Egypt for burial; and Jesus met the woman of Samaria at Jacob's Well.
    After leaving the ruins from the city of Shechem, we visited Jacob's Well.  Construction on the Russian Orthodox church over the well is being finished.  The building was interrupted about 100 years ago.  The First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the conflicting priorities of the USSR contributed to the delay.  Now the Greek Orthodox church is providing money to finish the building.  Under the floor of the church there is a small room that surrounds the opening of the well.  An attendant drew some water and some of us tasted it.  The well was quite deep.  When a stone was dropped into the well, it took several seconds to hear a splash.  Jackie told us that it is fairly certain that this is Jacob's Well, since the well has been here a very long time and it's difficult to dig wells in this area.

Living Water

    Just how was Jacob able to dig such a deep well?  Here we were standing alongside the well housing where Jesus sat and spoke with the Samaritan woman, even though she was obviously a harlot.  She couldn't believe that a Jewish man would even speak to a hated Samaritan woman.  Yet He was asking for a drink.  He was thristy and tired from His journey, and here we were, tasting some of the same sweet water which Jesus drank.  How amazing!  It was here that, for the first time, Jesus revealed who He was and offerend the woman the Living Water which only He could give, which would spring up in her unto eternal life, as for all humanity thereafter.  (John 4:3-26)  --Vivian Sidle
    Nablus has a high concentration of automobile repair shops.  Jackie told us that many people from out of town bring their cars to be repaired here because of the cheaper parts and labor.

Sebastiya (Sebaste)

    Our next stop was Sebastiya, established by King Omri and improved by his son Ahab.  The prophets Elisha and Obadiah are believed to be buried here, along with the head of John the Baptist.  We saw the ruins of a Roman basilica.  (Church buildings were later patterned after this type of administrative building.)  There were also the remains of a theater, a shrine to Caesar, and King Ahab's summer palace.  There was also the ruin of a church marking the spot where John the Baptist's head was supposedly buried.

The Head of John the Baptist

    There was a steel door to a crypt in the floor of the church.  A local boy, who had been following our group and trying to be helpful in different ways, noticed my interest in the door and opened it so we could look inside.  It was dark at the bottom of the dozen or so steps that led down in, and the way was barred by a gate.  I was curious, but I didn't go down.  No one is buried there now.  Had John the Baptist's Head been buried here at one time?  Maybe.  We can't know for sure.  Someone asked Jackie why the boy had been following us and trying to do favors.  "Perhaps so some will give him a few shekels", he said.  When we were through, I saw the boy standing next to the path on our way to lunch and, not wanting his earlier efforts to be in vain, I pulled a 5 shekel coin (about $1.25 US) out of my pocket and gave it to him.  I don't know if it was a "proper" thing to do or not and I couldn't tell from the boy's reaction how pleased he was with my offering.  At least he had some reward for his efforts.  --Paul Dubuc
    We had a good lunch at a very nice restaurant here.  The gift shop was also worthwhile.  As we came out of the shop two little boys with a donkey were standing next to our bus.  They were so cute, they earned a few coins from our group just for posing for pictures.

    After another hot day, Jackie had a treat for our next stop:  A wonderful swimming hole.  The water was very refreshing.  Most of us couldn't resist going for a swim, or a dip under the small waterfalls nearby.  This place is known as Gan Hashlosha (the Park of the Three - killed in the Independence War) in Hebrew or as Sachne (meaning the warm one) in Arabic. Temperatures at about 28 degrees c. (82° F) the whole year round. It flows out in the Jezreel Valley at the foot of Mount Gilboa.
    After our swim we got back on the bus and drove toward Tiberias.  "As we rounded a curve in the road, it 'took my breath away' to see the south end of the Sea of Galilee come into view.  (Such and unexpected reaction!)".  [Vivian Sidle]  Curving west and north we came to Tiberias.  This city was originally built by Herod the Great's son, Herod Antipas, to impress the Romans.  On the way Jackie offered to take anyone who wanted to get up early on a hike to climb the cliffs around Tiberias and watch the sunrise.  A few brave people would take him up on that.  Others thought the sunrise would look just as fine from their hotel room windows.
    In Tiberias we stayed at the Golan Hotel.  It was the best hotel yet.  Very good food and rooms (some with balconies) with wonderful views of the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday, August 17: Tiberias

Sunrise Over the Sea of Galilee

    For those willing to rise in the morning a couple of hours earlier than usual, Jackie offered an extra adventure.  Badaran (who also had to rise early) drove us to the top of Mt Arbel just north-west of Tiberias.  From this angle, the mountain appeared more like a broad hill because we were really on a plateau several hundred feet above the Sea of Galilee.  It was a short easy hike over the shallow crest of the mountain to a cliff edge looking east over the Sea.  The terrain was a compromise of grasses and exposed rocks with a single tree to provide a photographic opportunity.  The tree reminded me of the famous cypress on the California coast along the 17 mile drive which was once called the "most photographed tree in America".
    We settled in on the rocks to await the appearance of the sun over the distant mountains.  Through the pre-dawn light, Jackie pointed out various landmarks along the northern shore of the Sea.  One of them was the village of Migdal, home of Mary Magdalene.  It was somehow refreshing to see that Migdal was still a small village rather than a large city like so many other places of New Testament fame.  We could also see cave openings in the cliff faces across the valley to the north.  They looked similar to those in Qumran and near the Mamshit camel ranch.  I found it amazing to see how prolific caves are in the Holy Land, the results of the geological forces of the eons and the human forces of the millennia.
    Soon our attention was focused on the intensifying light on the east horizon.  An exclamation of "there it is" announced the very first speck of orange light to burst through a notch in the mountains.  The speck quickly grew into a line, then an arch, and eventually a full disc signaling the transition from a comfortable morning temperature to another hot day.
    As the sun continued its climb into the sky and the valley began to come to life, we began what had been promised to be an exciting hike.  We followed a mildly descending trail westward among the rocks for about 15 minutes where it made a few steps down into the rocks then literally dropped over the edge of a cliff!  For the next several hundred feet, we were in a purely vertical world.  The trail's route was implied by the color variation between the well worn and the rarely touched rock.  Strategically placed cable holds and steel cleats hammered into the rock provided passage through zones which would otherwise be available to experienced rock climbers only.
    The trail then continued eastward back toward the Sea of Galilee at a more leisurely slope but not without a few uncomfortably steep descents on loose gravel.  We could now see that the cliff faces below our sunrise lookout point were also riddled with caves, some of which had brick walls built within them.  Jackie said these caves, along with many of the caves in this area, were used as hiding places by the Zealots who gained a reputation for melting into the hills when being pursued by the Romans.  This land is so full of historical places!
    The land below the cliff was being used to pasture cows.  I decided that since we were in the Holy Land, these must be Holy Cows!  By now, the day was getting hot and we could see the bus waiting at the bottom of the hill.
    Looking back up at the cliffs, we could trace our path and be humbled by the fact that we had traversed the cliff face at its lowest point on a well maintained path.  The Zealots and Romans did not have that luxury while fighting their war.  This is a demanding land.   --Bruce Renard

Church of the Beatitudes

    Our first stop today was at a site chosen to commemorate Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:  The Church of the Beatitudes is in a lovely spot situated overlooking the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It would likely have been on a hillside like this that Jesus would have stood to teach on occasions like the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matt. 5-7.  After soaking up the setting and reading the Beatitudes, we leisurely viewed the inside of the church and  walked around the surrounding beautifully landscaped grounds.  This is a lovely and peaceful place where a quiet reverence was evident everywhere.


"Follow Me"

    While cruising along the shore in a wooden ship named "Mark", enroute from Tiberias to Capernaum, we passed the small basalt chapel called the Church of the Primacy, situated close to the western seashore.  The church commemorates the place where the resurrected Christ appeared a third time, when His disciples, coming in from a night of fruitless fishing found Him standing on the shore with fish already cooking on a glowing fire.  Jesus called to them that if they would follow His direction and cast the net on the right side of the boat, they would get a catch.  When they did, they dragged in a bursting net, and knew that it was the Lord.  Then, after breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times, whether he loved Him.  When he affirmed that he did, Jesus chared him to tend His lambs and shepherd His sheep.  How?  "Follow Me".  (John 21)  --Vivian Sidle
    When we landed we visited the excavations of the first century town.  Peter's House is there; where Jesus healed Simon's (named "Peter" by Jesus) mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31).  This site is most probably the real site of Peter's house because of the archeological evidence, tradition and historical record dating its use as a place of worship by Christians back into the first century.  There is a church, built above the site of the house, raised on arches that make it look like a flying saucer space ship hovering above.  More of the town has been excavated nearby.  The houses were made of basalt, a black volcanic rock that is very common to this area.  These homes must have heated up like ovens in the summer.  There is also the remains of a synagogue, built with limestone, on top of the basalt foundation from the earlier synagogue.

Volcanoes in Galilee

    It didn't fit the pictures.  All Bible story towns had sand colored streets and houses.  All the Sunday School literature's illustrations had houses or buildings with light colored stones.  And now we were taken to Capernaum.  I had already looked at the church on the shore of Galilee where Jesus
confronted Peter with "do you love me?".  That church was black, except for the decorative corner stones and the tile roof.  Surely the black stones had been imported.  That was before Capernaum.
    Certainly I was surprised at how close the Synagogue was to Peter's house.  He could have walked it in a couple of minutes and if the foundation under the Synagogue is the Synagogue from Peter's time there, we may have the sight in which Jesus read from Isaiah.  Wow.  No wonder after serving in the Synagogue, He went to Peter's house for a meal ... just like we do after church on Sundays.  The only difference is we don't have to heal the cook to get fed.
    The excavation of Peter's house was a revelation.  Black stones formed the walls.  The floor was of the same black stones.  Perhaps charcoal gray is a better description, but in comparison with stones used in the rest of the country, they are black.
    The tour of the area only served to confirm the revelation.  All the streets--all the excavated buildings--even the round olive press was in this same black stone.  Basalt.  Volcanic Basalt from eruptions in prehistory.
    Jackie had pointed out flat topped mountains in The Galilee which were extinct volcanoes, but nothing drove the point home like seeing buildings that could have been made in Hawaii.
    My perception of The Galilee has changed forever.    --John Kirn
    We also visited the Church of the Loaves and the Fishes which commemorates the feedings of the 5000 and the 4000.  This church had beautiful, well preserved (partially restored) mosaic floors.
    Sammy Meier was baptized in the Sea of Galilee.  We had the service on the shore near the YMCA hostel.  It was an exciting time for Sammy and the rest of us.  He will have some wonderful memories of this ... as will we also.


"Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of Love;"
    Indeed we were singing joyfully as we stood beside the Sea of Galilee.  Sammy Meier, his Dad, and Jack were carefully wading into the shallow waters along the shore in preparation for Sammy's baptism.  It was certainly a joyful occasion.  So why was I standing there covering my face and crying?  Vivian and I brought up the rear of our group, and she quickly noted my tears and kindly put her arm around me, not really understanding my weepy response to this happy event.

"Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to the sun above."

    The last time I had sung those words was 11 weeks earlier at the memorial service for my Mother.  That was also a joyful time, but joyful in a different way.  We were celebrating Mother's entrance into Life Eternal.  For 101 years and 8 months she had live out her faith as a child of God and now she had moved on beyond the bonds of time into the arms of her Creator and Savior.  As we sang that morning, joyful through tears, my faith assured me that our Lord had welcomed her and called her by name.

"Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away;"

    And now we were singing joyfully as young Sammy received his name as a child of God.  Jack slipped him under the waters of the Galilee and lifted him up, a visible sign of invisible Grace.

"Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day."

    Joy in death and joy in life?  How can that be?  Lord and Creator of Life -- earthly and Eternal?  How can that be?  "Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known."  Yes, even as we had seen a new day begin from Mt. Arbel that morning, we have the promise of a New Day!

"Mortals join the happy chorus
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o'er us,
Brother love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life."

--Marjorie Ward

Kibbutz Lavi

    Our last stop on today's journey was at Kibbutz Lavi where we were given a tour by one of the members and his daughter.  The kibbutz is a farming community whose members live by the basic tenet of "from everyone according to his ability, to everyone according to his need".  Work and production are organized by the community and all property is owned collectively.  The community is governed democratically.  General meetings are held every other week to make all important decisions.  Every member gets a vote.  There are annually elected committees that make the smaller day-to-day decisions, overseeing different aspects of community life.  Everyone works to support the community, even children and the older people.  There are no salaries paid, but a budget is allocated to each family for personal expenses like travel, clothing, books and gifts.  Meals are prepared for the whole community and may be eaten in a common dining room or taken home since each apartment has a kitchenette.  Laundry is marked with an ID number and done at a central laundry.  The kibbutz owns a number of automobiles that are loaned to members on an as needed basis.
   The kibbutz assumes complete responsibility for its members from the cradle to the grave.  Children are given care and schooling during the day.  On many kibbutzim, children live separately from their parents in a children's house and spend only a few hours a day with their parents.  At Lavi, the children live with their parents and spend the working hours of the day at the children's house.  Children are provided an education up through college and a wedding by the community.  When they are of age they may leave the kibbutz, or stay on as a member.
    Another distinction that Lavi has from most other kibbutzim is that it is an Orthodox Jewish community.  Most kibbutzim are non-religious.  Lavi is one of only a dozen or so religious kibbutzim in Israel.  The kibbutz movement started about 1908.  Following on the heels of the Zionist movement (1880), the kibbutz was an expression of Zionism influenced by Communism.  It was not a religious movement.  Contrary to the belief of many pious Jews that God would one day restore the nation of Israel, the Zionists wanted to bring that about by their own efforts.  For the kibbutz they wanted Jews who would be primarily workers: farmers, shepherds, etc. (not intellectuals, teachers or professionals).  They wanted to come to Israel to drain the swamps and make the desert green.  Today kibbutzim are less ideological, more simply a practical way of life.  Many of the present members were born on a kibbutz.
    In addition to agriculture and raising domestic animals, Kibbutz Lavi runs a four star hotel and manufactures furniture for synagogues and churches.  Lavi also has a rich cultural life with performing arts and films and an adult education center with a library.

    After spending a little time in the hotel gift shop at Kibbutz Lavi, we were on the bus and drove back to our hotel in Tiberius.  In the evening some of us went to see and interesting multimedia presentation about the area called "The Galilee Experience".

Wednesday, August 18: Tiberias

Sunrise Over Galilee

    Mary Beth and I were fortunate enough to get a hotel room with a balcony facing East.  I knew that yesterday morning's mountain hike would very likely try my acrophobia beyond its limit after hearing Jackie describe it. So I passed on that.  I'm sure the sunrise looked just as beautiful today form our balcony.  The mountains in the East provided a definite horizon.  When the sun peeked over it we could see the effects of the Earth in motion as the horizon dipped and pulled us into a full view of the sun in just a minute or two.  I was surprised at how fast it seemed to move.  I'm not sure if I've ever been able to see the sun come up this way before.    --Paul Dubuc

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Psalm 19:4b-5

    This morning we drove up to the Golan Heights on the Syrian border with Israel.  This area is something of a "no man's land" with Israeli Army bases the only sign of occupation.  We drove past several deserted Syrian villages.  Israel took this area from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967.  It seems that, if Israel were ever to give this territory back to Syria, it would have to be under a very strong peace treaty.  Possession of this land by an enemy, makes Israel very vulnerable to artillery.
    On our way we crossed the Jordan River.  In size the Jordan is what most of us would consider a stream.  It looked smaller than the Olentangy River in Columbus.  Perhaps the drought had diminished it more than usual, but rivers in Israel are more like streams that don't dry up in summer.  We read the story of Naaman's healing in 2 Kings 5.  The Jordan didn't look impressive to Naaman either.
    It was a very hot day.  We picked up a few hikers carrying very large packs on their backs.  They were very glad to ride in our air conditioned bus for a while.


    Gamla has been compared in some ways to Masada.  It was a fortress city to which many Jewish rebels had taken refuge when Vespasian attacked.  The name "Gamla" comes from the word for "camel".  The hill on which the city was built resembles a camel's back.  Two steeply sloping sides along a high mountain ridge.  Most of the city appears to have been built on one slope and protected by a wall at the base of the mountain.  Steep cliffs on the opposite slope protected that side of the city.  A good bit of excavation and restoration has been done to reveal the city wall, houses, mikve (ritual baths), an oil press and a synagogue.
    Walking from the bus to a lookout atop a nearby hill with a good view of Gamla, we were afforded a choice:  The walk down, and then up to Gamla (not an easy one in the heat of summer), or the easier walk to a nearby waterfall.  Those taking the "easier", reported it not easy, and rather disappointing because the drought had prevented much of a waterfall to develop.  Those who wanted to explore the city had to make a steep and lengthy decent along a footpath into the valley below.  At the bottom there were some reproductions of Roman missile launchers which looked something like large crossbows, without the bow.  The projectile looked like a spear with a large, pointed iron head.
    The story of the Roman assault on this city is given by Josephus in The Jewish War.  At first the Romans had a difficult time fighting their way up the city in its narrow streets.  Fighting took place on the roofs of houses which began to collapse under the weight and tumble down the hill, burying the attacking soldiers in an avalanche of falling rock, dust and debris.  Eventually, though, the Romans gained the advantage and drove the defenders to the top of the hill where they had no place to go.  It is said that 5000 people flung themselves to their deaths over the cliffs rather than be captured by the Romans.  Another 4000 died in the fighting.
    Once we were at the base of the city we had a steep climb up through the ruins.  Those who climbed all the way to the top were rewarded with a magnificent view of the valley and surrounding hills.  Water from springs could be heard flowing down the hill opposite Gamla.  It was a beautiful place to rest before making the long walk back down and up the other hill to the bus.

Golan Heights (Syrian Border)

    Our next stop took us to a former army outpost very near the border with Syria.  Here, overlooking a valley which was the site of many battles between Israel and Syria, we explored an army bunker which was no longer in use.  We listened to Jackie describe the terrain and some of the fighting that took place here.  Close to the hill we were on we could see the remains of a Syrian town that was destroyed by the war, and its populated replacement further in the distance.  Jackie described the tactics used by one group of Israeli tanks, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, to hold off a greatly outnumbering force of Syrian tanks for 18 hours until reinforcements could arrive.  The tanks fought behind mounds of earth to reduce their visibility during the battle.  When they ran out of ammunition, their commander ordered them out in the open, to the top of the mounds which had protected them!  This fooled the Syrians into thinking that reinforcements had arrived and calling off their attack.
    Back in the bus we drove through some Druze villages and stopped for lunch.

Caesarea Philippi (Banyas)

    After lunch we drove to Caesarea Philippi, the place of the pagan shrines.  The present name, Banyas, is a corruption of Paneas, devoted to the god Pan.  There is a spring here which is one of the sources of the Jordan river.  Philip, the son of Herod the Great built up this city as the capitol of his territory.  To distinguish it from the coastal Caesarea, it was called Caesarea Philippi or Caesarea Paneas.  It is now part of the Nahal Hermon Reserve.
    We stopped here and read the Gospel accounts of Jesus asking his disciples, "Who do people say I am" and where Jesus rebukes the apostle Peter for suggesting that the Messiah would not be one to suffer and die (Matt. 16:13-28).

Caesarea Philippi

    The revelation of the absolute openness of Jesus ... the security of his sense of who he was ... was never clearer than when we visited Caesarea Philippi.  Here were the ruins of a totally Roman, pagan city.  The remains of the Temple of Pan were there were outlines of other temples.  Here was a
place that culturally, intellectually displayed a belief in multiple gods.  It was the cosmopolitan center for northern Galilee at the time of Jesus.  It was here that Jesus posed the question.
    Jack read from Mark 8 as Jesus asked, "Whom do men say that I am?"  The answer to the specific came from the disciples who answered, "some say you are Elijah or one of the prophets."   In the setting Jesus placed them, had he been doing in Caesarea Philippi the things he had done in Capernaum, the people there might easily have answered, "you are most certainly one of the gods."  One wonders if that thought crossed their minds.
    Then Peter answered the next question, "But whom do you say that I am?" to which Peter answers, "You are the Christ."  We know from Jesus’ response that Peter’s answer was from the Holy Spirit.  Without the prompting of the Spirit, what would the answer have been?  Indeed, what answer would the other disciples have given?
    The fact is, the answer Peter gave is so important, it makes all others irrelevant.    --John Kirn

    It was most interesting that our Lord Jesus strode right into the enemy camp (Satan's stronghold) to deliver His challenge regarding belief of His divinity.  And by the impression of the Holy Spirit given to Peter, He conquered all uncertain or antagonistic responses.  Jesus, here, accepted and validated the response of Peter as being Truth.  --Vivian Sidle

Tel Dan

    Our last stop of the day was at Tel Dan.  Here we saw excavations of the altar built at Dan.  The gate to the city of Dan and the judgment seat in the gate are from the time of King Ahab.  There was another gate dating from the early Bronze Age, the time of Abraham (1800 BCE).  This gate was made of mud brick and looked very fragile.  It was covered with a canopy to keep rain from washing it away.  Archeologists think that this gate survived because it was defective.  Being poorly built it was built over with another gate that covered and protected it.
    Sam Meier told us that it is not uncommon for artifacts to survive, ironically, because they are unused or defective in some way.  Things that are used play a larger part in the history they represent, but they also tend to wear out and do not survive to become important and useful artifacts.  One example is manuscript of the Bible called the Codex Sinaiaticus, which is the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible, but contains significant scribal errors and defects.  It survived for centuries on the shelf in a monastery.

Thursday, August 19: Tiberias - Nazareth


    At Belvoir we were treated to a curious display of modern 'environmental art' by sculptor Yigal Tomarkin before touring the remains of a crusader castle.  Belvoir means "beautiful view", but it obviously wasn't given its name on a hazy day like today.  Views to the distance always seemed hampered by a hazy sky, but it was especially so today in this place.  Not a good opportunity for those panoramic snapshots.
    We toured the ruins of the castle built by the Crusaders about 1165 CE.  It was build with basalt rock and was used for about 27 years until Saladin's army conquered it after a 5 year siege.  Jackie gave us a very interesting history of the Crusades, including various reasons that people came:  Muslim desecration of holy sites, persecution of Christians, glory for popes and kings, escape from hard feudal life.
    A dry moat was dug around the castle to prevent the Muslims from undermining the walls.  Before Saladin, the Muslim armies were made up of seasonal volunteer fighters.  If they could be held off until planting time in the spring the defenders of the castle could break the siege.  The moat made it so that the attackers would have to dig deeper and from farther out to undermine the walls.  Saladin's armies had paid soldiers who could stay long enough to make a siege on such a fortress effective.
    Built with three concentric walls, much of the castle was destroyed in the late 13th (?) century to prevent later crusaders from using it as a fortress.  Yet the remains are still impressive.  The innermost part of the castle showed the remains of a kitchen with ovens, a cistern, and a bathhouse.  Crusaders had a reputation for bathing very little.  Their personal hygiene was poor and disgusting to the local inhabitants.
    Jackie suggested reading the book Montaillou, by Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie for an interesting picture about how life was lived by common people in medieval times (in Southern France).

Bet-Alpha Synagogue

    Our next visit was to the Bet-Alpha Synagogue National Park.  The ruins of this synagogue date to the sixth century CE and were discovered by members of kibbutzim near here.  The well preserved mosaic floor is very beautiful and has an interesting description.  The floor depicts the Ark of the Covenant, seven branched candlesticks, a zodiac surrounded by women representing the four seasons, and Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.  Our guide pointed out that it is interesting that the ram in this depiction is tethered to a tree.  This may come from an idea in Jewish Literature that some things were created in the last 18 minutes of the seventh day; including the ram used for this sacrifice.  (This ram was reserved for this sacrifice from the beginning of creation.)  This is similar to the picture of Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8 KJV).
    The artists made triangles next to the inscriptions at the bottom of the mosaic.  These represent screw holes that were put in stone to mount plaques with inscriptions on them.

Tel Megiddo

    After lunch we visited the tel at Megiddo.  There are extensive excavations here revealing the remains of 20 distinct historical periods from 4000 BCE to 400 BCE.  Megiddo lies at the head of a mountain pass at the western end of the valley of Jezreel.  It controlled the main road from Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia.  Its strategic importance has made it the sight of many battles recorded in the Bible.  The book of Revelation marks it as the site of the last great battle of the world:  Armageddon (a corruption of the Hebrew "Har Megiddo").  This city has been destroyed and rebuilt about 25 times in its long history.  This was a chariot city for kings Solomon and Ahab.  There are some ruins of stables built by Ahab (9th century BCE) where stone mangers and hitching posts can be seen.  There is also a large silo sunk in the ground with a curving staircase along its walls dating from the 8th century BCE.  The city water system was also very interesting to see.  A large shaft was sunk 120 feet though rock to join a tunnel dug to a spring hidden outside the city walls.  Built by King Ahab, this system provided a reliable source of water to defenders of the city during a siege.
    The museum on the site had some very interesting and informative displays showing the layout and excavations of the city and a very good video presentation on the city of Megiddo.


    A village of 200 - 500 people in Jesus' day, Nazareth has grown to a town of 65,000 people today.  Driving through the city we saw many buildings in various stages of construction.  Families here build their homes in stages, using much of their own labor, as family demands and available money allow.  This is much less expensive than hiring a contractor to build the home all at once.
    After getting off the bus, we made our way to the crest of a hill, up a steep shop-lined street to the beautiful imosing Roman Catholic "Church of the Annunciation" dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Once inside, some of us climbed the many limestone steps of the circular stairwell of this beautiful high-ceilinged cathedral, built during the 1960's.  A mass was being said on the first level.  Up above there was the main sanctuary, very beautiful and bright with a domed roof.  Through a large opening in the floor, the singing from below filled the air.  Large tapestries honoring Mary from different countries hung on the walls.  Some were very beautiful, but we were not impressed by the one contributed from the USA.
    This church was built on the site of one of two ancient wells in the city.  The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is built on the site of the other well.  The reasoning for this is that Mary's visitation by the angel must have occurred outdoors, and a well was a very likely place for women to be when they were not in their homes.

    This evening we stayed at a new Mariott Hotel in Nazareth.  This was by far the most luxurious and comfortable accommodations yet.  Some of us spent time in the pool and stayed up late talking after dinner.  We did have to be up as early as usual for tomorrow's trip.

Friday, August 20: Nazareth - Tel Aviv

Bet Shearim

    Our first stop this morning was at Bet Shearim National Park.  This is the site of an ancient Jewish city of Bet Shearim where the Sanhedrin met during the 2nd century.  Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, head of the Sanhedrin, was buried here.  We visited the large cemetery, used in the 4th and 5th centuries, where many wealthy Jewish families were buried.  We walked though a large crypt where there were many large stone sarcophagi (coffins) with intricate carvings on them.  Some of the smaller tombs on the hillside were also open for looking though.


    Next we drove to the city of Haifa.  We rode past the Baha'i Temple and stopped at the lookout point above the temple on Mt. Carmel.  Here we got a wonderful panoramic view of the city and harbor.

Mt. Carmel

    We wound our way through modern Haifa to the top of Mt. Carmel where we were struck by the view of the harbor and the Mediterranean beyond.  Beneath us the Bahai Temple complex was a surprise--a riot of rich green lawns and landscaping among sand colored off-white stone stair and walk ways cascading down the mountain.  Above where the bus parked to let us overlook the city was a park at the mountain's top.  At the entrance to the park was a prominently displayed sign. Here we were on the mountain where Elijah risked everything believing his God would act--the mountain where Elijah and the prophets of Baal met and fire fell from heaven to consume Elijah’s water-drenched sacrifice.  Here on the mountain where one of the Old Testament stories that we all wish we could go back in time and witness happened is a sign which reads:  “LIGHTING OF FIRES PROHIBITED”
    Just for the record I have the picture.    --John Kirn
    We got back on the bus and continued up Mt. Carmel.  We drove past Haifa University which offers degrees in medicine, underwater archaeology, social work, and Arab-Jewish relations.
    The prophet Elijah hid from Jezebel on this mountain.  Here also was where his contest with the prophets of Baal took place.  This mountain was a holy place for both Israel and the Baal worshipers.
    We passed through some Druze villages and saw a wedding party on one street.  The Druze generally have good relations with Israel.  Many of the men serve as professional soldiers in the Israeli army.


    Another great city built by Herod the Great.  We entered the partially restored theater and listened to Jackie describe its original form.  Three members of the Bethel Church choir sang for us from the stage.  A good bit of undersea archeology has been done in this area since it is the site of the great man-made seaport built by Herod.  A large number of stone pillars and capitals taken from the sea were lying nearby.


    As a young man in my twenties, I crewed on small sail boats out of the Houston Yacht Club.  Sailing has always been a special activity for me.  As we overlooked the ruins of Caesarea from the partially reconstructed theater.  I looked out over what was left of one of the arms of the second largest
harbor in the ancient world, a harbor constructed by Herod the Great.  I imagined sailing east and seeing the light house which rivaled the one at Alexandria.  What was it like to approach that harbor almost two thousand years ago, captaining a square rigged cargo vessel, thrilled that I was going to make safe harbor before the winter gales stirred made the sea deadly?  Here was a safe haven with anything a travel weary sailor could want ... except home.  The crew's excitement was contagious as they fantasized about what they were going to do over the winter in Caesarea, a very Roman port city.
    For me, there would be great sport in the amphitheater.  Man against man and team against team.  Wonderful contests and  races.  And then there would be the theater.  I hoped there was a decent itinerant acting troupe from Greece, called hypocrites, caught for the winter.  Yep, that's the word
Jesus used like a sword to skewer the posturing Pharisees of his day.  But as I tried to continue my fantasy, I had to stop.
    Think of the lifestyles of  Hollywood Celebs.  Actors of the first century were their prototype...  Or worse, if possible.  The plays, particularly the comedies, were vulgar, raunchy in a way that mirror--actually acted out--the grossest excesses of today's standup comedians.  That stage in Caesarea witnessed debauched Greek and Roman theater.
    The central dais held a seat inscribed with the name of Pontius Pilot.  One wonders what moved Pilot.  What made him laugh?  Could he be made to weep?  Did he think vulgarity funny?
    What an irony!  As we watched, three fellow Christians stood on that stage and celebrated their faith in Christ with song.
    Did we really understand how remarkable an event that was?    --John Kirn
    On our walk over to see the remains of a crusader fortress, we had two interesting wildlife sitings.  Someone spotted a chameleon on a palm tree and many of us gathered around the tree to watch it as it climbed for the cover of some palm leaves.  The way it moved was strange and facinating.  Next, the bird watchers in our group excitedly pointed out some hoopoes.  These were fascinating birds to watch, especially when they take to flight.
    The crusader fortress was similar to the one at Belvoir.  Behind it was an excavation of a Byzantine street.  Two pillars stand in the street and next to them are sitting statues of men without hands or heads.  Apparently the statues were originally made for the temple in Caesarea, but were instead used by the Christians as street decorations.  The heads and hands of the statues where designed to be replaceable (so that when a new emperor ascended the throne only these parts of the statues had to be replaced).  The one made of a purple colored stone is thought to have been made for the emperor Hadrian.
    Caesarea had between 20,000 and 30,000 people in Herod's time.  The population grew to about 100,000 by Byzantine times.  We visited the beach by the Mediterranean Sea near the Roman Aqueduct (built during the time of Hadrian).  It was originally about 5 miles long and brought water from several springs to the city.
    This was the last stop on our tour.

    On our way back to Tel Aviv, Michael Davis pressed Jackie to tell more of his very entertaining jokes.  Either he was too tired, or the two weeks had nearly exhausted his supply.  He suggested that we take turns coming up to the microphone and tell some of our favorite jokes.  Many good jokes were told during this ride.  I think most people would agree that eleven-year-old Bryan Dubuc stole the show from his dad and the others.
    At the end of the day we were back at the Avia Hotel, where we had started our trip.  We had dinner and got to bed early.  We would have to be up very early tomorrow to catch our flight back home.

Saturday, August 21: Tel Aviv - USA

    Saturday morning we got up very early in order to be at the airport 3 hours before departure.  We needed to go through security checks: more waiting to answer questions and open our luggage in front of security personnel to make sure that everything in there was what we had packed that morning.  Could the hotel bellhops have slipped something in there between the time we packed our bags in our rooms and the time they loaded them into the bus?  They were taking no chances.  Once we got through security, we had about an hour to browse the shops in the duty-free zone of the airport.
    We boarded our plane at 7:20 AM and flew to Munich, Germany; from Munich to Chicago (where friends from Columbus and California said "good-bye" and we parted ways); from Chicago to Columbus, arriving at 6:50 PM.  Total time for the journey was 18.5 hours. They showed 2 movies during the flight from Munich to Chicago: Entrapment and Dance With Me.  (Where had we seen them before?)

General Impressions (Misc.)


    It was hot.  Especially in the South.  Uncomfortably hot for most of the trip.   Having an air conditioned bus and hotel rooms made it bearable.  The humidity was low, but sunscreen, a hat and bottle of water were necessary almost everywhere we went.  This was midsummer and there has been a serious drought in Israel.  The temperature was in the range of 90 - 100F most days (cooler and usually comfortable in the evenings).  It never rained during our trip.   Every day was clear and sunny.


    Our hotels served us 2 buffet meals a day (breakfast and dinner).  We were on our own for lunch and usually stopped somewhere to eat lunch while traveling by bus.  The hotel buffet meals were good with enough variety so that most people found plenty that they liked and plenty of new food to try.
    We were suprised by our first buffet supper, providing many varieties of melons, lots of cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as many other selections.  The next morning, our breakfast was also surprising.  One wondered whether the same dishes had be brought our frm the evening meal.  Though this was not the case, it was doubtful that many of us were used to cucumbers and tomatoes for breakfast.  We found most hotels provided much the same fare.  We were glad to hae com of our own familiar food also--bacon and eggs, rolls, cereal, etc.  The hotels served meals each day (breakfast and dinner).  In most places the dining rooms were nicely appointed.  The most outstanding "spread" was provided by Mariott Hotel in Nazareth.

Modern Life in Israel

    Lots of people have cellular phones in Israel.  It was a common site to see all sorts of people using them in their cars and public places.  Jackie told us that cell phone service is less expensive here than in the USA. Israelis love to talk, he says.   It was pretty amusing to see the leader of our camel train take out his cell phone to answer a call during our ride into the desert.
    Jackie told us that the average Israeli couple has 3 or 4 children and 0.35 dogs.  They usually live in a rented apartment with about 1200 square feet of living space.  Both parents usually work outside the home.  The cost of living is much higher than in the USA.  A gallon of gasoline is about $3.00 US.  Cars cost 2 or 3 times what they would cost in the USA, so they're kept repaired and on the road longer.  The minimum driving age is 17 years.
    Men are required to serve 3 years in the armed forces.  Women are required to serve 2 years.  It was common to see soldiers carrying their weapons.  Even off duty and out of uniform soldiers must carry their firearms with them at all times.  Our group often encountered groups of service men and women with their rifles, sharing restaurant accommodations with us.  They always seemed to be having a good time and we did not have the feeling that we were being watched.

Gems from Jackie

Jewish Identity

    This is what I remember from some of Jackie's talks on various subjects.  I wish we had a tape recorder and had gotten the whole thing.
    When Jackie was asked how it could be explained that the Jews have remained an ethnic identity even while being in exile for many generations when every other ethnic group under the same circumstances has lost their identity through intermarriage and assimilation.
    Jackie said that scholars have studied this phenomena and have no easy answer.  It could be:
  1. A miracle from God preserving his people.
  2. The Jews in order to remain Jewish must have a community to provide  the support needed to remain Jewish.  In order to be kosher you must have a butcher to kill the meat a certain way.  To maintain a kosher kitchen you must prepare food in a certain way.  This is all dependent upon a community to provide these supports.
  3. The Jews have been persecuted wherever they went.  The group has stood together to face persecution.
  4. The handing down of the faith is done mostly in the home.  Prescribed activities in the home are an integral part of the Jewish faith.  Holy days and ceremonies are an important part of worship.  These are carried out in the home.  A synod and rabbi are helpful but not necessary to the passing on of the faith.  [There is also the stress on the sacred text and the ability to read it and study it.  This has promoted a level of literacy and formal education that has further solidified Jewish identity.  --Sam Meier]
  5. Tradition is strong in the Jewish home and community.  Laws and celebrations help keep the Jews Jewish.

Questions of the Law

    How do the Jews determine a law when a particular issue is not addressed in the Torah or other sacred books?  For example, how was it determined that pressing a button for an elevator was considered work and therefore not allowed on the Sabbath?
    The Jewish faith has rabbis and courts to pass judgment  on items not addressed specifically in the ancient writings.  Electricity was not an issue when the law was written "Thou shall do no work on the Sabbath."  So councils determined that electricity provides energy for work, therefore it takes the place of work and should not be used on the Sabbath.
    Often issues like this would be controversial and the issue would be appealed through the courts of rabbinate law.  It was determined that the majority opinion would win.  These judgments and debates were gathered together to form the Talmud.  The courts were looking for the principle that was behind the law before giving their judgment.    --Mary Watson


"Abba, Father"

    An unexpected, breathtaking--because it was so unexpected--experience for me happened near the Western Wall, but at a more prosaic time then when I was actually at the Wall.  I was filling my water bottle as we were getting ready to leave, when I heard a little boy calling, "Abba, Abba, Daddy."  I turned and saw father and son dressed in the black woolen clothing of the ultraorthodox.  I remembered the passage in Romans 8 where Paul wrote that we have been adopted into God's family and can call Him, "Abba, Father."  Dave reminded me later that abba was an Aramaic word, and it's Hebrew that's spoken in Israel.  When we were at the Kibutz Lavi, I again heard several little boys calling their fathers abba.  Sam explained that abba is one of the Aramaic words that's been absorbed into Hebrew.     --Jean Ives

My Cup Runneth Over

    During the trip I stopped once to wonder why the experience wasn't having a more stirring or inspiring impact on me.  The only time during the trip that I felt deeply touched by God's presence was during the communion service that we had by the garden tomb.  I realized that the other experiences were coming to me compressed in rapid succession and this was temporarily squeezing out the time needed for them to "sink in" and have an impact.  Even my regular times of prayer, scripture reading and meditation were getting squeezed out of my day.  I got a little bit concerned about this.  "Was I missing something?", I prayed.  "Do you think all of this is only for the two weeks that you will be here?", was the answer I got.  This trip seemed like one long devotional quest.  I didn't have to deal with the distractions in the normal routine of my life here.  This was one big distraction from everything else.
    Even now, since I've been back only a few days, I'm beginning to see that there was enough pressed into my memory during that time for many years of drawing out and expansion of those experiences.  Getting back to my devotional guide, it led me to Judges 18, where the tribe of Dan took Laish for their possession after losing their allotment of land.  "I was standing there", I thought to myself.  I stood by the Dan River (one of the head waters of the Jordan) in the summer heat and wanted to jump in and cool off.  I walked around in a corner of that place.  I did it again then, in my mind, and realized what precious things memories can be.  Then there was Mark 15:16-20, where the Roman soldiers mock Jesus before leading him out to be crucified.  I remembered the "King Game" from that time, which we saw chiseled into the pavement stones near the Via Dolorosa, and remembered that the soldiers' treatment of Jesus was probably similar to the way they treated the 'winner' of this game.
    So, I'm looking forward to enjoying this trip for a long time to come, to draw from the well of experience that this trip gave me, and to take more of those memories out and turn them over again in my mind and let God use them to add to my understanding of, and love for, Him and his Word.  Many of the memories I have of this trip are of the active, living kind; not just stagnant mementos of a past experience.  This is because they are so intimately linked with the Faith that sustains my daily life.        -- Paul Dubuc


        "Pil" - that which is generally distasteful  yet necessary
        "grim" - harsh, merciless
        "age" - a period of time marked by the presence of a dominant figures

    Our Pilgrimage showed  that during the time of ages past the peoples of those ancient times lived in a distasteful environment under harsh and merciless rulers and the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gave hope to those who heard and accepted his message during their time and for eternity.
    The extremely arid conditions of the Negev and learning of the survival of the Nabateans in the past and seeing the Bedouins in a desert so severely dry was such a sharp contrast to our country.
    While I was sitting at the Damascus gate a young Christian girl  with Operation Mobilization from Holland started talking to me.  (Maybe to convert me.)  Could this have been the same as in Jesus’ time when believers met one another in Jerusalem to encourage one another?
    The rabbis at Qumran Caves who copied the precious scriptures so precisely that one error caused the whole page to be destroyed produced the result of the accurate Word we have today.  Awesome.
    The Bell Caves were impressive.  Storing of the  wine and oil in the caves,  pigeon holes and etc.  So many, many things we learned and saw fall in this category!  The building stones and layouts of the Crusaders' Castles were impressive.
    The wearing of the “Holy Clothes” made me aware of how careless we dress  in our churches here at home.
    Seeing my grandson, Sammy, baptized in the Sea of Galilee by Jack Watson, his pastor and his Dad, Sam, being a part of it was a moment I will never forget!  (Isn’t that just like a grandmother.)  Sammy’s first communion taken at the Garden Tomb was another very moving
    This trip was special to me because I was  the benefactor of  Sam's knowledge as well as Jack and Jackie. All the friends of the tour were wonderful.  The trip was far more than I had ever expected!    --Charlotte Meier 10/15/99


    Had God chosen to make Ohio the "Promised Land", I doubt if His people would have used stones to kill offenders.  But in Israel it was perfectly logical.  When I experienced the hills and stones of the land, I could see why "they took up stones" to kill Stephen (Acts 6:8, 7:51-60), women caught in adultry.  They were readily available wherever one was.  They made terraces, walls, houses, wells, decoration and water troughs surrounding trees to hold the little water expected to fall.  --Vivian Sidle

Recommended Reading

Interesting Links


Paul Dubuc  (editor) -- Columbus, OH
John Kirn -- Columbus, OH
Jean Ives -- Columbus, OH
Marjorie Ward -- Columbus, OH
Charlotte Meier -- Escondido, CA
Bruce Renard -- Columbus, OH
Mary Watson -- Columbus, OH
Vivian Sidle -- Galena, OH