Monthly Archives: March 2023

Israel Day 7 Conclusion MAR 28, 2023

In the afternoon we visited the site of the Garden Tomb and Skull Hill. Since 1894, the Garden Tomb, wine press and its surrounding gardens have been maintained as a place of Protestant worship. A local docent did an introduction to the area.

Excavated Wine Press

First Skull Hill: The four gospels all say that Jesus was crucified at “the place of the skull” (Matthew 27:33-35, Mark 15:22-24, Luke 23:33, John 19: 17-120) The  word skull is “calvary” in Latin and “golgotha” in Hebrew.

A Picture of the Wall Face Taken 100 Years Ago

Located just outside of Old Jerusalem’s northern wall, near the Damascus gate, is a rocky hill with small natural caves and a wall that resembles a skull. Today, considerable erosion has worn away the hill and the bridge of the nose is gone. The docent showed us photos of what the skull looked like years ago. What was jarring, and somewhat unsettling to us is that the location today is a bus station! What???

Our Picture Taken of the Skull

Nearby, is The Garden Tomb, a possible location of Jesus’ tomb and resurrection. Some say that archeological studies and the presence of a large cistern and wine press points to the existence of a garden at that time. We were allowed to go inside the tomb, believed by many to be the resting place of Jesus. However some archeologists question whether this is the correct location because typological features suggest the tomb was originally carved out during the 8th–7th centuries B.C. and was not a new tomb as stated in scripture.

This Tomb Opening Has Been Blocked Over the Years

The Tomb Inside

We have done quite a bit of research when writing this blog on the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. It has been confusing and frustrating at times. Could it be the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Was it located at Skull Hill and the Garden Tomb? Or neither place?

An excellent article we read when researching is:

I particularly like his conclusion that even though the correct site is not known, each of the sites provide an excellent peaceful, serene location to teach others about Jesus’ sacrifice so that we may have eternal life. 

Another interesting article is:

After visiting the Garden Tomb, our guide had reserved a place for us to have Holy Communion with our pastor. It was a solemn, reverent occasion, made even more so by Angie’s acapella singing of, “Were You There? ” 

select the image below to play the video

A beautiful end to our time in Jerusalem!

We finished the day at the Church of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh, Israel a 12th century Crusaders church. The Crusaders associated the place to Emmaus, referred to in the Gospel of Luke.  (Luke 24: 13-35) On the road to Emmaus is where resurrected Jesus met two disciples who didn’t recognize him.  As they walked down the road, the disciples expressed sadness and hopelessness over the death of Jesus. When Jesus joined them for dinner, took bread, blessed it and gave it to them, they joyfully recognized him as the resurrected Christ.  Jesus had a LAST supper before his crucifixion, this was his FIRST supper as our resurrected Lord and Savior.

The Mosaics are Deteriorating

On our final trip to the hotel, I took some parting shots of the places and people of Jerusalem.

We Saw Many Mosques During the Week

That night after dinner we had a special presentation by Don Piper on his experiences documented in his book “90 Minutes in Heaven”. 

We then went back to our room to rest for a couple of hours. Our ride to the airport picked us up at midnight for a 5:00 AM flight. Lots of sitting and waiting followed by more sitting and waiting during our layover in Frankfurt, Germany. We were a little concerned about Frankfurt because of airport worker strikes there. Sure enough, when we landed in Frankfurt we sat on the tarmac waiting for them to bring the jetway out so we could disembark. Finally the captain came on and said no one was available so we would be exiting from the rear of the plane, down the steps and taking a shuttle to the gate. No problem for us but not convenient for those with mobility issues or small children and lots of carry on items. Fortunately the bus was there and we didn’t have to wait for it to show up. 

Long trip home, over 24 hours, but it was good to be home

Next: more exciting overseas travels coming up in May! 


Israel Day 7, Part 1 MAR 28, 2023

On Day 7 we spent our second day in Jerusalem, which was also our last day of the tour. We began at an overlook on the top of Mount of Olives. What an amazing view of Jerusalem!
Even here you can take a camel ride!

Each Time a Jewish Grave is Visited a Stone is Placed on the Top

Following Jesus’ steps on Palm Sunday, we walked down the steep hill to the Church of Dominus Flevit, the teardrop church. According to the Gospels, it is here that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. This occurred during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. Looking down on the city, Jesus wept over it as he prophesied its future destruction. (Luke 13: 13-34) (Luke 19: 37-44). Within 40 years, 70 A.D., Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled. The Romans besieged Jerusalem, burned the Temple and destroyed the city.
An Italian architect designed the church, built in 1955. It was structured as a teardrop in the form of a cross to symbolize Jesus’ grief. The teardrop is surrounded by four vases because of the custom to collect one’s tears upon the death of a loved one. The church stands on the site of the ruins of a Byzantine church.

The altar of the church overlooks Jerusalem. The cross and chalice design focuses on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb.

This is the Kind of Tree that Was Used to Make the Crown of Thorns

Our walk continued to the Garden of Gethsemane. The word “Gethsemane” means “olive press” and since it is almost impossible to kill an olive tree, the root systems of these trees could go back two thousand years. In the garden there are eight ancient olive trees.

Here we toured the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony. The church, built in 1924, is the third church built on this site. This church, as well as Byzantine and Crusader churches, were built over the Rock of Agony, associated with Jesus’ prayer of agony the night before he was crucified. (Matthew 26:36-46) (Mark 14: 32-42),(Luke 22:44-53).

The altar has a rock with a crown of thorns with birds in a posture of submission, willing to drink from the cup of Christ’s passion.
It is here that Jesus was arrested and betrayed by Judas. (Matthew 26: 47-56), (Mark 14: 43-50), (Luke 22: 47-53, (John 18: 1-12).
The architect wanted to portray the nighttime of the Agony by leaving the interior of the church in semi-darkness, with only natural light filtered through violet blue alabaster windows.
The starry night sky is recreated in the ceiling domes, with the stars surrounded by olive branches.
On the facade of the church is Christ as the mediator between God and mankind.

On right is a throng of humble, meek people in tears, looking to Christ for comfort and assurance. On the left, are those in power and the wise (like the Jewish priests) choosing not to recognize Jesus as Christ and the Gospel (one of them is holding a book with the word “ignorance” on it).

Next up: Part 2 of our final day in Israel

Israel Day 6 Part 2, MAR 27, 2023

This is the second part of our first day in Jerusalem. With everything covered in part 1, it is hard to believe there is more. Remember, our guide told us this would be the most physically grueling day of the trip. 

Now would be a good time to describe the whispers. Back on our very first day in Israel, our guide gave us each a whisper which is a device you wear around your neck with an earpiece. Through the whisper we can hear everything our guide is saying. So when we go in a building or we are at the back of the line when walking, we can hear what he is saying. He can also let us know we are heading back to the bus or if there is something up ahead we need to watch out for such as a hole in the sidewalk or an unexpected step. It is only a one way transmitter, he can talk to us but we can’t talk to him. If we needed his attention we would have to do it the old fashioned way, by yelling. We charged our whispers at the hotel each night. 

If our guide told us once, he told us a hundred times, don’t walk and take pictures at the same time. There are too many uneven sidewalks. You will fall. But it is hard to heed those warnings. A few people did take a tumble here or there, but nothing serious. 

Now, back to part 2 of day 1 in Jerusalem. Next up was King David’s tomb, the burial site of King David (The tomb is empty and does not contain the bones of David). King David was the Old Testament king of Israel who is credited with composing many of the psalms. The tomb is located in the underground hall of Cenacle, an ancient Crusader church on Mount Zion in front of Zion Gate.

We Walked By Zion Gate

The long tomb is wrapped in a veil in a room with separate entrances for men and women, and men must cover their head. It should be noted that according to the Old Testament of the Bible, King David was buried in the City of David, which is near here. (1 Kings 2:10). 

King David Tomb

Also located upstairs in the Cenacle is the Upper Room, thought to be the location of the Last Supper.

According to the Bible, the apostles continued to gather here after the Last Supper, and it is also where the Holy Spirit alighted upon the eleven apostles on Pentecost. This room is thought to be the site of the first Christian church. It is important to note that while this is thought to be the authentic site of the Last Supper, the site has been built over four times: the Roman floor, the Byzantine floor, the Crusader floor and the present floor. We have repeatedly seen this as we walked the streets of Jerusalem and visited many holy sites. Today this entire building is managed by the State of Israel Ministry of the Interior.

With its round sandstone tower and graceful Romanesque-style arches, the Dormition Church is one of Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmarks. Dormition Abbey is dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, and she is believed to have died here. (dormition means eternal sleep).

We then went to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (Latin for cock’s crow). This is also believed to be the site of the House of Caiaphas. On the roof of the church is a rooster on a black cross, a symbol of Peter’s denial of Christ before the cock crowed.

In the courtyard of the church is a statue that recalls the events of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Jesus appeared before Caiaphas, the High Priest, after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26: 57-68) [we will visit garden tomorrow]

Great View

Great View

Mount Olive with 150,000 Jewish Graves

It is believed that Jesus spent the night in a cistern or dungeon at the House of Caiaphas before being taken to Pilate the next morning.

Once again, this site has been built over several times. We were able to walk down the stairs under the church into the dungeon. It is believed Jesus was lowered through the hole down into the pit.

We Were Able To Walk Down To The Floor of the Cistern

Next we went into the Church of Saint Peter.

And with that, we headed back to the hotel. As you can see, the traffic in Jerusalem was really heavy. We were told this is the busiest time of the year for tourists in Jerusalem, and the traffic certainly confirmed it.

Our guide, Mike, had warned us this was going to be a grueling day. And it was!

Next up: Second day in Jerusalem 

Israel Day 6, Part 1, MAR 27, 2023

Day 6 found us touring the first of two days in Jerusalem. Our guide told us this would be the most physically grueling day of our tour. 

Our bus took us into the Old City, the old walled section of Jerusalem and we entered through the Lions’ Gate.

First place we visited was the Church of Saint Anne.

Built between 1131 and 1138, it is built over a grotto thought to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. It is dedicated to Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary. The church is especially known for its excellent acoustics, bringing many groups here to sing.

Nearby is the Pool of Bethesda, known as the place where Jesus miraculously healed a paralyzed man as written in the Gospel of John. The area was discovered during excavations beginning in the 19th century. (John 5:13)

We then went to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion.

This Street Shows How they are Narrow and Sloping

During excavation while constructing the church, they discovered the remains of the Antonia Fortress and Temple. This citadel, or fortress, was built by Herod the Great to protect the Second Temple. Herod named it after his patron, Mark Antony. This is thought to be the beginning point of Jesus’ Via Dolorosa walk and the place where Jesus appeared before Pilate, was tried and condemned to death by crucifixion. In one area there are the Lithostrotos, or large flagstones, specially etched to prevent horses from slipping. The Lithostrotos is where Pilate brought Jesus. They placed on him a crown of thorns and purple robe, stood him before the people and Pilate announced “Behold the Man!”. (John 19:5)

See the Original Stone Pavement


Station Three: Jesus Falls for the First Time

Station Four: Jesus Meets His Mother

Station Five: Simon of Cyrene is Forced to Carry Cross

According to Christian tradition this hollow was an imprint made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance, and the touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.

Station Six: Veronica Wipes the Sweat from Jesus’ Face

Station Seven: Jesus Falls for the Second Time

We continued down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Station Nine: Jesus Falls for the Third Time. The Holy Sepulchre Roof is in the Background

The Holy Sepulchre Church Entrance

Station ten: Jesus is stripped of his garments.

Station eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross.

There are many who believe this is the holiest place in Jerusalem and is the site of both the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. The church was built over this site and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The Rock of Calvary, where the crucifixion is believed to have occurred, is encased in glass, at the Altar of the Crucifixion.

Altar of the Crucifixion

Whether this is the exact location has been hotly debated over the years. We did not visit the Tomb of Jesus inside the church because the line was too long. Wars, destruction and general confusion have altered the preservation of information. Tomorrow we will go to another possible location of the crucifixion and tomb.

There are Two Possible Places Outside The Wall for the Crucifixion and Tomb

Next we went to the Israel Museum, both an art and an archeological museum. It was built in 1965 and is Israel’s largest museum. Our time here was too short but we saw the original Dead Sea Scrolls (no photos allowed), artifacts of Masada and a huge outdoor model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, 66 A.D. At that time war broke out with the Romans and in 70 A.D., after five years of fighting, the city was destroyed. There was so much more to see here, a full day is needed.

As we headed to lunch we saw groups of people protesting a change in government involving their Supreme Court.

Later in the day, back at our hotel, we saw scenes on TV of the protests escalating into violence in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We were alarmed to find out that the Tel Aviv airport had closed. Our flight home was in two days!! A few hours later we saw that an agreement had been reached to delay the Court decision. This calmed the protesters and the airport reopened. Whew, that was close!! 

After lunch we went back to the southwest corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. 

You Can See where the Walls Have Been Rebuilt

We came to the Southern Steps, also called The Teaching Steps. The steps lead to the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount. The massive staircase was excavated in 1967 and it is believed that Jesus, as a boy, would have ascended these steps to the Temple with his parents for Passover and other Jewish holidays. The steps are only 7 to 10 inches high and each step is 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing those climbing the steps to move in a slow, respectful manner. Millions of pilgrims would have climbed these steps on major festivals and holidays. The rabbis and teachers used these steps for teaching. Jesus used these temple steps for teaching as well. (Luke 21: 37-38)

The Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple, fulfilling Jesus’s prophecy (Matthew 24:2). However the western bottom of Herod’s retaining wall that surrounded the Temple survived as one of the holiest places in Jerusalem and is known as the Western Wall.

We were divided into men on one side and women on the other, we had to pass through tighter security here, emptying our pockets and placing our purses and backpacks to be x rayed. We had to walk through a metal detector similar to the airport.

It is often called “The Wailing Wall”, the most religious site in the world for Jewish people. It is the last remaining outer wall of the ancient Jewish temple. Traditionally Jewish people come to the wall to grieve the destruction of the Temple and city they consider holy. Christians and those of any faith may also pray at the Wailing Wall. Many people bring slips of paper with their prayers and slip them in the cracks of the wall. Over time these slips of paper may fall out of the cracks. Cleaners gather these slips of paper and they are buried on the Mount of Olives. Men had to have their heads covered and men went to the left side and women the right. We noticed the men’s side of the wall was longer. The wall is usually crowded with people. You wait for an opening to go up, touch the wall, and pray.

The Larger Side On the Left Were For Men

The Right Side Was for Women

This is a Closer View of the Women’s Side


Next up: We continue our day in Jerusalem 

Israel Day 5, MAR 26, 2023

Day 5 had us spending the day in Bethlehem, a place we had really been looking forward to visiting for obvious reasons. Along the way from the Dead Sea to Bethlehem, we saw shepherds in the countryside with their flock, along with wild camels and donkeys.

Wild Camels


Sadly we learned that Bethlehem is now part of Palestine and the West Bank. In 2002, Israel built a 26 foot, 440 mile concrete wall separating Bethlehem from Israel. Israel said it built the wall to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide attacks. The wall has watchtowers and barbed wire and there are 84 gates located along the wall that are manned by the Israeli military. Not all gates are opened daily, usually only 9 or 10.

The Checkpoint

Many Palestinian homes, farmland and businesses were destroyed when the wall was built. Our guide said that many people in Bethlehem, once able to move freely to nearby cities like Jerusalem, now face restrictions in movement and must have permits by the Israeli military and have to endure checkpoints to leave the area. He said approximately 5,000 businesses had to close and people have fled Bethlehem rather than live behind a wall where they felt like they were living in a prison. Tourists can walk freely between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, just passing through a turnstile. 

Our first stop was at Shepherds Field. This is the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing Christ’s birth. (Luke 2: 8-14)

The main point to be taken from this is that the shepherds, considered to be the lowliest of the people with a boring, despised job no one else wanted, were the first to hear the announcement of Jesus’ birth. This was a sign that the “Good News” was available to all, from the lowliest shepherd to the noblest of kings. 

At Shepherds’ Field, excavations found caves with evidence of human habitation where the shepherds tended their flock. Built above a large cave is the Chapel of the Shepherds’ Field, a Roman Catholic Church administered by the Franciscans, built in 1953.

The church has five recesses in the ceiling and 10 walls that incline inward that give it the appearance of a nomadic tent. The words of the angel to the shepherds are inscribed in gold. The dome is made of concrete and glass that allows light to penetrate it to resemble the divine light revealed to the shepherds.

We went into a nearby cave that dated back thousands of years and was thought to be like the cave where the angel announced the Lord’s birth.

Livestock Food Was Stored Here in the Cave Wall

Livestock Food Was Stored Here in the Cave Wall

Shepherds’ View of the City

Next up was lunch in Bethlehem. Breakfast and dinner each day were provided at the hotels where we stayed. Lunch locations were selected ahead of time each day by our guide so reservations could be made. Lunch today was at a small family owned restaurant where they had a specialty entree, an upside down chicken and rice dish. Lunch was usually pita bread with hummus and a mixture of fresh tomatoes and cucumber. Main dish was usually chicken and rice or chicken and french fries, sometimes fish. I don’t know whether it was because we were American, but we ate a lot of french fries at lunch and dinner. We were all really tired of french fries by the end of the trip.

After lunch we headed to the Church of the Nativity, the site where Jesus was born. This ended up being one of the most frustrating and disappointing stops of the week.

The Far End is the Small Entrance

The church, or basilica, is the oldest church in daily use in the Holy Land.  Under the church is where the actual cave is preserved, that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

Resurrected Jesus with the Disciples

To enter the church you have to stoop low, the entrance being slightly less than four feet high. Inside, the church has no pews but columns and wall mosaics from the 12th century. Clear trapdoors in the floor showed ancient mosaic floors from 339 AD. Today the church is a Greek Orthodox place of worship.

In the 16th century, to prevent people from entering the church with horses and cattle, the main entrance was walled up and transformed into a four feet high door, known as the “Door of Humility”, since visitors are forced to bend down to go through it.

You Can See How The Opening Has Been Reduced

When we entered the church through the small door, we were in the interior of the church, packed with tourists waiting to descend some narrow steps into the cave.

There was a line winding its way along the walls of the church. Our group was all together but really rude people kept trying to break into our line. Our guide kept telling us to stay close together, to lock arms if necessary. We stayed like this, jostled, pushed, shoved and crammed together for an hour and a half. Finally we knew the cave entrance was close. But then our guide yelled for us to push even closer together because security was getting ready to close off the last door before the descent to the cave because a worship service was due to start. Anyone in our group not inside the door would be left behind and it would be an hour before the door opened again. By this time our group was melded together with two other groups. Just when we thought we couldn’t crowd any closer, we did.

The Steep Stairs to the Cave/Grotto

Finally we reached the stairs to the cave which were dark and narrow. We reached the room where you could kneel and touch a star on the ground where Jesus was born.

Close by, lit with candles was the manger.

Our Picture of the Manger Location

This Picture Was From 1900

You were not supposed to stop and take pictures and you had to quickly kneel, touch and immediately leave. The really disappointing and frustrating thing was waiting all that time and not being allowed to take the time to say a prayer and take in the reverence of the moment. I think most everyone in the group felt the same way. It had been crowded all week but today was the worst.

We Saw This Sign As We Got Close to Jerusalem

After that experience we were more than ready to head to the bus and our hotel in Jerusalem for the next three nights. 

Next up: Jerusalem, part 1


Israel, Day 4 MAR 25, 2023

Day 4 found us up early with another busy day ahead. After breakfast we loaded onto the bus for the trip to the amazing Masada National Park.

Masada is an ancient mountainous fortress in the Judean Desert on a massive plateau 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea. It was built around 30 B.C. by King Herod the Great and is the site of the Jews last stand against the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 68 A.D. It is thought to be one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. 

You can access this mountain fortress either by cable car or by foot on the Snake Path Trail. Fortunately we were able to ride the cable car but we were packed in like sardines.

Our pastor, who is a marathon runner, decided to run up the trail to the top. This was after he had already gotten up at 5:00 A.M. and run seven miles! He has taken this personal challenge before and with his son.

Our Pastor Running up to Meet our Cable Car

The Trail Also Had A Group Walking Down

King Herod built two magnificent palaces, one of which was built on three terraces, a huge fortress, swimming pools, water reservoirs, huge amounts of storehouses and an armory all on this mountaintop with spectacular views.

Columns Were Covered to hide The Red Stone

Hot Water was Channeled From the Furnace

Black painted lines are everywhere to show the original wall (below the line) with the reconstructed wall above the painted line.

Painted Walls Were Preserved

A Model Of The Fortress/Palace

Original stones were used during reconstruction.  Masada had its own “watergate”, a path on which beasts of burden carried water from the channels at a gate up to some cisterns at the mountaintop. Stone paving at the gate prevented damage from the animals’ hooves.

Nice Walkways Made Exploring Easy

Decades later, in the last days of the Great Jewish Revolt when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a Jewish group took possession of Masada from the Roman garrison there and lived there for three years. This was the last stand for almost 1,000 Jewish Macabbean/Sicarii men, women and children who decided to commit suicide as free people rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.

The siege of Masada by Roman troops occurred from 73 to 74 A.D. The Roman army military camps appear as square areas on the surrounding countryside.

The Square Was a Military Camp

The Square Was another Military Camp

The Roman army (15,000) would not give up so they built a siege ramp to attack the upper wall.

As the Roman battering ram breached the fortress walls, the Jewish rebels realized winning was hopeless. Refusing to surrender and end up as slaves or killed, they set fire to their homes and warehouses and chose ten men by lottery who were to kill the other 960 men, women and children.

The Lots Stones Used to Select the Final Ten

The last ten men then committed suicide. When the Romans made it to the top, they found everyone dead except for two women and five children who survived by hiding. 

Masada was extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist and former military Chief-of-Staff Yigael Yadin. One of the most remarkable archeological finds was the synagogue, built during the times of King Herod and one of the oldest on Earth. In one of the rooms they found the oldest parts of Torah scrolls ever found. 

They found perfectly preserved water reservoirs, cisterns, a Roman style bathhouse and the remains of a Byzantine church.  The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the fifth and sixth centuries have been excavated on the plateau.

The Church Wall

Another Wall in the Church

A Floor in the Church

Masada is a UNESCO site, a symbol of heroism and man’s struggle for freedom. A 1981 American miniseries starring Peter O’Toole described Masada’s last stand. Books have also been written about Masada. 

After lunch we visited the Qaser Al-Yahud Baptism Site, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. It is also identified with the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River after 40 years of wandering in the desert. (Joshua 3)  Ancient traditions also associate this site with the place where Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. (2 Kings 2)

On the way we drove along the border of Israel and Jordan, with landmine warnings dotting the landscape. The Jordan River is the 1994 treaty line between Israel and Jordan.

Historic Greek Flag Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher

Years ago our pastor used to baptize people at this location, but over the years the water has gotten more polluted and dangerous. The last time he conducted baptisms here he slipped and cut his foot on some metal. He ended up in the hospital with a very serious infection. Since then his church group baptism site was moved to a different section of the Jordan River that is cleaner and safer.

This is Not Our Group

There were some people being baptized today in the coffee-colored water.

This is Not Our Group

Directly across from us was the country of Jordan with Jordanian soldiers keeping watch. Our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns, all within listening distance of the watchful soldiers.

Across The River is Jordan with Two Armed Soldiers

This is an Israeli Armed Soldier

We ended the day earlier than usual since it was the Sabbath and many things were closed. The group was thankful because we were all feeling the effects of the long, arduous days. 

Next Up: Day 5, Bethlehem


Israel, Day 3 Part 2 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 in the afternoon found us at Wadi Qelt, a deep, narrow gorge in the Judean Wilderness that extends 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho and is thought to be the location of the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4) During Jesus’ time, the Romans had built a road through this region, a road so well engineered that it is used by tourists today. The parable of the traveler and the Good Samaritan is thought to have occurred near here. Shepherds today still lead sheep and goats along the path to the spring fed waters of the Wilderness. It is thought that David wrote the 23rd Psalm while sitting in this area.

Today the monastery of St George, built in the late fifth century, is tucked within the walls of the gorge. It is one of the oldest monasteries of the Byzantine desert monks in the Holy Land. It was built around a cave that Greek Orthodox tradition associates with Elijah’s cave of Horeb (1 Kings 19) and the place where an angel revealed to Joachim that his wife Anne would bear the Virgin Mary. The central church of the monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Next we visited Qumran National Park. In the 2nd century B.C., Qumran was settled by members of the Essene sect, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to stories from that time, a Bedouin boy searching for a lost goat threw a stone into one of the caves along the Dead Sea and heard a jar breaking in the caves. After searching the caves he found first three, and then four jars, the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. Dating from 125 B.C., it is currently on display at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

More Caves

This led to scholars scrambling to the neighboring caves where over the span of several years, scrolls were discovered in eleven caves, some in jars and some in fragments of jars. It is thought the scrolls were hidden from the Romans in jars in the caves. The scrolls are sections of some 800 books from Second Temple times. Other scrolls may have been brought by priests from Jerusalem for safekeeping when the Holy City was under attack. The scrolls comprise Old Testament biblical books, except for the book of Esther. The discovery of the scrolls led to the excavation of the area where ruins of the Essene and Qumran communities were found.

Water Cistern

It is thought possible that John the Baptist was either part of these communities or visited here, perhaps baptizing members of the communities in the Jordan River north of here. 

We finished the day at the Dead Sea where we would be staying for two nights. The Dead Sea is not a sea at all but a lake. It is 1,412 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on Earth. It is 997 feet deep and 34% salt, making it the world’s saltiest body of water, 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. The salinity keeps any plants or animals from living there, hence the name. It has attracted visitors for thousands of years because of its health benefits. It was a health resort for Herod the Great and attracts tourists today from Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. Our guide, Mike, said his family loves to come here on the weekends because of the health benefits.

We had all been encouraged to float in the Dead Sea (because of the salinity you can’t swim, you float). We were also warned many times not to get the water in your eyes, mouth or nose because of the salt. In other words, keep your face out of the water. It was a pleasant but strange experience.

You walk into the water up to your knees, sit down and you immediately start to float. Getting your feet under you to get out is a bit of a struggle. Tap the picture below to see video.

The Dead Sea was a five minute walk from the hotel. On the walk back we saw a McDonald’s with a revolving sign.

Mike said the first McDonald’s came to Israel in 1997. Interestingly, we asked about Subway shops since they seem to be in every country we have visited over the years. He said there are no Subway restaurants in Israel. In fact we saw very few fast food restaurants of any kind in Israel. 

Next up: Day 4, a cable car ride and the site of Jesus’ baptism

Israel Day 2, Part 2 MAR 23, 2023

In the afternoon of Day 2 we went to Tabgha, Capharnaum (also known as Capernaum) and Mount of the Beatitudes.
The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is a replica built in 1982 of the original 5th century church, but much of the mosaic floor is original. Glass panels in the floor reveal remains of the original church. Beneath the altar is a rock, believed to be the rock in which Jesus performed a miracle with the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44).

The mosaic in front of the altar is the most famous in the country. 

Mosaics that is preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes July 23, 2009. Photo by Rishwanth Jayap

Capharnaum, also known as Jesus’s adopted hometown since he spent so much time there staying in Peter’s house, is where many events in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus took place (Matthew 4:13). He performed many miracles here including the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, feeding of the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and fish, as well as when Jesus preached the famous “I Am the Bread of Life” sermon.

Capharnaum was a key transit point between the land of Herod and his brother Philip and therefore earned substantial revenue from taxes and import duties. The  town was an important pilgrimage center for early Christians.

We visited the site of the House of Peter where a 5th century octagonal church was built over the archeological ruins.

The Mount of Beatitudes is a hill and the traditional site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is 82 feet below sea level and 656 feet above the Sea of Galilee, making it one of the lowest summits in the world.

The Church of the Beatitudes is an octagonal building built in 1938. The eight sides of the church represent the eight beatitudes or blessings recited by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount which are also shown in the eight stained glass windows on each side of the church.

Our next stop was Magdala and then Arbel National Park. Magdala is an ancient Jewish city believed to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene.

The inside of the first-century A.D. synagogue at the ancient city of Magdala in Israel,

Archeologists found the Magdala stone which has a seven branched menorah carved on it. Presumably, the front and sides of the stone carvings represent the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the back side depicting wheels and fire represents the Holy of Holies.

the Magdala stone represents the oldest known sculpture of a menorah.

Arbel National Park is a mountain with a dramatic cliff where a cave fortress is carved into the rock, along with ruins of an ancient first century synagogue and the site of a famous battle. The fortification was built by the Galilean Jews who barricaded themselves here around 37 B.C. Herod’s army was sent to overcome the rebels and was only able to do so after he lowered his best warriors in cages suspended by ropes. Arbel has one hundred caves within its mountain slope, scenes of many bloody battles.

This area of Magdala and Arbel is the path Jesus took when he traveled from his hometown of Nazareth to his adopted home at Capharnaum. 

We finished the day walking in Jesus’ footsteps in the Valley of the Doves. Jesus traveled this route many times as he made his way back and forth from the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. It is called Valley of the Doves because as the wind blows between two mountains into the valley, it makes a sound like the flapping of dove wings. A beautiful, quiet, peaceful area where you could imagine Jesus walking beside you.

Can you believe we covered all this in one day? Spiritually enlightening and physically exhausting. Lots of prayers, Bible readings and hymn singing. Lots of walking and stairs. 

Next up: Jericho, the Dead Sea and so much more!! 

Israel Day 2, Part 1 MAR 23, 2023

Our second day touring Israel had us up for a 5:45 A.M. wakeup call and all aboard the bus by 7:15. Since we were staying at this hotel in Tiberias for two nights, at least we didn’t have to deal with luggage. An extra early wakeup call meant we had lots to see and do today. Many places we visited each day required reservations, so we had a tight schedule to keep.

It was a beautiful start to the day overlooking the Sea of Galilee. First up today was a drive into the countryside to Banias, otherwise known as Caesarea Philippi National Park, a region in the Golan Heights. This is a very fertile area of Israel with snow capped mountains in the distance. We drove very close to Israel’s border with Jordan and Syria and along the side of the road we saw many signs warning of land mines.

Here we found the cave of Pan and the remains of a temple built by King Herod to the Greek god Pan. The huge cave, where a spring is located, was thought to be the gates of Hades, a connection to the Underworld. Pan was thought to be a god of the wild, shepherds and flocks. Sacrifices to the gods were hurled into the cave.

According to the Gospels, after Herod Antipas of Galilee murdered John the Baptist, Jesus took his disciples into this territory. Amid the temples to Caesar and pagan gods, as well as the entranceway to Hades, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) And Peter responds, “You are the Christ”. (Mark 8:29) Jesus answers, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The  gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-20).

Next we continued to the Yigal Allon Center which is home to an ancient 2,000 year old boat found off the coast of the Sea of Galilee. During a drought in 1986 the wooden boat embedded in silt was discovered. Archeologists, scientists and volunteers worked for ten days and nights to free the boat from the mud before the water table began to rise again and flood the boat.

A Model of the Boat

2,000 Year Old Rescued Boat

We then took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It is not really a sea but a lake. At 700 hundred feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on the planet. It is formed by the Jordan River on its northern shore and is approximately 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide and 140 feet deep. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, there can be a rise of sudden storms. It supplies Israel with fresh water for drinking and irrigation, as well as a vibrant fishing industry today, as in the time of Jesus.

A Boat Like Ours

The boat ride took us offshore where we had a church service. Before the service, an American flag was hoisted as we sang our national anthem.

Pastor Harold preached a brief sermon and we sang hymns. What a beautiful experience on The Sea of Galilee. 

Many momentous events in the life of Jesus occurred on the Sea of Galilee:

  • Jesus calmed the sea (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)
  • Jesus walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-53, John 6:16-21, Matthew 14:22-33).
  • Other miracles were, when Jesus feed thousands of people  (Matthew 15:29-39, Luke 9:10-17).
  • Jesus taught the crowds by the shore (Mark 4:1-34) and preached while standing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 13:2)
  • Before his Ascension, Jesus appeared in His resurrected body to seven of his disciples for a final miracle catch of fish by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14)

After all this, it is hard to believe there was more on today’s schedule, but there was!

Next up: Day 2, Part 2

Israel Day 3, Part 1 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 we were up early, this time with our packed luggage since it was moving day. After breakfast it was time to board the bus where we had morning devotions and sang hymns along the way.

First stop today was Beit She’an National Park. Here, excavations discovered the ruins of at least 15 Roman and Byzantine cities layered on top of one another, estimated at 4,000-6,000 B.C. It is believed the population here was around 40,000 to 70,000 during the first and second centuries.

Model of the City

David’s mentor, King Saul and three of Saul’s sons were hung here on the city wall at the hands of the Philistines. It is thought that Jesus may have visited this area on his way to pilgrimages in Jerusalem.

Heated Water was Under the Floor of the Bathhouse

Mike, our guide, told us the area would be crowded today because 50 busloads of Indonesians were also visiting. As we neared the 7,000 seat Roman amphitheater built at the end of the 2nd century, we heard loud music and singing.

We were surprised to see a large gathering of Indonesians singing and praising Jesus. I recorded part of it with my phone. Tap the picture below to see video.

Later while exploring more of the area behind the amphitheater, we heard them singing “How Great Thou Art”. Just  beautiful. It is these unexpected encounters that are so special! Tap the picture below to see video.

In 749 the city was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake.

We began to see a distinct change in the topography from fertile valleys to desert as we made our way to the Dead Sea. 

Next was Jericho where we spent quite a bit of time today. At 1,300 feet below sea level Jericho is the lowest city in the world. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years.

With city walls built ten thousand years ago, it is the oldest city on earth. We could see some of the remains of the walls of Jericho. The ancient settlement was surrounded by a massive stone wall over 12 FT high and 6 FT wide at the base, inside of which stood a stone tower, over 28 FT high. The excavated tower in 1930, here is the oldest human structure in the world to date (Stone Age 8,000 B.C.).

This is an Excavated 28 FT Tower

From Jericho we could see Mount Nebo and the area where God showed Moses the Promised Land and Joshua brought the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Jericho was the first Canaanite city they encountered.

Mount of Temptation, is a northwest mountain over the town of Jericho, where Jesus went off to pray and was tempted by the devil.

Mount of Temptation

During our eight days in Israel we were kept so busy we were not given many opportunities for shopping, but we did visit a shop here where they were selling spiced nuts and fresh dates. They had special mud bath lotions from the Dead Sea that are supposed to make you look twenty years younger. One clerk rubbed some on our arms to try it out. He then used a magnet to easily remove it. Of course there were plenty of Dead Sea beauty products to purchase. I passed.

We had lunch in Jericho and then everyone was given an opportunity to ride a camel. Five dollars for a three minute ride around the parking lot. Bill and I had both ridden a camel before so we passed this time. I felt sorry for the one poor camel who had to give rides to two bus loads of people. Our camel in Missouri had stairs to get on/off the camel while this camel laid down and got up for each rider. Our guide said the camel was well cared for by his owner and was taken to the vet for checkups. Sadly he didn’t look that healthy to us.

We stopped at Zacchaeus’ Sycamore Tree. Whether this is the exact tree Zacchaeus climbed is not known, but tests have shown that this tree is over 2,000 years old and stands in the same setting as the Biblical sycamore tree.

Luke 19:1-10 tells how Jesus entered Jericho and encountered Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. Jesus stayed at Zacchaeus’ home to the dismay of his followers who saw Zacchaeus as a sinner. Zacchaeus then offered half his possessions as a gift to the poor and to compensate anyone he had cheated by four times the amount of money. The story is another example of Jesus reaching out to a sinner and offering salvation. 

Next up: Day 3 Part 2 Valley of the Shadow of Death, the Dead Sea Scrolls and floating in the Dead Sea