Thursday, April 4, 2013

Israel Highlights: Coastal Plains & Galilee

My mom & I starting our journey in the back of the bus
I have been trying to think of how to blog about my trip to Israel.  Since it's been over three weeks ago, it's probably time I put those thoughts into an actual post (side note: someone should totally invent a computer that reads my mind, it would really help in keeping this blog updated).  Overall, it was an amazing trip.  The land of Israel written about for thousands of years and containing history that is very important to my faith came alive as I rode with 50 others through the hills and valleys, dessert and plains.  For the first time I realized the value of having a tour guide.  Our guide was an Israeli who had an incredible understanding of history.  It was overwhelming the amount of history I learned!  Every night when we returned to the hotel, I had to brain dump in order to actually process the information.  Being with my mom was awesome and the fellowship of the tour group was better than I could've ever hoped for.  It was truly a blessing - something I was praying about.  

We started in Tel Aviv and headed north along the coast to Caesarea and then inland, stopping at Mt. Carmel before heading to the Sea of Galilee.  While in Galilee, we explored from Tel Dan in the north to Bet She'an in the south and all along the coast of the inland sea.  On our way to Jerusalem, we drove through the hills seeing modern day shepherds herding sheep and goats (always gaining our full interest and meriting hundreds of blurry pictures).  As we ascended the hills into Jerusalem, we stopped for dinner at Abraham's tent, a Bedouin hospitality experience complete with hummus, baba ganoush, date chicken, Turkish coffee and all the bread you could ever eat.  We conquered the old city of Jerusalem and learned more history in one day than I think I ever learned in one semester of school.  Bethlehem, the Holocaust Museum, Dead Sea, Masada - we saw them all.  Crossing the Jordan, we admired the same view God showed Moses thousands of years ago of the promised land, (this time with just a bit more haze and pollution) before heading south to experience the ancient city of Petra.  The Jordan called to us again on our way back over to Israel as we stopped at the traditional site where Jesus was baptized.  We finished our tour driving through the Elah valley, where David slew Goliath and then heading back to the shore of the Mediterranean, and the airport that would fly us home.  Nine days of non-stop sight seeing, history lessons, fellowship and experiences of a lifetime.  

So, how do you wrap that up?  Well, I don't think I can do it in one blog post.  But maybe, just maybe, I can attempt to do it in three.  Here we go...come and join us. 

Part 1 - Coastal Plains & Galilee

I'm probably not supposed to lump those two locations together.  Really, they are totally different geographically and have different climates.  However, in my mind they got lumped together somehow, so lumped they will remain.  Instead of walking you through a day-by-day, I'll just share my favorites and what struck me most.  Sound good?  

Our first stop and a place you could spend all day exploring.  Imagined and built by Herod, Caesarea was the capital of Judea and the site of the trial of Paul before he was sent to Rome.  Herod built an amazing palace, a deep sea port and other landmarks you would expect to see in a Roman or Greek city (not necessarily in Judea).  It was destroyed by the Arabs in the 600s and just recently has been excavated for tourists to imagine the city as it once was.  

The remains of Herod's palace extending out into the Sea.  The square in the middle?  A freshwater pool. 
Roman theater at Caesarea
Mom & I at Caesarea
Mt Carmel
This is where Elijah called on God and slew the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).  We gazed out at a sweeping view of the Jezreel Valley and imagined as we read from 1 Kings the show down between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  The weather even cooperated, with dark looming clouds rolling in  from the sea and the wind picking up - driving home the scene Elijah must have experienced as he prayed for rain.  After our stop, we had lunch in a nearby Druze village and, yes, I had falafel and it was amazing. :-)

View of Jezreel Valley from on top Mount Carmel
Chapel on Mount Carmel
Sea of Galilee
What an amazing place.  We stayed two nights in Galilee and explored a lot of the surrounding areas.  My favorite though was getting to take a boat out on the lake to worship.  I had a minor panic attack as we were boarding because my camera stopped focusing (a problem we've had before), but I prayed over it (yes, I did), changed the lens and, PTL, it worked again.  Getting the opportunity to praise God out on the waves was a really unique experience.  After walking along the lake shore and then sitting in the boat looking out at the shore and surrounding hills, one can imagine Jesus walking the shoreline, calling to Peter, calming the storm...Galilee is a special place. 

Mount of Beatitudes from the Sea
Praise and worship on the Sea
Amazing sunset as we head back to the dock
Tel Dan
North of Galilee, near the Lebanon border is Tel Dan - the ancient city of Dan.  It dates back to the Middle Bronze Era (2000 BC, time of Abraham).  Today, the excavated remains around the city gates date back to the time of Elijah.  Historically, it was awesome to see such an old city with so many years of civilization that is now lying in ruin.  The Jordan River starts near Dan and Jor-dan literally means to "come down from Dan." 

Northern city gate recently excavated dating back to 2,000 BC 
Ruins of Tel Dan
Mount of Beatitudes
I have always wondered how Jesus spoke to groups of thousands of people.  How is that possible?  Well, now I know!  After seeing the Mount of Beatitudes and looking down into the natural amphitheater that Jesus preached from (now full of banana trees), you can see how the hillsides collide to form a protected area where one's voice could carry very far.  I felt the same way on the shore of the Sea of Galilee - when the wind and water are still (early morning), one can easily call out to nearby boats or stand in a boat and call to those on the shore.  Another interesting cultural insight - when the people came and heard Jesus preach at the Sermon on the Mount (Mount of Beatitudes), they weren't thinking "this is the Messiah" but rather "this must be Moses" as he preached with wisdom and authority on the law.  A scene that must've reminded them of when Moses first gave the law to the Israelites from Mount Sinai.  Which would be why when Jesus asked his disciples, "who do people say I am?" That they answered, "some say Moses...".

Just imagine that each of those banana trees are a person
Bet She'an
Another amazing site with a lot of history.  The Tel in the back of the photos (a Tel is an artificial hill that is made from one civilization building on another) is the original city of Bet She'an where, in 1 Samuel 31, the bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan were hung after their defeat by the Philistines at Mount Gilboa.  During the Greco-Roman period, the city was known as Scythopolis and was part of the Decapolis (10 major cities during the Roman rule).  During the 8th century, the city was destroyed by a large earthquake.  It is one of Israel's most prominent archaeological sites. 

The main colonnade at Bet She'an with the Tel in the background
Also in Galilee we visited Nazareth (a recreated village), Tabgha (miracle of feeding the 5,000), Caesarea Phillipi (city Jesus visited with his disciples, Matthew 16:13-23 & Mark 8:27), Capernaum, Gideon's Spring, and Tel Megiddo (the ancient city & site along the Jezreel Valley where Armageddon is prophesied to take place).

At Tel Megiddo, looking out to the Jezreel Valley

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