Pilgrimage to Israel
The land of Israel has long been a magnet for people of faith. For centuries, pilgrims have braved dangers and endured hardship in order to set foot on the soil of their spiritual heritage. In awe they stood before the gates of Jerusalem, and reverently they walked its streets, bowing in silent prayer before sacred shrines.
To this holy land pilgrims continue to come, to walk through the ancient remains and learn from their past, to read and recall that unfolding drama of faith in its setting, and to learn the lessons of life which this history teaches.
Arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Drive to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Dinner and overnight at the Gai Beach Hotel.
Explore Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Nazareth, and Cana. After lunch, go to the Jordan river. Dinner and overnight at the Gai Beach Hotel.
Visit Tel Dan and Caesarea Philippi in the morning. After lunch, visit the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabka, and Capernaum. Dinner and overnight at the Gai Beach Hotel.
Begin the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and visit the First-Century Boat Museum. Visit Gideon's spring and have lunch. Explore Beit She-an and then drive to the Dead Sea. Dinner and overnight at Le Meridien Dead Sea.
Visit Masada and Ein Gedi. Afternoon at leisure to enjoy the hotel spa facilities and swim in the Dead Sea. Dinner and overnight at Le Meridien Dead Sea.
Explore Qumran on the way to Jerusalem. Spend time at the Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Garden of Gethsemane, and Caiaphas' house. Dinner and overnight at Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
Visit the Elah Valley, Beit Shemesh, and the shepherd's fields overlooking Bethlehem. Dinner and overnight at Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. Today is a short day due to the even of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur, the most memorable day of the year. Dinner an hour after sundown, and overnight at the Plaza.
Visit Mt. Zion, the Jewish Quarter, the Burnt House, Western Wall and Western Wall tunnel. Dinner and camel rides at Genesis Land, overnight at the Plaza.
Tour the City of David, Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, and visit the model of Jerusalem. Dinner and overnight at Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
Visit the Southern Steps, the Temple Mount, the Pool of Bethesda, St. Anne's Church, and the Antonio Fortress. Follow the Way of the Cross and end at the Garden Tomb. Following a farewell dinner, drive to Ben Gurion Airport for an overnight departure.
SEA OF GALILEE
The Promised Land! We arrived in Ben Gurion International in Tel Aviv as the sun was setting, hopped in the bus we'd call home for the next two weeks, and drove the few hours to the Sea of Galilee. Nearly 700 feet below sea level, we slept soundly in Gai Beach hotel in Tiberias, with views of the water. Shaped like a harp, thus the name Kinneret, and much smaller than a "sea," being below sea level can cause winds to drop quickly through the hills and get very rough very quickly, as described in Mark 4:35-41.
So why were the disciples so astonished at Jesus' rebuking of the waves? As described in Psalm 65:6-7 and 107:25-30, the wind and the waves only answer to God! Luckily, we did not experience such a storm. Our fishing, however, was not so blessed.
CAESAREA BY THE SEA
Caesarea, the seat of the Roman governor of Judea, can rightly be called the springboard of the gospel. A major port city on the Mediterranean, seen by the large palace built by Herod which is now sinking into the sea, it was here that Cornelius, a centurion, called for Peter in Acts 10. The result was the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. In Acts 24, Paul is brought before Felix to stand on the very steps of the amphitheater to testify. Also found here is a stone proving what the Bible has claimed for years, "In the time of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was Prefect of Judea."
A city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:13) frequently mentioned by the evangelists in connection with the life of our Lord. It was lower than Nazareth and Cana, from which the road to it was one of descent (John 2:12; Luke 4:31). It had its own synagogue, in which our Lord frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31-38). Capernaum was the residence of Jesus and His apostles, and the scene of many miracles and sermons. It was when He returned to it, that those around Him referred to Him being "home" (Mark 2:1). Here He chose Matthew (Matthew 9:9) and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew from Capernaum (Mark 1:29).
Nazareth was the hometown of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus, and where they returned following their flight to Egypt from Bethlehem to escape the slaughter of babies ordered by Herod. In the days of Jesus, Nazareth was merely a village nestled in the edge of the Galilean hills. Today it is a large town of 50,000 inhabitants, and sprawls up and down the slopes above its original site. Nazareth is an Arab town (Israeli Arabs), composed half of Muslims and half of Christians. On a hill just outside of Nazareth is the "Leaping Mountain." From here it is Arab legend that Jesus leapt off the cliffs and was caught by angels. We know the story better from Luke 4:16-30, where Jesus was pressed by the crowds to the cliffs, until he simply walked right through them.
MOUNT OF BEATITUDES
This was the name given to the mountain mentioned in Matthew 5:1, probably the place known as the "Horns of Hattin," or Kurun Hattin, near Capernaum, and on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Hattin is the name of the village above which are the two elevations now called "the horns." The situation is central both to the peasants of the Galilean hills and the fishermen of the Galilean lake and would therefore be a natural resort both to Jesus and His disciples when they retired from the shores of the sea for solitude, and also the crowds who assembled from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond Jordan. The other mountains in the neighborhood are merged into the uniform barrier of hills around the lake, with the exception of Tabor, which is too distant to meet the requirements. This area stands separate, "the mountain" that alone could lay claim to a distinct name.
Generally considered to be the most appropriately beautiful and serene of the Christian holy places in the country, this site has managed to escape much of the commercialization of modern Israel. Tradition locates three of the New Testament's most significant episodes here: The Sermon on the Mount, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, and Jesus' post-Resurrection appearance where he conferred the leadership of the church on Peter.
"Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain," writes Matthew, "and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them saying: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...'"
A town in the northern part of Palestine about 120 miles north of Jerusalem near the foot of Mount Hermon. It was first a Canaanite sanctuary for the worship of Baal (Judges 3:3; I Chronicles 5:23). Later, around 20 BC, Herod enlarged it and called it Caesarea Philippi.
"When they came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." - Matthew 16:13-16
The plain in which Bet She'an is situated is the wide meeting point of two valleys - the Jezreel/Harod and the Joran - thus making Bet She'an an important city on busy trade routes. It was continuously occupied for over 5,000 years. Excavations reveal 18 superimposed cities on the 300 feet high section of the tel. Stone Age people settled here and the first real town was established about 3000 BC; its name is mentioned in some of the earliest Egyptian texts. Proof of the Egyptian influence is provided by the excavations; this was one of the strongholds from which the country was controlled by the Pharaohs. In the 13th century BC, the Israelite tribe of Manasseh inherited the area (Judges 1:27), losing it to the Philistines in the 11th century BC after the Israelites' defeat on nearby mount Gilboa, when King Saul's body was hung on the city walls (I Samuel 31).
The Dead Sea is located about 15 miles east of Jerusalem, between Israel and Jordan. It is extremely deep (averaging 1,000 feet), salty (about 35%), and sits about 1,300 feet below sea level (your ears pop - the other way). While the salt and mud is proven to be therapeutic, it is wise to keep it away from your face (it burns!).
Qumran, the location of the ancient remains of a Jewish collective community known as the Essenes, is the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, where a Bedouin shepherd accidentally found the scrolls inside some earthenware jars in the caves. Containing little to no differences compared to our Bible today and dated to a time before Christ, these scrolls contain prophesy about Him, which was fulfilled years later!
It was 73 AD and the Jewish defenders knew their time had come. Elazar, their leader, ordered his men to destroy all their possessions except the provisions of food. Then men chosen by lot (the lots were found in excavation) set about the grim task of putting to death the voluntary martyrs. When this had been done, one man of the ten was selected again by lot to end the lives of his nine companions, before taking his own. Two women and five children survived, hiding in cisterns. When the Romans took the fortress, meeting no resistance, they were so stricken with the scene of desolation that they spared the lives of the survivors.
"Masada will not fall again" is not just a slogan, it is part of the Israeli national experience, and the story of a valiant, if ultimately unsuccessful, defiance by a small group of Jewish rebels against the Roman Empire. Built by Herod the Great, the desert location, steep ascent, and elaborate fortifications are just the beginning. On the top sits Herod's palace, complete with sauna and elaborate mosaics. It took nearly 15,000 men, and an untold number of slaves, to lay siege to the fortress. Finally, building an immense earth ramp, it was overrun.
It is easy to see why Ein Gedi is referred to as "Crags of the Wild Goats." Ibex are often seen here, and for good reason. It is the oasis in the desert. I Samuel 24 tells of the encounter between David and Saul, and Ein Gedi is mentioned in "Song of Songs" (1:14). Other references: II Chronicles 20:2; Ezekiel 47:7-11.
Taking a break from the sites, we rode camels to "Genesis Land," a cheesy yet highly entertaining reenactment of the time of Abraham. Complete with great food and commanding views of the desert outside of Jerusalem facing the Dead Sea, this was a night to remember.
OUTSIDE THE OLD CITY
DAVID AND GOLIATH
1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them...
40 Then he (David) took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine...
Valley of Elah
You would never know that a battle took place in this farmer's field thousands of years ago.
The ancient mound of Socoh. Notice the dry creek bed where water naturally flows...
The ancient mound of Azekah, where the Philistines were camped.
Only four miles from Jerusalem, Bethlehem ("House of Bread" in Hebrew) is mentioned in the Book of Ruth as the place where Ruth and Boaz fell in love. It is also the birthplace of Kind David, Ruth's great-grandson. For Christians, of course, it is the birthplace of Christ.
Today, Bethlehem is an Arab town, surrounded by tall concrete walls, checkpoints, and barbed wire. Perhaps the only thing that hasn't changed are the shepherd fields, in which you could still imagine David leaving the flock to face Goliath, or Ruth in the wheat fields.
MOUNT OF OLIVES AND GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
The site of Jesus' ascension to heaven forty days after His resurrection and the place where one day He will return! Standing to the east of the Old City, the Mount of Olives is dominated by the world's largest Jewish cemetery and the many churches commemorating the events that led to Jesus' arrest and His ascension to heaven. To be buried here is a privilege as Jewish tradition declares on the day of the Messiah's coming, the dead will be resurrected and follow him into Jerusalem through the Gates of Mercy, the now-blocked Golden Gates below the eastern wall.
The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his final few hours before arrest, still contains olive trees dated to the time of Christ.
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72 He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."
74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.
We arrived in Jerusalem on top of the Mount of Olives, with a wonderful view of the Kidron Valley, Old City and Temple Mount, City of David, The Valley, Mount Zion, and the Hinnom Valley. It was hard to believe that we were looking at this jewel of a city. Five nights at the Plaza hotel was not going to be enough!
TEMPLE MOUNT AND WESTERN WALL (WAILING WALL)
The Western Wall is actually a foundation of retaining walls built on the slopes of Mount Moriah (on which the temple stood) to create the vast platform known as the Temple Mount where, in 1 BC, Herod rebuilt the Second Temple. After its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD, the temple area was declared off-limits to Jews for generations. This is as close as they can get to the sanctuary without entering the temple mount. While today it may appear that those praying are praying to the wall, they are more correctly praying through the wall to the temple area. Here they mourn the destruction of the Second Temple and pray for its restoration. Today you can venture along the wall (underground) to get a better glimpse of its magnitude.
The Temple Mount composes nearly 40 acres, surrounded and held together by this large retaining wall we see today. During the time of Jesus, a road ran along the western part of this wall (which is mostly underground today). Worshippers would enter one side of the ritual bath and exit the other, clean and ready to enter the temple. The southern steps were the entrance for most worshippers (separate entrances were made for merchants and priests - you can see the remains of one of the arches that led to an entrance high on the western portion of the wall). It is certain that Jesus climbed these steps when he visited the temple, and would have spent much time here teaching his followers.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie-the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 7 "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. - John 5:1-8
POOL OF SILOAM
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. - John 9:1-7
THE GARDEN TOMB
Aside from the likeness of the hill to a skull, a number of reasons exist that point to this site as the place of the tomb of Christ: 1) It must befit a wealthy Jew of the Herodian period (Matthew 27:57); 2) It must be hewn in rock - not an old cave adapted (Matthew 27:60); 3) It must be in a garden and close to a place of crucifixion (a wine press and cistern have been found) (John 19:41); 4)It must be possible to view the loculi (finished burial places) from outside (John 20:5); 5) It must permit room for a number of persons to stand inside (Luke 24:1-4).
One thing is certain: He is risen!