Exploring Israel’s Biblical Sites
Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in the mid-afternoon, we meet our local Israeli representative who assists us with baggage and transfers us to our motor coach. We take a short drive to our hotel in Tel Aviv for dinner, an orientation meeting, and overnight beside the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. You’ll get a chance to walk along the beach of this beautiful area! Our day begins by driving to Tel Gezer. This was once a Canaanite and Israelite city. We’ll see a Middle Bronze water system and fortifications. We’ll also see an Iron Age stone gate from the time of Solomon (1 Kings 9). Next, we drive to Socoh. Climbing this unexcavated site will give us a great view of where David fought Goliath in the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17). In the western part of the valley is Gath (Tel es-Safi), hometown of Goliath. We will climb the site for a great view of the region. Next, we continue to the Beit Guvrin Valley and the site of Libnah (Tel Burna). We’ll climb this site and see the Israelite ruins here of this city conquered by Joshua (Josh. 10) who revolted against Judah (2 Kings 19). Our last stop of the day is Ashkelon. This was one of five primary Philistine cities. We will see a mudbrick Canaanite gate here and we’ll also have a chance to swim in the Mediterranean Sea before driving to Beersheba for overnight. (REGIONS to study: The Shephelah, Negev) Our first stop of the day is the ancient site of Beersheba, the primary city in the Biblical Negev. We’ll see the well and gate structure, the rounded streets, and a typical four room Israelite house (Genesis 21). Next, we drive south to Sde Boker, the site of the tomb of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Here, we learn about the history of the State of Israel. Next, we will enjoy hiking in the majestic canyon of the Wilderness of Zin, and we have the option to hike all the way to the opposite rim of the canyon. After lunch at Avdat (not included), we drive to the archaeological site of Arad, a Canaanite then later Israelite city where Josiah enacted his reforms (2 Chronicles 34). We end the day by driving into the Judean Desert, and we spend the night at Kfar Hanokdim. Here, we experience the uniqueness of desert life, even a camel ride (it is recommended to bring a towel with you). Accommodations include “Bedouin tent” dwellings (upgrades must be reserved in advance, at an additional cost). Following dinner, we enjoy a time of worship under the stars. (REGIONS to study: The Negev, Judean Desert)
Ascend Masada in a Cable Car
Following breakfast, we approach the famous site of Masada from the west, where we’ll walk up the Roman ramp (note: those who don’t wish to climb will be driven around to the eastern side, a 1.5 hour ride, and ascend to the top in the cable car. While you wait for the group to finish the guided tour, you will be fascinated with the view). We will hear the story of the Jewish zealots who resisted the Romans for three years after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed. Leaving the site, we have the option of walking down the Snake Path, while others ride the cable car down. Next, we drive north along the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi, where we relive the story of David hiding in a cave from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). We will have a chance to hike into the valley and enjoy the waterfalls as well as soak our feet in the cool waters. Further north is Qumran, the settlement of the first century sect known as the Essenes, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those who want to can spend time hiking near some of the caves where the scrolls were discovered. At the site, we see first century miqvot (ritual baths), a scriptorium, and cisterns. We end the day by floating in the Dead Sea. Then, we drive to the northern tip of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47) and stay at Al Mog, a Jewish kibbutz. After dinner, we meet again to review the day’s encounters. (REGIONS to study: Aravah Valley, Dead Sea, Judean Desert) We begin the day at nearby Jericho. Here, we see the portion of the actual revetment wall dating to the time of Joshua (Joshua 6). Our next site is Beth Shean, a massive Roman city. This is where the body of Saul was hung on the city walls (1 Samuel 31). You will have the chance to hike to the top of the Old Testament site for the view! Close-by is the Spring of Harod, where Gideon reduced his fighting men to 300 (Judges 6-7). This spring feeds a natural pool called Sachne, where we will enjoy about an hour of swimming. We end the day by driving to the Sea of Galilee for dinner and the first of three overnights here. (REGIONS to study: Jordan Valley, Jerzeel Valley, Sea of Galilee) We begin the day by driving to the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee. Hippos, one of the Decapolis cities mentioned in the Gospels, is here. We will climb the site for a panoramic view of the lake below. Next, we drive through the Huleh Valley to the largest archaeological site in Israel, Hazor! It is 200 acres in size. We will see the Canaanite ruins (Joshua 11) and Israelite ruins (I Kings 9). Continuing north we visit Omrit. It’s likely that Omrit was the site of the large temple built of limestone and plaster by King Herod in Honor of Caesar Augustus around 20 BC. On the border with Lebanon is the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. Here we will walk see the largest of the three tributaries of the Jordan River as well as see the Israelite ruins built by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). In the afternoon we’ll take a ski lift to the top of Mt. Hermon, the region’s highest mountain. The view will be great! We take the chairlift back down unless you choose to walk down the trail back to the visitor center. From here we drive back to our hotel for dinner and overnight. (REGIONS to study: Huleh Valley, Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee) We begin the day by visiting Arbel, a mountain NW of the Sea of Galilee. We will all walk a short distance into the Valley of the Doves for an opening devotion. An option will be given to hike to the top of this 800-foot cliff while the bus will take others to the top from the other side. With both groups converging on the top, the view is the best there is of the whole Sea of Galilee! Then, we drive to Magdala to see another ancient synagogue that dates to the time of Christ. Mary “Magdalene” was also from here (Luke 8). Located on the northern end of the lake is a new archaeological site called Tel el-Raj. Some believe this is Bethsaida. Peter, Andrew, and Philip all grew up here (John 1). Excavations may even take place while we’re there! We will also visit the other site identified by others as Bethsaida. This site is called Et-Tel. This was probably the capital of a small Aramean kingdom called Geshur. The next site is Capernaum, the home center of ministry for Jesus in Galilee. Here, we read from the Gospels about the many things that took place here (Mark 1, Luke 7 & John 6) in the 4th-5th century synagogue. We end the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We’ll enjoy a quiet and peaceful worship service together, then recall the storm narratives (Mark 4 & 6). Upon landing, we also see the “Jesus boat” from the first century, a vessel found here along the shores of Galilee in 1986. (REGIONS to study: Sea of Galilee)
Enter Jerusalem Through the Lions Gate
Today, we leave the Sea of Galilee area and drive to Jerusalem. In between there is a lot to see. First, we will enjoy a time of reflection on the Precipice of Nazareth. Here we will overlook the Jezreel Valley, Mt. Tabor (Judges 4), and the Hill of Moreh (Judges 7). Driving across the valley, Megiddo is our next stop. This is a large archaeological site that has about 25 levels of occupation spanning about 2,500 years. We will climb the site and see lots of stone walls, gates, a horse stable, a sacrificial altar, and a grain silo. We will leave the site through an impressive water system. In the afternoon we will drive to Acco. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, this was an impressive Crusader fortress in the 11-12th centuries AD. From here we drive through the Sharon Plain and then ascend to Jerusalem. After checking in and dinner, an optional walk to the Western Wall will be offered. (REGIONS to study: Lower Galilee, Jezreel Valley, Mt. Carmel Range, Sharon Plain, Hill Country of Judah) The day begins by driving to the top of the Mt. of Olives for a spectacular first view of the Old City of Jerusalem. We walk down the “Palm Sunday” route to the Garden of Gethsemane. Next, we enter the Old City of Jerusalem through the Lion’s Gate (St. Stephens) and visit the Pools of Bethesda (John 5). We also enjoy some marvelous singing in St. Anne’s church from the Crusader period. Our walk through the Old City will take us to the Christian Quarter to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We’ll eat lunch in the Christian Quarter (not included). In the afternoon we will visit the City of David and the new excavations of David’s palace. Those who want to will take an optional adventurous walk through the water of Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long). We then sit on the steps of the Siloam Pool and listen to the story of John 9. From here, we walk up through the Herodian “Pilgrimage Road” that takes us to “Robinson’s Arch” and the southern wall excavations of the Temple. We walk on a Roman street and ascend the Temple steps. Time permitting, we’ll end the day by visiting Gush Ezion. We’ll watch a moving presentation here on modern Israel. We return to our hotel for dinner and a free evening.
Communion at the Garden Tomb
This morning we start at the Western Wall, the most holy place for the Jewish today! We then walk to the Herodian Mansion. This is a unique archaeology site underneath the modern buildings of the Jewish Quarter. It’s considered to be a mansion of an important Jewish leader of the 1st century (e.g. the “High Priest). Next, we visit David’s Citadel for a visit of the “lithostrotos” (John 19). This was the stone pavement upon which Jesus was sentenced by Pilate. In the afternoon we visit both the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum. In the Israel Museum we will see the 1:50 scale-model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem. We will also walk through the Shrine of the Book where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed. In the Bible Lands Museum we will see some new and different artifacts found at various archaeological sites. Today we enter the Hill Country of Samaria. First, we will gain a wonderful view of the Wadi Qelt in the heart of the Judean Desert. We will hear the words of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23 echo through the canyon walls! Then we’ll drive to the area of Michmash where Jonathan and his sword-bearer withstood the Philistines (1 Samuel 13-14). We continue to the site of Shiloh. For 305 years the Tabernacle was located here. We will climb the tel and recall the stories about Hannah and Samuel. In the afternoon we will continue our drive northward the site of Samaria. We will see the ruins dating from the time of Omri and Ahab as well as from the time of Herod. Next is Shechem/Sycar (Gen. 34, John 4), an ancient city that is located between two mountains, Mt. Ebal and Gerizim (Dt 11, Joshua 8). We will also try and arrange time at the Samaritan Village. Here we will learn more about the ancient Samaritans and how they still practice sacrifices today! We return south back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. We begin the day at the Judean Hills. We’ll drive west to Nebi Samuel, the traditional burial place of the prophet Samuel. From the roof of the chapel here we will see Gibeon mentioned in the Old Testament (Joshua 10-11, 2 Samuel 2, 21). Further west is Kiriath Jearim. Here the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years. We’ll eat lunch in the village of Abu Gosh (not included). Our day ends at the Garden Tomb for Communion, and we’ll return to our hotel for a Farewell Dinner. We enjoy one last optional walk before retiring for the evening.