Begin Israel Pilgrimage at Old Testament Cities
The first full day of our Israel pilgrimage, we travel through the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah, a location of many Old Testament stories. Our first stop is Beit Shemesh located on the Sorek Valley. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was returned from the Philistines. Next, we travel to the Elah Valley where David fought Goliath and listen to 1 Samuel 17. Continuing towards the biblical Negev, it’s on to the city Beersheba. Here we see the well and gate structure, the rounded streets, and a typical four-room Israelite house. Then we visit Arad to stand on the Israeli citadel. We end the day by driving to our hotel at the Dead Sea. Before dinner, we have the opportunity to float in the salty and mineral-rich water. The next morning of our Israel pilgrimage, we visit Masada. We ascend via cable car to the top of this Herodian fortress in the heart of the Judean Dessert. On top we’ll see cisterns, dwelling places, storehouses, the city walls, a synagogue, and a bathhouse. From here we drive north along the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi, the oasis where David hid from King Saul. Then we continue to Qumran and the possible settlement of the first century sect known as the Essenes, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Afterwards, we visit Jericho and the site where the walls came tumbling down. We drive to the Sea of Galilee to spend the night.
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Explore the Galilee Area
After breakfast, we drive northeast into the Golan Heights on our Israel pilgrimage. We make a stop for a beautiful overlook of the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. Here we see the area of Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip. From here we visit Gamala, an impressive first-century site destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 66. We see an ancient synagogue, one of only seven that date to the time of Jesus. Our next stop is Katzrin, a Talmudic village where we walk through a reconstructed house similar to the type of dwellings from the days of Jesus. We continue to ascend to the Golan Heights and visit Bental, an old Israeli military site. We then continue to Caesarea Philippi where Peter made his declaration about Jesus. Our last stop of the day is the Old Testament site of Dan and we walk through the wonderful nature preserve. We also see the “high place” of Dan, and a Middle Bronze gate that dates close to the time of Abraham. We return to the Sea of Galilee in the evening. We begin the next day by visiting Arbel, a mountain on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. The view from on top is the best there is of the whole Sea of Galilee below! From here we continue the Israel pilgrimage to Magdala, to see the new excavations and possibly one of the oldest synagogues dating back to the time of Jesus. Next is Capernaum, the home center of ministry for Jesus here in Galilee. In the afternoon, we enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee for a quiet and peaceful worship service together. Upon landing, we also see the “Jesus boat” from the first century, a vessel found here along the shores of Galilee in 1986. Next, we enjoy an optional baptism in the Jordan River at Yardenit. We end the day by reading from Matthew 5 on the traditional Mount of Beatitudes located on the Sea of Galilee. The next morning of our Israel pilgrimage, we head toward Nazareth where we view the city from the “precipice” from which Jesus was almost thrown. We continue into the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo and then we ascend Mt. Carmel, the site of Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Descending the mountain, we drive toward Caesarea Maritima, nestled between the banana groves and the sand-skirted sea. We end today of the Israel pilgrimage by driving to Jerusalem.
Continue Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
We start the day of our Israel pilgrimage with an orientation to Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives. We then follow the traditional Palm Sunday route to the church known as the Dominus Flevit (“the Lord weeps”). After viewing the Golden Gate, we walk downhill to Gethsemane. From here we enter the Old City where we visit the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church, perfectly preserved from the Crusader period with remarkable acoustics. We then follow the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, stopping along the way to consider all Christ endured on the way to His crucifixion. In the afternoon, we visit Herodium where Herod the Great was buried. We end the day by driving into Bethlehem. We visit the Shepherds’ Field and the Church of the Nativity, and our day ends with shopping at an olive wood store. The next day of our Israel pilgrimage, we enter the Old City and visit the famous Western (Wailing) Wall, the most holy place in Judaism. After some time for personal prayer and reflection, we walk through the Western Wall Tunnel along the retaining wall of the Temple Mount itself. In the afternoon, we visit the fascinating Israel Museum. Afterwards we enjoy a visit to view the model of Jerusalem (1:50 scale model of Herodian Jerusalem as it would have appeared in Jesus’ time). We end the day with a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. We begin the next day by visiting the Garden Tomb and enjoy a quiet Communion service. From here, we visit the City of David and the new excavations of David’s palace. Those who want to can take an optional adventurous walk through the water of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We then sit on the steps of the Pool of Siloam and listen to the story of John 9. From here, we are given the option to walk up through a Herodian drainage channel that takes us to “Robinson’s Arch” and the southern wall excavations. We walk on a Roman street and ascend the Temple steps. We then have free time for the rest of the afternoon in the Old City. We have time to grab a bite to eat, explore the Old City, or shop. We end our Israel pilgrimage with a transfer to the airport for our return flight home.