Early Christianity in Israel
Tour members meet for our evening flight. After dinner is served, sit back and relax, enjoying the on-board entertainment as you prepare for this exciting adventure of a lifetime. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, 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 Netanya for dinner and overnight beside the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. After an abundant breakfast buffet, we journey north along the coast to Caesarea, built 2000 years ago by King Herod. We walk through the ancient theater, the Crusader city and the fantastic aqueduct that served as a backdrop for the book of Acts. From here we depart to Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), site of Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Then we proceed to Megiddo (Armageddon; 1 Kings 9:15; Rev. 16:16). Across the Jezreel Valley is the precipice of Nazareth (Luke 1 and 4). We end our day here as we are introduced to the life and ministry of Jesus in this area. Driving through Cana (John 2), we finally arrive at the outskirts of Tiberias (John 6:23). We arrive at our “kibbutz hotel” located right on the Sea of Galilee shoreline. After dinner, we enjoy sitting together for a time of fellowship and worship. We begin the day by driving into the Golan Heights. Circling the northern end of the Sea of Galilee we will see where the Feeding of the 5,000 took place (John 6). Driving to the southeastern corner of the lake we ascend to the site of Hippos (also called Susita). This was a massive Roman city, one of the Decapolis cites mentioned in the Gospels. Our view of the lake below will be panoramic here from the small theater! Up on the plateau of the Golan Heights is the site of Qatzrin, a partially reconstructed Talmudic village. We see what a typical village looked like during the days of Jesus. Sitting in a reconstructed stone house, we’ll read from Mark 2 about the lame man being lowered down to Jesus through the roof. Driving along the northern border, we will stop and look into southern Syria. Here we learn about the modern wars of Israel, primarily the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. Next, we drive past Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133) and descend the Golan Heights and visit Caesarea Philippi. It was here Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt. 16). Nearby is the amazing nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan, one of the sources of the Jordan River. We walk through this quiet national park and hear the stories of disobedience that took place here (Judges 18, 1Kings 12). We end the day by driving back through the Huleh Valley to our hotel in Tiberias. After dinner, we meet down by the water’s edge once again to review the day.
Qumran, Home of the Dead Sea Scrolls
We begin the day by visiting Arbel, a mountain on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. We will have the option to hike to the top of this 800-foot cliff (the bus will take others to the top from the other side). The view from the top is the best of the whole Sea of Galilee below! Driving south to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, we arrive at Yardenit. You will have the opportunity to reaffirm your baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. From here we drive back to the NW corner of the lake to Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. Here we will see another 1st century synagogue. Jesus must have taught from here! Among the other ruins are ritual baths. After lunch we visit Chorazin, one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11). We see the basaltic ruins of this city, including a synagogue dating to the 3rd century AD. Close by on the water’s edge is Capernaum, the home center of ministry for Jesus here in Galilee. Here we read about the many stories related to the ministry of Jesus in the 4th-5th century synagogue. We also spend some reflection time on the shoreline. It was in this area where Jesus called His first disciples. Close by we enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, with a quiet and peaceful worship service. Upon landing, we also see the “Jesus boat” from the first century, a vessel found here along the shores of Galilee in 1986. We end the day by reading from Matthew 5 on the Mount of Beatitudes. We return to our hotel for dinner and an optional gathering once again by the water. We begin the day by driving south to the Jordan Valley to the site of Beth Shean (1 Sam. 31), an impressive Roman city of the Decapolis. Driving south along the Jordan Valley and then turning west into the area of Samaria, we visit the rather new excavations of Shiloh. This is where the Tabernacle once stood. Here we see impressive archaeological ruins dating to the days of Samuel. Driving past Bethel (Gen. 12, 28) and through the Desert of Pareth (Jeremiah 13), our next stop is Jericho. After a late lunch here, we climb the tel (ancient mound) to see portions of the fortification wall that supported the mud-brick walls that “came tumblin’ down” (Joshua 6). From here we drive to the southern end of the Dead Sea to our hotel. Prior to dinner, you will have a chance to float in the salt and mineral-rich waters of this unique body of water. This morning, we begin our drive northward along the western coastline of the Dead Sea to Masada. Here we ascend high upon the wilderness mountain by way of cable car to the fortress built by King Herod. We survey the ruins of the fortifications, waterworks, synagogue, temples and palaces. An optional walk down the Snake Path will be offered. Our next stop is Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul, Here, we’ll enjoy a walk to some of the waterfalls in the canyon. Finally, we visit Qumran and the settlement of the first century sect known as the Essenes, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Over the lunch hour, you will have the opportunity to explore a few of the caves above the site. En route to Jerusalem, we end the day with a brief stop at Wadi Qelt. Here we hear the words of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23 in the context of the Judea Desert. From here we drive the rest of the way to Jerusalem for overnight. After checking in our hotel and dinner, an optional walk to the Western Wall will take place. We get our first glimpse of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives, beholding a breath-taking panorama of the Holy City. 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 and to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the afternoon after lunch, we drive west to see a few sites in the Shephelah (Lowlands) of Judah. Dependent upon time and dirt road conditions, we will see sites such as Gezer, Beth Shemesh, Qeiyafa (or Socoh) where David fought Goliath, and perhaps Lachish (time permitting).
The City of David
We begin the day by driving southeast to Herodium. This was one of Herod the Great’s palace-fortresses. The view from the top of this site of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Tekoa, the Judean Desert, and on a clear day the Dead Sea will be amazing! Herodium is where Herod was buried. Nearby are the Shepherd Fields. Located in Beit Sahour, we will sing a few Christmas carols in celebration of Christ’s birth. We will also visit an olive factory/store in Bethlehem. In the afternoon after lunch, we drive back into western Jerusalem to see the fascinating Israel Museum and the model of Jerusalem (1:50 scale model of Herodian Jerusalem as it would have appeared in Jesus’ time). Here we also explore some of the artifacts in the archaeological museum. We end the day with a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. We see the Children’s Memorial and walk through the museum on our own. We return to our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner and a free evening to allow you to explore or relax. We begin the day by visiting the City of David and the new excavations of David’s palace. Those who want to will take an optional 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 an exposed 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 eat lunch in the Jewish Quarter (not included) and enjoy a few hours of free time (or visit the Western Wall). Our day ends at the Garden Tomb for Communion. We proceed to a Restaurant for our Farewell Dinner. After dinner, we will transfer to the airport for our flight back to the U.S.A. (Those taking the extension will have one more overnight in Jerusalem). We arrive back in the U.S.A. After going through U.S. Customs, we board our domestic flight back to our homes at the end of a life transforming trip!
Optional Athens, Greece Extension
For those not doing the extension, we will arrive back in the U.S. After going through U.S. Customs, we board our domestic flight back. For those going to Greece, we will bus to the airport for our flight to Athens. Upon arriving, we will be met by our Greek guide and driver. First, we enjoy a bus tour of the Constitution Square with the House of Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Temple of Zeus, the Old Olympic Stadium and the Neoclassical Buildings of Athens. We then go to the world-renowned Acropolis to see the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the incredible Parthenon. We also visit Mars Hill, where Paul delivered his ingenious speech on the “Unknown God” (Acts 17). From here we view the Agora, the ancient center of the economic and public life of the city, where Paul preached to the skeptical Athenians. We head back to our hotel for dinner. An optional hike up to the top of Mt. Lycabetus (for the best view of Athens) will be offered. Today we tour the ancient oracle of Apollo at Delphi. We will also visit the local museum with its renown bronze statue of the charioteer. Then, we will see the stadium where the ancient Pythian athletic games were held every four years. Second only to the Olympic games in fame, these games were in honor of Apollo. Next, we see the temple of Apollo where the young priestess Pythia gave her prophecies. After seeing the site, we drive back to Athens for some free time in the late afternoon and evening. You may want to walk through modern Plaka for shopping and grab dinner on your own at a classic Greek restaurant. Of course, dinner awaits us also at the hotel as well, and our second overnight here in Greece’s capital city! We start the day by visiting the site of ancient Corinth. We will cross the famous Corinthian Canal to get there. Located in the Peloponnese of Greece, this was the once glorious city near the Isthmus where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla and spent a year and a half preaching the Word of God. We visit the Archaeological Museum, the Forum, the Temple of Apollo, the Roman forum and the famous Bema where Paul stood before Gallio, accused by the Jews of Corinth. About 30 minutes away is the site of Mycenae, the legendary city rival of Troy, and described by Homer as “Mycenae rich in Gold.” This city dates back to the late Bronze Age, and is famous for the “beehive” Tomb of Agamemnon (Treasury of Atreus) and the gold masks. On the way back to Athens, we will pass by Cenchreae, the little harbor from which Paul sailed back to Asia, thus ending his second missionary journey. We arrive back to our hotel in Athens for dinner and a free night. We spend our last day here in Greece on the Aegean Sea to get a relaxing taste of Greek island life. We board a small ferry ship and visit the islands of Aegina, Poros, and Hydra. These islands are spectacularly beautiful! The quaint port free excursions provide a picturesque opportunity to experience a close-up taste of Greek culture, food, and shopping. On board the ship we enjoy lunch and folklore dances from various regions of Greece. We return to our hotel in Athens for dinner and overnight. We wake up early for our morning flight back to the U.S. Upon arrival, we go through normal passport customs and board our connecting flights home.