Desert Safari

After a week of 4 AM breakfasts we returned to a more relaxed schedule. We walked to the Grand Court Hotel for our pickup bus and transferred to a meeting place at the Mount of Olives overlook. We found our bus 14 and rode down, down, to sea level, and down, down, some more.

At Kahlia Beach on the Dead Sea we met our Bedouin guide Ali. We embarked on a desert safari advertised as for “the more adventurous.”

Ali first took us to a high cliff overlooking the Dead Sea. The air was hazy with dust and some humidity. Ali said it may be from a storm in the Sahara or somewhere. This kind of weather is hard on people with asthma.

We took the 4×4 Toyota deep into a nature reserve in the Judean wilderness. Ali has a wealth of knowledge of the desert plants and animals. He also has a great sense of humor, mentioning something about getting lost in the wilderness for forty years. Easing the Toyota across boulders in a washed out part of the trail, he said not to worry, it’s his wife’s car

He found a bit if shade under a cliff and served us watermelon and cookies.

Then we went looking for scorpions.

This tree he said is a Bedouin forest. It’s actually a thorn tree, maybe like the one used for Jesus’ crown of thorns.

We finished the day with a float in the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth.


Galilee Tour

We arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon, June 24. We took a taxi to our hostel, the Florentin House. The main purpose of our trip is to participate in the archaeological dig at Tel Megiddo. Participants are Andrew, Caleb, and Collin. We had an extra day planned to allow for a Covid test and isolation. Fortunately, that is no longer required in Israel. So we booked a day tour to Galilee for Saturday.

Mount Arbel, across the Galilee

We stopped at a number of Biblical sites, mostly the traditional locations marked by churches built long ago. Tabgha commemorates both the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the fourth post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. Here we could go to the shore, touch Galilee, and enjoy the view, including Mount Arbel across the water.

House of Peter

We visited Capernaum. The site known as the House of Peter has a new church building constructed over the old. It is believed that Christians used this house as a place of meeting during times of persecution. Later, an octagonal church was build around the house.

In the fourth century synagogue a worship service was taking place. It was quite different than the worship style of the Franciscans who own this place.

After circumnavigating the entire Sea of Galilee we visited the traditional Yardenit Baptismal Site.

In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation is unusual in that it is both a basilica style and octagonal structure.

We had an enjoyable day, met some fellow travelers, and learned a lot from our tour guide. His Jewish perspective on the Christian stories added an intriguing flavor to the tour.

The bus dropped us off at Megiddo Junction, and Matt, a director of the dig, picked us up. We’re looking forward to learning more about Megiddo and archaeology over the next few days.


Remembering Shavuot, or Pentecost

The people of Israel observe the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot. It has the dual significance of marking the wheat harvest in the land of Israel and commemorating the giving of the Torah on Sinai. The “Weeks” has to do with counting the seven weeks after Passover. It is sometimes described as the eighth day of Passover.

The New Testament refers to Shavuot as Pentecost. It is the fiftieth day after Passover, which makes it 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension.

Acts 2 describes the events of the day of first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were “all with one accord in one place.” Being a celebration day, that “one place” would likely have been the temple. The expansive steps at the southern entrance were used as a gathering place, and a teaching place. It would make sense that this was the location of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon.

Rabbis would teach their disciples on the steps outside the temple.

The many mikvahs (ritual baths) around the temple could have provided water for baptizing 3,000 new believers.

Inside a mikvah. Steps on one side for entering, before cleansing, and the other side for exiting after being purified in the water.

Just as the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai finalized Israel’s redemption from Egypt, so the giving of the Holy Spirit on Mount Zion inaugurated the New Covenant. The wind and the fire are symbolic of God’s presence, just as the pillar of smoke and the pillar of fire showed God’s presence in the wilderness.

Meditating on the significance of what happened here.

I’m thankful, this Pentecost, for the Comforter, the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit.

Standing barefoot on an original southern step, imagining Jesus walking here.

The Ascension

After the resurrection, Jesus visited with His disciples a number of times. On one of those occasions, they were in Galilee in a mountain that Jesus had appointed for them. That’s a subject for another post. Acts 1:3 says He appeared to them during forty days…speaking about the kingdom of God. On the last day He was with them, Jesus said, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Then He led them out of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives.

Here we’re walking through the Kidron Valley, with Jerusalem in back of us, looking up toward the Mount of Olives.

Jesus told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Outside the Eastern Gate, looking toward the Mount of Olives.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Two men in white robes appeared, and told them, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”


Passover and Gethsemane

Jesus and His disciples gathered in an upper room for the Passover meal. Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him. He shared bread and wine with them, telling them it was His body and His blood. Did they understand that Jesus would become the Passover Lamb, the sacrifice? He told them He was giving them a kingdom. I wonder what the disciples were thinking, as they crossed over the Kidron Valley and went up on the Mount of Olives.

The Kidron Valley lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Here you can see terraces and olive trees.

On the Mount of Olives, in a place called Gethsemane, Jesus spent time praying to His Father. The name “Gethsemane” comes from the Hebrew word for “olive press.” Maybe the place He was accustomed to going to on Olivet was a grove of olive trees, with an olive press.

This is a set of stones from an olive press. After the olives were crushed by the stones, they were placed in bags, and pressed.

Jesus wrestled with accepting the cup that was His to drink. What emotions did He experience, what pressing? It was so much that He sweat drops of blood. How did the angel strengthen Him?

A grove of ancient olive trees on the Mount of Olives

I find it overwhelming, and impossible to really grasp, what all Jesus went through, for me.


Palm Sunday Musings

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This account of our Lord is recorded in all four gospels. Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, gave instructions to two of His disciples to bring a colt for Him to ride. Zechariah prophesied of this in Zechariah 9:9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.

From the Mount of Olives, looking over the Jewish cemetery and the Kidron Valley, to Temple Mount, and the Old City.

Jesus’ riding a donkey that day, and not a horse, shows Him as the Prince of Peace. John, in Revelation, depicts Jesus riding on a white horse, as a conquering King.
The Palm Sunday road follows closely along the side of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. A high wall protects travelers from accidentally becoming unclean by touching the graves. The road is quite steep; wear good shoes.

Walking down the Palm Sunday road, with the Jewish cemetery on the left.

As Jesus rode toward the city, people threw their garments, and palm branches, on the road in front of Him. They shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!” from Psalm 118.

The traditional site of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem is the Dominus Flevit Church, built in the shape of a tear-drop. Luke, in his detailed, chronological style, gives the account of Jesus drawing near to the City of Jerusalem, and weeping as He saw what would happen to it. Jesus prophesied of a time the city would be surrounded by enemies, and destroyed. The Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD.

It is believed that Jesus entered the city through the Eastern Gate. Other names for this gate are Mercy Gate, and Golden Gate. The current Eastern Gate has been closed for the past 500 years. Since the Jewish belief is that their Messiah will enter the city through the Eastern Gate, Suleiman the Magnificent had it blocked in 1541. The Muslim cemetery outside the gate is to ensure the Messiah will not be clean if he does make it to the gate.

The Eastern Gate, also known as Mercy Gate, and Golden Gate.

Walking down the Palm Sunday road, past the entrance to Dominus Flevit Church, past the Garden of Gethsemane, and toward the city, you can enter through the Lion’s Gate, into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

The Lion’s Gate

If you’re interested in learning more about Jerusalem, the land of Israel, and the time Jesus lived there, we invite you to travel with our tour group in November.


The Shuk

While in Jerusalem, we visited the Mehane Yehuda Market, also known as “The Shuk” (rhymes with shoot). There is such a variety of local produce, and loads of other products. The dates were our favorite. We’re hosting a tour to Israel in November. Let us know if you’re interested. 😀


Here’s the Itinerary!

Our Israel study trip, focusing on the life and time of Jesus, is planned for November 5 to 17, 2020. We are taking reservations now. Contact if you’d like to go!

Travel with us through the Land of the Bible, from the Mediterranean coast to the Negev desert, from the Judean wilderness to the Sea of Galilee. We will visit the lowest spot on earth, the Dead Sea, and the most-contested site, Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The itinerary, God willing, will look something like this:

Thu, Nov 5 (Day 1) We meet at Newark International Airport. The most important thing to bring along is your passport.

Fri, Nov 6 (Day 2) Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Time permitting, we visit Elah Valley and other historic sites. Our bus takes us to our hotel at the Dead Sea. We enjoy a buffet meal and learn to know some of our fellow travelers. Then it’s time to rest from the trip.

Sat, Nov 7 (Day 3) Visiting Old Testament sites in the Negev, we consider God’s covenants with Abraham and the people of Israel. Tel Be’er Sheva, Ein Advat (Wadi Zin), Tel Arad, and Fountain of Tears are on the agenda. We’ll do some hiking in the desert. A stream in the desert and water from the cliff face remind us of God’s provisions for His people. Then it’s back to our hotel for dinner and rest. Maybe a float in the Dead Sea.

Sun, Nov 8 (Day 4) Today we see Masada, Herod the Great’s magnificent fortress palace in the Judean wilderness, and site of the Zealots’ last stand in 73 AD. The oasis of Ein Gedi, spring of the goats, was a hiding place for David. The goats and the spring are still there today. We think of God’s covenant with David. The covenants find their fulfillment in Jesus. Beit She’an is a study in contrasts. We travel north towards the Galilee for our hotel and dinner.

Mon, Nov 9 (Day 5) Nazareth Village is reconstructed to what Jesus’ home town may have looked like. We visit Mount Arbel, with its magnificent view of the lake. Then on to Capernaum, thinking of the time of Jesus, and the dawn of the New Covenant.

Tue, Nov 10 (Day 6) A visit to Galilee isn’t complete without a boat ride on the Sea. Back on land, we visit Magdala, with a synagogue from Jesus’ time. Bethsaida, and the Jordan River. Then dinner, and an evening shopping on the Tiberias boardwalk.

Wed, Nov 11 (Day 7) We travel north of Galilee, to the site of ancient Dan. We see Caesarea Philippi, and the “gates of hell.” A Druze village would be a great place for lunch. Perhaps we’ll visit a few other northern sites, such as Golan Heights and Katzrin, if we have time. Then it’s back to our hotel by Galilee for dinner and rest.

Thu, Nov 12 (Day 8) Leaving Galilee, we’re now going “up to Jerusalem.” Today’s sites may include Megiddo, an ancient strategic city, Mount Carmel, where Elijah faced the hundreds of prophets of Baal, and Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast. In Jerusalem, maybe we’ll have some shopping time in the Mahane Yehuda Market.

Fri, Nov 13 (Day 9)             We’ll want to visit some Old City locations today. The Hurva Synagogue with its wrap-around walkway gives a panoramic view of the sights. We must visit the Old City markets and the Western Wall. Perhaps we’ll get to the Eastern Gate, blocked shut for the last five centuries to prevent the Messiah’s entering Jerusalem. Then we enjoy a Shabbat meal hosted by an Orthodox couple.

Sat, Nov 14 (Day 10) The Israel Museum has a miniature Old City model. The Shrine of the Book commemorates the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls. We visit the Mount of Olives and admire the view of the City. We think of Jesus standing here and weeping over Jerusalem. We follow the Palm Sunday road. We visit a garden with ancient olive trees and consider Jesus and His Gethsemane. The Garden Tomb, and the place of the skull, are just outside the Old City. We see the markets come back to life after sundown, when Sabbath ends.

Sun, Nov 15 (Day 11) On Temple Mount, we mingle with the Muslims, and perhaps the Temple Faithful Jews. Any non-Muslim worship and prayer is forbidden here. This is Mount Moriah, the threshing floor purchased by David. It is the site of Solomon’s Temple, and of the second temple. We visit the City of David, and walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We see the site of the Siloam Pool, and the Pilgrimage road that took many an eager traveler up to the Temple. Back at Temple Mount, in the Davidson Center, we see the huge stones, thrown from the wall in 70 AD, still lying where they fell. At the southern steps of the temple, we’ll think about the events that took place there.

Mon, Nov 16 (Day 12) Time permitting, we visit more historic locations on our bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Back at Ben Gurion Airport, we’re glad it happened, and maybe sad that it’s over.

Tue, Nov 17 (Day 13) Flying west to Newark, we gain back the seven hours we lost. We say our goodbyes, but we have memories for a lifetime.


Israel Trip

Have you been thinking of visiting the land of the Bible?

We have more details on our upcoming Israel study trip. The dates are November 5 to 17, 2020. Flying direct from Newark to Tel Aviv makes the travel time as short as possible. We will have 4-star hotels with buffet breakfast and dinner, our own deluxe motor coach, and a certified tour guide.

We will be focusing on the life and times of Jesus. The itinerary (always subject to change) includes:

  • Negev Desert
  • Tel Arad
  • Tel Beersheva
  • Wadi Zin
  • Dead Sea
  • Masada, fortress palace
  • Ein Gedi, spring of the goats
  • Nazareth Village
  • Sea of Galilee, boat ride
  • Mount Arbel
  • Magdala, synagogue
  • Tel Dan
  • Caesarea Philippi
  • Druze village
  • Golan Heights
  • Katzrin
  • Jerusalem
  • Megiddo
  • Mount Carmel
  • Caesarea Marittima
  • Old City Jerusalem
  • Hurva Synagogue
  • Western Wall
  • Eastern Gate
  • Shabbat meal
  • Israel Museum
  • Miniature Old City model
  • Shrine of the Book
  • Mount of Olives
  • Garden Tomb
  • Place of the Skull
  • Temple Mount
  • Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  • Siloam Pool
  • Pilgrimage Road
  • Temple Southern Steps

Zion Gate

One of the gates entering the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is Zion Gate. Just outside Zion Gate is Mount Zion, and King David’s Tomb. The gate has several other names, including King David’s Gate, the Gate of the Jews, and the Wounded Gate. It is pock-marked with hundreds of bullet holes from the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. Israeli forces outside the city were firing on the Jordanian forces that held the gate. While the Israeli forces were able to enter, they were driven back, and the city remained under Jordanian control until 1967. The gate remained closed during that time.

One of the notable features of Zion Gate is the beautiful mosaic design in the pavement just outside the city wall.

The University of North Carolina has an archaeological excavation site just outside from Zion Gate. In 2019 they discovered a layer dating to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC.