A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 1 - Thursday 17th November

Jordan, Jerash, Jabbok River


As we flew into Jordan this morning, it suddenly struck me that we were actually in the Middle East. As the plane lowered through the clouds and as I looked out the window, I could see nothing but sandy desert for miles and miles. No trees. No water. Just dirt. Yellow sand. Its a vast difference to growing up in a place where water is plentiful, where the trees are green and there is colour all through the landscape.

It struck me that this was the kind of land that Moses and the Israelites had wandered around in for 40 years. No wonder they complained. There’s nothing there. No food. No water. No trees. Without God providing for them every step of the way they would have been dead. When we live in a country where everything is so readily available its hard to remember that God is actually the one who provides everything for us. Not water corporations or McDonald's. But God.


After getting our visas stamped in the airport, we jumped on the bus to visit Jerash. Although not a place of Biblical significance, the Graceo-Roman city was quite impressive:


The most significant thing for me today was crossing over and seeing the Jabbok River. It was the first Biblical site we saw. Although only a fleeting moment in the day, just passing through on a bus, to be able to see the vicinity in which this event happened amazed me. I could just imagine Jacob sending his wives, maidservants, sons, and possessions across the stream. I could imagine it being a terrifying night for Jacob as he wrestled with the man until daybreak (Genesis 32:22-33).


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Day 2 - Friday 18th November



Our entire day today was spent at Petra, an ancient city built as the capital for the Nabataeans, It was an amazing place!


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Day 3 - Saturday 19th November

Amman, Mount Nebo, Jordan River, Qumran


After a very early start this morning, we spent an hour driving around the city of Amman, the capital of Jordan. This helped us understand a little more about modern day Jordan, the industries and what they do for leisure. I was surprised to hear of their very high tertiary education rate, even though we saw a lot of children on the streets not going to school and evident poverty.

We then headed to the Byzantine Church of St George to see the Madaba Map. This mosaic map is the earliest surviving map of Israel.


On our way to Israel, we stopped at Mount Nebo. This is the place where Moses saw the promised land before he died (Deut 34:1-6). At first it was very foggy and hard to see any of the view. This was a bit disappointing, because we were told that the view was amazing! After about half an hour though, the fog cleared up and we were able to see the most spectacular view of the promised land. It must have been an amazing sight for Moses to stand on top of this mountain to see what God had promised him and his people. From the top of Mt Nebo, you could see plenty of water, too. An exciting sight to see after being in the desert for so long. Its sad that Moses never even got to step foot in the promised land.


We got back on the bus and crossed through the boarder from Jordan to Israel. This process was a little intimidating, lots of people pushing and shoving in lines. It all seemed very disorganised. I wasn't sure that I trusted the officials taking our passports off us for a period of time! But it all turned out fine.

Once we got through the boarder, we began to head to the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, we made a slight detour and visited the newly opened site of where it is believed Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River. While we were there, we read aloud Mark’s account of the baptism. This was very emotional for me. To be standing in the likely place where Jesus was baptised struck me as something really special. To wade my hand through the water of the Jordan River made it so real. It brought the passage to life. Our tour guide emphasised that this place where Jesus’ public ministry began was just a humble, everyday part of the land. And this is the kind of God we serve. One who came to our land, and get involved in our lives. Praise God! It would’ve been great to spend more time at the river, but we had to press on.


We headed to Khirbet Qumran, on the Northwest shore of the Dead Sea. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956. This site is particularly significant to the Bible since it contained the earliest scripts of parts of the Old Testament ever discovered. We were able to look at the rock faces, into the caves, and see how the Scrolls were stored in the caves to be protected.


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Day 4 - Sunday 20th November

Avdat, Wadi Avdat, Elah Valley


Today we journeyed South towards Avdat. On our way down, we passed a Bedouin settlement. The Bedouin are the traditional people of the land, they roam around the land. There is currently a program in Israel to help the nomadic people settle. They are Muslims, and are full Israeli citizens.

Avdat was a road station for caravans established by the Nabateans. It was the Nabateans who controlled Damascas when Paul travelled there (2 Corinthians 11), so this site can give an insight into those people. In biblical times the Nabateans controlled the spice route between Arabia and the Medeteranian. Avdat is a Negev city which is two thousand feet above sea level along the main desert road from Petra to Gaza.1 It was interesting to note that the settlement at Avdat became useless when trade routes changed. When the Caravans no longer came through the site, they tried to attract tourists by building beautiful churches. We walked through these churches, as well as through the caves on the mountainside. It was interesting to imagine what life living in a cave would have been like, it was a lot less cold than I was expecting!


After leaving Avdat, we got on the bus for a short trip down to Wadi Avdat. This was a massive canyon with a small amount of water in the bottom. The birds flying through the canyon made for a spectacular sight! Springs of water emerge from the layers of the rocks. When rain falls, the water permeates the rocks. The water evaporates, leaving salt, while some water gets trapped. When the rock gets struck, water can flow out of the rocks. This is how the Bedouins found water in the desert. Although not the same location, this is likely to be what happened when Moses was commanded to strike a rock for water to come out for the Israelites to drink in Exodus 17. Visiting this site really deepened my understanding of this passage, helping me understand how it was possible for the water to come out of the rocks. I don’t think it diminishes the significance of the miracle though, since it still happened when God said it would happen. God made it work, not Moses.


The highlight of my day was visiting the probable place of the David and Goliath battle, in the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17). This was a favourite story of mine growing up as a kid. We were able to see the two mountains where the Philistines and the Israelites stood on. The mountains were a lot smaller and closer than I was expecting. The sides were steep and rocky, perfect to look for stones to load up a sling shot!


1 W. Zanger, 'Avdat of the Nabateens,' Biblical Archeology Review 25(1999) 68.

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Day 5 - Monday 21st November

Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, Arad


This morning we spent a short time at Ashkelon. Ashkelon is a large city, firstly built by the Canaanites. In about 1200BC, the Philistines took over it. It was one of the five main Philistine centers in Israel (1 Samuel 6:4, 16). Being one of their main centres, and the fact that they were good at ironworking made them a tough enemy for God's people.1 It was the Philistines who stole the Ark of the Covenant. It is also Biblically significant because of the story in Judges 14:10-19. In this story, Samson killed 30 men from Ashkelon to pay for a wager he had lost. When Saul and Jonathan died, David asked the news be sent to Ashkelon (2 Sam 1:17-20).

Ashkelon was destroyed by the Babalyonians, rebuilt by Herod the Great, re-fortified by the Crusaders, and captured by Saladin. The historic site of the city is currently a park, where locals can come out and enjoy a picnic.


We also visited Tel Be'er Sheva, a walled Israelite city, first built in the 6th Century BC. This place was mentioned a number of times in the Bible, most significantly in Genesis 21:22-34, where Abraham and Abimelech made a treaty. God appeared to Isaac at this place (Gen 26:23-25). This photo below shows the rooms, casemate walls, gate and storehouses. These things signify the fact that Be'er Sheva's principal economic activity would have been agricultural - hunting, stock raising, and garden husbandry.2

At the entrance of the Be'er Sheva site, there was a reconstructed OT alter with horns on each of the corners. I learnt that the ‘horns’ were not animal horns, but constructed of stone. This makes more sense when reading passages like 1 Kings 2:13-46:


This room is at the Gate of Be'er Sheva. I found it interesting to note that a ‘Gate’ is not actually a gate as we know it today, it is a series of rooms at the entrance of the City. This photo shows the Bench where the judge sat. We still use the term ‘Bench’ for where the judge sits in a court. It is where public transactions took place.


The city needed access to water, so access to water was built within the city to protect it from outsiders. Women would have entered down these stairs, gone through the tunnel at the bottom, and accessed the water. Then they could carry it back up to their house. When water is offered to a person, it is a great gift since it took so much effort to obtain.


We then headed to Tel Arad, an Israelite city settled for its geographical location. In the site, archeologists discovered a temple, which was used for a number of centuries during the Divided Monarchy. It is a replica of the taberncle, with the same measurements. In Deuteronomy 12, Moses forbade any places of worship outside Jerusalem. This picture depicts the alter in the temple. It was a lot smaller than I was expecting! Some have argued that two stones and two alters suggest that 2 different gods were worshipped here. This is debatable though.


1 W. Dever, J. Seger, The Holy Land (London, Caxton Publishing Group, 2006) 70.
2 M. Avi-Yonah, A History of Israel and the Holy Land (London, Continuum Publishing Group, 2001) 34.

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