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Day 6 - Tuesday 22nd November

Dead Sea, Masada, Camel riding, Bedouins

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This morning my roommate and I got up early to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea from our hotel window. It was a good start to the day! The big orange, burning desert sun was a sight to be seen!

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After another very big breakfast we jumped on the bus to head to Masada. Masada is a rock fortress to the west of the Dead Sea. This was a site used as a fortress by Herod in 40BC. The site rises 470 meters above the Dead Sea, with cliffs around the side – perfect for protection from enemies.1

Although not mentioned in the Bible, Masada can give us an insight into how Herod would have lived around the time of Jesus. We can see his rule and power throughout Israel. This site is no different. It is extravagent. As we rose up the mountain in a cable car, it became clear why this place was chosen. It was high, visability was good and it was hard for the enemies to scale the cliffs.

The photo on the right shows an ancient sauna. The heat would rise up through the pipes in the wall.

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A highlight for me was going down into the underground cistern. It took about 100 steps to get down to, and into a massive cave like hole in the ground. The beams of light from the roof looked cool! We also saw his bathing area, houses and synagogue. The view from the top of the mountain was fantastic! We could see many kilometers of small desert mountains all around us.

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It was interesting to note that Herod probably didn’t spend a lot of time at this palace, it was more of a back up palace for him.

After leaving Masada, we headed to a Bedouin tent for lunch. We did camel riding. I haven’t ridden a camel since I fell off one in grade 2. It was a bit of a scary experience for me, but I’m glad I did it! A Bedouin spoke to us about their way of life. He said the 2 most important things to their lives is honour to other people, and hospitality to people. He spoke to us as we drank sweet tea and coffee, being looked after well just like they have done for thousands of years. It was a bit sad to hear that their tradition is dying out – their kids are going to normal schools, and they are settling a lot more permenantly than in the past. The man talking to us was clearly disappointed when explaining this situation. I don’t think he liked the fact that his sons enjoy facebook a lot more than spending time giving honour to his family!
We had meat, bread and rice. The meal was ok, not the tastiest I’ve had before though! We headed back on the bus to the hotel and enjoyed a spa, sauna and swim in the pool. A good day!

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1 A. Negev (ed), Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972) 196.

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Day 7 - Wednesday 23rd November

Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Tassels

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Thismorning we jumped on the bus, and headed south toward a monument beside the Dead Sea for Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:1-29). We drove past some tall mountains, which were 98% salt. It was hard to believe that these massive mountains were almost all salt because of the dust and dirt that was covering them. The monument was a pillar of salt, probably 30 meters high. Our tour guide explained that this was a memorial, not the actual pillar of salt mentioned in the Bible. Every time one of the memorial collapses, another is said to be Lot’s wife! It is also said that Soddom and Gammorah was around this area, however, this has not been established by archaeological evidence.

Going past and seeing all the salt also gave a new meaning to the passage when Jesus says ‘You are the salt of the Earth’ to his disciples. The people around Jesus really would have known what Jesus was talking about. People in his time would get limps of salt to use in their cooking. The salt hgives flavour and acts as a preservative, it is a very important thing and is readily available!

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We then jumped back on the bus and headed to Ein Gedi. This is the largest Oasis along the western shore of the Dead Sea. We went on a walk up the water, seeing a number of nice waterfalls. It certainly felt like an oasis out of the hot desert! There was green trees around, as well as ibex which lived arounf the springs. This site is Biblically significant for a few reasons. As a group we read 1 Samuel 24, where in a cave near these springs, David cut the corner off Saul’s robe. En Gedi is also mentioned in Song of Songs 1:14, where the poet compares his lover to a ‘cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi.’ It also indicates the fertility of the place. Ein Gedi has been continually occupied, and is also mentioned in Joshua 15:16, at the time of Solomon. It felt very refreshing to be in the place, to see life and vitality amongst such dead surrounds. It was very refreshing to be there.

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While we were there, our guide also taught us about the significance of the tassels of robes, the piece of robe that David cut off of Saul in the cave. This is a very important part of the robe, not just a piece attached to the end. Tassels are different lengths for fifferent families, and indicate status amongst the Jews. It is a symbol of your authority. When David cut off Saul’s tassels, he effectively cut off Saul’s authority. (verse). It can also be applied to the bleeding woman, who touches the end of Jesus’ cloak, probably his tassels; touching his authority. This added a new dimension to this story for me, as it was the first passage I’d ever preached on, and I didn’t come across this at all. It shows that there is aleays something new to learn! there is a picture of the tassels on this website.

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Day 8 - Thursday 24th November

Nazareth Village, Tel Megiddo, Sepphoris

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The first thing we did today was head to Nazareth Village. This relatively small site was set up in the mid 90s to help people understand the life of Jesus, and how he and his family would have lived. This was very different to all the other sites we have visited so far. Usually we have to try and reconstruct what might have happened on the site by just looking at a bunch of rocks. But this place had a reconstructed house, a synagogue, household furnishings and an experience of everyday Nazarene life. There were actors at each place acting out what might have been going on at the time. As I don’t have a fantastic imagination, this site for me was brilliant. It really helped me understand what it might have been like growing up in Nazareth.

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The guide said that when preparing the site, they unearthed a First Century wine press, the only one of its kind found in the area. It is highly likely, he said, that Jesus knew of this and would have been around that area. In the first Century he said the population of Nazareth would have only been about 4-500 people.

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On the site there was also a reconstruction of the Cross and the tomb Jesus was buried in. I think in my mind these things had been a lot bigger than they actually were. Children’s storyteller Bibles don’t always paint an accurate picture of First Century Judaism! The cross was probably only as tall as I was, and the tomb not much higher than my waist. It was mentioned that only the rich elite could afford round tombstones, and since Jesus had one, this confirmed the prophecy in Isaiah 53 – that Jesus was like a rich man.

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A reconstructed First Century Synagogue was an important part of this site. This would have been the kind of place where Jesus taught. Jesus would have discussed the last of the 7 texts read out in the Synagogue, giving the audience an opportunity to discuss the sermon once he had finished. This gave an opportunity for the Jews to make sure the teacher was not a heretic. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, and claimed to be the Messiah, the Jews thought he was a heretic and tried to push him off a cliff.

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Another significant thing which I saw on this site was a mud and wood roof which would have been the materials used to build a First Century roof. This added a whole new dimension to the story of the paralysed man who was lowered through the roof. It would have taken a lot of effort to tear a hole in a roof, and would have been tiresome for the owner to fix. This certainly was faith in action! The people who lowered the man had great faith that Jesus could heal the man, so much so they were willing to destroy someone’s roof for it.

This site was good since it was hard to picture what first century Nazareth might have been like. It is a lot more modern now, a lot bigger, and houses built over all the historical ruins. This is a bit sad! Its current population is over 60,000 Israli Arabs.

While in Nazareth, we visited the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation. While there was lots of good artwork from a number of countries, this place didn’t really inspire me very much. It is built upon what is believed to be the place there the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would bear the Saviour. It was a little disappointing we couldn’t really see the actual site.

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After Nazareth, we headed to Tel Megiddo. This place has been built, destroyed and rebuilt 25 times in human history. According to Revelation 16:12-16, it may not be finished with yet either! It is said that this is where the final battle will take place between satan and Jesus.

There were a few interesting things we saw at this site. One was the Gate built by King Solomon, as described in 1 Kings 9:15. The other was a rather large alter, which has been rebuilt a number of different times for a number of different gods. We also saw a number of mangers. Our guide pointed out that even in Jesus’ day, mangers would have been made out of stone, not rock. This was something I did not know! The ones we say were about waist height. I didn’t fit inside it.

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Our final site for the day was Sepphoris. Herod Antipas decided this place would be the capital of his government in 4 BC, until Tiberias was built in 19AD. Although not mentioned in the Bible, it had a number of interesting things in it. There were some fantastic mosaics, which gave an insight into the period. The Nile Mosaic was particually impressive. It is of an Egyptian style, probably built between 1st Century BC – 1st Century AD. Some Scholars believe that Joseph and Jesus may have helped build this city, as it would have commenced building around 4 AD. However, this is not certain.

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Day 9 - Friday 25th November

Arbel Caves, Sea of Galilee, Church of Beatitudes, Church of Multiplication, Church of the Primacy of St Peter, Caperenaum, Gerasenes

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This morning we set off to see the Arbel Caves. Our tour guide pointed out that this area was not a peaceful region – the people living in the caves would hide there and mug pilgrims as they went past. They would spend their days in the caves making weapons for war against the Romans, for the Jewish Revolt in 67AD. The Jews who lived in these caves avoided paying tax to the Romans since paying a tax would admit they are under the authority of the Romans. These Jews were called the Sicanante Jews. Our tour guide suggested that the two robbers either side of Jesus when he was crucified may have been these types of Jews since they opposed Roman authority and would have been crucified for that, not for robbery. Several thousand people lived here. Photos of the area are available here.

After seeing the caves we had a cruise on the Sea of Galilee. This was fantastic. They stopped the engines, and we read Mark 4:35-41, and prayed. It was amazing to be on the water in which so many miracles have taken place.

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After the Sea of Galilee we headed to a number of churches which commemorate some of the miracles in Jesus’ early ministry. They were;

Church of Beatitudes

This church commemorated Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6). It was interesting to note that this site looks over the anti Roman activities in the Arbel caves, when Jesus says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ It is likely that this was the spot of the Sermon on the Mount since the mountain we were on provided good amplification. This is just about the only evidnce of this though. Jesus sat down and gave the sermon – this is very important to note as when teachers sat down, people would take particular notice and memorise the seated sayings of Jesus. The church there was run by the Francistene Sisters of St Claire.

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Church of Multiplication

This Church commemorates the multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes in Mark 6:33-44. There was a substantial Bzyantine mosaic on the floor of the church, and near the alter is a picture of 4 loaves and two fishes. It is unlikely that this was the site of this miracle though since the Bible says that it took place in a remote place next to Bethsaida. While the mosaic was nice, I didn’t take a lot from this site. It makes me a bit uncomfortable when the churches build things to commemorate miracles when they’re not even certain that’s where it happened. I also wonder what the point of having massive churches over historical sites is.

Church of the Primacy of St Peter

Traditionally, this is known as the place where Jesus prepared breakfast for his disciples in John 21:9. This church had the rock they believed Jesus prepared this meal. Again, I was a little skeptical of whether that was the exact same rock. After going inside the chapel we wandered down to the shore of the Sea of Gailillee. I found this a lot more meaningful. To be standing on the rocks so close to the water. He we read John 21 together. Hannaniah talked about the significance of the number 3 in the passage. He said that traditionally it means that something is continuously happening. So when Jesus asks Peter 3 times whether he loves him, it is likely he was asking him over and over again! Its these small things which I’m learning that have a big impact on me and my understanding of the Bible.

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Fish for lunch

After visiting these three churches we went to St Peter’s restraunt and had fish for lunch form the Sea of Galilee. I’m not a great fan of fish, but decided to try it anyway while I’m here. I also wanted to experience what it might have been like to be eating fish from such a biblically famous sea. It wasn’t the most amazing fish I’d ever tasted but glad I did it! It would have been a very common food in Jesus’ day.

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Caperenaum

We headed to Caperenaum, the site of a number of biblical stories. We saw a Franscian Church built over the remains of Peter’s Mother in law’s house. It is a bit disappointing this has been built here, it looks rather like a space ship. It was good though that we could get a view of the house from inside the church (a glass floor) and look at it from the side, underneath the church. It was good to see this First Century house of worship for Jesus. It was interesting how it had been expanded over the years to make room for all the people. Archeologists have found 11 layers of flooring. Each time it was extended a new floor was layed. Here we read Mark Chapter 2. Peter, Andrew, James and John lived in the village too. As did Jairus and the Centurian, friends of Jesus. This would have provided him with protection when things got dangerous.

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At this site we also saw the synagogue where Jesus gave a sermon on the bread of life (John 6:35-39). This was a large synagogue which has been well preserved. Caperenaum was the home of Jesus during his ministry (Matthew 4:13).

Gerasenes

The bus then pulled over to the region of the Gerasenes, the likely location of the healing of the demon possessed man in Luke 8:28-38. We stood by the side of this mountain and watched the sun set. It was a hilly area, which makes sense when the swine ran down the hill and into the sea. Hannaniah pointed out how much Jesus cared for and loved the naked demon possessed man. He was told to stay in his own city, and he was clothed, possible by Jesus. He also talked about the fact that domesticated swine can’t swim, but wild ones could.

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Day 10 - Saturday 26th November

Golan Heights, Ceserea Philipi, Tel Dan

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This morning we set off and drove through the Golan Heights. This area was known for its cattle and oak trees in biblical times (Deut 3:1-11, Josh 20:8).1

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Our first stop was a place called Gamla. This is where a lot of Zealots lived in the First Century, with a population of about 15,000 people. One of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot. In the war of 67AD, the city was destroyed, where 5000 of the zealot jumped from the caves to their deaths, since they believed death was better than being a slave to the Romans. It is hard for me to imagine how this must have felt for them. When we live in such a peaceful country we are really blessed! To be under the rule of people you hate so much must've been truly awful.

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Our next stop was Caesarea Philipi. It was possible that in this area, the great confession happened. (Matthew 16:13). Some also argue that the transfiguration happened in this area too, since just before this event, Jesus was in Ceserea Philipi. The text says he took them to a ‘mountain apart.’ This was a real turning point in the gospels, from this point onwards then it was time for Jesus to suffer in Jerusalem.

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We then headed to Tel Dan. Tel Dan is the largest of the four sources of the Jordan river - you could tell water has had an effect on this place! This was like a lush forest area - it was full of trees - pistachios, chestnuts, and bay trees. On this site there was a reconstructed pagan alter - the one that Jeroboam constructed for the golden calf at Dan (1 Kings 12).

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1 Ridley College, Israel and Jordan Tour Handbook, unpublished, 2011.

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