Israel Trip Journal- Day 4: Jericho, Nazareth, River Jordan, Tiberias

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
Leaving Jerusalem
We ate breakfast bright and early, then left the city of Jerusalem for the last time. As you leave Jerusalem, you cross over the Judean Mountains and into The Wilderness (Matthew 4:1). We were headed to Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is the dangerous one that Jesus was referring to when He told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-35). This road was infamous as an unsafe route for travelers due to the number of bandits along it. It was amusing to see a motel called the Samaritan Inn as we drove down what  is now called Hwy 1.

Jericho

The Sycamore Tree that Zaccheaus climbed

Like Bethlehem, Jericho is currently under independent Palestinian rule and is part of the West Bank. The majority are Muslim, but there are some Christians– about 500. Our initial destination was to find an ATM in town because we wanted one that gave out dollars. On our way through town and out to the Jericho tell, we passed the Sycamore Tree that Zacchaeus climbed in Luke 19:1-8. It stands in the courtyard of a Greek Orthodox Church; even if it is not the tree, it is a very large and very old tree. We stopped only briefly to take pictures of it from within the bus.

We then drove on to a shopping center owned by Christian Arabs. There were all manner of Catholic trinkets, souvenir items and Dead Sea beauty products at this tourist mall. There were also many wonderful spices, nuts and fruit to buy. The fruit here is so juicy and sweet. The bananas are small but so good. Also, pomelos– a sweet kind of grapefruit. I hate grapefruit, but the pomelos that the shopkeeper gave Wanda Jean and I samples of were delicious. Wanda Jean decided to buy a few cases of these and other delicious fruit for our group to eat later at the Baptist Village. I am not a big fruit eater, but realize after this trip, that it may be that fruit in the US just isn’t as tasty as it is here.

Besides inexpensive spices and fruit, the shopkeeper (David, who with his wife has 17 kiddos) talked me into buying date honey. He assured me that I could not buy date honey anywhere else. I am not sure if he meant anywhere other than Jericho, or anywhere other than Israel. Actually, until recently, some scholars believed that the phrase ‘land flowing with milk and honey,’ referred to date honey– also called Silan. I thought that was an odd assumption considering the story of Samson’s riddle to the Philistines (Judges 14) and numerous references to honeycomb in the Old Testament.

Dates are very plentiful  in the Jordan Valley though. There are so many date palm trees, it’s no wonder Jericho is referred to as the City of Palms in the Bible (2 Chronicles 28:15). However, the recent discovery of an ancient apiary (bee hive colony) from the 10th century has changed this thinking. In an effort to see if I could find date honey here in the US, I came across this recipe for it. And it turns out that it is quite difficult to find it here.

When we finished shopping, we stowed our things on the bus and walked across the parking lot to the excavations of tell Jericho. Next to the entrance to the tell is an amusement park called Banana Land. Banana Land is the only water park in the West Bank. I really wish we could have gone inside, it sounded like a lot of fun. I found an amusing tongue-in-cheek story about Banana Land on another blogger’s site.

Jericho, also called Tell es-Sultan, is the oldest continually occupied city in the world. Elisha Spring Founatin (pictured above) is so named because of a passage in the Bible. In 2 Kings 2:19-22, the men of Jericho come to the prophet and tell him that the water is bad. Elisha heals the water which, as the passages states, is “pure to this day.” We walked to the top of the tell and sat in a shaded place while Raouf explained to us the background and history of the place. As we listened,  we could see archaeologists working in the excavation site a few feet away from us. It reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’d never seen real archaeologists working at a real dig before!

Archaeologists at work

As Raouf mentioned, there is a curse on anyone who tries to rebuild the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:26). He recounted the historical event that took place 450 years after the walls fell: during the reign of King Ahab, Hiel of Bethel tried to rebuild the walls and brought a curse upon his family (I Kings 16:34). 

From where we sat listening to Raouf, we could see a high mountain to the west, called the Mount of Temptation, which by tradition is where Jesus was tempted by Satan during His time in the Wilderness (Matt. 4:8). However, the exact location is undetermined. There is also a monastery here, the Monastery of Temptation. It is owned by the Orthodox Christian Church of Jerusalem, and as part of the West Bank, it is under Palestinian National Authority.

Mount of Temptation

Many Bible accounts are often contested by non-Christians as being simply allegorical, so I wanted to see what archaeological evidence had been obtained thus far concerning the Battle of Jericho. I found a very informative article here about how renowned British archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon had originally denied the truth of the biblical account.

However, it was later discovered that she misdated her findings and there was indeed such an event. This website even shows how the city walls were fortified– I have come to realize that all the pictures we grew up seeing in Sunday School are vastly over-simplified renditions of Jericho’s fortification system. It was nothing like it is traditionally depicted.

Excavations of Tell es-Sultan

After taking pictures of the various digs, we went back to the shopping center where the bus was and looked around the shops there one last time. We then continued north towards the Jordan Valley.

Jordan Valley

As we descended into the Jordan Valley, the views were ever greener and more beautiful. It literally looks like an oasis in many areas. Near where the Jordan Valley intersects with the Jezreel Valley, we saw the Gilboa Mountains where Saul had his last battle (1 Samuel 31:1-13).

On to Nazareth

We tried to stop at Kibbutz Mizrah where they serve ‘kosher’ pork, but it was closed for maintenance. The way they ‘get around’ the dietary restrictions of pork being unkosher, is by keeping the pigs on pallets. We all found this very amusing. We were so looking forward to eating meat. There had not been many opportunities for meat since arriving in Israel. I would imagine that vegans and vegetarians would find the vast assortment of non-meat dishes an exciting departure from the typical American carnivorous menu.

Thus, we had to drive further north towards Nazareth to find a place to eat lunch. We found a great place to eat at reasonable prices (compared to all the places we had eaten before). It had a shopping center, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Office Max and even an Ace Hardware. We passed an outlet mall that looked like we were in the US. Actually, all of this part of Israel, near Nazareth, looks like any modern US city.

We were so excited to be able to have some new choices for lunch, especially choices that included meat other than a sesame encrusted chicken breast in a pita. All the merchants at this mall were very friendly and gracious. I expected that being non-Muslim we might not be welcome. However, this town is right on the outskirts of Nazareth which has the highest concentration of Palestinian Arab Christians in Israel.
‘Two scoop’ ice cream treat

There was a small food court, so most of our party ate McDonald’s or Mediterranean food. My sister, daughter and I decided to share a pizza from Pizza Hut with my mother-in-law and her friend. There was a wonderful little ice cream shop next to the McDonald’s, where we got some creamy, delicious ice cream. As with everyone in and around Nazareth, the young man working at the ice cream shop was very friendly. He gave my teenaged daughter quite a bit more ice cream than she paid for, with all kinds of sprinkles and extra whipped topping. She was delighted!

‘Mary’s Well’
The Galilee- Nazareth

After lunch, we drove to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, not to be confused with the larger and better known Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation (also known as the Basilica of the Annunciation). The Roman Catholic basilica, which we did not visit, is the largest Christian church in the Middle East. Both churches are built on spots which by tradition Gabriel appeared to Mary.

The Greek Orthodox church is built over the spring where the Greek Orthodox Church believes Gabriel appeared to Mary; this spring feeds Mary’s Well. This Church is only a short distance (2000 ft) from the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is the well she would have frequented, but the Bible does not say Gabriel appeared here (Luke 1:26-38). Water from the spring still feeds into a subterranean grotto in the church. Visitors can have a taste, but I don’t think any of our group chose to do so. The interior of the church is covered with murals depicting the life of Jesus. As we left out of the church gates, we saw street vendors offering souvenirs for sale so my daughter bought some carved olive wood camels.

Mount Tabor and the Arab village of Iksal viewed from Mount Precipice
Jerzreel Valley – viewed from Mount Precipice

Our next stop was the Mount of Precipe. It offers incredible aerial views of Nazareth on the north side, and the Jezreel Valley on the south side. To the east is Mt. Tabor (Judges 4:14), to the right of it you can see Mt. Gilboa in the distance and to its right Mt. Moreh (Judges 7:1-3); looking directly south now, you can see the Samaritan bridge, then to the right (west now) Mt. Carmel. The Jezreel Valley is green and beautiful; it is the bread basket of Israel just as the east bank of the Jordan River is the bread basket of Jordan. According to scripture, the Jezreel Valley will be the future site of the final battle or Armageddon (Revelation 16:16). We took a lot of pics after listening to Raouf and before heading to the river Jordan baptism.

Baptisms at the River Jordan
Matthew 3:13- “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

About 45 km (28 mi) from Nazareth to the east is Yardenit. Yardenit is located at the southern exit of the Sea of Galilee, just behind the gate of the dam that is used on rainy winters to lower the level of the lake. Yardenit is the diminutive of Yarden. Yarden in Hebrew means Jordan or Jordan River. Yardenit, the baptismal site on the banks of the Jordan River, was built by Kibbutz Kinneret with the help and blessing of the Ministry of Tourism in 1981.

The River Jordan at Yardenit site

There are actually two sites that by tradition have been said to be the place where Jesus was baptized. Here at Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee, and much further south near Jericho at Qaser al Yahud. The reason for this is how one interprets the passages in Matthew 3:16-4:1 and Mark 1:10-13, where Jesus came up from being baptized, then went into the Wilderness to be tempted.

Jericho lies in the Judean Wilderness, and Jesus went into the Wilderness after being baptized, so by tradition Qaser al Yahud, 10 km (6 miles) from Jericho, has been celebrated as the site of that event. However, because of the Six Day War, the Israelis had planted land mines in the area; therefore, only recently (spring of this year) have pilgrims been able to return.  The land mines had been placed here to guard against Jordanian incursion and prior threats to Israeli sovereignty.

The Jordanians claim that Jesus’ baptism occurred in the same place, but on their side of the Jordan, so both countries compete for tourists, with a chapel on the Jordanian side and a monastery on the Israeli side. This is also the traditional location for where the children of Israel entered the Promised Land to conquer Jericho and then all of Canaan (Joshua 3:15-17).  And, by tradition, this is the site where Elijah the prophet ascended into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

Although the Yardenit site has become very popular in recent years due to the inaccessibility of the Qaser al Yahud site, it is not totally without biblical support. In Mark 1:9 it states that Jesus came to the Jordan “from Nazareth in Galilee,” and Matthew 3:13 states that He came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized.

Therefore, the close proximity of Yardenit to Nazareth and its location in the Galilee, is given as support for this site. However, it is more likely not a site so far north. In John 3:23-24, it states that John was baptizing at Aenon near Salim which is almost halfway between the Qaser al Yahud and Yardenit sites.

When we arrived, we were one of several tour buses, and there were many, many people lined up to be baptized by their respective pastors. Although my sister, daughter and I did notice one young man who chose to baptize himself in a ‘commemorative’ baptismal gown.

There were all manner of souvenirs, including bottles you could purchase to fill with river water. The only thing my best friend from high school asked me to bring back for her from the Holy Land is Jordan River water; I neglected to bring an extra water bottle, so I purchased the large size bottle and filled it with river water. By this time many of the people from our party who had chosen to be baptized were in place and ready for the baptism service.

Waiting to be baptized
Although they had all been baptized before, those who participated wanted the special memory of doing so in the Jordan River like Jesus. As evangelical Christians, we do not believe that baptism is required for salvation, it is a sacrament–ie, a ritual to witness to others of an inward decision to follow Christ (Romans 6:3-5).  The question, Is baptism essential to salvation? is an important one, so I hyperlinked it to what I think is a good explanation of what most evangelical Christians believe about this sacrament.
After everyone got their commemorative pictures and/or videos, we headed back to the bus. Now that we were in northern Israel, we would be checking into a new hotel.

Tiberias

We arrived at the Leonardo Club Tiberias in the early evening. Our room had a beautiful view of the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Sea of Tiberias viewed from the Leonardo Club

It is interesting to me that it is only called the Sea of Tiberias by the disciple John. He refers to it as such during the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1) and again when Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection, standing on the shore of the Sea (John 21:1). Some scholars believe that John’s use of its Roman name is further proof that it was written later than the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

During the early 1st century, Tiberias was the capital of the Galilee; it was named by Herod Antipas (Herod the Great’s son) for Tiberius Caesar. The Great Jewish Revolt led to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and then the  Bar Kokhba Revolt (about 60 years later), precipitated Hadrian’s expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem. Tiberias then replaced Jerusalem, becoming a cultural, religious and administrative center for the Jews.

Many great Jewish sages gathered here and are buried here. The Mishna was compiled here, as was the Jerusalem Talmud. Tiberias is considered one of Judaism’s Four Holy Citieis (Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed being the others). Thus, Tiberias became such an important city, that the Sea of Galilee came to be known as the Sea of Tiberias. Therefore, John’s reference to it as the Sea of Tiberias, would tend to place the writing of his gospel at least in the late 1st century.

Modern day Tiberias is a sea side resort city. We really enjoyed the beautiful resort hotel and the views of the Sea of Galilee from our balcony. Since this is an all-inclusive resort hotel, it had the most wonderful and diverse buffets. After identifying our bags to be taken to our room, we went upstairs to freshen up. Then, we went down to one of the two adjoining dining rooms. There were a lot more meat choices than we’d had since arriving in Israel. One of the many dishes was beef tongue. Since our family believes in trying new foods in foreign lands, we ate it. It was actually pretty good. It was tender yet chewy and it was quite savory because of the sauce it was braised in.

After a hearty dinner with lots of desserts–I tried almost everything, and there were a lot of choices– we were encouraged to go to the waterfront pier for a light show. Specifically, the Galilee ‘Water and Light Spectacular!’ A group of us made our way down to the pier and waited expectantly for the show to begin. A large crowd had already gathered, and was growing; a couple of young men had a hooka pipe with them (we were not sure how that fit in with watching a light show, but maybe it is a local custom?). We found places near the railing.. and then the show began! It was a bit entertaining, but if you have ever been to Disney, it’s hard to compete with their light or water shows. However, it may have been more enjoyable had it been in English.

The voice over and the

‘Water and Light Spectacular’- Tiberias Sea

text was in Hebrew. We were all disappointed, but found out the next day that the later show was in English and much more exciting. After the show we strolled down the boardwalk to look at the shops along the pier. My sister, daughter and I saw a shop with a sign touting ‘50% off of everything,’ so we gave up strolling for shopping–despite the fact that we were exhausted, and had just been considering returning to our room. There is something invigorating about ‘50% off everything’ that just kind of wakes you up!

After getting some great bargains on souvenirs for family and friends, we walked back to our hotel and after a very long day, we slept soundly until our regular 6 am wake up call.
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