The Cradle of Christianity

The Cradle of Christianity

There are two ways to make contact with Biblical history while visiting Israel and the Holy Land. One is to visit archaeological sites. Another is to find places from which you can survey broad stretches of landscape, enabling you to see the relationship between the lay of the land and Biblical events. This itinerary combines both approaches. The numerals refer to days.

1. Arrival. Overnight on the coast of Sharon.

2. The Sharon Plain and Galilee. We begin where the baptism of Gentiles began: at Caesarea Maritima in Israel (focus on Acts 10). We include the sunken harbor, the hippodrome, the theatre and the Roman aqueduct. Then we drive to Muhraka (“burnt offering”) on Mt. Carmel, with a panorama of the Plain of Jezreel (Esdraelon). (Focus on I Kings 18, the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.) Continue to Megiddo for the background to Ar-mageddon (Revelation 16). Then we cross the country to the Arbel cliff for a magnificent view over the Sea of Galilee and the sites of Jesus’ mission (Matthew 4). Overnight in Tiberias or at a Guest House on the lake.

3. A day on the Sea of Galilee. We drive up the Golan Heights for a panorama of the lake from the East. Then we cross to the Mt. of Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7). After hearing the Sermon in its setting, we continue to Tabgha, where Christians have long remembered the first feeding of the multitude (Mark 6) – also, nearby, the breakfast of John 21. On to Capernaum; here Franciscan archaeologists believe they have uncovered the house of Peter (Mark 1 and 2). After lunch we shall take an hour on the lake in a wooden boat modeled on one from Jesus’ time (Matthew 14). We end the day with a visit to the modern baptismal site at the point where the Jordan flows out of the lake.

4. The sources of the Jordan. A brief stop at Hazor, the largest Canaanite city, for a view of Mount Hermon and its surroundings. Onward to Tell Dan, where we combine a nature walk beside the Upper Jordan with views of the ancient ruins, including the Israelite high place that supported a golden calf (I Kings 12). A short drive then takes us to the spring of Caesarea Philippi (Banias), where Peter confessed his recognition of Jesus as Christ. (Matthew 16.) Here we can visit the stunning remains of a first-century AD palace belonging to Agrippas II. We drive around Mt. Hermon for a glimpse of Damascus, 45 miles away, then head back over the Golan Heights to our home on the Sea of Galilee.

5. The lower Galilee. This day we visit three major sites: Nazareth, Sepphoris and Beth Shean. Nazareth and Sepphoris are but four miles apart. The latter was the only major city in Galilee’s interior when Jesus was a boy. Today it is rich in ruins, especially mosaics, among them the one on the left. In Nazareth we visit the spring, then walk through the bazaar to the Church of the Annunciation. We take a view from the “brow of the hill on which the city was built” (Luke 4), looking toward Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Plain. We cross the plain and descend to Beth Shean (aka Scythopolis). Here we shall view the setting for the death of Saul (I Samuel 28 – II Samuel 1). We shall then survey the magnificent Roman and Byzantine ruins: theater, bathhouses, ancient rest rooms, market areas, colonnaded streets. We return to our base on the lake.

6. Heart of the Holy Land. Passing through the Valley of Dothan (conditons permitting), where Joseph’s brothers left him in a cistern, we drive to Samaria, the capital city of Ahab and Jezebel. Here we can bring many First Testament stories to life (e.g., I Kings 22). Herod later rebuilt Samaria and called it Sebastia. Thus we have a mixture of Israelite and Roman ruins. We continue eastward through the narrow pass between the mountains Ebal and Gerizim to the tel of ancient Shechem, first destination in the land both for Abram (Genesis 12:6) and his returning grandson (33:18). Standing amid the ruins of the first Temple of the Lord (Joshua 24:1, 26), we can rehearse the renewal of the covenant as the Bible presents it (ibid., with Deuteronomy 27: 12 ff.). We then visit Jacob’s Well nearby (John 4). From here we head toward Jerusalem, passing Shiloh, Bethel, Mitzpeh, Rama and Gibeon – visiting one of them if time permits – to Mount Scopus, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, for a brief introduction and welcome.

7. O Jerusalem! We start on the Mt. of Olives, with the Old City tilted toward us. After an orientation, we descend the traditional Palm Sunday road to Dominus Flevit (“The Lord weeps”), remembering Jesus’ entry (Luke 19). We continue down to Gethsemane (Matthew 26), with a visit to the garden and the church. (Quiet time.) From here we drive to the so-called Tombs of the Kings, an extensive burial complex with a rolling stone, dating to twenty years after the Crucifixion. We continue to Shepherds’ Fields, then on to Bethlehem, where we walk through the recently restored old town to the Church of the Nativity.

8. The Old City of Jerusalem. We start early with a visit to the Holy Sepulcher (best when not yet crowded). We walk through the Old City’s bazaars and ascend to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, where once, it is thought, the Temple stood. Just to the north we find the Pools of Bethesda (John 5) and St. Anne’s Church, perfectly preserved from the Crusader period – with remarkable acoustics. We then follow the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) back as far as the Holy Sepulcher. Lunch break. We proceed to the Jewish Quarter for a visit to the ruins of a Herodian mansion. (Alternative: the church of Peter in Gallicantu, over the ruins of what may have been Caiaphas’ house.) We close the day at the Upper Room on Mt. Zion.

9. Free day. Some groups may choose to begin this day with a tour and communion service at the Garden Tomb, which provides its own guide.

10. The archaeology of Jerusalem and the New City. We visit the Western Wall. We then enter a modern tunnel that enables us to examine the whole length of the outer Herodian Temple wall – mostly preserved in mint condition – including two stone blocks each weighing about 600 tons. After that we examine the ruins near the south side of the Temple complex, including steps where we may be certain that Jesus and the disciples walked. The group may then descend the slope of the first Jerusalem (“City of David”) to the Gihon spring, and proceed in knee-high water through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which led the water to a pool at a safe remove from Assyrian arrows. After drying off, we motor to the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Israel Museum, including the outdoor model of Jerusalem as the city may have looked in 66 AD. We close the day at Yad Va Shem, the Holocaust Memorial.

11. The Rift Valley. We start this day at our southernmost point, Masada, last stronghold of the Jewish rebels in 73 AD. After floating in the Dead Sea (at minus 1360 feet, as low as you’re ever likely to get), we enter the nature reserve of Ein Gedi, rich in flora and fauna, and walk to a lovely waterfall. We then drive north to Qumran for a look at one of the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. We finish at Jericho, the world’s oldest city and one of the Bible’s most famous. Return to Jerusalem.

12. Judah and the Shephelah (lowlands). We drive to Mamre, recalling God’s three-person visit with Abraham there (Genesis 18), and then to nearby Hebron. From the hill of the ancient city, we shall be able to understand why it became the capital of Judah. We take a close-up view of the fully-preserved Herodian structure (same design as the Temple periphery) honoring the graves of the patriarchs and matriarchs. (Time permitting, we shall go inside to view the mosque and the cenotaphs also.) We then drive down to the Shephelah: the low hills between the mountain and the coast. Here we visit Maresha (aka Beth Guvrin), from which we can see the entire Judaean range to the East as well as Lachish, Gath and the Philistine cities to the West. We explore the intricate caves of Hellenistic Maresha. Then we drive north for a stop in the Valley of Elah, where David encountered Goliath (I Samuel 17). After reliving this story, we head up the historic Beth Horon road (Joshua 10:10) to the Benjamin Plateau, passing ancient Gibeon and returning to Jerusalem.

13. Departure. There are many possibilities for those who wish to extend the trip. For example, it is possible to finish Day 12 at Masada, overnight in Arad, and spend the next day exploring the Negev desert. This can include one or more of the Nabataean-Byzantine cities: Avdat or Mampsis. It can also include some glorious hiking. We may then return to Jerusalem or the Tel Aviv area prior to departure.

Groups with more time can take several days with camels or jeeps in the Sinai desert, climbing Mt. Moses. One can also extend the tour to Egypt, spending three nights in Cairo, as follows: 14. From Jerusalem, we drive through Philistia to the Egyptian border, thence through the Sinai Desert to the Suez Canal and Cairo, “mother of the world.” 15. We visit the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which contains 120,000 artifacts, including 30,000 pertaining to the Pharaohs. In Old Cairo we tour the Citadel, the Alabaster and the Sultan Hassan Mosques, which provide a good introduction to the Egypt of the Mameluk period (13th – 16th centuries AD). We shop in the Khan al Khalili Bazaar, built in 1382. 16. We visit Memphis, the capital of the old Kingdom, viewing the statue of Ramses II and the alabaster sphinx. We then tour the world’s oldest pyramids at Sakkara (2686 BC). We go on to the great pyramids of Giza and the famous “three pyramids”, as well as the Sphinx. 17. Departure

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