Forty-eight friends and supporters of the Baptists Today news journal are touring Israel and the West Bank for the next few days, enjoying the wonders of the land as well as the joy of making new friends.
Some greeted the morning by watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee from our hotel at Nof Ginosar, but the day began in earnest at the ancient city of Hazor, where our bus was the only one in the parking lot and we had the rich tel to ourselves.
From Hazor we travelled to Dan, so close to the northern border that when biblical writers wanted to speak of the entire country they would say “from Dan to Beersheba,” with Beersheba being the southernmost city. We hiked along the Dan river through a nature reserve to view the remains of the infamous temple Jereboam had built after the nation split into northern and southern kingdoms, then stopped by the mudbrick gate to the old Canaanite city before examining the sturdier four-chambered gate built by the Israelites, where low benches along the wall and a raised platform for a “judge’s seat” marked the place where justice was dispensed, either by the king or by city elders.
Dan is a skip and a jump from the city of Caesaria Philippi, which was built near the fresh and abundant springs flowing from beneath the rocky hill at Panyas, where frenetic worship of the god Pan was once played out against the stark backdrop of a steep cliff over a grotto filled with water. A severe earthquake in 749 C.E. shifted the spring to a different outlet, leaving the grotto dry. Temples to a variety of Greek deities were built against the face of the cliff, with niches cut out for images of the gods.
A steep and narrow road took us into the Golan Heights, where we enjoyed falafel or schnitzel sandwiches along with “Druze pita” made from fresh goat cheese with olive oil and a blend of spices. A lady next door sold honey, jams, and fruit, including fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, which was amazing.
From Dan we had been able to see into the country of Lebanon: from the Golan we could look into Syria from a memorial overlooking what Israelis call the “Valley of Tears” in memory of a fierce battle during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Rusting tanks from both Syria and Israel mark the site, along with trees planted in memory of Israeli soldiers who died there.
The end of the day’s bus ride brought us to an Arabic supermarket for a few needed items — and some not really needed. Supermarkets in other countries are always fascinating: much that is familiar; much that is different.
Back at the hotel, dinner featured goose wings and beef tongue among many less exotic entrees: both were delicious, though the tongue was more tender than expected, and the goose more tough.
A day in northern Galilee reminded us all of the many conflicts in the area — some millennia old and still continuing — led us to ponder the long hope for peace in a strife-torn world, and not just in this sacred corner of the God’s green earth.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.