A weary congregation of 51 folks traveling with this year’s Campbell University Divinity School/Nurturing Faith Experiences tour arrived in Tel Aviv Sunday morning after a variety of connections and an uneventful but long overnight flight from Newark. We arrived with only one bag missing: the first time in eight trips that one of my groups has lost a suitcase.
We made it through Passport Control in time to leave the airport around noon, driving north on a 60-passenger bus toward Caesarea Maritima, the Roman capitol of Palestine during the first few centuries. Most of the ancient seacoast city remains covered with sand, but the remains of Herod the Great’s beachfront palace are visible, along with two levels of a formerly three-level theater, a hippodrome used for chariot races, and a variety of other building foundations, several covered with impressive mosaics.
A highlight was a chance to wade in the Mediterranean Sea and take photos with friends.
Outside the city we viewed a portion of an ancient aqueduct that once ran six miles north to the Crocodile River, and drove from there to the ancient tel of Megiddo, where we were disappointed to learn that they were closing for the day, requiring us to shuffle our schedule and return another day.
Most folks didn’t complain because many were fading fast after a long night with little sleep. We drove through the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth, where we paused on Mt. Precipice for a time of devotion. An old tradition holds that this was the place where the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off the cliff after his first sermon in the synagogue there (Luke 4). The text says that Jesus escaped their clutches by simply “passing through” the crowd, but a local tradition holds that Jesus got away by jumping from the cliff and walking away unharmed. A small church marks the spot where some people believe Mary watched him do it.
Traditional sites often hold little water, based on little evidence other than an oft retold story or someone claiming to have had a vision pointing it out. Mt. Precipice probably isn’t the place, but it looks like it could have been, and the view of the Jezreel Valley from there – with Mount Tabor and Mount Moreh in the background – is stunning.
We were delighted to arrive safely at our hotel at Nof Ginosar, where the food was as good as ever, the rooms are comfortable, and the Sea of Galilee is just 100 yards away.
Tomorrow (Monday) will be an incredibly full day – one of the reasons we remind people that this is a study tour, not a relaxing vacation. We plan to begin on the Mount of Beatitudes and conclude with an opportunity to remember baptism in the Jordan River – with Hazor, Dan, Banyas, and other sites between.
Stay tuned for more!
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.