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The “Bible Lands Study Tour” group from Campbell University Divinity School spent Friday circumnavigating much of the region north and east of the Sea of Galilee, ranging from the Mt. of Beatitudes near Capernaum to within sight of the Syrian border in the Golan Heights.

We began the day on the Mt. of Beatitudes, a beautiful hill on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. There’s no evidence that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount there, but an old church tradition holds it so, and a beautifully maintained convent and chapel commemorate the place. Kim Walker led us in a morning devotion there before we piled back in the bus to drive up to Hazor, one of the chief cities of ancient Palestine.

Hazor sits on a tel, a high flat-topped hill that betrays the ruins of ancient cities built atop each other, and overlooks the Via Maris, the “Way of the Sea,” one of the main north-south highways through Palestine in antiquity. As such, it was a strategic defensive city, and one of the high points of the Book of Judges is Deborah and Barak’s defeat of King Jabin of Hazor, in a battle fought at nearby Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5).

While there we climbed down into a deep shaft that descended to the city’s water supply, examined the remains of a ceremonial Canaanite palace, and learned how ancient olive presses work (that’s Lynn and Carl Brinkley giving it a try).

From Hazor we drove across the Golan Heights to an overlook near the Syrian border where we could see the ruins of Quneitra, a small city destroyed by the Israelis when they took the Golan from Syria. It was a short hop from there to Mas’ada, a village populated by Druze people (Druze is a secretive religion related to but disowned by Islam). There we stopped for lunch, with most of us enjoying a “Druze pita” made from a large thin piece of flatbread slathered with soft goat cheese, drizzled with olive oil and hyssop, then folded and warmed on an iron grill.

Perhaps the most enjoyable stop of the day came at Banyas, an old cultic site next to Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city built by Herod Phillip. There we visited a cliffside grotto held sacred to the nature god Pan and surrounded by the remains of pagan temples. It was there that Jesus brought his disciples to ask them who they thought he was, and there amid the worship of false gods that Peter replied “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Banyas is a fertile area in the foothills of Mt. Hermon, richly watered by a broad, clear stream of water that emerges from underground and forms one of the three primary sources of the Jordan River. We even took time to visit a downstream waterfall of the Banyas, just a few kilometers away.

Our last destination was Tel Dan, an ancient and well-known city known as Laish before it was conquered by descendants from the tribe of Dan, according to Judges 18. There we saw the rushing blue waters of the Dan River, another tributary of the Jordan, and also fed mainly by meltwater from the snows that fall on Mt. Hermon.

We climbed to a high place there and sat on the steps of the ruins of a temple that may be the ninth century edifice built by Jeroboam, the first ruler of the Northern Kingdom after Israel divided following Solomon’s death. Jeroboam built temples at Dan (in the far north) and Bethel (further south) in order to discourage his people from going to Jerusalem for worship. Both temples reportedly featured golden calves and were consistently condemned by the Deuteronomistic historians (1 Kings 12:26-31). Dr. Barry Jones explained the significance of both the city and the temple there.

After touring city gates remaining from both the Canaanite and Israelite phases of the city, we returned to Tiberius, with most jet-lagged participants napping on the way, though some still had the energy for a dip in the Sea of Galilee before dinner.

Tomorrow: Ginosaur, a boat ride, Capernaum, Tabgha, Cana, Sepphoris, and Nazareth — an easy day. 

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