The sun rose July 8 as it does every other day, but for members participating in a tour of Israel sponsored by Campbell University Divinity School, it rose over the Sea of Galilee, and it was a beautiful sight. I doubt that many of us saw it as participants continue adjusting to being seven time zones from home, but it was worth getting up for.

Our day began on a high hill just above Capernaum, the traditional site of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” We walked past lime trees and large fields of bananas on our way to a small outdoor chapel set beneath two large eucalyptus trees. There we read the Beatitudes and heard some reflections from Dr. Wakefield. A small Roman Catholic church there offered time for personal reflections, as well. It also offered multiple opportunities for making contributions, including a box marked “Offering” in the bathrooms.
From the lush setting of the “Mount of Beatitudes” we traveled to nearby Chorazin (or Korazin), one of three cities upon which Jesus pronounced woes because of its sin. Chorazin (we are entering in the photo below) was probably a relatively new village when Jesus knew it. The ruins we saw dated from centuries later, because virtually all Jewish places were destroyed in 70 A.D., following an ill-fated revolt. Remains included an impressive synagogue, unusual in that its carved stone décor included Greco-Roman elements, such as a head of Medusa. Most of the stone used for the buildings there was basalt, a dark and porous stone formed from volcanic lava.
At Hazor, one of the oldest and most important cities in the Upper Galilee, we were able to watch a live dig in progress as volunteers (under appropriate supervision) worked at uncovering a deep layer of Israelite occupation. That layer will eventually be removed so they can continue down to the older Canaanite layer below. Shortly after we arrived, one of the volunteers gave a shout and the others responded with a cheer: he had found a small basin carved from basalt, probably used for grinding small amounts of grain or spices. “I’ve been digging four years,” he said, “and it’s the first one I’ve found!”

Hazor is known in the Old Testament as a Canaanite city ruled by King Jabin. It is said to have been conquered both by Joshua (Joshua 11:10 says Joshua killed Jabin, put the people to the sword, and burned the city), and later by Deborah and Barak (Judges 4, where Hazor still exists and Jabin is still king). Like Megiddo to the south, Hazor held a commanding position on the Via Maris, making it a strategic city. Later, Hazor was said to have been fortified by King Solomon, along with Megiddo and Gezer. The city’s six-chambered gate and casemate walls were quite imposing, as was a huge shaft dug 140 feet down into the tell to obtain water.

We also saw ruins of an older Canaanite palace complex, and an Israelite occupation level that included a winepress to which curators have restored elements that had rotted away. Baskets of olives would be placed on a stone with a round groove cut into its surface. A stone was put atop the baskets, and a pole set into a wall behind was put over that. Stone weights were then hung over the pole, gradually squeezing oil from the olives. A drain cut into the stone ran to a jug set into the ground below.

From Hazor we drove through the Huleh Valley and into the Golan Heights, where we stopped at an overlook near the former Syrian city of Quneitra, destroyed in 1967 during the Six Day War. The area is now part of a U.N.-mandated buffer zone between Israel, which captured the Golan Heights during the war, and Syria, which still calls for the land’s return.

We drove through several villages of Druze people, adherents of a secretive religion that broke away from Islam in the 11th century. In the village of Mas’ade (not to be confused with Masada in the deep south), we stopped at a Druze-owned restaurant for a lunch of delicious falafel sandwiches or a “Druze pita” – a tangy treat made from smearing soft goat cheese and olive oil mixed with hyssop onto a very thin, tortilla-like flat bread, folding it up, then heating it over the flat oven on which the thin bread (I didn’t learn the name) had been baked.

Our afternoon began at Banyas, originally called Panyas, the site of ancient cultic worship to the fertility god Pan, who was often associated with goats. Pan was worshipped in a large natural cave above a spring that is one of three sources of the Jordan River. Nearby is the “Temple of the Sacred Goats,” where goats were sacrificed. Ancient traditions hold that the pagans who worshiped Pan would occasionally through babies from the cliff above the grotto into the water below.

In the first century, Herod Philip (son of Herod the Great who had been given charge of the area) built a city there and called it Caesarea Philippi. It was there that Peter confessed his belief that Jesus was “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Mark 8:27-30). The area is on the slopes of Mount Hermon, where
Mark 9:2-13 says the Transfiguration took place. We paused in a shady spot to read those texts, along with Psalm 133, which speaks of the refreshing dew of Mount Hermon.

Our last stop of the day came at Tel Dan, the ancient Canaanite city of Laish that Judges 18 says was conquered by the tribe of Dan, who were ousted from their homeland by the Philistines, and who went in search of a new home. Dan was traditionally the northernmost point of Israelite territory, as Beersheba was considered the southernmost. Thus, to speak of all Israel, we find the expression “from Dan to Beersheba” (Judg. 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, etc.). The Dan River, the primary source of the Jordan River (YarDan in Hebrew) rushes through the area like a fluid freight train.
It is clean, clear, and surprisingly cold. It’s also delicious.

When the united kingdom under David and Solomon split in the ninth century, the northern king Jereboam established sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel to rival the Jerusalem temple, so Israelites would not have to go into Judah to worship. We visited a large temple complex in Dan that dates from the Israelite period, and many scholars believe it is the location of that temple, where a golden calf was said to have been installed and worshipped (the metal frame in the picture shows the estimated size of the horned altar).

In the lower picture, our guide (Doron Heiliger) is explaining things to group members who are sitting on the steps leading up from the altar (at right) to the “bema,” or high place, at left. Nothing is left of the temple atop the bema but its foundation. Presumably, it would have been the location of the building that housed the golden calf.
Throughout most of the books of Kings, Israel’s kings are judged entirely on whether they allowed the worship of the golden calves to continue, or whether they tore down the high places. Most of them were judged very harshly.

We reflected, in a gathering time after dinner, that despite the proclamation of the gospel, so many people continue to put their faith in false gods – and Christians are among them. We were challenged to a faith that remembers and worships the one true God alone.

[For earlier travel blogs from Israel, see below.]

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