Forty-two students, alumni, faculty, and friends of Campbell University Divinity School embarked on a tour of Israel July 6. For the next several days, I’ll be tracking our course along the coast, through the upper Galilee, down through the rift valley, and all about Jerusalem. Vicarious travelers welcome!
After a smooth flight with Continental’s non-stop service from Newark to Tel Aviv, we arrived at Ben Gurion airport and met Doron Heiliger, our guide, and Hatem, our driver. Doron had arranged for a nice new 53-passenger bus, giving us room to breathe as we rise.
Though it wasn’t on our original itinerary, our early arrival allowed us to drive down to Jaffa, the port city from which Jonah reportedly embarked on his ill-fated voyage, and the town in which Peter was visiting in the home of Simon the Tanner when he received a vision from God indicating that the gospel should be carried to the Gentiles.
We saw the exterior of a house claiming to be that of Simon the Tanner, though no part of it dates to anywhere near the first century. We also enjoyed a beautiful view across the harbor to Tel Aviv, home to about three million.
From Jaffa we drove through Tel Aviv and up the coast, past the new (as in non-biblical) cities of Hertzeliyya (Israel’s high-tech version of Silicon Valley) and Natanya, stopping briefly at a small mall for a lunch of falafel sandwiches or schwarma (felafel is made of ground chickpeas and fried like hush puppies – green on the inside). Both were served in pita bread with hummus and a salad mix.
At Ceasarea Maritima we had a short devotional time and visited the Roman theater built by Herod the Great when he constructed the city between 22 and 9 B.C. It was to Caesarea that Peter was called to visit with Cornelius, and there that the Spirit was poured out on Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 10).
After his arrest, Paul was held prisoner for two years in Caesarea. While there, he spoke before the governer Felix and the visiting king, Festus (Acts 24-27). It’s possible that it could have taken place in the theater.
We also saw the remains of Herod’s palace, now partly underwater, and a hippodrome (track for horse and chariot racing) built along the shore and also partly lost to the water. In the photo, Herod’s palace would be to the left, the hippodrome is to the right, and straight ahead are the remains of a Crusader castle with a modern restaurant built atop it.
Near Caesarea we also stopped to see remnants of an aqueduct, once four miles long, that provided the city with water from the Crocodile River. A similar aqueduct (two large clay pipes were atop the structure) brought water along a six-mile course from the slopes of Mt. Carmel.
Having flown through the night, our travelers were growing weary as we made our final major stop of the day at Megiddo, from which we could see a glorious view of the Jezreel Valley, Israel’s breadbasket for thousands of years.
Megiddo itself is a tel (an artificial mound) built up as 25 cities were built and rebuilt on top of each other. It lay at an important juncture in the Via Maris, an ancient highway leading from Egypt northward. At Megiddo, one could go north to Tyre, or east to Damascus and on to Mesopotamia. Whoever controlled Megiddo controlled the highway. Thus, it has often been the site of conflict, and it’s no wonder that John imagined it as the scene of world-ending battle: “Armaggedon” is from Hebrew “Har Meggido,” the mountain of Megiddo.
On the impressive tel, Doron led us through a four-chambered Canaanite gate that might date from the 16th century B.C., and up the hill to a six-chambered Israelite gate that is often called Solomonic, but may have been built by Ahab in the ninth century, a few years later than Solomon.
Megiddo also boasts an ancient Canaanite high place, a large round altar made of stones, reached by a set of built-in steps. Many animal bones were found there, indicating that it was used for sacrifices. High places, where gods like the Canaanite El, Baal and Astarte were worshiped, are often condemned in the Old Testament.
Megiddo also has a large granary dug into the ground and lined with stones, dating from the reign of Jeroboam II in the 8th century, B.C. Originally, the structure was covered: two sets of stairs lead down from either side so people could go up and down at the same time.
Megiddo is famous for having “Solomon’s stables.” Though these may also date to a slightly later period, there are a series of stables, each containing a sequence of mangers and hitching posts carved from stone.
One of the most memorable features of Megiddo is its massive water shaft, leading deep beneath the ground to where a 200-foot tunnel was chiseled through the bedrock to a spring outside the city walls. The spring was then covered up and its presence hidden, so residents would have a safe source of water even when under siege.
By the end of the day, my boots had both had blowouts (apparently, old age caught up with them, and the heels disintegrated), and our crew was uniformly exhausted. We settled into a very nice hotel at Nof Ginosaur, about five miles north of Tiberius on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.
Tomorrow will be another big day: hopefully our intrepid travelers will be more rested, for we have much to see in Galilee.