Friday for Campbell University’s “Bible Land Study Tour” began on the Mount of Beatitudes with an outdoor devotion led by Nathan Morton and surrounded by flowers of many types on the beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
At Tel Hazor we had our first opportunity to examine a tel, a man-made hill built up from the ruins of a city that has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times, with each step adding to the height of the hill. At Hazor, 21 occupation levels go back 4,000 years or more. We entered through an Israelite gate and saw remains from an earlier Canaanite period, including a large cultic and administrative structures made largely from mud brick. The olive press at right comes from the Israelite period.
From Hazor we drove north to Dan, the northernmost city in Israel, where we saw the beautiful spring, the main headwaters of the Jordan River, and climbed up an old cultic site where an extant temple platform may go back to the time of Jeroboam, the first king of Israel. The author of 1-2 Kings regarded Jeroboam as particularly evil because he built temples at Dan and Bethel and put golden calves in them. From the high place we could look directly into Lebanon, and see a rusted out tank left from conflicts in 1967 and 1973. Some intrepid travelers walked through an old Israeli bunker.
Our next stop was the Banyas (or Panyas), where a grotto and a large spring gave rise to ancient worship of the nature god, Pan. The spring used to come from the grotto, and it was regarded by some as an entrance to the underworld, thus known as the “Gates of Hell.” Herod Phillip built the city of Caesaea Philippi near the site. It was there, at a site considered holy to other gods, that Jesus asked his disciples “Who do men say that I am?” When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus spoke of Peter’s involvement in building the church, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16).
From Banyas we drove into the Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, for a nice (if late) lunch in Druze village (the Druze are an independent offshoot of Islam). There we ate “Druze pita” made from very thin bread smeared with soft goat cheese and drizzled zata (hyssop and other herbs in olive oil), then folded and heated on a grill. Others ate schnitzel or falafal sandwiches (falafals are like Mediterranean hushpuppies made from ground chickpeas).
Going deeper into the Golan, we paused at the “Valley of Tears” overlooking Quneitra, a Syrian city destroyed during the 1973 war, and later rebuilt further from the border. Many soldiers on both sides died in the fight, with two vastly outnumbered Israeli tank brigades barely managing to hold the high ground against the Syrian advance.
An opportunity to swim in the Sea of Galilee (cool and refreshing), along with another delicious dinner, capped the day for a happy and inspired group of travelers.
Tomorrow (for any friends or family who are following from home), we will be following the Sunday itinerary, then doing the Saturday itinerary on Sunday. We’re doing this because some of the places we planned to visit are closed on Saturday for the Sabbath.
(You can find other blogs from our group at these links:
David Stratton: davidsdeliberations.blogspot.com
Josh Owens: joshuakowens.blogspot.com
Susan Sevier: sevierlybaptist.com)