Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day 1, Part 2: Jordan to Israel, Beth She'an

Today was another great day in Israel that I can't wait to share with you.  As I feared this morning when I wrote the last blog post, it's difficult to put it all into words.  Even worse, it's difficult to sort through all of the pictures and choose which ones to share with you in the limited amount of time and energy I have at the end of the day.  I surely am missing lots of details and things we've seen along the way, but I hope you're getting at least a little glimpse of our travels.  Also, before I forget, I want to thank those of you who have left comments here.  The group has really enjoyed hearing from you, so keep it up!  A note about the weather since my good friend Sarah asked about it, we are certainly enjoying warmer weather than what we left in Minnesota, but the high temperature each day is still typically "only" 50 degrees or so.  Combined with a stiff breeze at many of the sites that are high up and in pretty exposed areas, we all are wearing jackets most of the day.  We had plenty of sun our first day, but today the weather was more cloudy with a few light rain showers mixed in, although we only experienced a few drops on us while we were out of the bus.

Anyway, to pick up where I left off this morning, after Mt Nebo, we stopped at a museum and shop just down the road to see some mosaic work.  The guide told us that this area of Jordan in particular was famous for its mosaics.  In addition to seeing the museum that was made up of scenes from Biblical times as well as more recent life in Jordan, we were able to see a few local artists working on some mosaics:

The person in charge also showed us an example of how they applied a mosaic to ostrich eggs:

We then had a chance to look around the shop where many pieces from local artists were for sale as well as many other items.  Then it was time to head down the western slopes of Mt Nebo toward the Israeli border to make our crossing.  On our way down, we saw many Bedouin tents belonging to sheep and goat herders in the area.  Most of the farmers were wondering what there was out there for the sheep to eat, but they must find something.

We also saw many of the sheep and goats themselves along the road.  I think in this picture there's also a donkey thrown in for good measure:

The border crossing was an interesting experience.  Of course, we were unable to take any photographs in that area.  Suffice it to say, we and our luggage were thoroughly checked, similar to what we're now accustomed to at airports.  Two of us were singled out for additional inspection, myself included, and I took a good deal of abuse, not from the Israelis, but from the other members of the group who thought it was pretty funny that the pastor had to wait longer and go through extra screening.  In the end, all they did was ask me to empty my pockets, swabbed my passport with something and tested the swab.  For what, I don't know, but it must have been ok because I got my passport back and was sent on my way with everyone else.  According to our Israeli guide, they typically choose one or two people for these sorts of things from every group, so I guess I looked most suspicious.  I told everyone it's because I'm so young traveling with so many old fogeys!

After being reunited with our luggage, we found our bus and Israeli guide and were on our way north through the West Bank area of Israel, so named because it's on the west bank of the Jordan River.  We found out that "river" is a generous term for the Jordan in most places, and our guide says it's the river with the best PR in the world.  It meanders along and in many places is narrower than the North Fork of the Crow River.  As we made our way north, we learned more about agriculture in the area and many other things I wish I had time to share with you right now.  We headed for the town of Beth She'an, about halfway between Jericho, where we crossed the border, and the Sea of Galilee.  When we got there, we stopped at little mom and pop cafe for lunch, consisting of either a chicken pita or falafel.  Here we are getting our food:

After lunch, it was a very short ride to Beth She'an National Park.  Beth She'an is the site of several ancient cities that have been excavated in the same area.  The oldest dates to the Egyptians in the 15th century BC.  A later Canaanite city was built on the same site as the Egyptian village, and it's here that King Saul's remains were hung on a wall by the Philistines, as told in 1 Samuel 31.  Eventually, in 732 BC when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, Beth She'an was destroyed by fire.  Later, in about the 3rd century BC, the Greeks occupied the site and built a city named Scythopolis.  This city, too, was destroyed by fire in the 2nd century BC.  Finally, the Romans rebuilt the city of Scythopolis beginning when Pompey claimed Judea in 63 BC, but instead of on the hill where the original city stood, they built on its southern slopes.  The city became one of the cities of the Decapolis (ten cities) that were centers of culture and commerce in the area at the time of Jesus and the early church until it too was devastated, this time by an earthquake in 749 AD.  It was the ruins of this version of the city that we were able to explore:

Here we are seated in the theater as Pastor Art reads the passage from 1 Samuel about Saul's remains being brought to Beth She'an.  

This is the view from the theater seats today.  The hill in the distance is the site of the original city ruins which you can see on top.  Between the ruins of the theater and the hill, you can see some of the columns of the Palladium, or main street.  

I took this picture after realizing I was sitting on stone seats that were over 2000 years old:

This gives you an idea of what they think the theater may have originally looked like:

Upon leaving the theater, we went through a public bath house, or restroom.  We got a good laugh as we had a seat on these "toilets."  This picture actually isn't the best, though, because the stone in front is by itself where there should be another stone on either side of it.  The stones in the distance are the correct width apart for most people.  There should be some great pictures on people's cameras from this location, but I won't embarrass anyone with them on the internet...yet...

Another view of more columns.  Most of these had fallen over during the earthquake and were in pieces.  The fifth one from the front here is the only one they found standing upright in one piece.  

Another view of the same columns:

Here is yours truly standing on the main street of Scythopolis.  This street would have been lined with shops on either side.

A view of the entire street:

Here is a closeup picture of a decorative carving of Dionysus found along the Palladium.  Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and frivolity and was apparently quite popular in this area at the time.

We also walked through some of the public bath houses that they found on the site, a popular gathering place where people could enjoy, exercise, a bath, and something equivalent to a sauna.  On our way out of the site, the sun was setting and made for a nice picture looking back toward the Jordan River valley and the hills of Gilead.  

That was basically it for day 1.  We continued north from Beth She'an to the resort at Maagan on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  We had plenty of time to settle into our rooms, take a little nap, and enjoy a drink or two before supper.  So, that gets us up to today, which I will have to write about tomorrow because I need some rest.  We have to get an earlier start in the morning to avoid a marathon race that's being run in this area tomorrow.  I will do my best to write at least a little bit so I don't get too far behind.  Keep your prayers and good thoughts coming, and don't be shy about posting comments.  Until tomorrow, Shalom!



  1. Looks like you are having a great trip! We have enjoyed seeing Gary and Debbie in your photos!

    Jenny Olson

  2. So fun to hear about your trip, Bryant! Thanks for sharing it with us. I am guessing it would be fun to explore the shops there. As a collector of nativity scenes, I am sure I would find myself eyeing more than one. Prayers ascending that your trip will continue to go well for all of you!

  3. Keep up the great work with the blog. Enjoying it so much... great great pictures.
    Wondering if Sue found a nativity set yet. Get some rest and enjoy.

  4. Hi Pastor Bryant...your blog posts have been most interesting and we appreciate so many details being included. My mom is so wondering if you are hearing any Jewish music....when and where does it seem to be occurring? Have you met any Messianic Jews? I am fascinated in hearing about the children. Thanks again for sharing Israel with those of us back home! Connie & Delores

  5. Awesome! Looking forward to following your trip! Im a little jelly at all the awesome history you are getting to take in!