Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 3, Part 1: Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi, Dan

Greetings from Jerusalem!  We arrived here yesterday evening after another full day of touring where we traveled from Maagan on the Sea of Galilee up to the top of Mt Carmel, then down to the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea, before finally driving through Tel Aviv and on here to Jerusalem.  I finally caught up on some sleep last night, so I'm feeling refreshed as I try to catch you up on our travels.  Our third day of touring began in Maagan where we had to wake up plenty early and get on the road by 6:30 to avoid a marathon that was going to be happening on the highway around the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.  We drove along the eastern shore of the Sea, up to an area called the Golan Heights.  Our first stop was at the location where they believe the story of Jesus casting out a Legion of demons into a herd of pigs took place.  I realized I hadn't shown you a picture of our guide, Gila, so here she is telling us about the pigs charging down the hillside and drowning in the water, and that the geography of the place makes this the only likely spot that this could happen.  Gila has been wonderful.  She's a Jewish ex-pat from Connecticut who has been living in Israel since 1973 and guiding tours for over 30 of those years.

Here's a view from the site looking across the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias with a sign that would become familiar during our journey this morning.  This area was mined during the conflict with Syria.

From there we traveled a bit farther north before turning east away from the Sea and up into the Golan Heights themselves.  Here's a view looking back to the northern end of the Sea.

It was a bleak and cold morning to drive through a desolate place like this where so many battles have been fought, including modern tank battles between Syria and Israel.  Many wondered why there would be so much fighting over land like this, but with the commanding view of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River valley, it has been vital to Israel's well being to keep Syria out of Golan. And a reminder that even in dark places and times, the light can still break through:

An Israeli war memorial at a particular intersection:

After some more driving, we came to this overlook where you can view the Syrian border.  The small white buildings in the middle are at the border.  The larger white buildings off to the right is the UN compound in the narrow demilitarized zone between the two countries.  In the foreground are some of the many orchards and vineyards we saw in this area, and we saw some people at work in them as well.  I'm sure the view looks much more beautiful in the spring and summer, but on this day we got a bleak picture into a place where there is a lot of violence and suffering right now.

As we traveled away from the Syrian border to our next stop, we passed this road that our guide told us is the old road to Damascus, the road on which Paul had his conversion, although that was probably closer to Damascus, about 50 miles from this spot:

We drove through the town of Buq'ata and encountered this shepherd with his herd of sheep and goats:

Then we stopped at cafe near Mt Hermon for coffee and some delicious baklava:

Mt Hermon was visible when we went into the cafe but clouds moved in by the time we came out.  On our way back down out of the hills, they parted just enough to get a glimpse of the highest mountain in Israel in the distance:

Our next stop was Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus brought his disciples before beginning their journey to Jerusalem.  It's the site of some springs that form part of the headwaters of the Jordan River as well as an ancient Greek temple to the god Pan.  I thought you might want to see this little guy, who doesn't have a name, but is sort of the new mascot for the Israeli National Park service, like Smokey the Bear for us.

Our group as Pastor Art reads for us the passage where Jesus gives Peter his name and says "On this rock I will build my church."  Pastor Art told us that it was significant that he said that in this place because there are the rocks of the mountain, the rocks of the temple, and the stone idols that would be placed in niches in the wall of the temple.  So Jesus was saying the church would be established, not on this rock or this rock or that rock, but on the rock of Peter's faith, and Art reminded us that the church continues to be built on faith.

A view across the water coming out of the spring called Banias, and looking toward the cave or grotto that is the oldest shrine on the site:

Another view of Pastor Art reading for us from the Psalms after we spotted some wildlife that are referred to in several places.  I tried to get a decent picture of them, but they were too far away and in some bushes, but they kind of looked like small ground hogs or large guinea pigs to me:

Then we walked up to the grotto itself:

One of the niches in the cliff where a stone idol would have been placed:

An overview of the site from another location:

Our next stop was at Dan at a nature preserve where we could walk and see another set of springs and a river that are more of the headwaters for the Jordan River, as well as an ancient temple on the site.

Here is our group on the trail, looking at some of the water rushing down toward the Jordan River:

They were looking at the Dan River, one of the three sources for the Jordan River:

After a while we stopped at this reflecting pool:

Pastor Art read for us the story of how, after the kingdom of David and Solomon was divided in two (Israel in the north, Judah in the south), King Jeroboam (one of Solomon's sons and ruler in the north) set up shrines complete with golden calves in Bethel and Dan so that people in the northern kingdom would not return to the temple in Jerusalem in the south to worship.  This was sort of the beginning of the end for the northern kingdom as they turned to idolatry.

After another short walk up the trail, we came to this large pistachio tree:

From there, we could look to the north and see the northern border of Israel with Lebanon, marked by the hills in the distance:

Here, our guide took the time to answer many questions about Israel, both in the distant past and in more recent history.  I wish I could tell you all of it, but you'll just have to be content with this picture for now:

Finally, the last thing we saw on the site was the ruins of the temple at Dan, built around 1700 BC.

From Dan we traveled back toward the Sea of Galilee to go to Capernaum, the town at the center of Jesus' ministry in the Galilee region.  As we made our way there, still north of the Sea, we drove past this site, called Hazor.  It was the largest fortified city in the area during the Canaanite period, so contemporary to the fortress at Megiddo that we saw the previous day:

As we made our way down toward the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum, we also drove by the city of Chorazin, listed in the gospels along with Capernaum and Bethsaida as places where Jesus performed miracles.  It's also one of the places that Jesus denounces when he says "Woe to you Bethsaida, woe to you Chorazin."

That's all the time I have for now.  We have another big day ahead of us as we travel to Bethlehem and begin our explorations of Jerusalem.  Stay tuned and peace to you.


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