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December 4 and 5, 2022
We boarded our bus to travel to Magdala, the home of the Biblical Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection. A thriving community on a major trade route, Magdala was home to a beautiful synagogue, now being excavated. Here was discovered the oldest engraving of a menorah ever found. The engraving is like a post card from the past in that it shows the pillars of the Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed in the first century.
It is the only image of those pillars that has ever been found.
From Magdala we drove to Dan, a journey that few tourists take. It was the home of the tribe of Dan, one of the twelve tribes of the Jewish people. However, Dan’s history goes back much farther, possibly to the year 7,500 B.C. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, had been kidnapped; Abraham pursued the captors all the way to Dan. We saw Abraham’s Gate, the ancient city’s mud brick entry. Recently uncovered, it is the oldest such gate in existence, since most mud brick disintegrates over time due to water. The gate dates to approximately 2,000 B.C. When King Solomon, who built Jerusalem’s Temple, died, Israel divided into two separate nations. The two southern tribes became Judea, and the ten northern tribes became Israel. Israel’s new King Jeroboam decided to build new Temples for his nation, and he chose Dan for one of them. The problem was that the new Temple in Dan combined false worship with truth, and even had a golden calf. We saw where the golden calf would have been placed. Archeological conservers were hard at work the day we visited, yet we were privileged to see the 1,300 B.C. gate of the city. The city never recovered from the idolatry of King Jeroboam and eventually the ten tribes were carted off into slavery, basically disappearing from history.
Our journey then took us to the pagan city of Caesarea Philippi, a city that Jesus and His disciples visited in the far north of Israel. The worship of the god Pan is on display here, and our words pandaemonium and panic are derived from this worship centered on debauchery and even human sacrifice. We saw the sacrifice cave and the false god’s niches carved into the rock walls. Jesus took His disciples here because he wanted to make it clear that worshiping Him was distinctly different from the secular and twisted worship on display in Caesarea.
We finished the day by visiting the “Alamo” of Israel, the “Roaring Lion” memorial to the first Jews killed in battle who lived in the area that would later become Israel. We ended our day in our comfortable Jerusalem hotel for a wonderful meal and good night’s sleep.
Early morning breakfast–let’s stop there–breakfasts here in Israel are very good and very different! Tuna fish, pickled herring, creamed hyssop, salads, eggs baked in spicy meat sauce, tabula and at least 25 other food choices on a buffet beacon every morning. We loaded the bus and headed off to Beit Shean, a marvelously preserved Decapolis (ten major) city–mentioned in the Bible numerous times– in the Jezreel Valley. Columned streets with decorative tile side walks lead to the preserved theatre. The baths here are very interesting and served as a center of entertainment; spa treatments were a part of daily life. We learned that the large public toilets that had continuous running water under the seats were also a place of entertainment.
We traveled on to Gideon Springs, a place where a powerful bubbling spring served as the place where God winnowed 35,000 Hebrew soldiers down to 300. Those who lapped water at the springs with their tongue like a dog were the soldiers selected to fight the Midianites under the leadership of Gideon. The Hebrews won a major victory as they attacked at night and routed the confused Midianite army. The area is a beautiful garden where the colorful bougainvillea and the unusual bulbous silk floss tree call for attention.
The day concluded around the Dead Sea. Qumran was a community of the Essenes, a reclusive Jewish sect who spent their energy focused on copying the Bible and writing religious philosophy. A young boy throwing rocks into caves discovered the scrolls in clay pots carefully preserved. The discovery was an international sensation. The scrolls do much to verify the wording accuracy of the Old Testament of the Bible since the Qumran scrolls of Scripture were copied over centuries independently of the Jewish scribes’ scrolls, yet comparisons show amazing agreement of the text.
Several of our friends floated on the Dead Sea and reported that they automatically floated. The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on planet earth, and it also has the highest salt content of any body of water. Mud baths are also popular. Our ride from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem was smooth, although we arrived well after dark at our hotel. It was a wonderful day!