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Tour Details

Itinerary | April 26-May 13, 2019

Notes:

  1. The tour begins in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday, April 26, 2019 and concludes in Tel Aviv, Israel on Monday, May 13.
  2. A 3-night supplement to Petra and Amman is available for those who are interested. This can be arranged either prior to the tour, or following it.
  3. One certainty about international travel is that even best laid plans need to adapt to changing realities. The following represents current plans, with the recognition that aspects will evolve along the way. Since local speakers will can only be confirmed shortly before the tour, change is most likely in that part of the itinerary.
  4. The schedule will be very full, with activities planned most days from breakfast to dinner. Conversation with the group may adjust how we handle the activity—relaxation balance.
 

Friday, April 26 – Day 1: arrival in Tel Aviv (Tel Aviv)

Tel Aviv is a bustling, modern Israeli city, serving as the financial and technological centre of the country. Although only founded in 1909, it has become famous for its marvelous Mediterranean beaches and the world's largest diamond exchange. Tour participants will be welcomed at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, and then taken to the Metropolitan Hotel for our first night. Depending on arrival time, it may be possible to enjoy a walk along the beach nearby. It should be sunny—by late spring the time of rain is over.  In the evening we will gather as a tour group to get to know each other, and receive an introduction to the tour.

Saturday, April 27 – Day 2: travel to Nazareth (Nazareth)

In the morning we visit the ancient port city of Jaffa (ancient name, Joppa), established already before Old Testament times. Here is where timbers arrived for the building of Solomon's temple (2 Chron. 2:16), from here Jonah embarked on his ill-fated journey to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Here is where Tabitha/Dorcas lived (Acts 9:36), and here is where Peter had his dream of clean and unclean animals (Acts 10).

Palestine during the time of Jesus was under Roman occupation. The New Testament gives clear evidence of this, yet it doesn't give a good sense for the might and sophistication of this Roman presence.  After leaving Jaffa we drive north along the coast to the remains of Caesarea Maritima. Already before the time of Christ Herod constructed a massive city at this location, dedicating it to Caesar Augustus. It included a deep water harbour (comparable to the one in Athens), a spectacular amphitheatre for Roman games, and a magnificent palace. It became the civilian and military capital for the region, and the official residence of the Roman procurator Antonius Felix, and the prefect Pontius Pilate. Following his dream in Joppa Peter came here to baptize Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10-11). Nearby we will see the remains of the amazing aqueduct Herod constructed to service this growing city.

Our next stop is Mount Carmel, where Elijah had his confrontation with the prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18). From this high point we have a wonderful view of the lush Plain of Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley. Dinner and lodging will be at the Legacy Hotel in Nazareth.

Sunday, April 28 – Day 3: Nazareth (Nazareth)

It is only appropriate that on our first Sunday in the land we worship with a local Palestinian congregation. A local person will share with us from his experience as a Palestinian Christian living in the state of Israel.

Only constructed in 1969, the Church of the Annunciation commemorates the location where according to Catholic tradition Mary the Mother of Jesus lived, and where she received word from the angel Gabriel that she was to become the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). It is famous for the many paintings and works of art of the annunciation contributed to it by countries around the world. There should be some time to study and mediate on the paintings.

Just a short distance from Nazareth is Sepphoris (Zippori), a significant Roman centre during the time of Jesus. Despite being only 6 kilometers from Nazareth where Jesus lived, and despite being much larger than Nazareth, it is not mentioned in the New Testament. Jesus may even have worked here. And yet it was a cosmopolitan city in Jesus' day with elaborate buildings and beautiful mosaics, including what is known as the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee."

After Jesus' inaugural sermon in is home town of Nazareth the crowd cast him out of the synagogue, and took him to the brow of a hill in order to throw him down the cliff (Luke 4:16-30). A stop at Mount Precipice will help us recall this story. Before dinner a local Palestinian Christian will share from his experience as a Palestinian Christian in the state of Israel. Lodging is again at the Legacy Hotel in Nazareth.

Monday, April 29 – Day 4: travel to Tiberius

Today we head towards Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, the region in which Jesus did most of his ministry. In the Gospel of John Jesus begins his public ministry in Cana where he attended a wedding and turned water into wine (John 2). We begin our journey towards the Sea of Galilee by stopping at a traditional site for Cana. From there we travel to Mount Tabor, often called the Mount of Transfiguration. Along with Peter, James and John Jesus ascended this mountain where Moses and Elijah appeared to them (Matt. 17:1-9).

Continuing our journey to Tiberius we stop at Nebi Shu'eib, a huge mosque-like structure that houses the traditional tomb of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, a prophet in the Druze tradition. A major Druze gathering will have taken place here a few days earlier, on April 25. The Druze religion dates back to 10th century Egypt, with its adherents Arab culturally and linguistically. Although also an Abrahamic faith, they distinguish themselves from the major Abrahamic religions. The Druze are located largely in northern Israel and southern Syria.

We may have time to stop at Kibbutz Lavi (one of the few remaining religious kibbutzim in Israel) near the Sea of Galilee to hear a rabbi share with us about Jewish faith in the 21st century. Our lodging for the next three nights is the Ron Beach Hotel in Tiberius. Right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, it has a wonderful swimming pool. Swimming in the Sea of Galilee itself is also an option. The port area within comfortable walking distance of the hotel has become a major tourist zone.

Tuesday, April 30 – Day 5: Sea of Galilee region (Tiberius)

Much of Jesus' ministry took place in the area around the Sea of Galilee. Today we focus on sites important in that ministry. Capernaum appears to have been his base of operations. It is identified in the New Testament as the home of Simon Peter, as probably well as Jesus himself. Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, and healed a man who had the spirit of a demon. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of two ancient synagogues built one over the other, and of a house sometimes claimed to be the home Peter.

The traditional location for the Mount of Beatitudes is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. A Byzantine Church was erected there in the 4th century, with some remains still visible. A Roman Catholic chapel was built in 1938. Nearby is Tabgha, a possible site of the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with only five loaves of bread and two fish. A mosaic of bread and fish is found in the Church of the Multiplication. On the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee is Bethsaida, another important location in Jesus' ministry.

The remains of a boat (sometimes called the Sea of Galilee Boat) dates to the first century CE are displayed at the Kibbutz Ginnosar. Our day will include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Wednesday, May 1 – Day 6: Northern Galilee & the Golan Heights (Tiberius)

Today we head to northern Galilee and the Golan Heights. During this drive we will likely see Mount Hermon in the distance where the Israeli controlled Golan Heights meet Lebanon and Syria. In this region there are numerous Druze villages. We will have lunch either in a Druze restaurant, or possibly even in Druze homes.

In the far north of Galilee are Caesarea Philippi and Dan. Caesarea Philippi was an ancient Roman city adjacent to a spring, grotto, and shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan, which mutated into its contemporary name, Banias. Jesus took his disciples on a retreat to Caesarea Philippi where, perhaps with the shrine of Pan in the background, he asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt. 16:13-28). Today the city is no longer inhabited, but remains an important archaeological site. In the Old Testament Dan represented the northern boundary of Israel, as in the phrase, "from Dan to Beersheba." It is located at the head of the Jordan River. Here Jeroboam set up one of two golden calves to compete with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-31). Archaeology has recovered the remains of that altar in Dan. In 1993 an inscribed stone was discovered here on which an unnamed king (perhaps Hazael of Aram/Syria) boasts of having defeated the king of Israel and his ally the king of the House of David, the first time the name of King David has been found outside of the Bible. Perhaps there will be time for a hike at either Dan or Caesarea Philippi, both located in scenic settings.

Thursday, May 2 – Day 7: West Bank, on the way to Jericho (Jericho)

After several days in Galilee we begin our journey south to Judea and Jerusalem. Today we will travel through the heart of Old Testament country north of Jerusalem, the area significant for early Israel, as well as for the Northern Kingdom during its height.

A key location is ancient Shechem (contemporary Nablus). It was already a Canaanite settlement prior to the time of Old Testament Israel. Abraham spent time here. It is the traditional location of Jacob's Well (Gen. 33:18-19; 34:2) as well as Joseph's Tomb. Outside of Shechem are Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. According to Deuteronomy, Israel renewed its covenant with Yahweh at this location, with six tribes on one mount, and six on the other, speaking responsively to each other. Mount Gerizim also is the ancient and contemporary home of the Samaritan community (ca. 500-1,000 members), the only remaining descendants of the New Testament Samaritans. Here they carry on the traditions of their ancestors, including a sacrificial system. We may also have time to visit the Nablus Market, a traditional Palestinian market.

Samaria (or Sabattya), is an important site, with remains both from Old Testament times when it was the capital of the Northern Kingdom (there is some evidence of the remains of the royal palaces of Omri and Ahab), and New Testament times and later when it was a significant Roman city.

As we continue south we will pass through the region of the Old Testament sites of Bethel, Ai, and Shiloh, although little or nothing remains of these sites, with even their exact locations disputed. We will skirt Jerusalem on our way to Jericho (also known as "City of Palm Trees"), a modern Arab community situated on the west side of the Jordan. Jericho is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, as well as the lowest inhabited site on earth, at more than 800 feet below sea level. Due to its elevation, warm weather and springs it serves as the winter retreat for people from colder climates. It also is an amazing fruit growing region. Our home for next three nights will be the Oasis Hotel in Jericho, a comfortable lodging with a great pool area.

Friday, May 3 – Day 8: Qumran, the Dead Sea, and Masada (Jericho)

Today we visit Masada, an important site for contemporary Jewish identity. Herod the Great constructed palaces and fortresses on a high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea between 37 and 31 BCE. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, a group of survivors fled to the fortress at Masada, where the Roman legions placed them under siege two years later. When the Romans finally succeeded in building a ramp (still visible) up the side and breaking through the walls, they discovered nearly 1,000 Jews had committed mass suicide. The Masada story is used to motivate absolute commitment among Israeli soldiers, with their swearing-in ceremony taking place on Masada, climaxing with the declaration, "Masada shall not fall again." We will take a cable car up the side of the hill to tour the site.

 

The Qumran Community lived on a plateau near Jericho, with the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were accidentally discovered in 1946/47 in the hills behind it. By now nearly 1,000 separate texts have been discovered, with a complete Isaiah scroll the best known (possibly written a century or more before Christ). It is thought these scrolls were hidden in the caves by the community, possibly Essenes, before and during the time of Christ, perhaps to protect them from the Roman invaders who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.

At the same time, however, the Temple Mount is also a sacred site for the Muslim community, some of whom consider it to be the third most sacred site in their tradition. The Temple Mount has been controlled continuously by the Muslims since their reconquest of the area in the 12th century. The Jewish Knesset enforces a ban on all non-Muslim prayer on the Mount. Two buildings dominate the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, with its magnificent gold dome, was originally constructed in the late 7th century, supposedly on the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven. Next to it is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, first built in the 8th century, with the current structure dating back to the 11th century.

The Dead Sea (or Salt Sea) lies nearly 1,400 feet below sea level. It is one of the deepest hypersaline lakes in the world (ca. 1,237 ft. deep) and one of the saltiest (ca. 34% salinity). It will likely be quite warm here, perhaps even hot, even though it is only Spring. We will try to provide an opportunity for people to sit in the lake—swimming is not possible, given its high specific gravity. The Dead Sea is not as prominent in the Bible as the Sea of Galilee, but David escaped to this region when running from King Saul. We may have time to stop at Ein Gedi, an oasis and national park associated with David's escape.

Saturday, May 4 – Day 9: Jericho region (Jericho)

After a very full day and week, today will be a little more relaxed as we remain in the area of Jericho. We begin the day by visiting the archaeological site, revealing evidence of settlements going back to before 9,000 BCE. This archaeological site is one of the most famous in the whole region, where the use of modern archaeological techniques in the 1950s impacted the way the history of Israel was understood. Nearby is the Mount of Temptation, with the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Temptation. We will also travel to the Jordan River and the traditional site of Jesus' baptism. Of course, we will also have to stop at the location of "Zacchaeus' tree."

 

West of Jericho is the Wadi Kelt, a well-known seasonal stream bed. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho made famous by the story of the Good Samaritan travels through this wadi (Luke 10:30-37). Although only covering a distance of some 18 miles, it takes one from Jerusalem`s height of ca. 2,500 feet above sea level to some 800 feet below sea level, and the Jordan River rift. Constructed on a cliff wall in the wadi is St. George's Monastery with a history going back to the 4th century. The hike to the monastery is a bit of a challenge, but the views are wonderful.

Sunday, May 5 – Day 10: Bethlehem (Bethlehem)

 

We leave Jericho first thing in the morning in order to arrive in time for morning worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in the old city of Bethlehem. Bethlehem continues to be home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. After the service we will have some free time to walk around the Bethlehem market and have lunch. By then we should be able to check into our hotel, the Casa Nova. Our hotel is attached to the Church of the Nativity in the centre of Bethlehem, next to Manger Square. The church was originally commissioned by Constantine and his mother, Helena, ca. 327, and is considered to be the oldest continuously operating Christian church in the world. The current building was constructed in the 6th century, although it has had considerable renovation since. There should still be time before dinner to visit the Shepherd's Fields near Bethlehem.

Monday, May 6 – Day 11: Palestinian Christian Community (Bethlehem)

 

Today our focus is the Palestinian Christian community.  After breakfast we drive a short distance to Bethlehem Bible College for a basic introduction to the community, its challenges and dynamics. Bethlehem Bible College was founded in 1979 through the vision of Bishara Awad for an Evangelical, inter-denominational Bible College in Palestine, where students could study and serve in their native land.

Although Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem, it is divided from Jerusalem by the Separation Wall. We will walk through the wall to Tantur, another important Christian institution in the area. Tantur was opened in 1972 after an initiative by Pope Paul VI to establish a place to foster ecumenical understanding and relationships in the Holy Land. As the conflict in the land continues, it stands as a witness for peace and justice, exploring human rights and conflict resolution.

Later in the afternoon we will visit Tent of Nations, a farm operated by the Nassar family surrounded by Jewish settlements. In 2007, the Nassar Family was chosen by the World Methodist Council to receive one of two 2017 Peace Awards for their struggle for justice with faith, love and hope. For night we return to the Casa Nova.

Tuesday, May 7 – Day 12: Islam, Hebron (Bethlehem)

Today our focus shifts to Islam, and the Muslim community in the land. Local representatives of the community will share with us about their theological emphases, times of prayer, practices and the challenges it faces in the region.

Not far from Bethlehem and the Shepherd`s Fields is the Herodium. The contrast between shepherds and kings becomes clear as we visit it, a volcano-like hill constructed as a palace and fortress by Herod the Great. In 2007 Hebrew University announced that the long search for Herod's tomb had ended with the exposure of his grave on the slope of the Herodium. Along the way we will view the hills around Amos' hometown of Tekoa (Amos 1:1).

Roughly 22 kilometers south of Bethlehem is Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. According to Genesis 23 Abraham purchased a Cave at Machpelah for his and Sarah's burial. Later it became the burial site for the other patriarchs and matriarchs. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, constructed over the supposed site of the cave, is the second holiest place for the Jewish people, second only to the Temple Mount. But since the patriarchs and matriarchs are also important to the Muslims and Christians, Hebron plays a significant role for those traditions as well. Currently the building is divided in half, with half a mosque and half a synagogue. A stop at a glass factory will provide an opportunity to see some artists at work, as well as to purchase some beautiful souvenirs. We may have the opportunity to meet some Palestinians who work for justice in this conflicted setting.

Wednesday, May 8 – Day 13: Mount of Olives, old city (Jerusalem)

After breakfast we head to Jerusalem, the most important city in the land. We begin our time there by going to the Mount of Olives where we look across the Kidron Valley and an ancient cemetery for a panoramic view of the old city of Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. Here Jesus taught his disciples; here he wept over Jerusalem; and here in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed on the night he was betrayed by Judas (Mark 14:32-42).

The historic significance of the Mount of Olives is reflected in the number of churches that have been built on the Mount, including the Church of All Nations (an ecumenical church commemorating where Jesus prayed before his arrest), the Church of the Ascension (commemorating from where Jesus ascended into heaven), and the Church of the Pater Noster (commemorating where Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer—hung on the wall are plaques with the Lord's Prayer on them in over 100 different languages, including Low German).

We will then walk across the Kidron Valley to the old city of Jerusalem, passing near Bethany and Bethphage (the "passion route"). We may see some remains of the Antonia Fortress, constructed by Herod the Great around 19 BCE. From here Titus directed his troops as they viciously destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE. It is also possible that Jesus' trial took place here.

After entering the old city through the Sheep Gate (also called the Lions Gate, or St. Stephen's Gate) we come to the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the man who had been bedridden for years. Nearby is the Church of St. Anne (with its amazing acoustics!) constructed in the 12th century over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Anne, the mother of Mary. Nearby begins the Via Dolorosa (literally "Way of Sorrows, commonly known as the stations of the cross), which leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (or Church of the Resurrection). This has been a pilgrimage destination since at least the 4th century as the purported site of Golgotha, Jesus` tomb and site of his resurrection. Constantine`s mother, Helena, directed the construction of the first church on this site. The church remains home to a number of major Christian traditions, and is the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. We continue our survey of the old city by visiting sites like Dormitian Abbey, David's Tomb, and the Room of the Last Supper.

Our hotel for the next five nights is the Golden Walls Hotel in Jerusalem. It is strategically located right across the street from the old city of Jerusalem, with its huge market and shops, making it possible to walk through old city and revisit some of the key sites there.

Thursday, May 9 – Day 14: old city, Western Wall & Temple Mount (Jerusalem)

Today we zero in on the most historic part of the old city for a further day. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is thought to be a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and arguably the most sacred site for the Jewish community outside of the Temple Mount itself. It dates from the end of the Second Temple period, commonly believed to have been constructed by Herod the Great shortly before the time of Christ. Jews from around the world come here to pray, with many placing their prayers in cracks in the wall. The Western Wall Tunnel is located under the buildings of Old Jerusalem, and allows one to see parts of the wall well under ground level.

 

Although disputed, the Temple Mount (or Haram al-Sharif) is often identified with Biblical Mount Moriah, where Abraham came to sacrifice his son Isaac, as well as Mount Zion where the original Jebusite fortress stood which David conquered when he made Jerusalem his capital. Judaism considers the Temple Mount to be the place chosen by God for his Divine Presence, and where Solomon then built the first Temple (ca. 950 BCE), and Zerubbabel the second (ca. 515 BCE). This second temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD after Herod the Great had made extensive renovations. Many Jews continue to long for building a third temple on this site.

At the same time, however, the Temple Mount is also a sacred site for the Muslim community, some of whom consider it to be the third most sacred site in their tradition. The Temple Mount has been controlled continuously by the Muslims since their reconquest of the area in the 12th century. The Jewish Knesset enforces a ban on all non-Muslim prayer on the Mount. Two buildings dominate the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, with its magnificent gold dome, was originally constructed in the late 7th century, supposedly on the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven. Next to it is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, first built in the 8th century, with the current structure dating back to the 11th century.

The area south of the Temple Mount is rich in archaeological remains. Here we see the Southern Steps which probably led to the main entrance of the Temple Mount. If there is any place in Jerusalem where one can with some confidence say that "Christ walked here," it would probably be on these steps. Here we will also see other remains dating back to the time of Herod, including a 1st century street, and the Huldah Gates.

Later in the afternoon we will visit the Israel Museum. The Shrine of the Book is a wing of the museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. At the entrance to the museum is an amazing model of Jerusalem during the time of Christ.

Friday, May 10 – Day 15: Judiasm, Yad Vashem, synagogue worship (Jerusalem)

Today our interest is Judiasm, as the religion of our Old Testament, and as the tradition of the state of Israel. We begin with a visit to Kehilat Kol Haneshema synagogue, one of the few reformed synagogues in Israel. Here the congregation's founder and leader, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kolman, will speak to us about Judaism, as well as his perspectives on the current conflict. He is very much shaped by his being a committed Zionist, and at the same time, co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. A word of advice he gives: "The most unhelpful thing you can do is to choose sides and demonize the other group. That simply reinforces the sense of victimhood and fails to recognize the common humanity we share." Other speakers will also be arranged.

A significant feature of the land is the presence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. We will try to visit Ephrat, and have a conversation with its mayor.

In the evening we participate in synagogue worship. It may even be possible to have a typical Sabbath meal in private Jewish homes. No event is as critical in shaping contemporary Israeli and Jewish identity as the Holocaust. Children and young people are systematically taught the significance of this event. Yad Vasehm is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The modern state of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948 following the horrific tragedy depicted here. We begin the day with a visit to Yah Vashem. This is part of the city is also where the Israeli government buildings, and Knesset (Israeli government) are located.

Saturday, May 11 – Day 16: Garden Tomb, local organizations (Jerusalem)

Right behind our hotel is the Garden Tomb, a beautiful garden with an ancient tomb which is considered by some to be the possible tomb of Jesus. Here we can meditate on the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Mennonite Central Committee has been active in the region since 1949. It will introduce us to its work. Sabeel is an ecumenical li liberation theology center, with Naim Ateek the Founding Director. We hope to have Cedar Duaybis, an eloquent speaker and author as well as a founding member, speak to us about its work, and how it has struggled theologically with the current situation. The Quakers established a school in Ramallah some 150 years ago already. Nearby is the Friends Meeting House built in 1910, where Jean Zaru continues to provide visionary leadership.

A Sound and Light show at the Tower of David complete the day.

Sunday, May 12 – Day 17: Exploring Jerusalem (Jerusalem)

Today is our last full day in the city of Jerusalem, "the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths, the prize of empires." After two busy weeks, today will be fairly relaxing, with opportunity to visit where and what you like.

People may want to worship at either the Melchite Greek Catholic Church, a church with eastern or orthodox traditions but part of the Roman Catholic Church, or The Church of the Redeemer (Lutheran), both within comfortable walking distance.

In the afternoon people can wander around the old city, visiting shops in the market, or other sites (e.g., Tower of David Museum) not formally part of the tour. After dinner we will gather for a final worship service and communion. What a wonderful way to end our time together in the Holy Land!

Monday, May 13 – Day 18: Departure, for home, or elsewhere

Our time in Israel/Palestine is over. A bus will transfer us to the nearby Ben Gurion airport, from which we depart for home (or, perhaps for some, to Petra). After just over two weeks in this historic and contested region, you will never read the Bible or hear the news the same way again!