Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Holy Land Day 2: Valley of the Doves, St. Peter's Primacy, Tabgha, and Caesarea Philippi

Valley of the Doves

 We started our first day in Galilee with a devotional and walk in Wadi Hamam, or "The Valley of the Doves." Under the cliffs of Mount Arbel, this valley marks the route of the branch of the old Via Maris, or "Way of the Sea" that led from the coast inland towards Damascus and eventually to Mesopotamia. Because it passed near Nazareth on its way to the Sea of Galilee, this was doubtlessly the route that Jesus would have taken as he walked from his home town to the Sea of Galilee, where so much of his mortal mission took place.

Under a tree near the main road, we talked about Jesus' call of his first disciples in Matthew 4 an John 1 and what it meant to follow him. We then sang "Come Follow Me" and then separated, walking up the valley alone in silence to find places to meditate, reflect, and pray.

The Ancient Via Maris, which had left the coast and then passed Megiddo, winds through Galilee (including Nazareth) until it emerges under Mount Arbel at the Sea of Galilee

Returning to our bus at he main road after walking in silence up the valley for personal reflection and prayer

Mount of Beatitudes

Next we continued on to the Mount of Beatitudes, which is always one of my favorites. We talked a bit about the intent of the overall Sermon on the Mount, discussed how Jesus fulfilled the Law and then had nine members of our group take turns reading each of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1–12. After reading Matthew 5:48 and offering a control on unintended and unhelpful perfectionism. After reciting the Lord's Prayer together and singing “More Holiness Give Me,” I offered a prayer. We then had some time on the lovely grounds.


St. Peter's Primacy

Our next stop was St. Peter’s Primacy, the traditional site of the appearance of the Risen Lord to seven disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I read and taught from John 21, after which we sang “My Redeemer Lives.” The site takes its name from Jesus commission of Peter to "feed his sheep." I ended by discussing the model of the Beloved Disciple who is last seen following the Risen Lord as a model of discipleship for all of us. (you could see the conclusion of my Becoming the Beloved Disciple for more on this 😉)

Choir pic

Ward pic
Ancient Scripture Geek pic (with my buddy an fellow faculty member Tyler Griffin)
 After the usual pictures next to, and some wading in, the Sea of Galilee, we looked into the small chapel that features the mensa Christi, or "meal of Christ," rock which is said to be where Jesus fed the disciples.

Because the chapel was so crowded today, I am including this picture of the mensa Christi that I took at my last trip in December (hence the Christmas decorations)

Church of the Multiplication 

We then walked down to Tabgha, where we gathered for our devotional in the atrium of the Church of the Multiplication. Read Mark 6:41–44, mentioned parts of the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6.

The current Church of the Multiplication is a modern sanctuary built to evoke the original early Christian basilica built to commemorate the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000
The cool, peaceful courtyard of the basilica is where we held our devotional

The floor includes parts of ancient mosaics that have been restored or completed. This is the "Nilometer" which measured the Nile River's annual flooding

Under the altar is an early Christian mosaic of the loaves and the fishes. Although the text says there were 5 loaves, there are only 4 in this basket, because the fifth is Jesus, the Bread of Life

Caesarea Philippi (Banias)

The waters of Banias flowing out from the cave dedicated anciently to Pan
After Tabgha, we drove through Upper Galley, climbing the hills and passing through the Hula Valley before coming to Banias, where we had lunch at the Lebanese Restaurant. We then walked into the National Park that contains Caesarea Philippi. Here we talked about Peter’s Confession in Mark 8:27–30 and Matthew 16:13–20 and sang "We're Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord." 
One of the three headwaters of the Jordan River actually emerges from a cave just above the classical site, which in Jesus' time was the capital of the tetrarchy of Herod's son Philip. In the Hellenistic Period a sanctuary to the nature god Pan had been built here, which is still recalled in the Arabic name for the site, Banias. Herod had also built a temple to Augustus here, and all this paganism puts the declaration of Jesus in a different context. Here was the true Son of God.

It later was the capital of a small kingdom given to Agrippa II, a great grandson of Herod the Great and the son of Agrippa I.

The cave of Pan was seen anciently as the gates of the Underworld (Hades or "Hell").

Usually our groups drive down the rushing stream a bit to see how they plunge dramatically into a gorge at Banias Falls, but some construction was being done at this site so we missed it this trip.

Mount Bental

Out last stop for the day was on the border of the Golan Heights, where Har Bental overlooks the Syrian border, and the city of Quneitra. At its top their is an old Israeli Defense Forces outpost that overlooks an earlier Syrian pill box.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Holy Land Day 1: Caesarea, Mount Carmel, Megiddo, and Nazareth

About half of my Jordan group continued on with me for the Israel/Palestine portion of our tour, and we were joined by twenty-four new arrivals, so we pulled out of the hotel in Tel Aviv this morning with fifty-six. Paul Jennings (my roommate) offered the devotional, using the conversion of St. Paul to talk about discipleship and coming to know the the Lord and then read the passage in 3 Nephi 5:13, that begins, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ . . ." We then sang "I Believe in Christ."

Caesarea Maritima

Our group standing in the remains of Herod's seaside palace
As we drove to our first site, Caesarea Maritima, up the coast, we talked about some of the events that had happened in Jaffa just south of Tel Aviv, the ill-dated trip of Jonah and especially the vision of Peter regarding the Gentiles from Acts 10:9-18. After that vision, Peter was summoned to Caesarea, which was then the capital of the Roman province of Judea. There he preached to, converted, and baptized the centurion Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:24-48).

Our local guide, Salah Siyam, could not join us until part way through the day, so a colleague, Tarik, assisted me in leading the group through Caesarea. It was built by Herod the Great as the main port of his kingdom, which was a client state of the Romans at the time. He built it as a great Greek and Roman-style city where he could enjoy "Gentile" culture when he wanted to get away from the Jewish strictures of Jerusalem. After serving as the Roman capital after the death of Herod and the deposition of his son, Herod Archealus, it later became the capital of the "Byzantine," or Greek-speaking, Christian, late Roman Judea. Later it was captured by the Arabs, held by the Crusaders, and destroyed by the Mamluks.

Much of this history was reviewed in a video presentation that our group sat through after Tarik and I took them to the Roman theater, where a grandson of Herod the Great, Agrippa II, had been struck dead by the Lord (see Acts 12:20-23).

Next we walked down to the remains of Herod's palace, which was built on a jetty out into the Mediterranean so that it had sea views on three sides. When Judea was a province, this palace served as the headquarters of the Roman governor, so we held our  main devotional in the place of the judgment hall of the Palace of Herod, talking about the trial of Paul before Festus and Agrippa II (see Acts 25-26) and singing “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord.”

Next we quickly walked through some of the other ruins at Caesarea, such as the hippodrome or horsetrack. As we exited, I read from 2 Timothy about Paul's "finishing his course," or race, before his death.


As we drove out of Caesarea, we stopped at the ruins of the aqueducts that Herod had built to bring water to his city from Mount Carmel in the north.

Mount Carmel and Muhraqa

We then drove up to Mount Carmel, which overlooks the sea and the great port city of Haifa on one side and the Jezreel Valley on the other. This was the site of Elijah's legendary context with the priests of Ba'al as recounted in 1 Kings 18, which is commemorated at the Monastery of Muhraqa, which means "place of the burning" in Arabic. It was . It was drizzling at Muraqah, so we sang, “Who’s On the Lord’s Side, Who?” and then went right up on the roof of the monastery but could not see much of the Jezreel Valley through the haze.

Under the statue of Elijah killing a priest of Ba'al
The small chapel of the Carmelite monastery at Muhraqa
On the roof of the monastery with a view of the Jezreel Valley beyond

From Muhraqa, we drove to the Druze village of Daliyat al-Karmel, where we had a lunch of falafel and schnitzel.


The wide Jezreel Valley is one of the most fertile parts of Israel, ancient and modern. It separates the hills and mountains of Samaria to the south from the hills of Galilee to the north, and it also connects the coast with the Jordan Valley inland. As a result, it forms an important crossroads, and almost every invasion of the the Holy Land in antiquity came through it.

To control this strategic area, ancient Canaanites built a massive fortress city at a place called Megiddo. King Solomon of the united kingdom and later Omri and Ahab of the northern kingdom rebuilt Megiddo as an important fortress.  It is also mentioned in prophecies, such as Revelation 16:14-21 where the Hebrew Har Megiddo, or "Mount of Megiddo," is incorrectly rendered in Greek as Armageddon.

After talking about the ultimate victory of the Lord over all evil and opposition, we sang, "Come Thou Glorious Day of Promise."

View of the strategic Jezreel Valley (or Valley of Esdraelon) where many battles have been fought through the millennia
With the valley tel, or archaeological ruins, behind us

Solomon and then northern kings such as Omri and Ahab used Megiddo as a military center for their chariots. In the remains of its many stables are the remnants of stone mangers, or feeding troughs. It's hard to imagine the baby Jesus being laid in a stone bed!
Remains of ancient Megiddo
The tunnel of the ancient water works, which are an anticipation of the more famous tunnel of Hezekiah in Jerusalem


We then drove into Nazareth, which is the largest Israeli-Arab city in the country. Like Bethlehem, it was historically a Christian majority town, but the displacement of so many Palestinians after the Nakbah (Arabic, "disaster") of 1948 changed its demographics, and there are now many Muslims residents.

In the city of Nazareth itself, we went first to the Greek Catholic “Synagogue Church,” which is supposedly built over the site of the original synagogue of Jesus' time. There we recalled the account of Jesus in the synagogue from Luke 4:16-27 and sang, quite movingly, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Went to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where I first recounted the annunciation to Mary in Luke 1 and then read from 1 Nephi 11 and talked about the importance of Mary not only as the mother of Jesus but also as one of the most powerful witnesses of her Son. After letting the group go through the basilica and the Church of St. Joseph on their own, we met for a picture on north side before having a devotional about the role of Joseph as the guardian of Jesus and as a model for us in a shady area before letting people visit the church dedicated to him.

the grotto in the lowest level of the Basilica of the Annunciation. It has the remains of the first Byzantine church and the later Crusader church.

The upper main sanctuary of the basilica, which is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East.

I love this fresco of Mary and a grown Jesus comforting an aged Joseph before his death
The interior of the Church of St. Joseph
Our final stop was Mount Precipice, which by tradition is where the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus down after he angered them in their synagogue (see Luke 4:28-30). Looking at Mount Tabor across the valley, we talked about the Transfiguration and sang “Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

Tiberias for the Night

From Nazareth, Rami drove us to Tverya, or Tiberias, the largest Israeli city on the Sea of Galilee, where we checked in to the Leonardo Hotel.