Mount of Olives panorama

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A full final day!

Slept in our final day to catch up from two days of getting up at 4:00 to dig.  Checked out of the qibbutz and then had a very busy day as we drove back to Tel Aviv.

First, we drove back down to the Sea of Galilee and then over to the eastern shore so that we could visit a site Rachel never got to when we were living here.  That was Kursi, the traditional site of the casting out of the legion of devils into the herd of swine.  The biblical manuscripts disagree on where this occurred.  The man suffering from demonic possession is usually called the Gadarene demonic, but Gadara, a Greek city of the Decapolis, is southeast of the sea considerably far from the water.  Some manuscripts say Gerasa, the modern Jerash, but that is even farther.  So some manuscripts, perhaps under the influence of speculation by Church Father Origen, read Gergesa, though this is a city not attested anywhere.

So the traditional site of Kursi is as good a site as any to commemorate the event.  It has a steep precipice that fits the downward plunge of the pigs into the sea, and a Byzantine monastery at the bottom and a chapel halfway up the hill show that the site was reverenced early.

We then drove into the hill country of western Galilee to Yodfat, the modern site of ancient Jotapata.  This was an important hill-top fortress during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-72), made particularly significant because it was where Josephus, the later historian, was commander when the Roman general Vespasian invaded the Galilee.  When the Roman siege was about to succeed, the remaining defenders decided to commit suicide (Sound familiar?  Yes, it is much like Masada).  Josephus was one of the last two left alive, and once his partner took his own life, Josephus surrendered!  Brought before Vespasian, the Jewish commander "prophesied" that one day Vespasian would be emperor.  When this actually came about, Josephus was freed, given the Roman citizenship, and went on to become the well-known historian.

Driving to our next destination, Bet She'arim, we finally gave in when we saw a McDonalds.   19 days of falafel, shwarma, and kebobs had finally done us in.

Our stop, however, turned out to be fortuitous, because as we were exiting the McDonalds, I saw a sign pointing to Bet Lehem HaGelilit, or "Galilean Bethlehem."  I had read before about revisionist theories that Jesus had actually been born in a Galilean town named Bethlehem which was only about 12 km from Nazareth.  

Rachel is pointing to Nazareth, which is only about 12 km away
Then, as we actually drove into the community, a modern Jewish moshav, I also remembered that this had been a German Templar colony.  The Templars were a nineteenth century millennialist sect that had settled in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Galilean Bethlehem trying to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus.  Sure enough, as we drove into the community, we saw many sturdy, German stone houses and an old church!

Finally we got to Bet She'arim, which was very important Jewish center in the second through fourth centuries A.D. after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (A.D. 132–136) had shifted the center of Jewish life to Galilee.  When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah, was buried here early in the third century, it became the preferred place in the Holy Land to be buried since the Mount of Olives opposite Jerusalem was no longer available to Jews.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre moments of the day was when we saw a series of Arab couples having their wedding photos taken there.  I can almost see taking them outside the tombs, which provide interesting architectural backdrops, but one of them actually went inside to have pictures taken next to broken sarcophagi!

In addition to the tombs, we also visited some of the remains of the town itself, which is higher on the hill above the necropolis.

The basilica, a public building at Bet She'arim

In the synagogue at Bet She'arim

Our final site, of the day and our trip, was Dor, a port north of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast.  Attested in Egyptian documents and presumably a Phoenecian foundation, it was Hellenized after Alexander the Great.

It was not easy to get to.  "Dor" on the map is a modern Israeli residential neighborhood.  We then found a hotel and resort called Dor.  Then, after Rachel read in Murphy-O'Connor that the tel was accessible by walking "north on the beach," I spied an entrance to a public beach sandwiched between two resorts.  It took a lot of walking along the sand, but we finally got to see the tel!

We then drove to Herzilya, where we visited our friends, the Slights.  They made us dinner and let us shower and change before our long flight home.  Our Holy Land Adventure in 2014 at least, was over.