Mount of Olives panorama

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

Friday, December 28, 2018

December 28: Caesarea Maritima, Mount Carmel, Megiddo, and Nazareth.

We got a bit of a late start Friday morning, December 28, because Salah and our bus driver, Rami, had a difficult time with the traffic coming down from Jerusalem. But we quickly loaded on our bus and had our first devotional reading Psalm 145:8–9, 17–20 and singing (I seem to recall) “Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer.”

Caesarea Maritima

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).



Caesarea 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.

Getting ready to watch the introductory video at Caesarea
 Much of this history was reviewed in a video presentation that our group sat through before Salah 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)

Our group in the Roman-era theater at Caesarea
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 (which was wet and full of puddles).


Steve Nelson in the mock-up of a horse and chariot in the hippodrome


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.


Catching a little wintry beach time with Elaine

The water channel flowed on top of the arches, as seen here.



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.

A few of us in front of the statue of Elijah killing a pagan priest of Ba'al at Muhraqa
People do not usually expect the Holy Land as being cool, even cold, and rainy, but that is what winters are like there. I often joke that no one imagines Moses or Jesus shivering and wet in their robes, but it probably happened (see John 10: 10:22-23).

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


Megiddo

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.

The "tel" or archaeological mound of Megiddo. Look how green Israel and Palestine are in the winter!

Walking up the way to the "six chambered gate" that led into ancient Megiddo


The view of the Jezreel Valley from Megiddo

Our group with the Jezreel Valley behind us.
Remains of ancient Megiddo
Our group with the tel behind us
 For an ancient city or fortress, there were a few things a site needed: a defensive location, a water source, and trade. Megiddo had all three. The water source, which was originally a spring outside the walls, was brought within the defensive works through a deep shaft, stairs, and a tunnel.



Nazareth

We then drove to the modern Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth. Because the sun sets so much earlier in the Winter, we needed to switch up the order of the sites we visited, stopping first at 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.”

Salah pointing out features from Mount Precipice, with the Jezreel Valley behind him


Elaine asked me to take this picture of her looking pensive, but I do not remember why she wanted to look pensive in it. Anyway, to her right is the conical hill of Mount Tabor, one of the possible sites of the Transfiguration.

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 resident.  Still, the large Christian population meant that there were still a lot of Christmas decorations up!




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. Let the group go through the basilica and the Church of St. Joseph on their own.

The church complex with the Basilica of the Nativity on the right and the Church of St. Joseph in the upper left

An unfortunately fuzzy picture of 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 floor with the main sanctuary in the Basilica of the Annunciation
There are Madonnas from many countries in the courtyard and inside the Church. Unfortunately, the American Madonna is ultra-modern and looks like a tinfoil apparition.

 



We were so lucky that the weather held. The only time we dealt with rain was at Mount Carmel. This was a stunning sunset.

The Holy Family outside of the Church of St. Joseph.

Inside the Church of St. Joseph
I love this fresco of Mary and a grown Jesus comforting an aged Joseph before his death.

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. Because Shabbat had started at sundown, the hotel's restaurant was full of orthodox Jews who had come to enjoy a meal that they did not need to cook.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas in the Holy Land without Missing Christmas!


On December 26, 2018, Elaine and I flew out of Salt Lake City on the first leg of our trip to Tel Aviv, where we met 27 travelers on a Cruise Lady Holy Land tour.  I usually take these groups in April or May, but this was a chance to take a group between Western Christmas, December 26, and Eastern Christmas, January 6.

 Elaine had not been back to Israel and Palestine since our return from Jerusalem in 2012. In view of my pending two-year assignment as the academic director of the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2020-22, this trip was a chance to get her "feet back on the ground" in the Holy Land.

I have been back three other times leading Cruise Lady Tours and once on a university assignment, but I always love getting back to "my other home."

After changing planes in New York City and flying through the night, we arrived in Tel Aviv late in the afternoon on December 27 and caught a cab to the Grand Beach Hotel (because of the busy season, the hotels where we usually stay were, as often as not, already full). The first our our group we met were Doug and Heidi Cole in the lobby. After checking in to our room, we met a few more--Gary Thompson and his brother-in-law Rick Willie and the Jennings and Wright families--at dinner. We then had our orientation meeting in a conference room, where we met the others: the Belnap family, the Muirs, Steve Nelson and his grandsons CJ and Logan, and the Strongs.


In Tel Aviv we met our group, some of whom had already spent 4 days in Jordan. It was a small group, including couples of a various ages and several families. Because of its size, we were able to get to know our fellow-travelers well, and it was one of my most enjoyable trips.

 
The experience was even better because of our great local guide, Salah Siyam, from the Abu Tor neighborhood in Jerusalem. We worked well togehter and he quickly became a good friend.