Mount of Olives panorama

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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Galilee and Northern Israel, Day 1

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.

At the mouth of the Valley of the Doves we read Matthew 4:18–20, sang “Come, Follow Me,” and offered a prayer before we walked up the trail in silence so that our group had time for meditation, thought, and their own prayers.

Church of the Multiplication

Rami then drove us 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, and read 3 Nephi 20:8–9 before singing “Bless Our Fast, We Pray,” which has lines about feeding our souls and filling our hearts.

The Church of the Multiplication
Our group in the court of the church, where we help our site devotional
Inside the modern church, which was rebuilt on the site and in the style of the original Byzantine church
One of the fringe benefits of a "Christmas in the Holy Land" tour is that so many of the churches still have Nativity creches

Under the altar is a Byzantine-era mosaic of a basket with 5 loaves of break flanked by two fish, reminiscent of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000
Mount of Beatitudes

After visiting the church, we continued on to the Mount of Beatitudes, which is always one of my favorites. We read Matthew 5:1–12, talked a bit about the intent of the overall Sermon on the Mount, and then read Matthew 5:48, offering a control on unintended and unhelpful perfectionism. Sang “More Holiness Give Me.” We then had some time on the lovely grounds.


We then made the long drive to Caesarea Philippi, where the water at Banias Falls and at the site itself was higher and flowing more strongly than I have ever seen it before. All the water, and the greenery of the winter season, were another difference of this winter season tour.

At Caesarea Philippi itself, we talked about Peter’s Confession in Mark 8:27–30 and Matthew 16:13–20 and sang “I believe in Christ." 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 site of Caesarea Philippi, with one of the three headwaters of the Jordan River

Our group in front of the cave sacred to Pan

Artist's depiction of Caesarea Philipppi in the Roman Period

The cave sacred to Pan was seen as one of the entrances to the Underworld, which gave Jesus' statement about the "gates of hell" not prevailing some new meaning

A hyrax, known in the KJV as a "rock badger." My kids used to call them "evil beavers"
Sala showed us parts of the site I have never seen before, such as the Roman bridge, the nineteenth century flour mill of the now destroyed Syrian village of Banias.

Walking under the old Roman bridge

The old Iraq-Haifa oil line from the period of the British Mandate
Syrian flour mill

Not sure where Elaine is escaping to . . .

Herod Agrippa II was the great grandson of Herod, who inherited the old tetrarchy of Philip and remained loyal to Rome during the great Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-72
Above and below: Remains of the palace of Agrippa II

Syria police station built on an Ottoman building built on top of a Herodian building

Mount Bental

Picture from a 2014 trip when it as not raining!
We then drove to Har Bental but could not see anything because of clouds and mist. That notwithstanding, we really were blessed: while it rained through the day, it always seemed to slow or even stop when we were at the important sites.

Came back to the hotel, had dinner, and then ran our devotional in lieu of a Sabbath sacrament meeting. We sang “Come, We That Love the Lord,” after which Sister Belnap prayed. I introduced the theme of coming to Christ with Moroni 10:32–33 and then Elaine spoke quite effectively, and movingly, about coming to know her Savior despite cynicism. I then talked about coming to Christ through the scriptures, recounting my conversion to the Book of Mormon through 2 Nephi 33:10–11; through ordinances, reading the sacrament prayers and sharing the story of the first time Samuel passed the sacrament; and through revelation, citing the confession of Peter, the Beloved Disciple’s recognition of the Risen Lord in John 21, and the promise of D&C 88:66. We then sang “Come unto Jesus” and Brother Strong prayed.

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