Israel, “Syria”, Austria, England

Day 8 of our Israeli tour and we had the morning off.  It had been full on since we landed in Tel Aviv so we all needed a bit of a break.  I spent the morning writing about Scotland on my blog, which seems such a long time ago and slightly odd to be doing so in this hot country.   I am getting further and further behind writing about our travels.  Oh, well, I will persevere.  I started this blog for our families back home but now I realise that they will be a great record for Dennis and myself- we have done so much in our time away from home, it is easy to forget things.

Along with learning and seeing new things each day, we are thoroughly enjoying getting to know our travel companions.  Chris is a professor at Moorland Theological College and he has about 20 students travelling with him.  They range in age from early 20’s to a few couples in their 40’s who are all studying at Moorland.  We have three serving Pastors, a couple with their wives and one without and another Pastor who is single.   A few older women, who love to travel, a couple who own their own Elderly Care Home taking a holiday for a couple of weeks, a couple on their honeymoon, a young woman who flew out from Sydney especially for the tour, a retired couple and several young single people,  probably in their late 20’s.   They come from a variety of Church backgrounds but most are of Baptist persuasion.    It’s quite incredible that such a diverse group of people of differing backgrounds, ages and experiences can meet together and quickly form a real bond of friendship and oneness knowing that we all profess the basics of the same faith.  The discussions during our free time, particularly in the evenings, invariably centres around our experiences as Christians in our home surroundings.  It so interesting to hear each other’s stories.   People are amazed to hear that we have been in the UK for a year and are interested in our house sitting stories and our plans for further travel, down to Istanbul.

I’m not sure why Charles is so worried! Jane looks happy

Heather and Chris were on their honeymoon, from Northern Ireland

Hazel is Chris’ Mum and a very fit 80-year-old!

In the afternoon we were back on the bus and off to Megiddo, 50 kms south-west of our kibbutz.  Megiddo is another Tell and sits high on a hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley.   This valley is a vast fertile plain that was the ancient trade route linking Africa and Asia,  it has also been the site of many battles since antiquity.  It has been known by the name Armageddon, which is a corruption of Har Megiddo, meaning mountain of Megiddo.  Revelations speaks about the Kings meeting together for battle at Armageddon (Rev 16 & 19) and several different religions hold to differing views on this subject.  The Tell is of course being excavated and studied by archeologists and so far they have found 22 separate cities on this site, one on top of the other.  The last city was at the time of Solomon after which it was abandoned.  As with any city there has to be a water supply and at Megiddo there is a spring.  We walked the 183 steep steps down to the source. The steps were as close to vertical as you could get, I reckon, and then through a horizontal tunnel to finally get to the water right in the centre of rock and then up the 80 steps out to the other side of the Tell.  I am so amazed at the skill of these people, digging and building all this  by hand.   Looking out from the Tell we could see Mt. Tabor in the distance.  This is a domed shaped mountain and is mentioned several times in the Bible.  Deborah and Barak leading the army against Sisera (Judges 4), and it’s the traditional site of the transfiguration (Matt 17).  The plains are extensively farmed with a greater variety of produce than we had seen so far, carrots, sunflowers for seed and melons in addition to crops we had seen at other locations.  

The oldest Church in Israel has been found under this Israeli Prison for Israelis. It dates from the 3rd century. They are considering moving the prison to enable public access.

The Israeli Prison for Palestinians, just down the same road as the other one

Tel Megiddo

The Plain of Jezreel is huge

Down, down, down to the spring at Tel Megiddo

I’m getting braver in tunnels

Mt. Tabor

As the bus travelled towards Nazareth we were climbing in altitude and as a result the temperatures were slightly better.  Just a “cool” 39 degrees up at this level, it did feel much cooler to us than back at the kibbutz.  Cana is a still a small town about 10 kms north of Nazareth.  Of course, this was where Jesus performed His first miracle of turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, (John 2).  Just a short bus ride through the road tunnels and we were in Nazareth.  Today this is an Arab town inside the State of Israel.   We went to a working Museum run by Arab Christians.  It is right in the centre of the town and comprises several acres in a valley. It displays a typical village at the time of Jesus’ ministry.  It has shepherds with their flocks, grains growing and the threshing floor, a cemetery, vineyards and an olive grove with the presses, a carpenter workshop, a weaver’s workshop and a synagogue.  They grow all the typical crops here in season and show you how the work was done and also how the village work functioned at that time.  It was fascinating and while we were there the carpenters’ workshop was operating along with the weaver’s shop.   They use this replica village as an evangelism tool, having guides taking small groups of people through and explaining everything carefully.  They were keen for people to ask questions all along the way.  We found it an excellent insight into life in the first century.  Nazareth itself was quite a dirty city, with lots of litter around.  Having the atmosphere so dusty and not having rain for months on end can’t have helped either, but it did look drab.

Almost at Nazareth

This door is called The Eye of the Needle. If a man wanted to walk through he would open the smaller of the two but if he wanted to take his camel he opened the larger.

Olive trees in Israel are ancient. They remove all the green growth very few years to enable them to pick the fruit without the aid of ladders

Sheep and goats are always in the same flock

The instrument used during threshing the grain, there are stones set in the holes

Peter from Guernsey sits beside the threshing floor

Barbara stepping into the grave for a look at how they would lay a body on the small shelf, next to her shoulder.  After a year they removed the bones and placed them in an ossuray box.  There were several shelves in each family grave

A typical grave in Jesus’ time

Baskets made from reeds, you fill them with whole olives and stack them one on top of the other

Place the full baskets (with olives) on the stones, and push the weighted bar down

Carpenter’s workshop in operation

Tools used in Jesus’ time

The wool was from the sheep on site as were the natural dyes


A typical synagogue at the time of Jesus

On our way down to the beach for the prayer meeting the next morning one of the older ladies tripped and hurt her wrist.  After breakfast she decided that she wasn’t fit enough to join us in the bus and by the time the bus was due to leave she had decided to go to hospital.   We had a medical doctor as a tour member and he had advised her to get it seen to.  Her friend stayed with her.  This was a real blow, as other than a few people having a “funny tummy” while on tour, we have been accident and sickness free.   

Modern Nazareth

A pomegranate

Modern Nazareth

Today we visited the Tell at Hazor.  It was huge, 200 acres in all, the largest one in Israel and it also had a varied history.  On the welcome sign it says “they have dated items back from the third millennium BC through to the destruction of the Israelite city by the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III in 732BC”.  There had been a great civilisation here before the time of Abraham, then the next thing we know in the Bible is that Joshua defeated this city as part of his rampage through the Canaanite peoples (Josh 11) and he burned the city with fire.   Many years later Solomon rebuilds the walls of Hazor and Megiddo (1 Kings 9) but it was again destroyed, this time by the King of Assyria (2 Kings 15) and then it was cursed by Jeremiah prophesying that “it would a be haunt for jackals”.  Today it is in ruins with clear signs of the sacking of the city by fire, but though it is in ruins you can make out the palaces of the Kings of Hazor from 14-13th century BC, the Solomon Gate from the 10th century BC, King Ahab’s 9th century BC water system as well as various residential dwellings and storehouses.  We walked the many steps down to the water system that was designed to ensure the city had a steady supply during any siege.  A vertical shaft had been dug through earlier occupation layers with a sloping tunnel at the bottom, reaching ground water at around 40 metres.  Boy, was I hot and puffing when I got back to the top again!

Whatever do these animals eat?

Just a weed

Just a weed

Down the steeps to see the water system at Hazor

Extensive ruins at Hazor

Clear evidence of Joshua’s burning the city

Oil press at Hazor

Driving further north towards the border with Syria, there were lots of signs of past conflicts between the two nations.  Many pill boxes, watch towers and bunkers in the fields,  reminders that the Middle East can be a dangerous place.  Next stop was Dan, on the foothills of Mount Hermon, this is the northern-most point of Israel.  At the base of Mt. Hermon there are springs of water all over the place, not one central one but hundreds of them gushing out under the rocks.  These springs are one of the sources of the Jordan River.  With all this water around it is beautifully lush and green.   Once again there is a Tell here as well, but it was much more intact than the others we’ve been to.  The monumental gates and fortifications are extraordinary!  At the entrance to the city gates stands an altar to Moloch, where babies were burnt alive to appease this god.  It was gruesome to stand and look at it and remember the Biblical accounts of how even the Israelite Kings offered their children to this idol.  The city of Dan is very important in the Bible, it often is used as part of the description of the extent of Old Testament Israel,”from Dan to Beersheba” (1 Sam 3), it was one of the alternatives to Jerusalem when the nation was divided into two and one of the golden calves was erected here by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12), it became such a centre of idolatry that the whole tribe was cursed and they were excluded in the list of genealogies in 1 Chron., (most important for the Jews) and again in Rev. 7 they are ignored in the list of tribes.  When we got to the top of the Tell, there were still trenches and bunkers dug out by the Israeli Army at the time of the 1967 Six Day War.  A burnt out Syrian bulldozer was sitting up here as well, apparently the Syrians had intended to divert the springs to flow into their terrority and deplete the Jordan!   I found that most extraordinary, as how were they expecting to redirect all those springs?  From this vantage point we could look directly into Lebanon.

…..  combine to produce several rushing streams

Each small spring at the base of Mt. Hermon …

Amazing walls at Dan

Moloch’s altar beside the main gates into the Tell at Dan

The Golden Calf would have stood atop the outline of the altar here, at the high place in Dan

The Syrian bulldozer was an odd sight, next to the temple site

Mt. Hermon is 2743m high

Bunkers  left over from the 1967 War

Trenches left from the Six day War

Caesarea Philippi is just a few kilometres east of Dan.  The Jordan River is the most important water source in Israel and the most important source of the Jordan is at Caesarea Philippi.  The water used to burst out of a cave in the middle of a cliff face but now, due to seismic activity, it appears at the base of the cliff.  The cliff face has many temples and niches carved into it, all places of worship to quite a range of gods.  Areas dedicated to Pan, Caesar, Baal ,and Dennis’s name-sake: Dionysius (the god of wine).    It was here that Jesus brought His disciples, to the place that had many idols set up by the cliff and asked them those famous questions, “Who do men say that I am?” and “But who do you say that I am?”  To which Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8)

Dionysius= Dennis An example of the many niches carved into this 50 m long cliff face

All the temples had been destroyed at Caesarea Philippi but bits and pieces still littered the site

We stopped off at a viewing platform to see part of the country of Syria.  On one side of the road were the Golan Heights and on the other Syria lay in a vast valley with mountains in the distance.   Syria looked just as productive agriculturally as this side of the border.  Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967, as a result of the Six Day War.  The disputed region is a plateau 65 kms long from north to south and varies in width from 12  to 25 kms.  The Israelis have created settlements along this plateau which is provocative for both Syria and Lebanon.  The disputed area is still patrolled by the UN today. You can see why Israel wishes to hang onto it as it would be a great place for Syria to attack Israel from due to it height and nearness to the source of the Jordan.   Between the road where we were travelling on and the Syrian border, bright yellow signs warned of land mines.  There were many Israeli Army bases along this stretch of highway.  Not a place to linger at.

The Golan Heights bristled with antennae

Syria looks just as fertile as Israel, where there’s water

When we got back to the Kibbutz after a long day of driving and walking we were sad to find that Dorrie had in fact broken her wrist and was in plaster up to her elbow!   They were pleased with the service she had been given at the hospital and thankful that it was all covered by her travel insurance, but it was shame for that to have happened on her last full day in Israel.
We were due to board our bus for the last leg of our tour, back to Tel Aviv International Airport, at 1.30a.m. on 10 September 2012.  I think I only slept for about 30 minutes, while waiting for the alarm to go!  It was a two-hour journey there so I did snatch a bit of shut eye before getting off the bus.  Shadi was an excellent bus driver and we were all good friends with him at the end of 10 days touring.   Suzie, the young lady from Sydney left us at this  stage and took off in the opposite direction looking for the appropriate gateway for her flight back to Australia.   Dennis and I got through Israeli Customs with no problems but several others had to repack their bags after a thorough inspection. They did have a particularly close look at our passports though.   Air  Austrian flights all the way back to Heathrow, with the same miserable servings of food and even a very similar one-slice-sandwich on the second flight as lunch!    Give me Air NZ anyday for friendly service and good hospitality.   We were late leaving Tel Aviv so consequently the stopover in Vienna was shorter too.  They had free WiFi in the transit lounge and when I cranked up the computer to check on emails, we were thrilled to be able to Skype with Frances and Gerry all the way back in Wainuiomata, New Zealand.  What a wonderful blessing this technology is!
There were lots of fond farewells at Heathrow, with everyone going off in all directions to get to their homes, some as far away as Northern Ireland and Scotland.   This trip has been such a highlight for us and we felt spiritually refreshed as well as much more informed.   The organisation on the part of Oak Hall Expeditions was second to none.  Everything  was so well done and everything fell into place seamlessly.  The two leaders, Ian and Chris, complimented each other very well and proved to be well-informed and great communicators.   I would  thoroughly recommend this company to anyone and will be taking some of their brochures home to NZ to spread the word.

Shadi, our excellent driver


A great group to have toured with…