Israel Study Tour with Cornerstone University

Jan 3-13, 2016

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Capernaum, Magdala, and Tel Dan

Clarence Stamps II writes:

Jesus Rains (Reigns)
After a wet and rainy morning at Tel(l) Dan and Caesarea Philippi, the fourth day of our Israel Tour continued in the afternoon with stops to Capernaum and Magdala and a pass by of the site where most people think the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes, took place.

As we arrived on site at Capernaum, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, we went to an enclosure to hear a message from President Stowell. Speaking from John 21:15, he describes Peter around this general location being questioned by Christ on if he really loved him. Peter previously to this point went out fishing with the disciples in an attempt to go off course and away from their calling. This essentially would put the kingdom of God at high risk as these men represented the messengers Christ that would carry on his message. Before this point, Peter denied Christ as he was making his way towards the cross. In the words of Dr. Stowell, Peter is feeling like a personal failure. After catching no fish, Jesus appears on the shore of Galilee challenging them to cast their nets on the other side. Upon doing so, and catching too many fish to count, a discovery of Jesus being the individual telling them to cast their nets is made with Peter jumping into the water to greet him. To Peter, this had to serve as a reminder of his initial calling by Christ in Luke 5 when he was told that he would become a fisher of men. As Peter has had a few negative experiences, Christ asks Peter three times if he loved him all with the same explanation of feeding his sheep. Christ was seeking more than verbal affirmation, but for Peter to care about the same thing he cared about... People/his sheep. Dr. Stowell challenged us to think about what/who has changed in our lives in moments when we get like Peter and want to leave our assignment. As a student with various responsibilities outside of the classroom who often becomes stressed, this message spoke volumes.

Our time in Capernaum, while it was still raining, continued on with a look at a 4th century synagogue in which Jesus preached in. This was facing towards the north which was usual for a synagogue. After excavation efforts, it was discovered that this synagogue was built over a 1st century synagogue that was previously destroyed. We then looked at an excavated Capernaum village before moving back to the same enclosure to hear a message from Jennifer Greer. Her message spoke of the man with the withered hand in Mark 3 who happened to be healed at the same site of the synagogue we walked through. The man was unable to work due to his condition and Jesus saw a need to restore him despite the day being the Sabbath. Jesus established that day that he was Lord of the Sabbath and essentially Lord of every situation we go through. As it was still raining on the outside, the presence of the reigning King could be felt in the spirits of all. At the very center of Christianity, despite the conditions, we broke out into a moment of improv worship where we sung, prayed and thanked God for being our king.

Capernaum

Jesus made Capernaum his home during the years of his ministry: “Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum” (Matt 4:13).

Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen living in the village. Matthew the tax collector also dwelt here.

Capernaum is one of the three cities cursed by Jesus for its lack of faith.

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Our next stop was Magdala where we encountered a worship center where people were inside praying. It was a privilege to be able to corporately pray together for those who were in the sanctuary praying. Jesus crossed over the Sea of Galilee to this area in a boat after the multiplication of the loaves as is indicated in Matthew 15:39. It is also said that the healing of the lady with the issue of blood occurred in this region. On the lower level of the worship center was the original 1st century road that Jesus walked on himself as he came into Magdala.. The upper level of the worship center housed a large sanctuary along with various prayer rooms including one with with a picture of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. From there we went and explored the excavation of the Midgal Synagogue, which was dated back to the first century, and the House of Dice which had a miqwa'ot that was used to usher in water from the springs for ritual purity.

Even through the rain, it was a great day to encounter the life of our King that will continue to reign in our lives and hearts.

Magdala

Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, was a prosperous fishing village at the time Jesus was active in this region. The ruins of this Roman village is now enclosed within a wall. The archaeologists uncovered the remains of the village dating from the time of Jesus, and a Byzantine monastery. A mosaic floor featuring a fisherman's boat was found at the place.

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Ben Videtich writes:

Tel Dan
After seeing pillboxes from the 1967 Israeli conquest that expanded southern Israel into the Sinai peninsula and northern Israel into the Golan Heights, I felt impelled to research the Six Day War, the conflict between Israel and her neighbors: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria that has political ramifications that certainly last even in our present day.

As I continued to read my little screen on those winding mountain roads, we soon found ourselves filing off the tour bus at Tel Dan, a hilltop fortress in the heart of the mountainous far north of Israel. Genuinely, what we discovered was even more compelling than I had hoped. First, we visited the temple complex. Here, our beloved professor Dr. Jonathan Greer guided us through these ancient places of cultic worship.

One may ask why they were worshiping here, for surely there was a magnificent temple available in Jerusalem. Indeed there was, and there was a time during which faithful Jewish worshippers who were able to make the long journey on foot would have made their pilgrimage to their city, Zion, the still-influential city "on a hill" (literally, it is on a hill!) in the south.

Unfortunately, Tel Dan exists in part because the fabric that had held Israel together as a united nation soon ripped apart near the end of the 10th century BCE. I Kings 11 outlines the foibles of King Solomon, ruler of Israel, and his descent into impure worship. He sets up places of worship for his various wives and essentially appends other deities to the list that should have begun and ended with Yahweh alone. The next chapter of I Kings reveals how Jeroboam, inspired by Ahijah the priest, leads the ten northern tribes of Israel in direct rebellion against what became known as Judah, the southern kingdom. Rehoboam, the angry king of Judah, wanted to preserve his kingdom, and prepared to fight, teaming up with a contingency of Benjamites. But a prophet, Shemiah, spoke into the situation and assuaged concerns, helping the kingdom to divide peacefully.

Tel Dan

On the northern frontier of the kingdom, Dan was particularly well fortified. This gatehouse was built in the ninth century BCE, probably by Ahab, and is part of a series of gateways discovered.

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Soon after, around the end of the 10th century, the people in the northern kingdom, Israel, were worshiping at Bethel in the south of Israel and at Dan in the far north. They sought new ways to practice faith and to sacrifice to God in their newly formed kingdom, and in so doing they needed new priests. These they found, and this is where the archaeological findings at Tel Dan intersect with the literary contours of Scripture.

Walking into what remains of the temple complex at Tel Dan, I found myself taken aback with the sheer size: the structure's footprint is massive. Its design seems to have been almost entirely influenced by Pentateuchal instructions; the archaeology teams have unearthed a temple base that almost perfectly matches the Solomonic Jerusalem temple that Rehoboam inherited in the parallel yet rival kingdom of Judah. As we walked through the structure, we discovered one fascinating place for cultic practices after another. In front of the broad stairs that lead to the holy place, there was a massive altar where non-Levite priests prepared sacrifices to God. There were places for ritual washing, for placing animal skins, a garbage area for animal bones, and a well-organized design flow for all of it. Dr. Greer carefully detailed how some of the findings, including a full set of altar utensils, reveals rather orthodox Jewish worship. He even expected mixed worship before the dig, but the findings showed that these Israelites seemed to be following the ancient rites for Yahweh worship. One hope for the discoveries at Tel Dan is to help make sense of the cultic worship at Jerusalem. Not only is the larger Jerusalem temple obscured by several rebuilds and ensuing hypothetical archaeological confusion, it is presently buried under an enormous mosque. Political tensions will almost certainly prevent research efforts for generations to come. The Tel Dan explorations will shed light on how worship was simultaneously proceeding in Jerusalem.

The temple was not on its own on the hilltop. The hilltop's natural entry points were well reinforced with thick (10ft+) surrounding walls and watchtowers, all of which are in unbelievably great shape, especially when one considers their age-easily 2800 years. There is a massive gate that allowed in the residents and screened the wrong visitors, and the walls and gate worked in tandem with the natural defense the city's hills provide.

As we left the site, which many researchers believe was destroyed in 732BCE under the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III, my thoughts returned to my reading on the Six Day War of 1967. I was reminded that wars have cyclically consumed the people of this land for millennia. Kingdoms rise and fall. Throughout, the strategic places remain the same, for certain valleys and ridges offer superior regional defense. The instruments of war have changed, to be sure, but the patterns of human motive have not. And in the West in the 21st century, we are certainly not immune to these capricious impulses. America has its own skeletons in the closet: slavery, genocide, unjust wars and civilian casualties over several centuries. How does this ancient temple connect to our desire for peace and justice-the challenge of Israel's prophets?

The temple at Tel Dan was a place originally meant to honor the true God, Yahweh, the God who revealed himself in the Patriarch and who reveals himself in creation and who sustains all things. Though flawed in many ways, God's grace toward his covenant people, Israel, paved the way for his personal and incarnate entrance into the world through Jesus. At the right time, God sent his Son, Jesus, into our world, into the mess in which we have preserved it. Indeed, there are messy patterns I my own life that do not promote life and peace and hope and the greatest virtue, love. Even so, while we were sinners (a great biblical word for those who do things that harm others and our connection to God), yes, even as we continued in rebellion, God reached out: Christ died for us. For this reason, we are liberated to put our minds to work and do our best, God helping us, in making sense of the details and nuances that give shape to the narrative of our faith. Will the work being done at Tel Dan pave the way for deeper faith in the lives of Christians? This far in the dig, it clearly has that possibility.

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If you find yourself interested in the dig, whether from the funding standpoint or whether you discover an interest in personally helping with the dig, see more at http://www.teldanexcavations.com

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