There’s no way we could have squeezed one more location into our excursion today! Right after breakfast we loaded our suitcases and selves onto the bus and headed to learn about the final battle between the Israelites under King Saul and the Philistine army. The majority of the group headed out with Ronan snd hiked about 45 minutes to experience Bet She’an (the epic battle is referenced in 1 Samuel 31: 10-12 and 2 Samuel 21:12) and they met the rest of us at the Roman ruins of Skytopolis, which is where the Philistines took Saul and his sons‘ bodies and where the valiant Israeli soldiers marched and reclaimed the bodies. This city was unreal. The effort that they took to construct the streets, buildings, entertainment and housing is unimaginable. The city was founded in 63 BC and housed well over 80,000 people before it was hit with the earthquake of 749 AD. Although less than 5% has been excavated, what we can see allows us to mentally compare the complex, yet so simple building style of the Insula (in the Jewish town we saw yesterday) and the great, grand and glorious style of the Romans. Every “lust of the flesh” was available in this metropolis.
Located 17 miles (27 km) south of the Sea of Galilee, Beth Shean is situated at the strategic junction of the Harod and Jordan Valleys. The fertility of the land and the abundance of water led the Jewish sages to say, “If the Garden of Eden is in the land of Israel, then its gate is Beth Shean.” It is no surprise then that the site has been almost continuously settled from the Chalcolithic period to the present.
In reading 1 John 2:15-17 the comparison comes alive as John would have been speaking to the Jews who were tempted to go live and work in the bustling, big city of Skytopolis instead of staying and working at the family Insula. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
As we continued our journey we went through Jezreel which was on the most critical East-West roadway in Israel. Jezreel means “God will plant his seeds.” This is the breadbox of Israel, where the majority of the crops are grown. It’s in the Coastal Plains and because of how flat the land is, it made for the perfect location for fighting in the many wars that have happened historically.
As we were driving Ronan pointed out the town of Nazareth to us. It looked like a thriving town, and given that Mary and Joseph was from the town of Nazareth and that the Angel Gabriel gave Mary the news of her being selected to be the mother of our Savior, the city today has about 15,000 Christians and 60,000 Muslims living there. There are very few Christian relics other than churches from the various denominations. This is why this tour doesn’t stop there, and we were all grateful to be able to move on to the next site which was Tel Megiddo.
We had the opportunity to understand more about the Tels in Israel (as a reminder, these are ancient cities which were demolished and the victors built new cities on top of the rubble for centuries upon centuries ending being covered over with dirt, grass, trees and looking a lot more like a large hill or small mountain.)
At Har Megiddo (which is what the Jews call it) there are 26 communities stacked one on top of another! The layers are excavated one layer at a time, to give the archeologists sufficient time to document and categorize their finds. One square meter takes two weeks and $90,000!! GTI (the trip organizer) is a large monetary supporter of Tel excavation. The government agency that oversees all excavation is the Authority of Antiquities and they decide what areas will be excavated and when.
Har Megiddo was historical during King Solomon’s time (3,000 BC) in that he used the area as a military outpost for his horses and carriages. Most of the group headed off to explore the Tel and what areas had been excavated. Since I have physical limitations, I didn’t go but have asked others in the group to share what they saw and experienced there.
From the earliest times (EB) to the earliest historical records of the area (Thutmose III) to the future (Revelation 16), Megiddo assumes a prominent role. This is largely owing to its strategic location astride the Megiddo Pass (Wadi Ara) and inside the busy Jezreel Valley.
Then we headed to Mt. Carmel which is where several Old Testament Bible stories happened, but the one I love is found in 1 Kings 18:1-45. This is where Elijah had declared the three year drought over the land and King Ahab (1 Kings 16:30 says “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him”) wanted Elijah to put an end to it. Read the story to understand the impact that Elijah had in turning the hearts of the Jews back to God again.
Biblically, Mt. Carmel is referenced most often as a symbol of beauty and fertility. To be given the “splendor of Carmel” was to be blessed indeed (Isa 35:2). Solomon praised his beloved: “your head crowns you like Mount Carmel” (Song 7:5). But for Carmel to wither was a sign of devastating judgment (Nahum 1:4).
Our last stop before heading to the hotel in Jerusalem took us on the Mediterranean Coastal ruins of Caeserea Maritima, which was built by Herod in 22 BC. He was so wealthy and influential that he was able to construct the largest harbor in the world at that time! In order to built this immense harbor and the plethora of buildings attached to it (theater, palace, temple of Augustus, protected harbor, lighthouse, aqueduct, amphitheater and hippodrome as well as homes for all of those who worked on the building of the harbor), they had to import all of the wood, iron, granite, marble, skilled labor, slave labor and entertainment. Over 120,000 people lived in Caeserea Maritima in its hey day. Although the entire area hasn’t been fully excavated, one important inscribed stone was - indicating that Pontious Pilate, Roman Prefect, dating it to 30 AD - giving absolute proof that the Pontious Pilate from the Bible stories of the trial of Jesus was done before a real person.
Caeserea Maritima has many biblical references (Acts 12:19, 21-23, 10:24-28, 10:1-8, 18:22, 23:23 to 26:32 and Joshua 11:1-2).
We then took a quite ride to our hotel in Jerusalem where we’ll be staying for the remainder of our trip. We all had Bible stories and memories of the past week of sites in our minds as Ronan has been carefully weaving the complete picture together for us.
What a true blessing it’s been to be part of this trip. Come to Israel!!
The city and harbor were built under Herod the Great during c. 22–10 BC near the site of a former Phoenician naval station known as Stratonos pyrgos (Στράτωνος πύργος). It later became the provincial capital of Roman Judea, Roman Syria Palaestina and Byzantine Palaestina Prima provinces. The city was populated throughout the 1st to 6th centuries CE and became an important early center of Christianity during the Byzantine period, but was mostly abandoned following the Muslim conquest of 640. It was re-fortified by the Crusaders, and finally slighted by the Mamluks in 1265.
Hiking up to Megiddo (the place we know as Armageddon) was surprisingly peaceful. Two black bearded dragonish lizards greeted us a the gate and did a few push up before running off to hide in the crevices near the gate as Ronan shared about Solomon's Stables and details about the city.
Beyond the gate the path led us along ruins that were similar to insulas in other ancient Israel villages, but there were many more rooms. At the top of the hill, there was a beautiful view of Nazareth across the Valley of Jezereel as we gathered around the edge of the silo.
The silo that would have stored wheat had a spiral walkway along its circumference to access the wheat easily. Ronan reminded us of the story of Joseph and the need to store wheat to prepare for years of drought or famine.
As we walked toward the ruins of the stables, Barak volunteered to climb on the iron chariot and to drive the iron horse with authority by holding onto it's tail and whipping it's hind with a palm branch. At the stables, Barak volunteered to climb into a feeding trough as we sang "Away in a Manger" which brought the realization that Jesus was most likely laid in a manger carved from stone.
The most amazing discovery at Megiddo was the hidden water system constructed to confuse invaders about the source of city's water supply. The ancient engineers dug down and over to tap into a nearby spring and divert the water to the city. Then they built a fake tel infront of the spring to hide thecwater source from outsiders.
We hiked down 186 steep steps to the hidden water table and then hiked up the 80 steps and around the fabricated tel on the other side before lunch and heading to our next site.