Israel Study Tour with More Than Music

October 31 - November 11, 2022

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Day 01 - Shephelah: Yad Hashmonah, Beth Shemesh, Azekah, Beth Guvrin (Maresha)

After a bountiful breakfast, following which I made everyone I could find taste some halva (a sweet confection made from tahini, or sesame paste), we visited 4 sites today:

1. Yad Hashmona - "Memorial to the Eight"
A beautiful spot in the hills between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem which features, among other things, a "Biblical garden" with a synagogue replica (built from pieces of synagogues excavated elsewhere), olive press, threshing floor, a watchtower (as in Isaiah 5), and tomb closed by a rolling stone, with Biblical plants all around... olive trees, grape vines... beautiful!  Helped us get in the mindset of the agrarian society of Bible times.
2. Bet Shemesh
When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, God wreaked such havoc upon them (our guide Dan told us what the Bible politely refers to as "sores" was actually "hemorrhoids") that they sent it back to the Israelites.  Beth Shemesh is the spot they sent it to - miraculously pulled by driverless oxen - and to stand where they stood to watch it return fulfilled a wish I've had since we first presented that story in a Blue Gospel Scripts "beta test" show years ago.  We also heard from guide Dan and pastor Dave about the Philistines' origin, the reason the tribe of Dan fled that land, and about famous Danite Samson.  From where we stood we could see Zorah (his hometown) and Timnah (where he met his first wife) - also likely where Tamar... shall we say, encountered, Judah.

3. Tel Azeka
Our huffing and puffing up the hill was rewarded with a superb view of the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath.  Dave pointed out that during the 40 days Goliath called out for a champion to face him, and the two armies glared at each other from opposing hills, Goliath was really waiting to see what Yahweh would do (although Goliath probably wouldn't have phrased it like that). 

4. Bet Guvrin
In this national park, "Land of a Thousand Caves," after we chanced to see some workers harvesting olives from the trees by hand, we had a superb picnic lunch - our driver Eli brought fresh bread, hot out of the oven this morning, and the makings of wonderful sandwiches (the pickles!  oh my!).  Then we visited 2 underground structures - a cistern, and a "pigeoncote" (where the ancients really did breed pigeons, to sell their droppings as fertilizer, and for food). 

5. Bonus site - The Dead Sea
We made good time this morning and it was an unusually clear day, so we stopped at an overlook on the winding road down to the Dead Sea.  (And we mean down... I'm writing this from our hotel at Ein Bokek, nearly 1400 feet below sea level).  We had an absolute ball, laughing at ourselves  experiencing involuntary flotation in the Dead Sea!  Tour groups from other parts of the world were right there doing the same thing... laughter is also a universal language.

I asked some of the travelers to share their favorite, or "Aha," or most memorable moments from today:
- Dan told us the reason Samson's parents didn't see him kill the lion on the way to Timnah is because Samson was under a Nazarite vow, which meant he couldn't touch grapes, and to take the direct route his parents took from Zorah to Timnah, he'd have had to touch grapes, so he went around the valley of vineyards and that's where he killed the lion.
- We learned how wheat turns into bread when we sat at the threshing floor at Yad Hashmona... LOTS of work.  Dan pointed out how in the garden of Eden before the fall, God provided everything - no work was required.  Then after they ate the forbidden fruit (which, by the way, was not an apple... that idea came from DaVinci's painting) they had to work - so maybe the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a bread tree?  Everything used to grow on trees but now they had to work for it.
-  Another mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing where David and Goliath battled.  (Editorial comment - I agree!  It's one thing to read these stories but quite another to stand there seeing where they happened and hearing about the archaeological evidence which supports it.)
- Another was surprised to hear of a town only excavated in 2005... she thought surely they would have found "everything" by now?  That particular town is a rare city with two gates which supports the Biblical record of the Philistines' flight after the battle... amazing!
- Someone else was struck by Dan's statement that the reason archaeologists haven't found a lot of "David" evidence (which is sometimes used to support the idea that he didn't exist) is because he was simply not a builder... he spent his whole life fighting or running for it! 
- We tasted carob right off the tree! We also learned every carob seed everywhere weighs exactly the same - even on very precise digital scales - and the ancients knew this, and 24 carob seeds weighed the same as the amount of gold in an Aureus (gold coin).. and this is where the term "karat" comes from, as in 24 karat gold!

Dan said "whenever we pave the road, we hit archaeology."  We can't wait to see what they've found "under the roads" tomorrow. Goodnight from the Dead Sea!

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