On the way south along the western Sea Galilee border, we passed through beautiful scenery with calm, blue sea on our left (east) and interesting fields of date palms, mangoes, and other tropical fruits interspersed with cliffs with caves, cemeteries, and small villages. Continuing along the southern Jordan River that divides Israel from Jordan.
This is another tell and a large archeological site with amazing Roman ruins. The Tell has around 20 layers of ruins but the Roman ruins are the main attraction. Unlike most other ruins, this one the Romans did not build on top of the older ruins. Because of the security and might of the Roman empire and pax Romana, they did not feel like they needed to build on the top of the structure for security purposes. This allowed them to build a much bigger structure with an impressive outer wall and distinct Cardo (the main road that goes north and south) and Decumanus (main east-west road) with the public buildings in the middle. The Israelis have focused the excavation on the public areas and not the private areas because there is more to learn from the public areas. The highlight was the public baths with a changing area (Roman word is Triclinium), a large pool of cool water from the local springs (Frigidarium), a semi-heated pool (Tepidarium) and then the hot pool (Calderium) for deep cleaning. Also there was an earthquake in 749 BC that toppled many of the columns. This earthquake was one of the largest ever in the middle east and this ruin helped finalize the exact date of the earthquake that was either in 748 or 749 BC. There was only one person that was killed by the quake and he was obviously a thief that died under a column that fell on him and in his possession he had a coin dated 749 in his bag of stolen coins. It is presumed that an earlier and smaller quake had caused the rest of the population to flee and the thief was coming back to pillage the area when the big quake suddenly hit.
Also in the area is a find dating to the Egyptian era in the 12th century BC when Tut Moses III conquered the area. There are some very clear Egyptian hieroglyphics on this site.
The biblical story in 1 Samuel 31 was almost assuredly here in Beth-Shen. The men of Jabesh-gilead (a pagan land that David had befriended) claimed the slain bodies of Saul and his sons and gave them a proper burial under a tamarisk tree.
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.
We made a short visit to see this synagogue that has a mosaic floor with women and the zodiac, both forbidden by Scripture. This reflects the “liberalism” of the Talmudic era.
We just drove by Jericho but it stood out because it is an oasis in the midst of the Judean desert with many deep-water springs. Jericho is the first city built in human history, around 6000 BC. Before this all humans were just nomadic hunters and gatherers. It has many springs that literally shoot up in the air. It is now controlled by the Palestinians and provides most of the fruit and vegetables for them. Just to the west of Jericho is Mount Nebo, where Abraham died after he saw, but never entered into, the Promised Land.
The “City of Palms” spreads out on the west side of the Jordan River at 825 feet below sea level. In Jesus’ day a new center had been constructed on the wadi banks in the foreground by the Hasmonean rulers and Herod the Great.
Our guide Dan gave us this perspective of the West Bank during Days 3 & 4 of the 6th day war. Jordan is not an Arab state but a Bedouin state. King Hussain did not want to get into the war but he was pushed by his neighbors to fight with them. Nassar called Hussain and lied by telling him that Egypt is winning the war so Jordan came into the war by delivering a massive shelling Jerusalem and the UN headquarters. It took the Israelis 2 days to wipe out the Jordanians army. Dan says that Israel was willing to give back the west bank within a week after the war. Moshe Dayan was willing to give back all but Jerusalem. But no one on the other side that wanted to take it back because the west bank is Palestinian and Jordan is not Palestinian. Temple Mount was given back to Jordan, however. The Arab world has the “Triple No policy”: No negotiations, no contact, and no recognition of Israel. Bottom line: Israel is stuck with this land. International law allows you to take land in the war but not settle on it. But Israel has made a mistake by settling in the west bank. However, living conditions improved dramatically for the Palestinians living there and nearly all (in his opinion) quietly prefer Israel running the west bank rather than returning it back to Jordan. West Bank is probably the biggest problem for Israel today. Both Israeli parties have allowed settlements on the west bank against Int. Law. No one really cared until Yasser Arafat and the PLO came into power. He started Palestinian nationalism to reclaim the land and this started the cycle of violence that caused the deaths of many Jews by the Black September Group in 1972 Munich Olympics. The PLO was in Jordan, terrorizing the Jordanians, including a 1969 bombing in Jordan including a Pan Am jet. Arafat escaped to Lebanon and coordinated the Black September attacks. Dan was not able to take a public bus for 2 years because of fear of attacks. Yitzak Rabin was elected as the Israeli Prime Minister because he recognized that for this insane cycle of violence to be broken, land must be given back by Israel. Hence the two state solution. Unfortunately, Rabin was murdered in 1995 by a radical Israeli. The historic Camp David accord between Rabin & Arafat divided the West Bank into the areas: A, B, and C. In area A it was primarily Palestinian. Dan will not be able to go into Bethlehem because it is controlled by the Palestinian authority. Area B has both Palestinian and Jewish settlers. Israel runs security but Palestine runs the area. Area C is completely Israel. Unfortunately the Cairo Accords, which would have finalized the Two-State Solution, were not signed by Arafat. This created problems and the area plunged into intermittent fighting.
Baptism in the Jordan River
A real highlight of the trip was the baptism of three of our group: John Bomer, Don Clary, and Rosa Valeri, by our leader, Charles Munday! How special it is to be baptized in the Jordan River. The site of our baptism is likely where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. There was even a dove flying around before we started our baptismal service.
A small Bedouin boy, Mohammad, threw a rock into a cave and heard a funny sound. He went inside and unrolled a scroll with weird writing on it. He took the scroll to an elderly man and the word got around very quickly. Bethlehem is the center of illegal archeological trade. A Christian-Arab merchant, Kandu, went to Ali Quat to check this out and the head of the tribe takes him to the cave. Kandu immediately knew it was special because it had the square style Hebrew alphabet and knew it was dated somewhere between 100 BC and 100 AD. He bought for it for $100. The Franciscan brothers were able to do some organized excavation but many locals started searching for various scrolls. The Israelis then started an international search to buy every Dead Sea Artifact.
The whole book of Isaiah was the only intact one and was 8.5 feet long.
The only books in the OT that was not found were Ester (and maybe Nehemiah).
To bring together all the pieces, they identified the style of writing then the ink to put everything together. We will see some of the original Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem.
Cave #11 had a copper scroll is a treasure map and many people, including a wealthy American recently, have tried to figure out where the treasure resides, but no one has so far.
Upon reaching our hotel, most of us floated in a pool of warm salty water similar to the salinity of the Dead Sea. It was a fun experience and capped off another wonderful day!