Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Height
We drove north on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, which is 600 ft. below sea level. On the way to Dan, we passed a valley that was a swamp before Israel returned to the land. They were able to drain the swamp by blasting through a path to the Jordan River to help drain the swamp. It is now a beautiful and fertile valley that provides a lot of Israel’s fruit: cherries, apples, peaches, etc., as well as citrus and almonds. You can tell the difference between Israel and Lebanon or Syria because Israel is green while their neighbors land is brown because it has been overgrazed and under-cultivated. Mt Hermon is very prominent in the north and it provides the border of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. It is still snow capped today and they are still skiing on it. Mt. Hermon is made of limestone and because water will create carbonic acid, pores and fractures occur over time and create channels for the water to flow. When the volcanoes erupted in the area, they pushed the basalt under Mt. Hermon, causing it to rise as well as creating an impermeable basalt layer under the mountain. This causes the water run-off to go into the mountain and then out of it through springs. The springs are very pure because basalt is an excellent filter.
There is a very large Tel (historical mound with numerous archeological sites layered upon one another) in Dan. One site is an altar where Jeroboam, the first king of the divided northern kingdom, set up a place for animal sacrifice as well a Bema seat for the priest. Also in the area is the Canaanite gate, which has recently been restored and was very impressive to see the mud ramps protecting a very large gate and wall. It is unique as the gate has arches, but no keystone. Most people credit the Romans for creating arches with keystones that allow much taller buildings, but the Canaanites had the arch down well before the Romans. Archives in other areas (Egypt, Mara, Syria) spoke of the city of Dan and trading with it. This gate was probably buried when the Northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians.
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.
Also there is a beautiful nature preserve in Dan where springs of fresh water come in. It is very verdant and we saw fig trees, raspberries, and dense foliage throughout the area. Our guide, Dan, showed us one trick they use to determine whether the water is safe to drink: if snails are alive in the water, it is safe to drink because they are very sensitive to pollution.
There is a large archeological site emphasizing the Greek god, Pan. Again, it was an impressive site. It also showed the result of the earthquakes in the area as one part of the site had moved significantly below the other. There is a subterranean river that used to come out of the mouth of the cave but an earthquake caused part of the cave to collapse and change the course of the river to out of lower part of the mountain. This rift valley used to have volcanic activity centuries ago but it is still an active area for earthquakes as the Arabian plate on the east is moving north while the Nubian plate on the west is moving east.
The Baniyas springs are part of greater Caesarea Philippi. This city was established by Caesar Augustus, but following his death and the division of the land to his sons, one of his sons, Philippi established his reign in this town. Matthew 16:13 takes place here when Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah.
This abundant water supply has made the area very fertile and attractive for religious worship. Numerous temples were built at this city in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
We traveled south on the Golan heights. Golan heights are made of extinct volcanoes and these volcanoes are located over the Syria-African rift that is around 2500 miles long. This rift is a key migration path from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. Because of this uniqueness, universities use this are for studies. Golan is strategic because it overlooks the fertile valley that produces much of Israel’s food. Before 1967 there were Syrian snipers atop the hills that shot the settlers working on the farms. In fact, our guides dad was one of the settlers of the first kibbutz on the west side of the Sea of Galilee and he and a friend were in a boat when a Syrian sniper shot a mortar that exploded in the middle of his boat and he had to swim 2 miles back to land. We went to an overlook where we could see Syria which was devastated, contrasted with the verdant fields and orchards of Israel right next to Syria. I will try and send a short video of our guide giving some background at this overlook. Even today, Israel picks up around 50 injured Syrians a day that are brought to the Israeli border. They take the people to Israeli hospitals and once they are better, they will send them back to their homeland.
As we are traveling south on the Golan Heights, we saw on our left the Syrian city of Hama which was where there was an uprising a couple of years ago that President Asad brutally suppressed which trigger the uprising that is currently going on. Just across the other side of Hama we could see the Sea of Galilee which a beautiful pink field of cherry blossoms lying between our bus and the Sea.
Seeing how close Syria is to Israel and the very real threat that they are to Israel makes me understand why Israel is so concerned about a country that is avowing to wipe them off the face of the earth. As in any war, however, there are many innocent people that are hurt by the war and we prayed for the Syrians and the many people who are being impacted by the current war.