Caves, valleys, kings, and shepherds
After over twenty-four hours straight of travel we finally arrived in Tel Aviv late last night where we were met by our tour guide, Ronan, and bus driver, Meir, who we are privileged to be with for the duration of the trip. The journey itself was not without its highlights as many enjoyed the experience of their first cup of Turkish coffee during the layover in Istanbul (Turkish coffee is known for its thickness and strength as it is prepared unfiltered).
Despite a long night for many, we rallied by morning just in time for our first stop of the tour: Yad Hashmona. The “Memorial for the Eight” was founded by Finnish Christians in 1971 to commemorate eight Jewish refugees who fled Austria and escaped to Finland in 1938. At Yad Hashmona, we saw a replica of an olive press, a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), and a sarcophagus, or burial cave, each recreating ancient Jewish agriculture.
The Biblical Village on the slope of Yad HaShmonah provides visitors with hands-on exposure to the manners and customs of the ancient Israelites. The garden includes olive trees and press, grape vines and several winepresses, wheat field and threshing floor, watchtower, Bedouin tents, ancient Galilean synagogue, and a burial cave. All have been constructed according to the best archaeological knowledge of ancient life.
Following our tour of Yad Hashmona, we ventured on to the ancient biblical city of Beth Shemesh, where we read from Judges, the story Samson and learned about the Nazarite vows.
A border city between Judah and Dan, Beth Shemesh was given to the Levites. Beth Shemesh was the most important Israelite city in the Sorek Valley as it watched both east-west traffic through the Sorek Valley and north-south traffic along the “Diagonal Route.” Recent excavations have shown a thriving city here from the Middle Bronze Age through the Iron II period.
Our last stop before lunch, we visited the Valley of Elah, where the Isrealites were encamped when David slayed Goliath.
Tel Azekah and Elah Valley
The Brook Elah is famous for the five stones it contributed to the young slinger, David. Some surmise that David chose five stones instead of the one needed in case he needed to face Goliath’s four brothers.
After lunch, we visited the bell caves (named for their bell-like shape) at Bet Guvrin National Park. These man-made caves served as limestone quarries during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. Because of their acoustics, we sang the Doxology in one of these massive caves, though we were interrupted by a school field trip group.
Beth Guvrin (Maresha)
Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is a national park in central Israel, 13 kilometers from Kiryat Gat, encompassing the ruins of Maresha, one of the important towns of Judah during the time of the First Temple, and Beit Guvrin, an important town in the Roman era, when it was known as Eleutheropolis.
Archaeological artifacts unearthed at the site include a large Jewish cemetery, a Roman-Byzantine amphitheater, a Byzantine church, public baths, mosaics and burial caves.
At Lakesh, a site once defended by King Hezekiah against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, Troy prompted each of us to consider who and what we are willing to die for.
Identified first as Lachish by Albright in 1929, the tell was excavated by James Leslie Starkey 1932-38 and by Tel Aviv University 1973-87.
Lachish is generally regarded as the second most important city in the southern kingdom of Judah. It enters the biblical narrative in the battle accounts of Joshua, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar.
Our final stop of the day was Be’er Sheba, which in ancient times, Abraham claimed as his land and served as a departure point for Jacob when he left for Egypt. Most of the team braved a steep descendent into an ancient cistern before returning to the bus.
Beer-Sheva (/bɪərˈʃiːbə/; Hebrew: בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע About this sound Be'er Sheva [beʔeʁˈʃeva]; Arabic: بئر السبع About this sound Bi'ir as-Sab [biːr esˈsabeʕ]) is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the center of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel, the eighth most populous city in Israel with a population of 203,604, and the second largest city with a total of 117,500 dunams (after Jerusalem).
On the way to our second hotel, the leaders quizzed our knowledge of the day’s sites, and we stopped to take photographs at the first siting of the Dead Sea.