Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 4

Today we traveled to the east side of the Sea of Galilee, referred to as "the other side." We went by Mt. Gilead on the way to the city of Dan. Our first stop was Kursi where Jesus cured the demon possessed man. As you will recall, Jesus ordered the demons to leave the man and they in fact left the man and went into pigs nearby. We were able to see the path where the pigs fled into the water and drowned. Also on the site were the ruins of a church that had been built to commemorate this miracle. Apparently, there was also a monastery located on this site at some point. Our guide indicated that this was the largest Byzantine church in Israel.

Next we traveled to the city of Dan which is the most northern town on the Lebanon border. It is one of 3 main tributaries of the beginning of the Jordan River. There is a natural spring that flows into the Jordan. The city is an ancient city dating back to the 7th or 8th century BC.


Also in this area we saw Abraham's gate dating back to 2200 BC. It is the oldest mud brick gate in Israel. This is the very gate that Abraham went through in pursuit of the kings that took Lot, his family and all of his possessions. This story is recorded in the book of Genesis. When the gate was excavated the dirt located in the opening of the gate was not removed for fear it would collapse the entire structure.

Located in the same vicinity was a bubbling brook that also feeds the Jordan River. We were unable to walk to this brook because the path was too muddy from all the rain today. Today was a very rainy and foggy day which restricted the views of some of the sites. Also near Dan was where King Jeroboam built the altar to the golden calf, which was a substitute for the one true God.

Our next stop was Caesarea Phillippi which was a particularly interesting site. It is the other head water of the Jordan River and is the spot where Jesus asked "Who do you say I am?" What we didn't realize was that there was also several pagan temples located on the site. The largest was the Temple of Pan which was a pagan god associated with sexuality and reportedly this pagan god ran around making an unusual amount of noise which we were told is where the word panic comes from. This pagan temple is discussed in Matthew 16 and was a forbidden place for Jews because it was considered to be a place of entrance to the underworld. We found it interesting that Jesus would walk 22 miles from Bethsaida to a place forbidden for Jews to ask his disciples "Who do you say I am?" Until the year 2000 Caesarea Phillippi was under the control of Lebanon and prior to that time, we would not have been able to visit this site.

We then traveled to the Nimrod Fortress named for the biblical hunter. The Fortress was built around the 12th century. Mt. Hermon is very near there and it is considered to be the possible location for the transfiguration which occurred shortly after Jesus' appearance at Caesara Phillippi. Other scholars however believe that Mt. Tabor is the location for the transfiguration.

We ate lunch at a restaurant run by Druze (pronounced Drew) who are Arabic speaking citizens of Israel. They also reside in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Joy got to try some Druze food called Labaneh which is basically cream cheese spread onto a very large and thin crepe splattered with olive oil and various seasonings then folded and placed on the griddle. It was really a good sandwich which we plan to recreate when we get back home. We had an opportunity for a restroom stop at this restaurant and to Joy's surprise it was a co-ed bathroom. Needless to say she wasn't thrilled but...when you gotta go you gotta go!

Our final visit of the day was a 2 1/2 hour jeep trip through the Golan Heights area which borders Syria. The weather was rainy, cold and foggy and we traveled through rocky and muddy terrain where only a land rover could go. Along the way there were barbed wire fences on either side of the road with signs warning of land mines. We were able to visit an Israeli military outpost that was 300 yards from the Syrian border. We could hear the artillery shells exploding nearby.  We saw a number of tanks and were actually allowed to photograph certain ones but were ordered not to photograph what appeared to be 2 tanks that were not tanks at all. They were reportedly classified mobile rocket launchers disguised as tanks. We also were shown a number of evacuated Syrian military barracks and buildings leftover from a conflict in the 60's. Our guide also told us about a Israeli spy named Eli Cohen who tricked the Syrians into putting eucalyptus trees at each of their military out posts ostensibly for shade. As it turned out when the war happened the Israelis were able to target the locations because of these trees. Obviously the Syrians were decimated because of being an easy target. Unfortunately the spy was later caught and hung publicly in downtown Damascus. Our guide was a member of a communal people called a Kibbutz in Golan Heights. They operate similar to a commune where a group of families join together basically to work together and to support each other. Reportedly this particular Kibbutz is the largest and wealthiest one in Israel. The Kibbutz are an interesting group of people and would encourage you to read more about them. We were able to get back tonight a little earlier than normal which was very much needed. We are looking forward to tomorrow.

This is saying do not enter!

Various scenery during our drive today

      Apple Trees                                                                 Banana Trees

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