Day 1: Departure from the USA
Our adventure begins with an overnight flight to Tel Aviv.
Day 2: Arrival in Israel, travel through the Negev desert to the Dead Sea
The voyage begins! We arrive at Ben Gurion Airport and travel south to Beersheba, where Abraham called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 21) and descend via Arad to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth!
Day 3: The Judean Desert: Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Dead Sea
Wake up to the amazing site of the arid Mountains of Moab and the Dead Sea. Today we will come to appreciate the historic role of the Judean Desert as a military and spiritual refuge. We take the cable car up to the plateau of Masada, to view Herod’s palaces, the Roman siege ramp, and the synagogue of the Zealots who chose death by suicide rather than servitude to the Romans. We then visit the oasis of Ein Gedi. See the ibex and conies and cool off under the rushing waterfall. Here David and his men took refuge in a cave from the anger of Saul (1 Samuel 24). We continue to the ruins of the settlement of the Essenes who separated themselves from the Jerusalem Temple to be a “voice crying out in the desert” (Isaiah 40:3). Their library containing the Dead Sea Scrolls remained hidden in a cave here until 1947. Return to your hotel to float and relax in the Dead Sea.
Day 4: In the footsteps of Joshua and John the Baptist: Jericho, Mt. Gerizim, Sychar, Baptismal Site
Today we follow in the footsteps of Joshua and John the Baptist – from the wilderness to the mountainous heartland. We climb Tel Jericho to view the ancient walls and towers, as well as the Mount of Temptation (Luke 3) and Mount Nebo, where Moses looked out over the Promised Land he could not enter. Continue up the Jordan Valley, turning west into the dry river bed opposite Sukkoth, where Jacob wrestled with the angel and was renamed ‘Israel’. We ascend the winding road to Mount Gerizim, the Hill of Blessing (Deuteronomy 27) for the breathtaking view of Mount Ebal, the hill of curses, Shechem and all of Samaria. Visit the Passover altar, where all 600 Samaritans still gather each year for the Passover sacrifice. Descend to the standing stone of Joshua (Joshua 24:26) and to Jacob’s Well at Sychar, where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Continue through the rugged hill country of Samaria to the baptismal site on the Jordan River. Overnight at the Sea of Galilee for three nights.
Day 5: Sea of Galilee: Boat Ride, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Capernaum, Mount Arbel
We begin our day boarding a wooden boat for Ginnosar – sailing in the footsteps of Jesus! We drive to the Mount of Beatitudes, where we view the areas of Jesus’ lakeside mission – Galilee and the Decapolis – and reflect on the new commandment Jesus taught here. We then descend the hillside (twenty minutes by foot or by bus) to Tabgha (Heptagon – Greek for seven springs), visiting the Church of Loaves and Fishes marking Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-44) as well as the Church of Mensa Christi, where, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples on the lakeshore (John 21). After lunch (those who wish can savor “St. Peter’s Fish” native to the Sea of Galilee), we proceed to Capernaum to see the house of Peter and the synagogue where Jesus preached and cast out demons (Mark 1). Finally, we drive up to the cliff of Mount Arbel for the eagles’ nest view of the Sea of Galilee. The more adventurous may want to hike down the (scary but safe) cliff face, while others return to the hotel to bathe in the Sea of Galilee or relax.
Day 6: Upper Jordan Valley: Hazor, Huleh Valley, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Heights, Gergesa
Our day begins with a drive to Tel Hazor. From the top, we can appreciate how this 4000-year-old town dominated the trade routes and earned its reputation as “the head of all kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10) before it was destroyed by Joshua. We then stop at the Huleh nature reserve, the last remnant of the large swamp around which the Via Maris would detour on its way to Damascus. From the wooden walkway, we will see nutria, water buffalo and perhaps wild boars, as well as catfish and pelicans in the lake. Onward to the foothills of Mt. Hermon and the headwaters of the Jordan at Banias – Caesarea Philippi, where Peter acknowledged Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-28). Climb to the cave and the remains of the pagan temples of Roman times. We continue to the top of the Golan Heights, where we will stop atop Mount Bental, a former Israeli military outpost. We will hear of the strategic importance of the Golan in Israel’s wars and, looking out on the road to Damascus, be reminded of the conversion of Paul (Acts 9). We descend towards the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee, to the remains of the church at Gergesa in the province of the Decapolis, where Jesus drove the evil spirits out of the possessed man into the swine (Matthew 8:28-34). We end our day with baptism or the renewal of baptismal vows at the Jordan River.
Day 7: Lower Galilee and the Mediterranean Coast: Nazareth, Megiddo, Mount Carmel, Caesarea, Jerusalem
Reluctantly, we must take leave of the Sea of Galilee, ascending to the city of Nazareth. We look out from the Hill of Precipitation (Luke 4:14-30). As we look across at Mount Tabor, Mt. Carmel. Mount Gilboa, the Hill of Moreh and the Gilead, we reflect on how Jesus, as a young man in Nazareth was inspired by the acts of God that occurred here as he prepared himself for his mission. We can only imagine the clouds of dust raised by the tramp of Roman boots along the Via Maris below! We descend to visit the Church of Mary’s Well in town. Next, we cross the Valley of Jezreel to the ancient Har-Megiddo or Armageddon, dominating the vital crossroads where so many battles have taken place. This afternoon, we continue through the narrow pass to the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea, visiting the aqueduct, the ancient Herodian harbor, the remains of the seaside palace of Pontius Pilate and the theater. With the conversion of Cornelius by St. Paul (Acts 10), this impressive Roman harbor became the beachhead of the Christian mission to the Gentiles. We then continue through the Sharon Plain and ascend to the Holy City of Jerusalem. We catch our first glimpse of the city from Mount Scopus, where your guide will welcome you with a short ceremony of bread and salt (Genesis 14).
Day 8: Mount of Olives, Ophel Ridge, Mount Zion, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel
We begin our tour of Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives, with its breath-taking view of the Old City. At first glance, we comprehend that Jerusalem has no good natural reason to be a great city – no harbor, no river, no natural resources. Yet it is the place God has chosen. We descend the traditional Palm Sunday Road, to the Church of Dominus Flevit (Luke 19). As we gaze out on the magnificent walls and domes, we reflect on Jesus’ weeping over the city that has yet to know peace. Continue to the Garden of Gethsemane (Aramaic for ‘oil press’), meditating on the sorrow of Jesus the night preceding his judgment. We marvel at the gnarled ancient olive trees in the garden. Drive to the Ophel Ridge, where Jesus and his disciples must have walked often entering and leaving the Temple. This afternoon, we drive to Mount Zion to visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where Jesus may have been questioned before the High Priest Caiaphas. The terrace offers a magnificent view of the City of David and the Terrapeaon, as well as access to the stepped road to the Mount of Olives of Jesus’ day. We continue to the City of David, site of the earliest buildings of Jerusalem. Explore Warren’s Shaft and the system of water tunnels. Walk through knee-high water at Hezekiah’s Tunnel, built 2,700 years ago to resist the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32). An amazing feat of engineering! This evening we have a special treat, walking through underground tunnels to see the remnants of the Temple Mount of Jesus’ day including hewn stones of over 400 tons!
Day 9: Western Wall, Temple Mount, Model of Second Temple, Shrine of the Book, Yad Vashem
We begin at the Western (Wailing) Wall, a remnant of the Temple in which Jesus preached and a sacred place of prayer for Jews from all over the world. If we are fortunate, we may see Bar Mitzvah services in progress! We continue to the Temple Mount, viewing the Dome of the Rock, built on Mount Moriah, on the site of the Second Temple. Crossing the New City of West Jerusalem, we view a 1:50 scale model of the City of Jerusalem of Jesus’ Day and the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed. Here you can see an original copy of the Book of Isaiah dating from a century before Jesus was born! We continue to Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial to the Holocaust. Through the many films of survivor testimony, we witness the struggle of victims and survivors to maintain human dignity in the face of unspeakable atrocity. This evening we will hear from an Israeli spokesman on the current situation in the Holy Land and the prospects for peace in the future.
Day 10: Hills of Judea: Mamre, Hebron, Herodion, Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem
We cross into the West Bank to visit sites of the hill country of Judea. First, Mamre, site of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 18) and then Hebron. There we visit the 2000-year old Herodian building marking the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. We continue to the fortress of Herodion, built by King Herod as part of his escape network. Climb the spiral path to the cone-shaped top to view the frontier between desert and farmland, and identify the towers of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from afar. Return to Bethlehem to visit the 5th-century Church of the Nativity. Conclude with a stop to shop for the famous olive wood and mother-of-pearl crafts that have been produced by the Christians of Bethlehem for centuries. This evening we will meet with a prominent member of the Palestinian Catholic community, to hear of the struggles of Christians to maintain their faith in difficult times.
Day 11: Old City Ramparts, Bethesda, Holy Sepulchre, Garden Tomb
We conclude our tour of Jerusalem by walking the ramparts from Jaffa Gate to Lions’ Gate and “counting her towers” (Psalms 48:12). The four quarters finally fit together as we view magnificent religious monuments and humble courtyards of the Old City. Descending at Lions’ Gate, we visit the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man paralyzed for 38 years (John 5) and sing in the adjoining Crusader Church of St. Anne. Hymns never sounded this good! We then proceed up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We conclude our voyage with a communion celebration at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. The rest of the afternoon is free for shopping, individual sightseeing or relaxation.
Day 12: Depart via Beth Horon Road, Emmaus
We have come full circle with Joshua, as we pass Gibeon and descend the Beth-Horon road and view the lush Valley of Ayalon below us. Here, Joshua made the sun stand still in his battle against the Canaanites (Joshua 10:12). We arrive at Ben Gurion airport for our flight home.
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