We checked out of the resort where we had spent the previous two days, and after loading up the bus with suitcases and people, we drove off to visit Nazareth. Nazareth has changed a bit since Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (and his siblings) lived there, but they’ve kept a small part of the city to re-enact ancient Nazareth. Surrounded by modern apartment buildings and automobiles, this plot of land had a variety of restored buildings and architecture.
The best part about this ancient village was that it helped us understand some of the analogies and parables that are in the Bible, such as separating the goats from the sheep, and the significance of dyes.
After our tour of Nazareth, we stopped by Mount Precipice, overlooking the Valley of Jezreel. Traditionally, this was where an angry mob had tried to throw Jesus off after his proclamation in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).
From there, we stopped at a nice restaurant for shawarma and kebabs and marveled at the amounts of seemingly never-ending food.
After getting stuffed, we drove to Megiddo National Park, the site of Tel Megiddo. It was burning hot outside among the stones and excavated ruins, and with post-lunch sleepiness we toured the site.
After looking out at an ancient grain silo (in which the shedded skins of some type of snake was seen amongst the rocks) from the time of King Ahab, we descended down several steep flights of metal stairs into an ancient waterway system where the temperatures were much cooler. Then we climbed out of it on the far side, met up with our bus, and drove off to Caesarea Maritima to view the ancient aqueduct and seaport.
We explored the ancient amphitheatre (that has now been restored and is still in use) and hippodrome (where chariot races used to be held) and watched the waves roll in on the seashell sprinkled sand. We learned that this was one of the most important cities and seaports during the Roman Period, and that it was where the Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.
Several of us bought ice cream at the gift shop before getting back on board the bus and driving up to Jerusalem. Along the way, we passed several tombs by the roadside. Our tour guide mentioned that these are similar to what Jesus was buried in.
We reached Jerusalem around sunset and checked-in to the Crown Plaza, where we would be staying for the next several days. The Crown Plaza was one of the nicest hotels in Jerusalem, and it helped serve as a good navigational landmark for future exploring since it is such an iconic building!
After checking in to the hotel, we had a dinner of more amazing food (unlimited baklava for dessert? Yes, please!). Following dinner, we listened to a speaker on the topic of “Israel as a Start-Up Nation.” Afterwards, since it wasn’t too late, several of us went out to explore the city at night. With a whole city to explore, I was stoked. I went with Alex Peters, and we walked all the way to the Old City. Unfortunately, everything was closed for the night. On the way back, we grabbed some ice cream and talked to a few Israeli soldiers standing guard around a candlelight vigil for several victims of recent stabbings, before going back to the hotel.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and headed off to explore the City of David.
Once there, we explored Hezekiah’s Waterways and walked among history. To think that only a few metres below the “modern” ground that we walked or rode upon lay pieces of past ages, from bloody wars to ancient poetry, was nearly incomprehensible for me. It’s like reading or seeing something in the news as compared to actually being there. Pondering what took place over centuries on this hilltop city was absolutely incredible!
We visited the Upper Room and Caiaphas’ house (where Jesus was probably held before His crucifixion) before grabbing lunch at the Roladin Restaurant.
After lunch, we visited the Garden Tomb (one of the places Jesus might have been buried) and had communion. We also saw Golgotha, and learned that Jesus was probably crucified down by the roadside near the hill rather than on top of the hill.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner. Along the way, we drove by one of the streets that is always closed on the Sabbath, since it is primarily an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. It’s so easy to see people of different faiths from the inside of a tour bus with darkened windows without really seeing them as just normal people. One of my favorite memories from my time in Israel was when I went out one night to explore Jerusalem, and as I walked by a park, two ultra-Orthodox families were walking up the grassy hill lit by the park lights. The fathers were pushing strollers with small babies and the wives tagged along behind. One of the fathers looked over at the other, said something, and then they both started racing their strollers up the hill. One of their tall, black hats flew off behind them and they just laughed and laughed. And laughed some more. After an amazing dinner, we boarded the bus and drove to a basketball gym to watch the Colorado Christian University Women’s Basketball team (who were part of our group) play against an Israeli team.
The original plan was that they’d play another women’s team, but apparently that team was on vacation and the CCU team had to play a predominantly male team (plus several of the females who hadn’t gone on vacation). The atmosphere was loud as several local boys, who were obviously supporting the Israeli team, pounded on a drum and yelled out chants.
They were fun to hang with, and I think they tried to get me to cheer for their home team. I tried learning several Hebrew phrases from them but gave up after realizing that they were teaching me wrong words. (Note: when learning a new language from children, proceed with caution when they crack up after trying to have you repeat a phrase…especially a phrase that only the louder, more boisterous one says which the others refuse to say.) An interesting dialogue followed. After learning that I was an American, they asked me if I was a Christian. I said that I am a Christ-follower. One of the boys then asked me if I was a Nazi. At first, I was a bit caught off-guard. Later, I learned the sad role that the Church had played in helping foment an anti-Semitic attitude which helped attribute to the rise of Nazism. (For related facts about that, watch Covenant and Controversy for free on Vimeo.)
The game was hard fought on both sides, but ultimately the Americans ended up losing. With the competition over, vast amounts of pizza and soda were delivered and consumed by all those in attendance, jerseys were exchanged, and Facebook friend requests were sent. Although we lost, the drive back to the Crown Plaza was cheerful and jubilant.
We had three more days in Jerusalem after this one before we would head to the coast. So much to do in only a few days…