We were told that we would go near Gilgal when we crossed the Jordan River this morning. This is where Elisha and Elijah crossed the Jordan River prior to Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, and the beginning of the ministry of Elisha. Our tour guide in Jordan, Jack, will take us to the border of the Jordan River, where another guide will pick us up and show us Israel. We were informed that the inspection station at the Jordan, Israel border was very strict because of the tense situation in the Middle East. Along our way, Dr. Grimes passed along some valuable information to us about Jericho, one of the first sites we will see on this date. He said that the Jericho of today, or New Jericho, is at its present location because of Elisha’s Spring, where the bitter waters were made sweet. It is amazing to observe how God’s blessings from thousands of years ago still bless and affect people today.
As we approached Israel from Jordan, we noted more trees, grass and hills. We approached Mt. Seir which was both high and long. This is where Esau settled, and Seir means red, the color of Esau’s hair. Beyond Mt. Seir, we saw the beautiful Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. The scenery was spectacular. We passed by Mt. Nebo, from where Moses saw Israel before he died. We could really appreciate how easily Moses could see the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo. As we quickly descended the mountains in Jordan our ears popped, and we were whisked to an entirely different atmosphere. We passed banana trees, and tropical palm trees could be seen as we approached the Dead Sea. The descent to the Dead Sea became more slow and gradual, and now we observed orange trees and cactus.
We finally reached the border inspection station, and we were advanced in front of other larger touring groups because of our small size. So far so good. Then we ran into the biggest snag and disappointment of our entire trip. We were held up about two hours because we had to wait for a “regulation wheelchair” for Steve Abbott. Steve’s wheelchair could not be taken into Israel in case someone planted a “pipe bomb” or something else inside it. Finally, after a lengthly delay we were off again.
We were informed that the Dead Sea is rapidly sinking. Potassium is the main product used from the Dead Sea. One can see mountains all around the Dead Sea. In America, I believe the Shennandoah Valley looks similar to the topography in this area – a low area that is surrounded by mountains.
The name of our new guide in Israel was Naphtali (one of the twelve tribes of Israel), and he was from the Levite Tribe. It is amazing, I thought, for an unbelieving Jew to “guide” people who know Jesus Christ.
We passed through New Jericho. The people in New Jericho are not Israelites, but citizens from Jordan. Arabs also occupy the West Bank (1,200,000 of them), a section of Jerusalem, and other parts of Israel. Jericho is an oasis or green spot. We passed the Mount of Temptation on our left. This, of course, is where Jesus was tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness.
Next, we visited the palace of the Islamic Muslim ruler Hisham, who ruled from 724-743. The palace was destroyed by an earthquake only four years after it was completed. In the realm of architecture, the Muslims copied the Corinthians, Byzantines, Romans, and Greeks. Hisham stole the ruins from Herod’s palace at Jericho, in order to make his palace. This place was furnished with bath houses, steam rooms, and spas similar to the Romans. The palace had mosaics, a mosque, and an ornamental pool.
Now we proceeded towards historical Jericho, passing a couple Refugee Camps for Nomads and Bedouins along the way. Jericho is the oldest city in human history, dating to about 7300-8300 B.C. There are various cities in Jericho differing in age – 8000 B.C., 2000 B.C., etc. The Jericho from the time of Joshua dates to about 1300 B.C. Despite legendary folklore, the famous walls that tumbled down in Joshua’s battle have never been located with complete certainty. Finally, in Jericho, we saw the spring of Elisha where he made the bitter waters sweet. Fruits were plentiful in the area, including tangerines, pomegranates, figs, and dates.
We left Jericho northbound on a long ride towards Galilee. We could appreciate the good shape that Jesus and the disciples were in to walk such a distance on foot. Immediately, after we left the oasis of Jericho, the landscape once again became brown, barren, and dry. As we moved toward Samaria, we saw grapes, fruits, and other crops. On our left, we passed the mountains of Samaria. Naphtali pointed out the mountains where the Maccabees hid. Then we went by the Gilead mountains on our right. We passed a road to Shechem, which was noted from Jacob’s time for his well. We passed Jerash, Jordan which was one of the Roman Decapolis cities. Next, was the Brook Gibok, where Jacob met God. There is never a dull moment in this incredible land. We passed a couple of tells, which are mounds containing the ruins of ancient cities. One tell we passed, may have been Makula, where Elisha came from. We finally left the Jordan River Valley, noting the Gilboa mountains on our left, where Saul fought the Philistines and killed himself. We went through Bet Shean, and passed Afula on our way to Tiberias. We went by another Crusader’s fortress, and fortified mountains on our left as we went north. The Jordan River is sixty miles long from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Finally, we approached the Sea of Galilee.
We entered Tiberias, a Roman town noted for its hot springs. It was a Muslim town and walled only one hundred years ago. Tiberias was of importance to the Romans as a place of relaxation and therapy. The Jewish Talmud was completed in Tiberias by 200 A.D. by Herod Antipas. Herod built Tiberias in honor of the emperor. All of the Herods were always trying to placate the Romans, since it was through them that they received their power. Jesus never witnessed or preached in Tiberias, probably knowing that the gospel was not ready to be received there.
We passed a Jewish stronghold used against the Romans. Then we passed Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. Next, we went by Ginnosar (Ginnessaret). We saw bananas and olive trees. It is 600 feet below sea level even at the Sea of Galilee.
We then went to the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount, or the Mount of Beatitudes. We then approached the area where Christ fed the multitude of five thousand. We saw an olive press outside the church called Tabgha, right off the Sea of Galilee. Again, this is where it is thought Jesus fed the multitudes. The Basilica of Tabgha was new. The original church was built in the fourth century. The Crusaders built a church on this site, then the Muslims ripped it down. The Crusaders built it again, and once again the Muslims tore it down. There were many icons inside the new basilica. We then proceeded to the Golan Heights region on the north shores of the Sea of Galilee. We saw barbed wire and many evidences (foxholes, bunkers) of modern warfare. Nightfall came rapidly and we stayed at the beautiful Ramot, right off the shores of Galilee, opposite Tiberias. We had fish for breakfast.
One interesting observation of our trip thus far, is the heavy Roman influence, all the way from Petra in south Jordan, to Tiberias in northern Israel.
The Jordan River is a very powerful river from Mt. Hermon to the Sea of Galilee, then tapers off from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
Another thought is that I believe we should be wary of “traditional sites,” such as 1) Moses smoting the rock at Rephidim, the Wadi Feiran. 2) Where Jesus taught at the Mt. of the Beatitudes. 3) The feeding of the five thousand at the Tabgha basilica. 4) Aaron’s burial place at Mt. Hor, etc., etc. 5) The place of ascension by Jesus on the Mount of Olives. 6) The rock where Jesus prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane. 7) The place of the upper room on Mount Zion. 8) David’s tomb. 9) The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – the place of the birth of Jesus Christ. All of the traditional locations show the weak faith of man. The important thing is that they happened. In many cases we are just not sure where they happened – and it really does not matter.
I was surprised by the fact that you can see all the shoreline on the Sea of Galilee. I thought it was larger. At Lake Okeechobee, Florida, for instance, you cannot see all the way across. This just added to its’ quaintness. We could see Tiberias across Galilee from Ramot; at night the cities’ lights were beautiful. Just as in the time of Jesus, the region of Galilee today is noted for health resorts, spas, saunas, etc.
Note: I do not agree with the aforementioned dates of Jericho’s age as a city. I do not believe the world dates prior to about 4000 B.C. This is what the Bible tells us. Radio Carbon dating methods are totally unreliable. Furthermore, since this paper was written in 1988, there is much more archaeological proof about the location and discovery of the famous walls in Jericho that fell down during Joshua’s conquest.