Israel Day 9 – Jordan Valley
We loaded the bus again, headed to a new destination, leaving the Dead Sea.
If you look at a map, the Dead Sea is the southern-most body of water in Israel. Up north is the Sea of Galilee. And it’s the Jordan River that connects the two.
This day, as we drive from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, we travel through and along the Jordan Valley. On our journey, Ariel pulls out a map (in the bus) and starts a geo-political lecture.
I won’t try to explain it all here – suffice it to say, Israel has a complicated history that came to a head during the Six Day War in 1967 when they were able to push non-Israelites out of Israel’s borders. Somehow, someway, three parts of Israel were given back to those three non-Israel countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. So – as a result, there are three chunks of land within Israel that are controlled by each of those countries respectively.
It’s confusing to say the least. And Ariel did a GREAT job of explaining it. I know I’m not.
But for our group it meant taking out-of-the-way routes and going through a check-point. It was all very fascinating. A bit confusing, but never scary or threatening.
Along the way we made a few stops.
Because we were in the Jordan Valley most of the time, we had mountains on either side of us. Mountains of Samaria on the west and Mountains of Gilead to the east.
Near the intersection of the Jordan and Jezreel valleys is an ancient site called Beth Shean. This was a Roman city, one of the “Decapolis” cities that was prominent in Jesus’ days.
I read that this city has 6000 years of history in all its layers of documented civilizations. That takes us back to the Stone Age!
Ariel had us sit near the entrance for a lot of the history, but I was not prepared for what I saw.
Up to now we had walked into ruins that had walls up to my waist or head, but rarely higher.
I guess I expected more of the same.
But this Roman city had much more to offer. Our first stop on the tour of Beth Shean was the theater, a semi-circular shaped building with a stage up front.
What we walked into is something I’d expect to see in Greece or Italy. It was a complete auditorium, minus a roof. It would rival many high school football stadiums…it was that big! My heart beat a little faster, my breathing a little shallower. I felt as if I’d stepped back in time.
In addition to the theater, this city had an Agora (a main street or plaza with shops and was usually lined with columns. It also had an amphitheater, which was circular arena, a hippodrome, a public latrine (bathroom), and an elaborate bath house.
I’m telling you, we walked through a city! Beth Shean was amazing! Something else that amazes me about Beth Shean was that so much of it survived an earthquake in 749 AD!
From there we took a road up high into the mountains to Bel Voir, which is French for “beautiful view.” Bel Voir was a fortress built by the Crusaders back in the 12th century. I’ve been a sucker for all things Medieval or even remotely seeming Medieval since I studied King Arthur years ago. Castles, knights, fair maidens…the works.
This castle did not disappoint. It even had a moat!! What I didn’t realize is that not all moats had water, like Bel Voir. The gap to the walled fortress was a preventive measure keeping the enemy from using a battery ram on their gates–water or not.
And, wow, did this place live up to its name. It was a breath-taking, beautiful view. I think I stared at it the whole time Ariel gave its history. Several in our group took panoramic pictures. From there we could look north and see the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. We could also see Mount Tabor.
In Catholic tradition Bel Voir is on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration. Biblically, this is where the whole conflict between Deborah and Barack took place (in Judges).
We continued toward Tiberias, a city on the banks of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and we saw the Hill of Moreh where, in Judges 7, God called Gideon to lead the Israelites to rise up against their enemy. I’ve always liked Gideon’s story, so that stood out to me!
As we made our way northward, we could see the Sea of Galilee, a fresh-water lake. The waters upon which Jesus walked, the waters He calmed in a storm.
Tiberias is a much more modern city than Jerusalem. It was a fun contrast to see and experience. After dinner several of us walked through the “promenade” to see the sights and experience life in a city full of foreigners mixed with locals. It was fun!
We’ve discovered that McDonald’s offers FREE WiFi to its customers recently, so we’ve made it our new habit to find one each day. Tiberias did not disappoint. There’s one right at the pier!
We were able to use ATM machines to get the shekels we’d need for lunch the next day, and we explored some of the interesting artwork and architecture around us. I haven’t gotten used to how new high-rise hotels get built, literally, next door to an excavated site with awesome ruins. It feels like such an oxymoron – a juxtaposition of the old and new.
I kinda like it.
Here’s a nice random bit of Israel trivia for you as we wrap up today’s post. What is the only movie recorded IN Israel that is about Jesus?
No, not Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
It’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
With that, we’ll say so long till tomorrow.