Jordan: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Mount Nebo, Wadi Mujib, Madaba, and Kerak.

The last day of touring in Jordan brought me to the most holy of places: the site on the Jordan River where many believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. “Where’s the water?” is of course the question today. Like many rivers, the Jordan River has changed its course over time.

This location is called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Between the four pillars of stone on the slab of rock is thought to be the spot where Jesus was immersed.

St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church nearby displays what it says is the skull of the beheaded John the Baptist. There are several other locations in places such as Rome and Bulgaria making the same claim. Who knows?

Another wow religious experience was the visit to Mount Nebo, the site where Moses saw the Promised Land. A land, if you remember the scripture, that he never lived to enter. In fact, it is believed that Moses died here on Mount Nebo. There’s lots to see from this spot: the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Jordan River Valley, the mountains from Hebron to Nablus, the surrounding hills of Amman, and on very clear days, Bethlehem.

A sculpture of Moses’ staff, which turned into a snake when he threw it down in front of Pharoah, stands on Mount Nebo.

Much of Jordan is desert, what the Bible often calls the wilderness.

The waters of the Wadi Mujib are a welcome sight in this arid land. Fed by seven tributaries, the river empties into the Dead Sea.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a herd of goats on a highway before, certainly not in eastern North Carolina.

Caught shopping again (I’m buying a camel figurine), but I was trying to spend the rest of my Jordanian money before heading home. I’m pretty sure the Harris Teeter doesn’t accept dinars.

Madaba is a town famous for its mosaics, particularly something called the Madaba Map. This map is part of a larger mosaic floor that dates to the sixth century. The map shows part of the Middle East and focuses on Jerusalem.

How do I know these details? I paid attention when our Jordanian guide explained, using a picture of the map before we saw the actual mosaic one. (I also use Google to help me get my facts straight!)

Of course, I couldn’t spend a couple of days in Jordan without being led to visit some kind of ruin. The Crusader Castle in Kerak, which dates to 1142, allowed me to check that box (again).

The Kerak Crusader Castle was built high on a hill, the better to spot an enemy…and to throw infidels over the side. Yes, a lot of awful stuff was done by the Crusaders. They were not tolerant of those who didn’t share their beliefs.

I don’t look all that tired in this last photo of Al and me from the trip, but believe me, after a fourteen-day bus ride that required staying at six different hotels, I was exhausted. Israel and Wonders of Jordan, the official name of this journey, was a wonderful experience overall, but as usual when I travel, I was happy to go home.

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Is Petra Worth Visiting?

Petra, an ancient city carved from stone, is without a doubt Jordan’s number one tourist attraction. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World–and the setting for parts of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But this world-famous archaeological site doesn’t need a movie connection to make it worth a visit. It’s been designated a World Heritage Site and chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 28 places to visit before you die. Lots of accolades for this ancient city of tombs, temples, and a theater carved from solid rock.

Petra inspires awe beginning at the Siq, the passageway that leads to the city. The Siq is a three-quarters mile-long road, sometimes narrow, with towering rose-colored rocks on either side.

Along the way, I was approached by a lad hustling “silver” bracelets. I say “hustling” because the price kept changing, going higher when he thought I was interested, and the bangles were of dubious quality (according to our tour guide, who’d warned us in advance).

“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked him at one point. He seemed confused by my question. I finally waved him away.

These adults performing for money in the Siq were more low-key.

The main draw of Petra is a huge structure called the Treasury. Despite its name, this monument has nothing to do with money. Rather, many believe it was carved out of the mountainside by the Nabataeans two thousand years ago to bury their dead.

So why is it called the Treasury? Bedouins, the nomadic Jordanian people who lived in caves nearby, once believed the urn on top of the front entrance held the treasure of a pharaoh.

I’m with the Bedouins. The Treasury is so magnificent, I, too, could believe it held loot. Keep in mind, this thing was chiseled from stone. Two thousand years ago.

The Petra “entrepreneurs” were aggressive on the day my tour group visited. We were constantly asked if we wanted a ride to travel further into the city. I’d already had my camel experience for the trip (, and I wasn’t interesting in traveling by donkey, so I declined (over and over).

However, I’ve never been one to turn down a visit to a gift shop. My husband likes to take my picture on the sly to make fun of my love of souvenir shopping. That’s me on the left with another shopaholic from our tour group.

Jordanian shop owners expect customers to haggle over prices, not one of my better skills. Still, I really wanted a couple of shawls from this enterprise set up across from the Treasury.

I decided to try a two for the “retail” price of one deal. “No way, no way,” the shopkeeper exclaimed. “These are hand-made. Women sew at home.” We haggled back and forth, and he dropped the price slightly.

I looked at the machine-stitched embroidery that looked more like factory work to me. Then I thought about the last two years of no income for the Petra merchants due to Covid, a fact the shopkeeper had already brought up. I could afford to overlook his probable lack of truth in advertising, I thought.

I left with two pretty shawls for 40 dinars, about $26 each. A fair deal, I suppose. Here’s the one I kept for myself.

So much of Petra is still unrestored. There are bits and pieces of pottery and interesting rocks lying on the ground everywhere, there for the taking, if a tourist is so inclined.

I preferred to buy my artifact. I didn’t barter at all with the sad-looking child about the size of my five-year-old grandson. He was sitting on a blanket, holding out rocks for sale to passing tourists. I gave him an American dollar, and he handed me an interesting specimen with variegated patterns.

I keep this rock on my windowsill over my kitchen sink. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to live in America, a country where young children are in school rather than helping their families eke out a living from tourists.

Petra is like Jordan, magnificently beautiful but disturbing at times. But yes, this fascinating archaeological site, like the country itself, is definitely worth visiting.

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Jordan: Jerash and Wadi Rum

Hello from Wadi Rum, Jordan. I didn’t cross the Israeli border on camel, but along with my husband, I did ride one in a place called Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert. I think my daughters were ready to send someone from the US Embassy after us when I emailed this picture, but you live only once, right?

Riding a camel was one of the highlights of my trip to Jordan, but there were some spectacular sights in this country as well. After crossing the Israeli border at Allenby Bridge, our group visited the ruins at Jerash.

Petra is supposed to be the tourist highlight in Jordan (more about that in my next post), but this place was a pretty impressive first stop. In fact, the structures at Jerash are considered the most well-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.

This imposing gateway, the Arch of Hadrian, is the entrance to what was once a bustling city of twenty thousand people.

Jerash flourished during the second half of the first century AD. As part of the Roman empire, the city was an important trade center. Destroyed by an earthquake in 749, ancient Jerash lay buried until the 1800’s when it was discovered. Excavations began in 1925.

The ruins are in such good condition due to Jordan’s dry climate. Below is the Nymphaeum Temple.

As in many Roman ruins, there are intricate mosaic floors.

Amidst the magnificent ruins of a once prosperous city, Jerash today hosts young boys hustling for money. This young singer knows the sweet spot in the ancient amphitheater where his voice projects for all to hear. When I asked our guide for a translation of the Arabic words, I was told the child was singing about how hard and miserable his life is.

I may be a sucker, but I gave him a couple of dollars for his performance.

Jerash was less than an hour from Jordan’s capital, Amman, where we spent our first night in the country. My husband took a picture of this beautiful view from our hotel window.

Day two in Jordan found us heading to Wadi Rum. In Arabic, wadi means valley, but Wadi Rum is more like a desert with spectacular rock formations. This particular natural sculpture is named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (if you’re counting, there are two on the other side).

Our tour literature advertised a ride through the Wadi Rum desert in a four-by-four jeep. Instead, we found ourselves on the back of a pick-up truck. The substitution didn’t bother an old farm girl like me.

Of course, my first picture in this post shows my other form of transportation at Wadi Rum. My husband and I left the truck to make a short trek from one stop to another via camel. We made it with no injuries, thanks to advice from our guide.

This is the head of Lawrence of Arabia carved in stone as a memorial to Thomas Lawrence, who lived in a tent on this spot. Lawrence of Arabia is famous for his part in the Arab revolt against the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.

One of the highlights of the trip to Wadi Rum was having tea in a Bedouin tent. The Bedouins are a nomadic people whose name in Arabic means desert dwellers. There are well over a million people of Bedouin descent in Jordan. In the past, Bedouins lived in caves or tents.

I suspect this tent was not anyone’s home but rather set up for tourists. Still, the tea I was served was delicious. Notice the way Bedouin men relax. No Barcalounger needed for them. The fellow in the middle waving was our guide throughout Jordan.

Yes, I think we were given the romantic view of life as a Bedouin. Today many live, not in spacious caves or fancy tents, but in roughly constructed dwellings along the highway.

Maybe it was the camel ride, maybe the trip on the back of a pick-up truck through the Jordanian desert, maybe the tea in the Bedouin tent–after the Old City of Jerusalem, Wadi Rum was my second favorite day of the trip to Israel and Jordan.

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Israel: The Dead Sea, the Mount of Olives, the Judean Desert, and Masada

The last day spent in Israel found me floating effortlessly in the super-salty Dead Sea. Looks relaxing, doesn’t it? So why do I have a frown on my face?

See that mud on the bottom of my foot? I had to slip and slide through a shoreline of that gooey stuff to get to the buoyant waters. Once in, though, what I had read of floating in the Dead Sea proved true. A person can lie back (if you don’t mind getting your hair wet) and relax. The salinity of the Dead Sea is so high no swimming is needed to stay on top of the water.

In fact, the Dead Sea is saltier than any other body of water on earth. With a concentration of 34% salinity, it is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Due to the high salt content of the water, no living organism can survive in the sea, hence the name, the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is also famous for being the Earth’s lowest place. At its deepest point, it is over 2,300 feet below sea level.

Not only is the salty water full of minerals that are supposed to be good for your body, but the mud is also considered curative. You are advised to slather yourself with that slippery stuff and let it dry. I tried, but can’t say I consider the Dead Sea the Fountain of Youth. A partial mud bath did bring a smile to my face, though.

I’ve started with the end of my last day in Israel before crossing the border to Jordan. Let me back up and start at the beginning.

A visit to the Mount of Olives, one of Jerusalem’s seven hills, was a morning highlight. Jesus often retreated here to pray. The Book of Acts describes the Mount of Olives as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

The Mount of Olives also provides a panoramic view. In the photo below, Old Jerusalem with the easy-to-spot Golden Dome is within the walls. Outside the walled city is also interesting. Notice the rectangular tombstones in the foreground of the picture. These mark an exclusive Jewish cemetery that’s over 3,000 years old and holds approximately 150,000 graves. It is considered the largest and holiest Jewish cemetery in the world.

From Jerusalem, we drove through the Judean Desert. Looking out the bus window at the landscape, I thought of Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (Matthew 4:1-2)

Still Jesus denied Satan, who told him to turn the stones into bread.

After riding through the Judean Desert, our tour group arrived at Masada, a ruin of two fortified palaces that once served as a retreat for King Herod the Great. Masada is famous because of its military history. It was the site of the last stand of the Jews against the legions of Rome almost two thousand years ago at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War.

According to the first century historian Flavious Josephus, rather than surrender to the Romans, the Jews committed mass suicide. A television miniseries titled Masada, filmed in 1981 and starring Peter O’Toole, depicts this ancient story.

Today, you have to use your imagination to picture the once grand palaces and the elaborate fortifications.

Some of the original painting is still there. The colors remind me of those found in American Colonial homes. The black line is significant. What’s below it is original; what’s above it has been restored.

There were two ways to reach this mountaintop ruin: a long snaky path under the hot desert sun for walkers or a cable car ride from the visitor center that got you there in a matter of minutes. Guess which I chose?

My last day in Israel was a mixed bag of the religious experiences of the Mount of Olives and a drive through the Judean Desert, a historical tour of Masada, and the touristy adventure of floating in the Dead Sea.

The next day, I crossed the border to Jordan.

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Israel: Jerusalem

I spent Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, and it was my favorite day of the entire trip to Israel and Jordan. So many holy places to see: the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary’s birthplace and her tomb, the Upper Room, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Stations of the Cross, and the tomb of King David. Many of these places were within the walls of what is called the Old City of Jerusalem.

Before visiting all these Christian holy sites, though, the first stop of Easter Sunday was at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust museum. Outside, there’s a section dedicated to those who aided persecuted Jews during World War II. Remember the movie Schindler’s List? I wasn’t surprised to see this plaque for Oscar Schindler and his wife.

This statue depicts a man named Janusz Korczak, a Gentile, surrounded by the Jewish children of his orphanage that he refused to leave. All were sent to the death camp at Treblinka in 1942.

There was a group of Israeli soldiers at the museum, no doubt learning more about the history of the Jewish Holocaust. Notice the female soldiers. All Israeli citizens, regardless of gender, are required to join the military at age eighteen. Men serve for a little under three years while women serve for approximately two years.

After Yad Vashem, the rest of the day was devoted to visiting holy sites. The Garden of Gethsemane seemed a peaceful place on this Easter Sunday, quite unlike the time Jesus spent there awaiting his arrest and crucifixion.

The Church of the Agony, built at the foothills of the Mount of Olives, contains a large flat stone thought to have been the place Jesus spent praying the evening before his crucifixion. Above the stone is a painting depicting this scene.

Although the New Testament says nothing about Mary’s birthplace and her childhood home, records from around AD 150 place the house of Mary’s parents in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Anne has a flight of stairs leading to a cave that is thought to be the site of the Virgin Mary’s birthplace.

The location of Mary’s tomb is also controversial. Some believe she is buried in Ephesus, but others think this tomb in the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary in Jerusalem is her final resting place.

The Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, seemed to me surprisingly light and airy.

The lively Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was a shopper’s mecca.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site where many believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The area below this elaborate depiction of the crucifixion is where the cross stood.

This slab of stone, called the Stone of Anointing, is thought to be where Jesus’ body was laid as it was prepared for burial. Many people pray here and lay hands on the stone, asking for blessings.

Not far away from what is believed to be the site of the crucifixion in this church is the location of Jesus’ tomb. There was such a long line to enter that I passed on the opportunity. Also, I liked the idea of the Garden Tomb, which I’d visited a day prior, as being where Jesus was interred.

But the exact location of where the cross stood and where our Lord was buried doesn’t really matter. On this Easter Sunday, I was sure he had arisen.

The Wailing Wall, believed by Jews to be the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, is a sacred Jewish site. The Second Temple was destroyed (as Jesus foretold) by the Romans in AD 70.

Men and women have segregated sections of the wall for prayer. Male visitors must wear either a Hasidic Jewish hat or the yarmulke. Those without (such as my husband) are given a yarmulke to wear before being allowed to enter the male-only side of the wall. Many visitors to the wall tuck prayer requests written on scraps of paper into the cracks.

We tourists were told to dress respectfully on the days we visited holy sites. Knees and shoulders needed to be covered. I often took a long scarf to cover my t-shirt and wore my below-the-knee jean skirt.

According to our guide, some sites in Jerusalem claiming the presence of Christ may be based more on folklore than the Bible. For example, below I have my hand in an indentation supposedly left by Jesus as he leaned against the wall for support on his walk to be crucified. Am I covering the handprint of Jesus? Probably not. Notice I’m standing upright, as Jesus, beaten and under the weight of the cross, would have been bowed.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa, are marked in the Old City of Jerusalem. These stations supposedly highlight the path Jesus walked as he carried his cross to the location where he was to be crucified. Since the time of the Crusades, pilgrims have followed this route of Jesus’ agonizing journey to his crucifixion.

Station VI below is where, according to legend, a woman named Veronica reached for Jesus and wiped the sweat from his forehead with her veil. Later, she was surprised to find the imprint of his face on her veil.

A final holy site of the day hearkened to the Old Testament: the tomb of King David. This is another site especially revered by those of the Jewish faith.

I feel blessed to have seen the many holy sites within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Still, one image that will stay with me is that of the prevalence of armed Israeli soldiers.

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Israel: Jerusalem and Bethlehem

For me, the days spent in Jerusalem and Bethlehem were the highlight of my trip to Israel and Jordan. Roman ruins are interesting, but my primary reason for this visit to these countries was to see places mentioned in the Bible. I especially wanted to follow the path of Jesus. Bethlehem, of course, was where his life on earth began.

Bethlehem has been commercialized with plenty of vendors trying to sell you expensive manger scenes and cross necklaces. But it was still an awesome experience to visit the Church of the Nativity, built over the site where Jesus was born. The simple outside entrance is appropriate, I think, for the humble birth that this church celebrates.

Of course, with the church being mostly under the control of the Greek Orthodox, who like glitter and gold, the interior is quite ornate.

Steps lead down to the grotto, the cave where Jesus was born. The spot is marked with a silver star.

Yes, I said “cave.” Like most people, I suspect, I’d always pictured Jesus being born in a barn. But caves were often used to house animals in ancient Israel. In fact, historians of the time describe Jesus’ birthplace as being part of a large network of caves in the area. Wow, I’ll never again look at my nativity scene the same.

A few steps away from the site of the birth is the manger where Baby Jesus was laid.

Back in Jerusalem, just a few miles away, is the Garden Tomb, where many Protestants believe Jesus is buried, with the site of the execution not too far away. “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41)

The entrance to the Garden Tomb has windows through which the soul was believed to depart. Of course, for Jesus no such exit was needed.

It’s hard to describe how I felt stepping inside the Garden Tomb, where many believe the body of Jesus was laid.

Those who believe the Garden Tomb is the location of Jesus’ burial also think his crucifixion took place nearby, where a street runs today as a road probably did in ancient times. Although we sing, “On a hill far away, stood the old rugged cross…,” the Romans crucified people in visible places as an example.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all mention a place called the Skull as part of the crucifixion location. These cliffs, today above a Palestinian bus station adjacent to the area of the Garden Tomb, once had a clearly-defined image of a skull.

A visit to the Israel Museum was also part of this day. There I saw the famous Dead Sea scrolls, parts of which authenticate the Old Testament. These scrolls were discovered hidden in urns in a cave by shepherds in 1947 and are considered one of the most important archeological finds of modern times.

The day ended with an optional excursion featuring a “Middle Eastern” dinner followed by a light show at the Tower of David near the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old Town.

I put quotes around “Middle Eastern” because this was the advertised description of a meal that featured French fries. Incidentally, the fries were a hit for us Americans looking for a break from falafel and shawarma.

The Old City of Jerusalem with its ancient walls was a magical sight at night. Tourists walked along the locals.

The story of Jerusalem was told through a sound and light show at the Tower of David, built during the second century B.C. The history of the city from King David playing his harp to Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of modern Israel was projected on the walls.

I loved being in Jerusalem.

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Israel: Nazareth, Bet She’an, Jericho, and Jerusalem

The fourth day of travel in Israel brought me to an overview of Jerusalem, the city I considered the highlight of my recent trip to Israel and Jordan. The golden globe in the left near the skyline is the famous Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount, the site of the two ancient temples of Judaism, is considered sacred by Jews. Can you see why there’s often religious conflict in this city?

Here’s another aerial view of Jerusalem showcasing the abundance of beautiful white limestone buildings.

I’ve shown you how this day of travel ended, but let me back up and talk about what I saw before arriving in Jerusalem. The first stop of the day was at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, built at the site where the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary. Here’s how the book of Luke describes this encounter:

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary…And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. (Luke 1, 26-27; 30-31).

Below on the left is a very fuzzy picture of the well where Mary was drawing water when the angel Gabriel appeared. The slightly less fuzzy picture beside it is shows the two-thousand-year-old steps leading to the well.

I took a better photo of the interior of the Greek Orthodox Church built over this site. Could you imagine attending a church located where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to give birth to the Saviour? The ornate interior is appropriate, I think.

Bet She’an, an ancient city of Roman and Byzantine ruins, was next on the day’s agenda. This site contains some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East. What’s a Roman ruin without an amphitheater?

Here’s what left of the main artery of the city, called the Cardo Street.

On a Biblical note, it was from the walls of Bet She’an that King Saul and his three sons were hanged in 1004 B.C. after their defeat by the Philistines. David laments Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1:19: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!”

Looking at the ruins in Bet She’an, I was reminded of Shelley’s famous poem, “Ozymandias,” which tells the story of a traveler encountering ruins in “an antique land.” On a remaining pedestal are the words, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The irony is that nothing around the pedestal remains. Yes, as much as we would like to think otherwise, all things on earth are only temporary.

From these ruins, I can only imagine the once magnificent city of Bet She’an.

On a lighter, more contemporary note, Israel has Coca Cola–and litter–just as we do. I’m not sure what “Old City” I was riding through here, but I was on my way to Jericho.

The Zacchaeus Tree is in Jericho. As my tour group got off the bus, many of the ladies began singing the children’s song related to the story of this tax collector who wanted to see Jesus:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” I don’t think a single man in the group knew this song, but then again, how many men have ever taught pre-schoolers in Vacation Bible School?

There is some speculation that this tree may not be the same one Zacchaeus climbed, but tests have shown this sycamore is over 2,000 years old.

Jericho is located in the Palestinian Authority lands of the West Bank. I had a moment of concern as I walked past this sign with the P.L.O. letters in the lower left corner, but our busload of American tourists got in and out of Jericho with no problems.

The day ended with checking in at a hotel in Jerusalem, our base for the next three days of exploring Israel.

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Israel: Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River

Day Three of my recent trip to Israel and Jordan included visits to several important New Testament sites, including the Jordan River.

This baptismal site on the Jordan River was actually the last stop of the day. Capernaum, the place where Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick, including Peter’s mother-in-law, was first on the agenda.

These ruins in Capernaum are what’s left of the temple built in the third century over the synagogue where Jesus taught while in the town. Jesus chose Capernaum as the center of his public ministry in Galilee after he left Nazareth.

The disciple Peter lived in Capernaum with his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law. It’s likely that Jesus resided at times with the family. The Statue of Peter with the Sea of Galilee in the background commemorates Peter’s connection to the town.

Near Capernaum is the location of the Sermon on the Mount. As with the temple built over the site of the synagogue where Jesus taught, there is a church at the likely location of this famous sermon. It’s appropriately named The Church of the Beatitudes and was built in 1938.

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him…” (Matthew 5:1). More meaningful to me than the Church of the Beatitudes is the surrounding area, a setting much like the one where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

“And he opened his mouth, and taught them saying,” (Matthew 5:2)

This excavated and restored two-thousand-year-old boat in a museum near the Sea of Galilee is much like one Jesus and his disciples would have used in their travels. In fact, a sign declares that “mystery” surrounds the boat. Was it a boat Jesus used or simply one owned by a fisherman?

I can picture Jesus and his disciples on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. I can imagine Jesus in these surrounding mountains when he needed time alone with God.

Although miles away from where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, this site on the Jordan River draws those wanting to be baptized or rebaptized in the same river as Jesus.

My husband and I stood with our good friends in the waters of the Jordan River. It was yet another spiritual experience on a day spent following the footsteps of Jesus.

In my next posting, I’ll talk about the journey to Jerusalem.

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Israel: Caesarea, Haifa, and Acre

When you’re in Israel, you never forget you’re in a Jewish state. All you have to do is look at the Star of David on the country’s flag. Not the American idea of the separation of church and state, but after all, modern-day Israel was founded in 1948 as the Jewish homeland.

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The prevalence of mezuzahs on the doorposts of different Israeli hotels was another sign that I was in a Jewish country. The mezuzah symbolizes the parchment on which the verses of the Torah are inscribed as well as the container which holds the parchment. The mezuzah is a reminder of the believer’s covenant with God and a declaration that the person who dwells in this residence lives a Jewish life.

Imagine a religious symbol like this beside a door in an American hotel.

But on to the second day’s excursions of this trip I took to Israel and Jordan. Other than Italy, Israel has more excavated Roman ruins than anywhere in the world. This fact is not surprising since the Romans ruled the area for 400 years. The ancient city of Caesarea Maritima is one such example of extensive Roman ruins.

Built by Herod the Great two decades before the birth of Christ, Caesarea was in its time a major port city of the ancient world and a luxurious city for the ruling Roman elite. But like many ancient cities, it was eventually invaded. The city was conquered by the Muslims in 640, and then by the Crusaders in 1101.

The ancient city of Caesarea is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. The apostle Paul often traveled through the city. Once when his life was threatened in Jerusalem, he escaped through Caesarea to Tarsus, probably aboard a Caesarean ship. Later, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for years, sharing the gospel while facing several trials.

Also, Cornelius the centurion lived in Caesarea. Peter visited Cornelius, converting him, a significant event at a time when salvation hadn’t been available to Gentiles.

What’s a Roman ruin without a theater? Of course Caesarea has one.

The city of Haifa was the next stop of the day. Here the Baha’i estate was the major attraction. Never heard of the Baha’i religion? Me either. Established in the 19th century in Iran, the Baha’i faith teaches the worth of all religions and calls for the unity of all people. There are anywhere from five to eight million believers worldwide.

The beautiful grounds surrounding the shrine of Bab, founder of the faith, were the drawing card. We weren’t allowed to get close to the shrine itself; a guard said it was closed due to Covid.

Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s a seaport city, built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and stretching to the Mediterranean. Can you find the Bab shrine and the Baha’i grounds in this arial view of the city?

For lunch this day, I ate shawarma. This famous Israeli dish is made of thinly sliced grilled chicken rolled into a pita with chopped vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and garnished with hummus and tahini. Sounds delicious, I know, and it was the first three times I ate it. By the end of my time in Israel, though, I was shawarma’ed out. This entree showed up everywhere! Every menu, every buffet! One day I had no other option but to eat it twice, at lunch and then again at dinner.

What’s ironic is that, despite the frequent appearance of shawarma, I kept forgetting to take a picture of it. Writing this blog, I texted my travel buddies to ask if anyone else had a photo. (They probably all groaned reading the word “shawarma.”) Rick Adams sent me his photo of a half-eaten shawarma. Thanks, Rick…I guess.

The final tour of the day was to visit the underground Crusader City in Acre, built during the 12th century. It’s obviously above ground now, but like so many ancient ruins, was buried for centuries and then excavated.

Lots of halls, passages, tunnels, and chambers within. This room was a latrine.

This second full day of the tour was heavy on Roman ruins. On to more biblical sites on the third day, the subject of my next post.

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Israel: Tel Aviv, Valley of Elah, Latrun, and Jaffa

I’ve recently returned from a two-week visit to Israel and Jordan, and my mind is still reeling from all I experienced. I’ll take each day of the trip for a separate blog post (with lots of pictures!) and invite you to travel with me as I look back on my time in the Holy Land.

The photo above shows a portion of the ancient walls surrounding the Old City area of Jerusalem. If I had to pick a favorite day, it would be the one spent visiting the holy places within these walls. But more about the sights of Old Jersualem later. I’ll start at the beginning of the trip, Tel Aviv.

Israel is both ancient and new. There are Roman ruins and Biblical sites, but the Israel of today was recognized as an independent state in 1948, only a few years after World War II. Tel Aviv is a showcase of modern Israel as can be seen by some of its architecture, a style called Bauhaus, which features clean, bold lines.

Over 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings were constructed in Tel Aviv between 1920 and 1940 by German-Jewish architects who fled to the area after the rise of the Nazis.

Here’s an ariel view of Tel Aviv. Notice the crane on the right. The joke goes that there’s so much construction in many of the cities of Israel that the crane has been declared the national bird.

Tel Aviv is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline, and the weather was beautiful for the two days I was there. No time for lounging on the beach, though, as the first full day was packed with excursions.

A trip to the Valley of Elah was the first Biblical wow moment. This long, shallow valley has been identified, according to clues in the Bible, as the place where David slew Goliath.

There are plenty of rocks at the site. David, of course, would have used one of the smaller ones for the fatal ammunition in his slingshot.

We tourists were told we could pick up a few stones to take home. I chose two, which now rest on my desk in my office, a world away from the Valley of Elah in Israel.

A visit to the Monastery of the Trappist Monks in Latrun was next on the agenda. These monks take a vow of silence, so our presence was ignored.

The monks make wine, though, which is sold in a gift shop. Because of its name, I couldn’t resist buying this bottle. You may recall turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was our Lord’s first miracle. Incidentally, I’m sorry to say this wine was too sweet for me. I wonder how Jesus’ batch tasted.

The door of the church at the Trappist Monastery was still decorated with palms on the day I was there, the Tuesday after Palm Sunday.

The final excursion of the day was to the ancient port city of Jaffa, which is the oldest part of Tel Aviv. Jaffa is home to a couple of other wow Biblical sites. It was from Jaffa that Jonah sailed, trying to outrun God’s orders, was tossed from a boat, and swallowed by a big fish (many say a whale).

I don’t know whether the leviathan that swallowed Jonah looked as happy as this replica in Jaffa.

According to the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in Jaffa. St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa was built to honor this miracle.

On a historical note, Jaffa was the site of a battle fought between the Ottomans and Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon won. Here our Israeli tour guide stands by Napoleon’s statue. Above the English “Historical Site” is the Hebrew spelling of the words.

Yes, I really did take this trip. (Sometimes I, myself, can’t believe I was there.) I’m posing here beside the Gate of Faith on a hill in Jaffa, with a panoramic view of Tel Aviv behind me. The sculpture represents the gate of entry to the land of Israel. The different inscriptions depict Jacob’s dream, the sacrifice of Isaac, and the fall of Jericho.

My next post will cover the second day of the tour: Caesarea, Acre, and Haifa.

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