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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