Our pilgrimage to Israel in November 2013 put us in touch with our religious roots. We walked along the roads where Jesus walked, sailed the waters where Jesus and his disciples sailed, sat along the same hills where Jesus taught and healed. We gained new insights as we placed familiar Bible stories into their actual context. And an expert local guide greatly enhanced our experience.
Our first stop was the ancient seaport of Joppa, a suburb of Tel Aviv. That’s the port from which Jonah sailed, attempting to escape from God. That’s also where the Apostle Peter raised Dorcas from the dead.
Nearby lay Caesarea, also on the Mediterranean. It was built by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus. Contrary to our traditional understanding, it was Caesarea rather than the much smaller Jerusalem which was the capital of the region at that time. Caesarea was rediscovered about 100 years ago after being buried under sand dunes for many centuries and largely forgotten. We visited the recently excavated hippodrome and the magnificent reconstructed amphitheatre.
After stopping at a series of important Biblical sites along the way such as Megiddo (Armageddon in the Book of Revelations), we arrived at the Kibbutz, Nof Ginosar. It is a beautiful resort in an idyllic setting, right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
We sailed on the Sea of Galilee and made our way to Capernaum. However, little remains of the ancient town except the ruins of a synagogue which is built over the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus may have worshipped.
Our first view of Jerusalem was from the top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the old city and the Muslim Dome of the Rock, its golden dome gleaning in the afternoon sun.
The following day we travelled to Bethlehem in the West Bank, a short distance away. We visited the traditional Church of the Nativity and sang Christmas carols overlooking the Shepherds’ Fields. Many purchased various hand made crafts made out of olive wood, for which Bethlehem is famous.
We left early the next morning for a visit to the Temple Mount. Once the site of King Herod the Great’s magnificent Jewish Temple, it now contains the Dome of the Rock, an important Muslim shrine, as well as the El Aksa mosque. Interestingly, built in 691 AD, the Dome of the Rock had been converted to a Christian church in 1099 when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 AD and remained so for 88 years.
From there we descended the western side of the Temple Mount and approached the Jewish “Western Wall”, men and boys on the left, women and girls on the right. There were numerous joyous and boisterous bar mitzvah family groups. Everyone had the opportunity to offer their prayers at the wall, and to place written prayer petitions in the cracks between the stones. Next we toured the Jewish Quarters of the old city.
Our day concluded with a visit to the holocaust memorial site. We visited the children’s memorial with its many candles reflected on the mirrored walls, while the name, age, and nationality of one and a half million children who were killed, were read continuously.
We began the next day by walking down the steep slope from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, retracing the steps of Jesus on Palm Sunday. The morning concluded with a visit to the traditional “Upper Room” where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
In the afternoon we visited the “Garden Tomb”. This site was proposed as an alternative site for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial about 150 years ago. Located in a tranquil garden, we entered the tomb hewn into the rocky hillside and saw the track outside for the large cylindrical “rolling stone”.
On our final touring day, we travelled to Masada, the huge, flat, rock formation near the south end of the Dead Sea. The cable car whisked us to the top. We toured the ruins of King Herod the Great’s massive fortifications and his 3-storey palace hugging the side of the cliff. The Roman ramp and the remains of their camps are still visible.
We visited the ruins of the Qumran community and observed the distant caves where they hid the famous “Dead Sea Scrolls”. We “floated” in the mineral dense waters of the Dead Sea and coated our bodies with black therapeutic mud. Then it was back to our hotel in Jerusalem. Our tour would end with a “free” day, worshipping at various churches, exploring and shopping in the old city, visiting the recently opened exhibit at the Israeli Museum entitled “Herod: the King’s Final Journey”, resting, packing and getting ready for our 12 hour direct flight home.
It was a memorable, enriching and uplifting tour, shared with a group of wonderful, enthusiastic fellow travellers!
Discover more about Israel on Craig Travel's Destination Israel webpage here, including exciting upcoming adventures.