While traveling through the Judean desert on our way to Galilee, today we will make two important stops. Our first stop will be at the massive palace/fortress built by Herod the Great and known as Masada. During the Roman Administration of Palestine, Masada became home to a garrison of Roman soldiers. At the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War in A.D. 66, a group of Jewish extremists surprised and overcame the Roman garrison on Masada. Due to its strategic and nearly impregnable location, the Jewish extremists and their families successfully held off the Romans for some six years. After multiple failed attempts to breach the wall, the Romans built a massive rampart using thousands of tons of dirt and rock. Shortly before the Romans finally gained access to the city, the Jews all committed suicide, choosing to die free rather than be taken captive.
Our tour of Masada begins by taking the cable car to the top. We will explore the palace cisterns, the remains of Herod's palace fortress, and venture down the Roman siege wall. Our final stop will be the interactive museum.
After Masada we travel a few miles up the road to Qumran. In Jesus' day, Qumran was a monastic-like community of radically conservative Jews known as Essenes. Convinced that the Jewish nation had completely gone astray from the worship of God, the Essences founded their own community in the Judean desert where they could more closely keep the Mosaic law and maintain remain ritually pure. They also believed that the end of time was at hand and that it would involve a battle between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness." The Essenes also appear to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in 1947. While the Dead Sea Scrolls contain various documents about the beliefs of the Essences, they more importantly contain our oldest copies of the Hebrew Scriptures--dating back to around the year 300 B.C., over a thousand years earlier than all other copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The caves where these scrolls were discovered can be seen in the distance when we visit Qumran.
We spend our first Sabbath on our trip walking in the steps of Jesus in ancient sites around the Sea Galilee. We begin by stopping at the little town where Jesus grew up, Nazareth. Here we will visit Nazareth village, an open air museum that reconstructs and reenacts village life in the Galilee in the time of Jesus. Next we travel to Caesarea Philippi or Paneas--not to be confused with Caesarea Maritima on the coast. Located about 30 miles north of Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi was a pagan city known for its wicked ways. It was here that the ancient pagan god Pan was worshipped and where it was believed the gates to the underworld were located. It is in this area that Peter confessed Jesus was more than a prophet, but the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
From here we visit the ancient remains of the city of Dan--known as Tel Dan. This ancient city is mentioned in the book of Judges as being conquered by the Tribe of Dan when they were forced out of their original lands by the Philistines. Centuries later, after the nation of Israel split in two during the days of Rehoboam, the wicked king Jeroboam erected and worshipped a golden calf Dan. Remains of a sanctuary built at that time--patterned about the sanctuary in Jerusalem--are visible at the site today. Dinner and overnight at the Ron Beach Hotel in Tiberias.
We continue retracing the steps of Jesus today by walking through the hills around Capernaum, where Jesus often taught and instructed his disciples as recorded in the Semon on the Mount in Matthew. After walking down to the Sea of Galilee, we will see the remains of an ancient boat that dates to the time of Jesus and then take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. After sailing from Tiberias to Capernaum, we visit the ancient remains of the city of Capernaum. Capernaum is an ancient fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was the hometown of the Apostle Peter, and the place where Jesus healed a paralytic and Peter's mother-in-law (Mk. 1:21, 29). Jesus made Capernaum the main base of his Galilean ministry. Today a church stands on the spot where Peter's house was supposedly located. The house does date back to Jesus' time and appears to have been a sacred site by the mid-1st century. From here we will travel to two other cities where Jesus often preached: Bethsaida and Chorazin. Dinner and overnight at the Ron Beach Hotelin Tiberias.
On our way to Jerusalem, we will first stop at two OT sites: Megiddo and Mount Carmel. Megiddo was an important defensive city in the history of Israel. It contains remains of a stable and gates that scholars believe date as far back as the days of King Solomon. It was also at Megiddo were King Josiah died in a battle with the Egyptians--just a few short years before the Babylonians would destroy Jerusalem. From here we travel to Mount Carmel--the site where the Prophet Elijah battled with the priests of Baal as recorded in 1 Kings 18.
After lunch, we will visit Caesarea Maritima, the site of Herod the Great's famous man-made harbor. Caesarea was the only harbor in ancient Israel. In addition to sailing in and out of this harbor during his missionary journey's, the apostle Paul was also imprisoned here for several years. Caesarea was also a key location for the Crusaders in the Middle Ages. Dinner and overnight at the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem.