Welcome to the Holy Land! On this Holy Land Seven-day Tour, we would explore all the different places where Jesus Christ was born and preached. Moreover, as your private tour guide in Israel; my prime goal will be to send you back to your country of origin; a little bit more connected to your faith. I’ll try to do that firstly, by making you know more about this marvelous country. Secondly, broadening your acquaintance with the world of the New Testament. Thirdly, lift your spirit from all these amazing things we will experience in those seven days we will spend together.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day One
From Jaffa to Acre: Old City Jaffa
At the present time, Jaffa is a cool place to visit filled with young people and good vibes. Firstly, the neighborhood still preserves the Ottoman style and feels like you are entering into a different realm. Moreover, Jaffa is where St. Peter had his vision on the rooftop of the house of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:32); raised Tabitha From the Dead (Acts 9:36); Also where Jonah the Prophet set sail to Tarshis and got eaten by a whale (Jonah 1:3). Lastly, where King Solomon built his port (2 Chron. 2:16) on the Mediterranean Sea; bringing cedars from Lebanon to build the First Temple.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Caesarea Maritima
As a private tour guide in Israel Caesarea Maritima is one of my favorite sites to tour in Israel. Caesarea is located on the seacoast just northwest of Jerusalem. The city was built by Herod the Great, and was the capital of Iudaea Province (6-132) and later the capital of Palestina Prima. It was there that Peter Baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius; considered the first gentile convert.
Paul sought refuge here, once staying at the house of Philip the Evangelist. Also, it is told that he was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years (estimated to be 57-59). The Apostolic Constitutions (7.46) state that the first Bishop of Caesarea was Zacchaeus the Publican but the Catholic Encyclopedia claims that: “…there is no record of any bishops of Caesarea until the second century.”
Origen (d. 254) compiled his Hexapla there and it held a famous library and theological school, St. Pamphilus (d.309) was a noted scholar-priest. St. Gregory the Wonderworker (d.270), St. Basil the Great (d.379), and St. Jerome (d. 420) visited and studied at the library which was later destroyed by the Persians in 614 CE or the Muslims around 637 CE.
Eusebius of Caesarea
Also known as Eusebius Pamphili, because of his close relations with Pamphilius, the founder of the major library in Caesarea. Eusebius was a very important historian of Christianity; exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314CE. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon and he is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time.
Why is Eusebius Important to Us?
Eusebius was a major historian of Christianity. Firstly, we have a relatively large portion of his writings. His comprehensive and careful excerpts from original sources saved his successors the painstaking labor of original research. Hence, much has been preserved, quoted by Eusebius, which otherwise would have been lost.
Moreover, he compiled the Onomasticon of the Holy Land. Which is a directory of place names or “gazetteer”; a primary source that provides historical geographers with contemporary knowledge of 4th century Palestine and Transjordan. Probably, the most important book for the study of the Land of Israel in the Roman Period.
Lastly, in his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius wrote the first surviving history of the Christian Church. It’s a chronologically ordered account; based on earlier sources, complete from the period of the Apostles to his own epoch.
The Carmelite Monastery of Mukharaka
The Carmelite Order is a catholic order of monks; one of the oldest in the Holy Land; and named after Mt. Carmel. They were founded on Mt. Carmel more than 800 years ago; starting from a number of Crusaders who went to seclusion in the caves on Mt. Carmel.
Apart from the Carmelite Church on the site. There is an impressive viewpoint from the top of the structure. From there you can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and Mt Hermon to the north.
The Prophet Elijah & Mt.Carmel
According to Christian tradition, a well-known biblical account concerning Elijah the Prophet took place right here. It is here where Elijah decides to perform a contest between the Gods of Israel and the Baal.
Acre – the Recapture of the City by the Crusaders
After the Battle of Hattin on the 4th of July 1187 CE between the Crusaders states of the Levant and the forces of the Ayyubid sultan Saladin. On July 8th, 1187 Saladin forces arrive at Acre. Immediately the city capitulates to him, having heard his victory at Hattin.
Due to the defeat at Hattin and the loss of Jerusalem on Sep-Oct 1187 CE; The Third Crusade was launched in 1189 CE. It was ultimately unsuccessful: Frederick I Barbarossa of Germany drowned before he even reached the Holy Land and Philip II Augustus of France returned home after a short period of time. Only Richard the Lionheart of England. So he helped capture Acre and some smaller ports; only leaving after he concluded a peace treaty with Saladin.
On July 12th, 1191 CE Acre surrenders to Richard I the Lionheart of England and Philip II Augustus of France. During the Siege six archbishops, twelve bishops, forty earls, five hundred barons, and 300,000 soldiers are reported killed. Acre would remain in Christian hands until 1291.
Acre – The New Capital of The Kingdom of Jerusalem
After the defeat of the Crusaders to Saladin and his forces, Acre becomes the capital instead of captured Jerusalem. As a result, the Bishops of Jerusalem like others from captured cities moved to Acre and built new churches in it. So safe estimations count about 60,000 inhabitants in Acre at its pick, with sixty churches spread in an area estimated to be 100 Acres approximately. Indeed, such a large amount of churches in a small city like Acre is rare. So we can explain it by the aspirations each congregation had seeking representation in the city; that after the 3rd crusade had turned into the new capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Acre – The Maritime Gate To The Holy Land
Another reason for so many churches is the fact that Acre was a port city that was the maritime gate to the Holy Land for many pilgrims coming from the west. So this way the Germans could house in the Teutonic quarter; the French and Belgians in the Church of Saint John; the Italians in the Venetian or Genoese Quarter and so on.
From an ecclesiastical guide book from the time, bearing the name, ‘Perdons D’Acre’, there is a list counting forty different churches and it seems the list is not complete. References to the many churches located in 12th-13th century Acre can be found also in lists that the various Popes compiled and in documents found in churches in the west that had ties with Acre. Not all churches were monumental in size. In fact, most of them were little chapels that a few priests officiated there.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day Two
The Jezreel Valley
On our second day of our Holy Land Seven-day Tour in Israel, we will explore the famous Jezreel valley which means in Hebrew “the fertile valley”. Indeed these days this is the breadbasket of Israel.
The Jezreel Valley is a place of firsts: here Thutmose III fought the first battle known in recorded history anywhere in the world; here Gideon conducted the first night campaign; here the Mongols lost their first major battle ever during their sweep across Asia and the Middle East. It is also the place of endings: here Saul fought his last heroic battle (1 Samuel 31); here Josiah met his doom;
Tel Megiddo: The Ground Zero Of Major Battles In History
Throughout history, Megiddo and the Jezreel have been ground zero for battles that determined the very course of civilization. It is no wonder that the author of Revelation believed that Armageddon, the penultimate battle between good and evil, would also take place in this region. The name Armageddon derives from the Hebrew Har Megiddo and literally means “Mount of Megiddo.”
They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty […] Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
As the current excavators of the site have described, “Megiddo was the Queen of the cities of Canaan/Israel”, replete with massive fortifications walls, impressive architecture and water installations; lavish palaces, and important temples. It’s no accident that this was one of the sites on which James Michener based his book The Source.
Could Mt. Tabor be Mt. of Transfiguration?
The New Testament tells us that Jesus and three of his Apostles, Peter, James, and John go to a high mountain (Mt. of Transfiguration) to pray. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. Then the prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to him and he speaks with them. Jesus then is called “Son” by a voice in the sky, assumed to be as God The Father.
Even though none of the Gospels Mt. Tabor as Mt. of Transfiguration we have very early traditions that point to this location. Origen in the 3rd century and St. Jerome in the 4th century already mention Mt. Tabor as Mt. Transfiguration.
Mt. Tabor in the Hebrew Bible
So the mountain is mentioned for the first time in the Hebrew Bible in Joshua 19:22 as the border of three tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali. The mountain’s importance stems from its strategic control of the junction of the Galilee’s north-south route with the east-west highway of the Jezreel Valley.
According to the Book of Judges, Hazor was the seat of Jabin, king of Canaan, whose commander Sisera led a Canaanite army against the Israelites. Deborah, the Jewish prophetess summoned Barak of the tribe of Naphtali and gave him God’s command, “Go and draw towards Mt. Tabor and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and the children of Zebulun” (Judges 4:6). Descending from the mountain, the Israelites attacked and vanquished Sisera and Canaanites.
The Jezreel Valley – Where Biblical Stories Come to Life
Now we will continue on our private tour of the Jezreel Valley via Mt. Gilboa where according to 1 Samuel chapter 31 King Saul had committed suicide or how the Hebrew describes it, where “he fell on his sword”. From the top of the mountain range, we could see the entire valley.
The Book of Samuel tells us that the Philistines after seizing the bodies of King Saul and his sons they hung them on the walls of Bet-Shean; we can actually see the Tel from the Top of Mt. Gilboa.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Tel Bet-Shean
In the modern town today of Beit Shean, one of the most extensive archeological sites is waiting to be explored. The Hebrew Bible narrates that around 11th century BCE during a battle against King Saul at nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BCE, the Philistines prevailed and Saul including his three sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua died in battle.
1 Samuel 31:10 states that “the victorious Philistines hung the body of King Saul on the walls of Beit Shean” no archeological evidence was found of Philistines’ occupation but it is possible that the force only passed there.
According to the Hebrew Bible, around 1000 BCE the town became part of the larger Israelite kingdom. 1 Kings 4:12 refers to Beit Shean as part of the kingdom of Solomon, though the historical accuracy of this list is debated.
Beit Shean in the Roman Period
In 63 BCE, Pompey made Judea a part of the Roman Empire. Beit-Shean was re-founded and rebuilt by Gabinius. The city prospered and became the leading city of the Decapolis, the only one west of the Jordan River. We’ll explore its Romans Baths; the theatre; main streets and more.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day Three
Nazareth & the Sea of Galilee
Nazareth is the village where Jesus spent his adulthood; where he was raised and educated. All his life he was called Jesus of Nazareth. But with that said we know almost nothing about his life in Nazareth, till Jesus turned thirty.
Although the Gospels name Nazareth a city; the excavations conducted by the Franciscans in 1956 that Nazareth was a small village. According to the evangelists, the community in Nazareth were zealous Jews praying at the local synagogue ferociously; And anyone that will threaten their sacred religion will be accountable (Luke 4: 26).
The Basilica of the Annunciation
The Basilica of the Annunciation is one the biggest and most impressive churches in the Middle East. According to Luke chapter one, it’s here where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary she will have a son named Jesus and he will be the Son of God.
The church integrates the ancient cave and earlier churches. The architect, Giovanni Muzio designed a church complex made from two levels: the lower level, which is slightly obscured integrates the ancient cave and forms the crypt of the church.
While the upper level of the church is striking by its beautiful design. The centerpiece mosaic made by the Sicilian artist, Salvatore Fiume, is considered to be one of the biggest mosaics in the world.
We will explore the site which includes in the compound the ancient remains of the Biblical village of Nazareth.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: The Village of Cana
Where Jesus performed His Very First Miracle
En route to explore the Sea of Galilee, we will pass via the Village of Cana. The Gospel according to John narrates:
On the third day of that week there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out […] Now standing there were six stone water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification […] Jesus told the servants “fill the Jars withJ water” […] “Now draw some out and take it to the man in charge of the banquet” so they did. When the man in charge of the banquet tasted the water that had become wine […] Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee.
(John 2: 1-11)
In Cana Jesus officially began his public missionary and here he performed the first miracle, turning water into wine. Now even though it was a Jewish wedding, Christian tradition sees it as the prototype for the first Christian wedding and the foundation for the marriage institution. On our route through the modern town, we will pass just next to the ancient freshwater spring that is no longer active but probably from there the water was filled.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour : Jesus Heals an Official’s Son
Also in Cana it’s told Jesus heals an official’s son: “[…] so Jesus returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had turned water into wine. Meanwhile, in Capernaum there was a government official whose son was ill. […] he went to him and asked him repeatedly to come down and heal his son, because he was about to die. […] Jesus told him: “go home. Your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus told him and started back home.
(John 4: 46-54)
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathaniel
It is in Cana where one of the disciples of Jesus lived, none other but Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee:
“Philip found Nathaniel and told him, “we have found the man about whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote – Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Nathaniel asked him, “From Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” Philip told him, “Come and see!” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming towards him and said to him, “Look a genuine Israeli, in. Whom there is no deceit!” Nathaniel asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, while were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathaniel replied to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
The Church of St. Bartholomew (Nathaniel) is placed today in the very heart of the town. Tradition points to this location where Philip met with Nathaniel. Nearby there is also the Church of the Wedding that Christian tradition points to as the crypt of the church; where two out of the six jars that were used for the miracle are placed there.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Sea of Galilee Area
Jesus Walks On Water
“Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified […] But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
(Matthew 14: 22-25)
The Sea of Galilee is one of our climactic moments in our Holy Land seven-day tour of the Holy Land. This is one of the most peaceful, tranquil areas in Israel. A good beginning to see the beauty of this piece of land would be at Mt. Arbel National Park viewpoint. On a good clear day, you could see the entire land all the way through Lebanon and Syria. From there you will see the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights.
The places found off the shores of the Sea of Galilee that are related to the doings of Jesus are plenty, among them, we will explore: Chorazin; Capernaum; Tabgha; Mt of Beatitudes; Magdala; and other sites are mainly found in the northwestern part of the Sea of Galilee.
Already in those days, the area was densely populated; in this area, Jesus began his missionary; It is here where he gathered the first disciples; This is the area where he performed one of the most important miracles.
Capernaum – The Beginning of Jesus Missionary
”When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum […]” (Matthew 4: 12-13)
Here in Capernaum Jesus begins to preach. The town is so much identified with Jesus that Matthew says “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town” (Matthew 9:1-2) In its synagogue he drives out an impure spirit from a demon-possessed man. Luke’s Gospel narrates:
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”. “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out! And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. (Luke 4:33-36)
It’s in Capernaum where Jesus gathers the first disciples: John and James, his brother. Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum from nearby Bethsaida. We hear that Jesus is curing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Since the very early centuries that house is identified as the House of Peter (Luke 4:38-40).
Jesus Heals Many
The Gospel According to Luke continues that at sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each other, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting. “You are the Son of God!” (Luke 4:40-41)
Near Capernaum Jesus elects the Twelve Disciples, and there he gave the “Sermon on the Mound” right after Jesus comes down to Capernaum healing the servant of a Roman Centurion (Luke 7:1-10) that favored the Jews and built them the synagogue.
Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man
Capernaum was Jesus’ own town as Matthew’s Gospel states and he used the town to visit the vicinity. Once, the Gospel According to Mark tells us:
“a few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2: 1-5)
Holy Land Seven-day Tour: The Calling of Matthew
It’s in Capernaum where Jesus meets with Matthew the Tax Collector that became one of his most loyal disciples. And in the same house belonging to Matthew, Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Then Matthew narrates: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matthew 9:11-12)
Just before Easter and his last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus returns to Capernaum and the crowds are following him. He rebuked them for their materialistic thinking And for not noticing the spiritual message in his teachings:
“[…] Not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill […]. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:25-35)
Also, we are told that after Jesus comes back from the Country of the Gergesenes; an area on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee. The same area where he performed the miracle of driving the demons out of two men and having them enter a herd of pigs (Matthew 8:28-34).
Holy Land Seven-day Tour: Jesus Heals a Sick Women In Capernaum
Immediately after Jesus crossed back to Capernaum, a large crowd was waiting to greet him on the shore. Between them a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:42-47).
Another miracle Jesus performs at Capernaum far greater was the resurrection of the only daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader in Capernaum:
“When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother […] “My child get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” (Luke 8:47-56)
Just before concluding his missionary in Galilee, Jesus entered Capernaum one more time. In the place where he finds miraculously a four drachma coin in the fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax he rebukes his disciples arguing who will be greater in the Kingdom of Heaven:
”Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18: 1-4)
Woe On Unrepentant Towns
In the end, Jesus is denouncing Capernaum for rejecting his teachings alongside Bethsaida and Chorazin:
“And then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have been repented long ago […] And you Capernaum, will you be lifted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Kibbutz Ginosar: Yigal Allon Museum
The Ancient Galilean Boat
In February 1986 an ancient boat was found not so far from the ancient town of Magdala. The carbon 14 dating was able to date the boat to the year 40 BCE (the time when the tree was cut down). Probably the boat was used in the first-century common era.
With very good reason this discovery created a sensation in the Christian world. Here we have a genuine archeological find from the time of Jesus. An artifact from the daily life of the disciples that were fishermen.
”Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”
Tiberias that was founded about a decade before Jesus began his mission in Galilee, was the biggest center of the population off the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed away from the big cities and probably never visited Tiberias but probably saw many times from the Sea of Galilee that named in the Bible the Lake of Tiberias.
The Town Of Magdala
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out.”
Jesus never visited Magdala but the town was sanctified In Christian tradition due to the fact that Mary Magdalene came from the town. The same Mary that Jesus healed from seven demons and became one of his most devout disciples so much so that she was fortunate enough to be present at Jesus’ resurrection.
In recent years there are ongoing archeological excavations that unearthed many interesting archeological findings like a synagogue from the time of Jesus and a mosaic floor depicting a boat from the biblical period.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Tabgha
The area today called Tabgha is a flat and extremely fertile area that in days past seven springs use to gosh out hence its name Tabgha: a miss-translation of the site from Greek (Heptapegon – means seven springs) to Arabic (Tabgha).
The area was not settled in the time of Jesus but was one of the most important fishing areas due to the fact you had relatively warm springs that attracted the fish to the area.
This is where Jesus gathers the very first disciples, John and James, among the fishermen of the Sea of Galilee. The unsettled area was suited as a gathering area for many of Jesus’ followers.
No wonder, it is here where according to tradition many events took place: The Feeding Of The Multitudes With Fishes & Loaves; The Sermon on the Mount; Jesus’ Third Appearance To The Disciples After the Resurrection; Giving Peter the Supremacy.
In our Holy Land seven-day tour, we will visit the Church of the Fishes and Loaves dating to the Byzantine Period. And on this occasion, we will have nice access to the shoreline for a nice photo.
The Church of Peter’s Supremacy
“When they finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “feed my lambs.”
I like to read the entire episode just next to the Sea of Galilee. In my opinion, this gives a special meaning to was is told in chapter 21. After Peter is denying Jesus three times when he got apprehended. Now he reaffirms that he loves him three times, counters measuring him denouncing Jesus.
Mt. Of Beatitudes
The modern church located up the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee is not located in the same spot where the ancient church is. I guess Antonio Barluzzi couldn’t ignore the staggering beauty of the Sea of Tiberias.
But indeed in this area is where Jesus gave the famous Sermon of the Mount that became the basis for Christian Ethos in later centuries. The first eight verses start with the word blessed, in Latin Beati hence Mt. of Beatitudes. In our tour of the places, we will try to put the sermon in its proper historical context and understand the revolutionary idea behind it.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day Four
Sea of Galilee Area & the Golan Heights
We will start our fourth day with an enjoyable boat ride to the Sea of Galilee. This one-hour boat ride will fill us with energy for another glorious day to remember. The boat will bring us from one shoreline to the other where our first stop will be Kursi National Park
Jesus Calming the Storm
Calming the storm is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. This episode is distinct from Jesus’ walk on water, which also involves a boat on the lake and appears later in the narrative.
Kursi like Capernaum and Bethsaida became renowned in relation to Jesus’ doings in the Sea of Galilee area. The New Testament tells us that Jesus wishing to get away from the crowds that followed him, took a boat with his disciples from Capernaum to the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Tiberias (another name for the Sea of Galilee). Suddenly a furious storm came up, with the waves breaking over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern, and the disciples woke him and asked: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Then the Gospel of Mark narrates: “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The miracle of the Swine
Luke tells us that when Jesus reached the shoreline he reached “the region of the Gerasenes” there a man (according to Matthew, two men) “possessed by a demon” comes from the caves to meet him. People had tried to tie him down but he was too strong to be bound, even with chains for he would always break out of them; night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
Jesus approaches and calls the demon to come out of the man, who replies
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you in the name of God never to torment me!”
So Jesus asks the demon for his name and is told “My name is Legion, for we are many”. Then the demons begged Jesus not to send them away, but instead to send them into the pigs on a nearby hillside, which he does. Finally, the herd, about two thousand in number, rush down the steep bank into the sea and drowned. The man is now seen, dressed, and restored to sanity: he asks to be included among the disciples who travel with Jesus, but he is refused and instructed to remain in the Decapolis region, to tell of “the great things the Lord has done … and [how he] has had compassion on you”. Theologian Tom Wright calls him “the first apostle to the gentiles”
Kursi National Park
Welcome to Kursi! inside we will find the ruins of a Byzantine monastery and identified by the tradition as the site of Jesus’ “Miracle of the Swine”, where Jesus healed one or two men possessed by demons by driving these into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39). The details somewhat differ in the three gospels dealing with the episode.
Where is the Town of Bethsaida?
According to John 1:44, Bethsaida was the hometown of the Apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip. In the Gospel of Mark (8: 22-26), Jesus reportedly restored a blind man’s sight at a place just outside the ancient village of Bethsaida. Also in Luke 9:10-11, Jesus miraculously feeds five thousand near Bethsaida.
In addition, the meaning of the name Bethsaida in Aramaic/Hebrew is the “house of fishing” or “house of hunting”. We’ll talk about the matter more thoroughly on our tour but Although Bethsaida is believed to be located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee; there is disagreement among scholars as to precisely where.
Since the nineteenth century, three places have been considered as a possible location of Biblical Bethsaida: the Bedouin village of Messadiye; a small, deserted settlement of El-Araj (Beit Habek); and the archaeological site (tell) of Et-Tell
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Bethsaida National Park
In the first place, the excavations indicate the settlement was founded in the 10th BCE, in the biblical period. Et-Tell was inhabited during both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The fortified town there is associated by researchers with the biblical kingdom of Geshur.
In addition, archaeologists tend to agree that the capital of the kingdom of Geshur was situated at et-tell, a place also inhabited on a lesser scale during the first centuries BCE and CE and sometimes identified with the town of Bethsaida of New Testament fame.
Bethsaida Under the Rule of Philip the Tetrarch
Under the rule of Philip the Tetrarch (Herod Philip II) that reigned from the year 4 BCE until his death in 34 CE; Bethsaida from a small fishermen’s town into a roman city. Philip II expanded the city limits and the population grew considerably. The city was now named Julias honoring Caesar Augustus’ daughter, Julia.
Equally important, archaeological excavations at the site have revealed fishing gear, including lead weights used for fishing nets, as well as sewing needles for repairing fishing nets. Furthermore, the findings indicate that most of the city’s economy was based on fishing on the Sea of Galilee.
We can’t miss the opportunity to stop at one of the local boutique wineries of the Golan Heights. The food in Israel is delicious but coupled with a good glass of exquisite Chardonnay could transform it into an unforgettable meal.
Caesarea Philippi (Banias Nature Reserve)
So the second half of the day we will continue exploring one of the most impressive nature reserves in Israel. In other words, the Banias waterfall (Hermon stream). In fact, the Banias waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Israel. Especially in the winter, when the area gets a considerable amount of rainfall, you can see enjoy the waterfall’s overwhelming power.
We will use the longer and more scenic trail to get to the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi. Prior to Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem. In fact, Matthew that Jesus goes as far as to the slopes of Mt. Hermon, to the northern city of Caesarea Philippi, which literally means “Phillip’s Caesarea”.
Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus replied to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros in Greek means rock), and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20)
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: The Confession of Peter
The proclamation of Jesus as Christ is fundamental to Christology; the Confession of Peter and Jesus’ acceptance of the title “Messiah” form a definitive statement in the New Testament narrative regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only accepts the title Christ and Son of God but declares the proclamation a divine revelation by stating that his Father in Heaven had revealed it to Peter, unequivocally declaring himself to be both Christ and the Son of God. In the same passage, Jesus also selects Peter as the leader of the Apostles. Most Christian denominations agree that the statement applies to Peter, but they diverge on their interpretations of what happens after Peter.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day Five
Jerusalem: Mt. of Olives
What a place to start our private tour of Jerusalem! We would make our way through Mt. of Olives till we’ll get to the most amazing viewpoint overlooking the Old City. So this way we can have a proper introduction to one of the most interesting places on earth!
So Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as the route from Jerusalem to Bethany. And the place where Jesus stood when wept over Jerusalem, foretelling the suffering that awaits the city as told in Luke 19:41. According to the Gospels, Jesus was staying at Bethany; moreover, before entering Jerusalem, John 12:1 states he was in Bethany six days before the Passover.
Jesus is said to have spent time on the mount, teaching, and prophesying to his disciples (Matthew 24-25), including the Olivet discourse, returning after each day to rest, and also coming there on the night of his betrayal. At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies the Garden of Gethsemane.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Jesus’ Ascension To Heaven
According to the New Testament Jesus and his disciples sang together – “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” Matthew 26:30. Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives according to Acts 1:9-12.
Landmarks We Would Visit On Mt. Of Olives
So on our Holy Land Seven-day Tour, we’ll get to see some important landmarks to Christianity including the Augusta Victoria Hospital with the Lutheran Church of the Ascension and its highly visible 50-meter bell tower; Also the Mosque or Chapel of the Ascension; And the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension with its tall white bell tower; Lastly, we won’t forget Church of Pater Noster.
On the western slope, there are historic sites we would definitely talk about some more or even pay a visit to like: Jewish cemetery; or the Catholic Church of Dominus Flevit; and the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene. At the foot of the mountain, where it meets Kidron Valley, where is the Garden of Gethsemane with the Church of All Nations.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Old City Jerusalem
So on our private tour of Jerusalem continues by us plunging into the very core of where things happened. So a good place to start would be the Pools of Bethesda. Probably one of the most famous miracles of Jesus in the New Testament. The event is only recounted in the Gospel according to John, chapter 5: It is told that Jesus visiting Jerusalem for a Jewish feast encounters one of the disabled people who used to lie here, a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked the man if he wants to get well. Then the man explains that he is unable to enter the water because he has no one to help him and others go down ahead of him. So Jesus tells him to pick up his bed or mat and walk; the man is instantly cured and is able to do so.
Later, Jesus finds the man in the Temple and tells him not to sin again, so that nothing worse happens to him. The man goes away tells the Jewish People that it was Jesus who made him well. The Gospel account explains that the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he was healing on the Sabbath. He responds by saying that “My father is still working, and I also am working ” (John 5:17). The assertion makes the Jews all the more determined to kill him, because not only is he breaking the Sabbath but he is making himself equal to God by calling God his father.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: The Via Dolorosa
So next on our path would be the famous Stations of the Cross, or better known as the Via Dolorosa. It is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. The winding route from former Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On our private tour, we would focus on a few important stations mainly the last five which are in the Church of the Resurrection.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: The site where Jesus was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha, and Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Western Wall
So the Western Wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. On our visit we will also enter Davidson Archaeological Park, to see actual remnants of the Wailing Wall laying in ruins exactly how the Romans left it after they destroyed the 2nd Temple in 70 CE. And like Jesus professed in Mark, chapter 13:
“Then as He went out of the Temple, one of his disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Temple Mount
So Temple was of central importance in Jewish worship in the Hebrew Bible. In the New Testament, Herod’s Temple was the site of several events in the life of Jesus. The New Testaments relate how, after his birth, Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple at the first opportunity. The Gospel Luke says:
“And when the time of purification came for their purification according to the Law of Moses. They brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord. “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord”
Since he was firstborn, according to God’s commandments, Joseph and Mary needed to redeem him with five shekels from a Cohen, a Levitical priest. The redemption ceremony did not have to take place at the Temple – or even right away – but it was the most prestigious place to do so, and his parents seemed zealous to have things done properly.
Though not explicitly stated, the story suggests that the old righteous man Simeon was the priest who performed the ancient redemption ceremony and took the infant Jesus into his arms. This event would have taken place in the Court of Women, just a stone’s throw east of where the Dome of the Rock stands today on the Temple Mount.
The Boy Jesus at the Temple
In Luke, it is told that every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover. When he was twelve years old, his parents took Jesus with them to Jerusalem according to the custom. On their way back to Nazareth they had realized that Jesus had gone missing. After three days, they found him in the Temple Courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When they asked him why did he disappear on scared them like that he replied: “Why were you searching for me? he [Jesus] asked. “Don’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
Pilgrimage to the Temple Mount
So throughout his life, Jesus was continually visiting the Temple, celebrating the festivals there, and teaching in the holy courts. According to God’s Law, all Jewish men who lived close enough to be at the Temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year at the pilgrimage holidays: Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. Thus Jesus would have been at the Temple continually around the year.
The Gospels bear witness to this fact, as we often read phrases such as, “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem” or “After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” or “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple and began teaching” (Matthew 20:17, John 5:1, 7:14).
Later, after he began his public ministry. The Gospels relate how Jesus himself continually taught the masses in the Temple. As he said, “Day after day I sat in the Temple teaching” (Matthew 26:55).
Jesus Purifying the Temple
One of Jesus’ visits to the Temple Mount is perhaps the most famous. Jewish and Christian records agree that some of the Sadducees’ leaders who controlled the Temple at the time were exceptionally corrupt. One Passover, Jesus ascended the Mount to find that not only were the Sadducees pocketing the money, but they had now set up the market in the Royal Stoa of the southern court – on the Holy Mount itself! This is the area where the black-domed Al-Aqsa mosque is located today. The sacrificial market was a necessity for the Temple. What bothered Jesus was the commercial market’s corruption and relocation onto the Temple Mount itself.
The Weeping Prophet
Anyone who doubts Jesus’ great love for Temple Mt. and the Temple, has only to consider his last journey to Jerusalem. As he stopped at the overlook from Mt. of Olives, the prophet from Nazareth foresaw the terrible siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Lord’s Temple – and he wept over it (Luke 19:41-44).
Holy Land Seven Day Tour: Day Six: Bethlehem & the Environs
Church of Nativity
The Nativity of Jesus is described in the Biblical Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Both gospels place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea, his mother Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was descended from King David and was not his biological father; and his birth was caused by divine intervention. The Gospel of Luke states that Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in the manger “because there was no place for them in the inn”.
A Little About Bethlehem
Till the third century, C.E Bethlehem was a small village and quite unimportant. Indeed there was a grotto in the hamlet that was sacred to the first Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, but it was also used according to St. Jerome as a pagan place of worship.
The Grotto in the Church of the Nativity is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity. And the Basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land. The Church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother Helena’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 324-326; on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. On our private tour of the Church of Nativity, we would explore the Church extensively including the different Grottos (Like the nearby Milk Grotto); Church of St. Catherine.
Chapel of Shepherd’s Field
The Annunciation to the shepherds is an episode in the Nativity of Jesus described in the Bible in Luke 2, in which Angels tell a group of shepherds about the birth of Jesus. The Biblical account narrates that shepherds were tending their flocks out in the countryside near Bethlehem when they were terrified by the appearance of an angel. The angel explains that he has a message of good news for all people; namely that:
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.”
(Luke, Chapter 2)
After this, a great many more angels appear, praising God with the words:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Deciding to do as the angel has said, the shepherds travel to Bethlehem and find Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus lying in the manger, just as they had been told. The adoration of the shepherds follows.
The New Testament does not specify the exact location where the Angel appeared to the shepherds. In the 1950s a chapel was built by Antonio Barluzzi that shows the traditional location. In the excavations that were conducted on the site; remainings of two ancient monasteries were found and pottery dated to the 2nd Temple Period demonstrates that the site was populated in those days.
The Holy Lavra of St. Sabbas
Our last stop in our guided private tour of Bethlehem would be the Monastery Mar Saba overlooking the Kidron Valley, at a point halfway between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The monastery was founded by Sabbas the Sanctified in the year 483 CE. Today, the complex houses around twenty monks. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world, and still maintains many of its ancient traditions.
The monastery holds the relics of St. Sabbas. The relics were seized by the Latin Crusaders in the 12th century. And remained in Italy until Pope Paul VI returned them to the monastery in 1965 as a gesture of repentance and goodwill towards Orthodox Christians.
The Dead Sea, Masada & Qumran National Park
Best known as the settlement nearest the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden; caves in the sheer desert cliffs and beneath the marl terrace. The principal excavations at Qumran were conducted by Roland de Vaux in the 1950s; though several later unearthings at the site have been carried out.
Many scholars believe the location was home to a Hebrew sect, probably the Essenes. But, according to Lawrence Schiffman, the rules of the community, its heavy stress on priesthood and the Zadokite legacy, and other details indicate a Sadducean-oriented sect.
So the scrolls were found in a series of eleven caves around the settlement, some accessible only through the settlement. Some scholars have claimed that the caves were the permanent libraries of the sect; due to the presence of the remains of a shelving system. Some scholars believe that some of these texts describe the beliefs of the inhabitants of Qumran; who may have been Essenes. Most of the scrolls seem to have been hidden in the caves during the turmoil of the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE); although some of them may have been deposited later.
Masada National Park
As you know Masada is an ancient fortification in the Judean Desert, situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, akin to a mesa. Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by Roman troops from 73 or 74 CE, ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were hiding there.
On our private tour of Masada we would focus on the northern complex; exploring the storerooms where Herod stores the precious wine from Italy; the Roman baths; the northern palace; the fortifications of Masada; the ancient synagogue and even a Byzantine monastery that was built on top of the mountain.
A Rejuvenating Dip in the Dead Sea
So Aristotle wrote about remarkable waters. The Nabateans and others discovered the value of the globs of natural asphalt that constantly floated to the surface where they could be harvested with nets. The Egyptians were steady customers; as they used asphalt in the embalming process that created mummies. The Ancient Romans knew the Dead Sea as “Palus Asphaltites” (Asphalt Lake).