For such a comparatively small country the geography through various regions is dramatic. We travelled through the Shephelah (humble hills), Jerusalem, Judean Wilderness, Galilee, Golan Heights, and the Coastal Plains taking in the diversity of each region.
On Saturday we left the Galilee and headed north to explore the Golan Heights. This fertile, spring filled land is the picture of Eden and a far cry from the desert experience in the Judean Wilderness. Our first stop was to the first century synagogue of Gamla situated in a steep, fertile valley northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The site offers a great picture of what Jesus may have worshipped in when He went to synagogue and is a great place to feel the passion of the Zealots. Beyond that, it's a really fun and beautiful hike we always look forward to.
We continued north to Caesarea Philippi to stand at the gates of Hades. Several temples including the Groto of Pan have resided around this shadowy rock face. The spring gushed forth from the cave, known to the ancient culture as the "Gates of Hades." Water came with a mighty force from the mouth of this cave in Jesus day (now it exits at a lower point), instilling fear and awe into the worshippers who came to appease Pan (from whom we get "panic") and other deities through orgies, sacrifice, and true pandemonium. Pan was a god of fertility, and the cult following sought to bring and save life through him.
It is by this rock in that culture that Jesus said, "...it on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it...for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it...Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” -Matthew 16:13-28
Finally we were on our way to the northernmost stop - Dan.
We learned about many layers and time periods of Biblical history as we navigated a 1-2 mile loop over the rivers and through the woods of Dan. The Bronze Age gate dating back to the time of Abraham is a particular highlight, along with the iron age altar and city gate.
We learned about the incredible hospitality of the nomadic people, known today as bedouin. Walk up to any bedouin tent and whether they like you or not they will offer you tea, food, a place to sleep and send you off with provisions in the morning - even if it means letting their own families go hungry. The stranger will receive the best they have to offer, anything less is not an option.
Abraham and Sarah's incredible act of hospitality in Genesis 18, followed by Lot willing to sacrifice even his own daughters to care for two of these same strangers in Genesis 19 are frighteningly powerful. "‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy..." Ezekiel 16:49. This is a sobering at least, terrifying at most, teaching for those of us whose cultures and wealth honor the person who knows how to take care of himself. This is not "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps," this is community and the example we have to follow of the early church.
Check out the slideshow below for pictures of our day in the Golan Heights:
The final teaching Geoff gave was in an ancient temple to Mithra. This god whose story so closely resembled the story of Jesus had an incredible following for a time, but that has disappeared almost entirely. The legacy of Jesus continues in Christians, Messianic Jews, and other followers of Jesus to this day. What makes the difference - what sets this religion apart allowing it to survive? TRUTH. True religion. We asked the guys to define what true religion was. They couldn't recall the verse from James so brainstormed on their own: true religion is love, striving to be like Jesus, being family to those who need one. Yup.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
Check out the slideshow below for Sunday's adventure at Caesarea Maritima: