Take 'Em to Caesarea Phillipi

Trip Start May 19, 2012
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Where I stayed
Ein-Gev Holiday Resort Jordan Valley
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Caesarea Phillipi
Tel Dan
Gamala
Har Barekeh
Mount Herman
Golan Heights
Bridge of Jacob's Daughters

Flag of Israel  , Galilee,
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So one of my friends on facebook just posted a status as laying out at the lake; I'm not going to, but I'm just ever so tempted to one-up her.  I'm writing this blog with my feet in the water of the Sea of Galilee, chair sinking ever more precariously into the sand and wanting to kill my laptop.  Just saying.

So yesterday I promised to give a little more explanation of what the Sea of Galilee is like, and what coming up on it was like.  This conveniently meshes with how I would choose to introduce today anyway, so here goes.  The Sea of Galilee is smaller than you think it is.  From where I'm sitting I can see nearly the whole body of water and could easily see it all were it not for the reeds on the shore line-it's only about 3 miles across to Tiberias from this beach.  By merit of it being significantly below sea level (people don't realize that it's about 700 feet below the level of the Mediterranean) the air and water are warm and full of particulate matter.  We all went for a swim after dinner yesterday in the dark, leaving me too wiped out to really write about it yesterday.  I woke up this morning 5:40 and went for about a 20 minute swim.  Fun fact:  I'm significantly less buoyant than I used to be, which means swimming is a lot harder than it used to be, which I suppose is good for the accomplishment of exercise.  At any rate I wanted to eat all the delicious breakfasts, which I did, and was then on the bus by 7:30, heading to our first place.

We first hiked at a place called Gamala, which was awesome.  Settled in a valley in the trans-Jordan Plateau, Gamala is a mountainous outcropping which was founded by some ultra-orthodox Jews in around 130 BC and remained in their control until the 70 AD revolution.  During this crisis it housed 10,000 resistors (per Josephus, so you can take those facts or leave them), who gave the Romans a scrappy resistance for months before the walls were breached, at which point 4,000 were killed under arms, 1,000 escaped, and 5,000 committed mass suicide by jumping from an outcropping which we visited.  The main attraction for the site, however, was a well preserved synagogue, where we held a brief worship ceremony before Sally and I traipsed off to the highest point, where, among other things, I saw a fox and it was awesome.  Anyway, the trek back out was intense, but this was one of my favorite hikes thus far.

From Gamala we drove up to an extinct cinder cone volcano, from which we got our first views of Mount Herman.  Among the things I didn't expect to see in Israel in June:  a snow capped peak.  Just incredible.  I should note that this also means my mental image of Damascus is totally flawed:  I tend to think of Damascus in terms of camels and desert, but it's situated on just the other side of Mount Herman, so it'll be closer to think of it as somewhere in New Mexico on the slopes of the Rockies-maybe Santa Fe.  This cinder cone was once fortified as an advance post by the Israelis after the 6 Days War, so we got to explore the trenches and bunkers, from which we could look down into Syria.  On a side note, the Golan Heights are gorgeous.  Ever approaching the climax, we left this cinder cone and drove to Panias, aka Caesarea Phillipi.  Dr. Vlachos told us at the beginning of the trip that if we could only mark two places on the map, it would be Jerusalem and Caesarea Phillipi:  this is the location where Jesus is talking to Peter, asking "who do people say that I am?"  It is after this climactic moment, when Jesus affirms that he is Messiah, that he turns towards Jerusalem and the cross.  The geography of the place is important to the story-Panias is the site the Romans point to as an entrance to Hades and the home of Pan, home to an old shrine of Baal, and an old Canaanite fertility cult.  Taking the disciples to this place pointedly puts the idea of divinity in the minds of the disciples.  On a more purely practical note, Mount Herman gets over 60 inches of precipitation per year and walking around the site is like a temperate rainforest and the most lush area we've been to date.  This, in stark contrast with the imposing, mysterious cave and sheer limestone cliffs of the toe of Mount Herman made for a pretty epic site.  Oh and for the sake of thoroughness I should report that we ate lunch here, cuz, yah know, food is good and important and stuff.

After Caesarea Phillipi we went to Dan, a city very similar in function.  Turns out you don't want to climb over a 9000 foot snow capped peak in a camel caravan if you can avoid it, and you also don't want to strike out across the malaria infested marshes of the Hulah Basin if you can avoid it, which means you want to pass through the gateway cities of Caesarea Phillipi and Dan.  So ancient Dan boasts two Biblically significant pieces of archaeology:  you may recall that Jeroboam set up a shrine with a golden calf (probably a synchrenistic Baal worship spot) as an alternative to Jerusalem worship, and the rest of the OT lambasts him and those like him for it.  The second piece, the one I geeked out about, was one of the oldest surviving city gates in the Land; it was concurrent with Abraham.  Furthermore, whenever Mesopotamian raiders capture Lot and Abraham runs them down, he passes Dan to do so.  I saw a gate that Abraham literally walked through.  Ima let that thought marinate for a bit...

K marinating is done.  From Dan we drove to the Bridge of Jacob's Daughters, basically the only place where you can cross the Jordan without either descending into the Galilee depression or slogging through the Huleh Basin.  Not much to report here, just mine fields to remind the forgetful observer of history that fighting is far from settled in this land.  No I didn't go into the mine field for an epic pic, yes I was tempted.  So that done we returned to the kibbutz (more on what that is in a later post) in time for me to snag a quick workout and eat way too much dinner again.  The food at this place is incredible.  Then it was time to journal for class and journal for y'all while being distracted by and joining in a big circle of conversation on the beach, wet feet and all.  I think I could get used to this.

Plan for tomorrow begins with a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee to Mount Arbel on the other side, where, conditions permitting, we get to climb down.  You'll see pics and appreciate why this is an epic sentence eventually.  Also at some point we're going into a church because I have to wear modest clothes, but so it goes.  More details to follow, but for now I'm doneskies.  Peace and blessings.

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