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Keep walking, but you won’t break down our wall… NOT

Bet Sh’ean, The Springs of Harod, Jericho, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

105 °F
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Today we checked out of our hotel in the Sea of Galilee, loaded up the buses, and headed south. A note on the Sea of Galilee – it’s 700 feet below sea level. The Jordan River valley lies in the low spot created by the Syro-African Fault. The Sea of Galilee is just a wide spot along the Jordan River valley where the Jordan flows into the Sea from the north and flows out again in the south, continuing on its way till it gets to the Dead Sea. The shore of the Dead Sea is the lowest (dry) spot in the world, about 1300 feet below sea level. Since Israel has been using water from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan for irrigation (they grow about everything here, it seems), the water level of the Dead Sea has been dropping for decades. As a result, the Dead Sea is now in 2 parts, the upper (northern) portion and the lower (southern) portion. Israel is working on a solution to raise the level some, but it’s still in the works.

Our first stop was the city of Bet Sh’ean (pronounced “bet-chan,” sort of); its first significant mention in the Bible was in the death of King Saul, and in Jesus’ time it was the capital of the Decapolis (10 cities). The Decapolis was a loose confederation of 10 cities that the Romans allowed a high degree of independence because they had shown their loyalty to Rome. It was a region on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee.

When King Saul was fighting the Philistines in I Samuel 31, his sons are killed, his men are losing the battle and Saul falls on his sword and kills himself. The next day, while plundering, the Philistines find Saul and recognize him, cut his head off and hang his body (and those of his sons) on the city wall of Bet Sh’ean. The men of Jabesh Gilead come in the night and steal the bodies back. Why would the Jabesh Gilead men take such risk for Saul’s body? Read I Samuel 11. We saw the Bet Sh’ean tell, the hill created when new towns were built on old, destroyed ones. It was quite tall.

When the Greeks conquered Israel, they decided to build a city next to Bet Sh’ean; the old tell hilltop was too small for them. They called the city Scytholpolis, and it was very luxurious for its time. We saw a 7000 seat theater (half-circle), that needed no amplification.

What do people want after sitting through a 60-90 minute play? They want the bathroom! We saw a multi-seat public bathroom just outside of the theater – it was weird. It consisted of marble slabs sticking out of the wall at sitting height. Each slab was maybe 12 inches wide and 2 feet deep, with a 7-8 inch gap between it and its neighbor. On the floor were 2 trenches parallel to the slab--supporting wall: a wider one beneath the slabs, and a narrower one a foot away from the outside edges of the slabs. Both trenches were filled with continuously running water. A person sat on the edges of 2 slabs with the open space beneath them. Waste material fell into the flowing water of the larger trench, and the fresh water from the narrow trench was used to clean themselves. Effective, but there were no walls or curtains between users; they sat hip to hip. The wash room was next door; there water flowed continuously out of carved lions' mouths. The main thoroughfare through town was “crowned” to allow the runoff of rain water, and the square paving stones were laid in a herringbone pattern so a chariot’s wheels wouldn’t catch in a crack between paving stones. (The stones’ edges weren’t parallel to the chariot wheels.)
They had a public bath with a sauna, and a small plaza edged with small rooms right off the main street for the practice of the “oldest profession.” The sidewalks were covered to protect the residents from sun and rain and the oldest sidewalks were covered in elaborate and colorful mosaics. Later on, they upgraded to marble sidewalks. Scytholpolis remained a large and prosperous city under Roman rule and was conquered by the Muslims around 636 AD and was renamed Beshan. The city was completely destroyed by an enormous earthquake on Jan 14th 749 AD. (This earthquake was from a shift in the Syro-African Fault.) After the earthquake, the city was quickly buried in mud (broken aquaducts).

We went to the Springs of Harod where God showed Gideon how to select the men to fight the Midianites (Judges 7).
Many of our group dangled their feet in the cold water (it was over 100F outside) while we listened to the lesson. After we ate our box lunches, we listened to a dramatic presentation from a Moody staffer who was portraying Rahab. She did a good job. They had her do her presentation at the springs because there was shade there, and there was none at Jericho, our next stop.

Welcome to Jericho. Jericho is in an area that Israel has ceded to the Palestinian Authority and there is a large sign as you enter the area, in multiple languages, warning that “for their own safety” Jews are not permitted to enter. It was somewhat surreal after being in the 1st-world like cities of Israel with clean streets and well maintained infrastructure to suddenly enter a 3rd world city with trash strewn everywhere and crumbling roads and buildings.
The ruins of the old city of Jericho are only partially excavated. It is believed by some to be the oldest city ever found and has been built, destroyed and rebuilt more than 20 times. The British did some of the primary excavations in the 40’s and discovered a layer in the tell where the city had clearly been burned by fire
and the walls had fallen over rather than crumbling and collapsing as in the other layers. This layer has been dated to about 1400 BC, or about the time that Joshua led the children of Israel into the land. The same layer revealed the outline of the gate of the city in Joshua's time.
Dan asked our guide (who said that since he was Jewish, he wasn’t really there) why the gift shop at Jericho sold Menorahs and Star of David carvings if Jews weren’t allowed into Jericho. The answer was one word, money!

Shortly after we left Jericho, our tour guide pointed out the Caves of Qumran, where the Qumran scrolls were found in 1947. To me, the value of the scrolls was to show the authenticity of Scripture, its correct copying over the years. To our Messianic Jewish guide, it meant that and much more. The rant of the Arab world is that the Jews have never been in Israel, that it’s a lie that started in the 1800s. But on the eve of the creation of the state of Israel, God showed the world proof that Jews have been in the land for at least 2000 years. The caves are the small black areas up on the cliff sides. This is a "drive-by" photo on a bright, hazy day, so I had to artificially sharpen the picture for you to see the caves clearly.

A little bit after we drove past Qumran, our guide burst out in Hebrew, our driver quickly slowed the bus, and we turned off onto a side road while the guide explained that some ibexes were resting in the afternoon shade of some trees. We all got to see the ibexes, some of them with kids.

Last stop – our hotel at the Dead Sea. We got there a little early, so we suited up (swim suited, that is), and walked across the street to the shore of the Dead Sea. The shore was very barren – no tuft of sea grass, no nothing. We left our over shirts on a chair and walked in. Given that the sun had been blazing all day and the air temperature was about 108F, it wasn’t surprising that the shallow water (less than one foot deep) was more than warm – it was bathwater hot. Once it got about calf high, it was merely quite warm. I could tell as I walked through even calf high water that the water was more buoyant than normal; I was having some trouble keeping my feet under me. Once I got knee deep, the life guard started shouting, “No shoes, no camera.” We weren’t wearing shoes – we were wearing water shoes – but apparently those were forbidden too, even though it wasn’t on the rules sign (with pictograms), and our guide had said to wear shoes because the bottom was uncomfortable to walk on. Dan also had his GoPro out there, so, quickly, we each sat in the water – impossible to do, you immediately float into a shallow “V” - spent about a minute marveling at the buoyancy, and then removed ourselves, our shoes, and our GoPro from the Dead Sea.

We had a night to ourselves this evening, so we blogged and rested. The heat of the day had really sapped us!

Posted by dasafish 14:02 Archived in Israel

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