From Dan to Beersheba
|0:00 - 2:35||Dan: Although we'll be traveling about 150 miles southward (as the crow flies), we begin the approach to Tell Dan from the south. Behind Dan, rising almost 10,000 feet above the ancient site is Mt. Hermon. Its snowpack provided the meltwater that fed the streams and springs that made the location luxurious compared to the drier south. A major spring breaks out on the north side of the tell and the whitewater of its stream can be seen on the tell's west side as we circle it. Considering the emphasis on fertility in Canaanite Baal worship and the abundance of water here, it's not surprising Dan was the place where Jeroboam set up one of his two golden calves when he syncretized the covenant faith.|
|2:45 - 3:40||Caesarea Philippi: After sweeping across the southwestern base of Mt Hermon, we turn south and pass over Caesarea Philippi, or Banias. It was in "the region of Caesarea Philippi" Peter acknowledged Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." At that time, the city -- located where a major spring bursts out of the base of Mt. Hermon -- was a pagan Roman city. Its character and siting reflected its lush environment.|
|3:40 - 7:50||Huleh Basin:
Ahead of us is the broad, flat Huleh
Basin, hemmed in on the east by the Golan Heights and on the west by the Naphtali
Ridge (and Upper Galilee, beyond), with the several branches of the Upper Jordan River
meandering across it until they join into one stream in the basin's southeast corner. In
antiquity, the Huleh Basin was covered by water and swamp. In the era of Jesus, Josephus
describes it as a lake -- Lake Semechonitis, by name. Indeed, when you hear references to
Jewish pioneers in the 19th and 20th centuries reclaiming the land, the Huleh Basin is
often what is meant. The malaria-ridden swamps were drained and turned into productive
Vestiges of the earlier environment are seen in the fish ponds dotting the valley floor and in the Huleh Nature Preserve in the basin's southwest corner. The entire rift valley is an important part of the flyway for birds migrating between Africa and Europe/Asia. Imagine the scene in antiquity as millions of birds stopped over to feed in the productive Huleh swamp, nearly 18-by-five miles in size. Today, storks still pass through, often feeding in the modern fishponds.
|7:50 - 11:25||Rosh Pinna Sill: After we pass the remnant of the ancient Huleh Lake, the ground before us starts to rise. This is the Rosh Pinna sill, an ancient flow of lava that came down from the western hills and pinched off the valley. Indeed, this blockage is why we have the Huleh basin here. Eventually the lake behind the basalt dam overflowed on its southeast corner, forming the Upper Jordan River, leading down to the Sea of Galilee (we will see this on our return flight). Whereas the elevation of the Huleh Basin is around 200 feet above sea level, the elevation at the Sea of Galilee is 700 feet below sea level. The lava dam, or sill, is named for the nearby city of Rosh Pinna ("Cornerstone").|
|8:45 - 10:15||Hazor: The leading Canaanite city in the north at the time of the conquest under Joshua. Its king, Jabin, led a confederation of over two dozen Canaanite cities - all were defeated by Joshua "by the waters of Merom." Hazor was strategically located along the Great Trunk Highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia, here where travelers could choose to follow the narrow route that hugged the base of the Naphtali Ridge and the Huleh swamp edge to Dan, or go east to where the Rosh Pinna sill met the swift Upper Jordan River and cross over to the Golan Heights. Hazor consisted of an upper city and a much-larger lower city, approximately 200 acres in size. Its size has led some to see the lower city as the place where Hazor's massive horse and chariot forces were kept.|
|11:25 - 14:25||Chorazin, Capernaum, Mt. of Beatitudes: As we pass the summit of the Rosh Pinna sill, the Sea of Galilee spreads out 2,000 feet below. Chorazin is one of the towns where Jesus performed miracles and which he cursed for its unbelief. Capernaum, on the shore, is the town that became his homebase when he left Nazareth. The nearby Mt. of Beatitudes was a strategic location for Jesus' ministry. The road along the shore split nearby, with the major branch -- the Trunk Highway -- climbing up the valley toward the Huleh Basin on Mt. Beatitude's west side and the other following the lake edge past Capernaum and on to Bethsaida. In addition, the mountain's southeast face forms a natural amphitheater - a speaker in a boat at the lakeside could be heard far up the hill.|
|14:30 - 14:35||Chinnereth/Gennesaret: This city probably took its name from the Old Testament name for the lake -- Sea of Kinnereth. The name is related to the Hebrew kinnor, "harp," and likely references the harp shape of the lake. Gennesaret is the Greek form of Kinnereth. The town's importance can be seen from its siting, where the Trunk Highway descends to the lake and the Plain of Gennesaret, just beyond. The city was one of several taken from Israel's King Asa by Ben-Hadad of Syria.|
|14:40 - 15:35||Plain of Gennesaret: This 3.25-by-1.25 mile strip of land was a rich agricultural area in Jesus' day. The first century historian Josephus describes the great variety of food plants grown here year around and calls the unique environment "the ambition of nature." Daily scenes here may have informed Jesus' agricultural parables. Additionally, a stream that splits the plain in two -- the Nahal Ammud -- flows down from Upper Galilee near Safed, bringing insects and other goodies the fish in the lake would feed on. Where the stream meets the lake would have been well known to Jesus' fishermen disciples.|
|15:35 - 16:40||Mt. Arbel: At the south end of the plain, we run into a massive wall, rising nearly 1,000 feet. This is Mt. Arbel. The prophet Hosea may be referencing an event that occurred along these cliffs when Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, invaded Israel and "mothers were dashed to the ground with their children." The cliffs were the site of a battle between Herod the Great (before he was great) and Jewish zealots who took refuge in the caves on the cliff face. Soldiers, lowered down in baskets, used pruning hooks to drag the "robbers" out so they plunged to their deaths. Others of the zealots jumped rather than surrender.|
|16:40 - 16:45||Magdala/Tarichaea:
Magdala was the home of Mary
Magdalene. The town was also know as Tarichaea, which means "pickling" - a
reference to the salting of fish that occurred here. The Romans used a pungent fish sauce
in their cuisine. The geographer Strabo wrote in
the first century B.C, "At the place called Taricheae the lake supplies excellent
fish for pickling." This industry provided a market for Jesus' fishermen disciples --
they probably sold
their catch here - particularly those rarer
times when their catch was abundant.
The large, Jewish fishing fleet here on the northeast side of the lake engaged in a major sea battle with the Romans in A.D. 66, during the Jewish Revolt. When Magdala fell, the Jews took to the sea and the Romans built boats to pursue them. It was a massacre that left the sea red and the shore littered with bodies. In 1986, a well-preserved first-century fishing boat was found in the mud off Magdala and has been preserved and is on display at nearby Nof Ginnosar,
|16:55 - 18:00||Horns of Hattin: As we sweep up the "Valley of the Robbers" where Herod defeated the zealots, we rise to Lower Galilee and encounter a hill known as the Horns of Hattin. On July 4, 1187, the crusaders were defeated by Saladin here.|
|18:35 - 19:55||Trunk Highway crossing Lower Galilee: Lower Galilee can be divided into eastern and western portions based on their geology. In the west, a series of east-west ridges are separated by relatively broad, fertile valleys. The ridges in the west generally have their steepest face on their south sides. In the east, the series of ridges and valleys are considerably lower in elevation and the ridges here are steepest on their north side. These two areas of "tilting blocks" are barriers to north-south travel ... except in the middle where the two regions meet. And that relatively level strip, with its gentle change in elevation, is where the Trunk Highway crossed Lower Galilee. We can see the main highway today following the ancient path, where it will continue around the east side of Mt. Tabor -- dead ahead -- and turn west out onto the Plain of Jezreel.|
|20:015 - 20:45||Mt. Tabor: Tabor stands 1,500 feet above the surrounding plain, its distinctive cone shape visible for miles and an important landmark for orienting yourself when traveling in the region. It is the site where Deborah and Barak mustered the tribes of Israel to break the oppression of the Caananites under Jabin and Sisera. Catholic tradition considers it the site of Jesus' transfiguration.|
|20:45 - 21:35||Plain of Jezreel: The Plain of Jezreel is a triangular area of approximately 18 miles on each side that separates the hill country of Galilee from the hill country of Samaria, to the south. Its relatively flat topography spanning Israel's central mountain range made it the easiest way to travel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan Valley, although in rainy season, its streams could flood and its heavy clay soils could make passage impossible. Here, just on the south side of Tabor, we're in the northeast corner of the Jezreel triangle - just a small portion of the total plain. Just off the screen to our left is the site of Endor, where Saul consulted the witch the night before he died in battle, and where, earlier, Gideon and his 300 swept down on the camp of the Midianites who had occupied the land. Dead ahead is Givat Moreh -- the Hill of Moreh.|
|21:40 - 22:15||Givat Moreh: It was down the Hill of Moreh, or Hill of the Soothsayer, that Gideon's army crept to attack the sleeping enemy. To the west of Moreh, at the base of the hill, is the modern Arfula, probably the Bible's Ophrah, home of Gideon. On the north side of the hill is Nain, the city where Jesus restored a widow's dead son to life.|
|22:20 - 23:20||Harod Valley, Shunem and Jezreel: As we cross Givat Moreh, we're above the Harod Valley, named for En Harod, the spring where Gideon whittled his army down to 300 men. En Harod is just off the left side of the screen. The valley provides an easily traveled corrider between the Jordan Valley to the east and the Jezreel Valley to the west. Here, between Shumen and the city of Jezreel, is one of the most strategic sites in the land. This gap cuts the central hill country in two - a powerful enemy in control here could divide the tribes. A strong Israel could control the most important pass from the coast to the Jordan Valley and Transjordan, beyond. It was much fought over. As noted, Gideon mustered his army here. Nearby, on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa overlooking the valley, King Saul encamped with his troops while the Philistine army camped across the valley at Shunem. Shunem was the occasional residence of the prophet Elisha who looked from his second-floor room across the valley to the palace of Jezebel in Jezreel, even as he was participating in the planned overthrow of the house of Ahab. In A.D. 1260, this narrow corridor was the site of the history-changing battle that ended the Mongol army's long march westward.|
|23:20 - 24:50||Jezreel: Here King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had their winter palace. It was the judicial murder of Naboth and the expropriation of his land for a garden at Jezreel that ultimately led to the coup d'etat instigated by Elisha and executed by the commander of Israel's army, Jehu.|
|24:50 - 27:10||The great chariot race: Jehu, after killing King Joram (son of Ahab), took off in pursuit of Judah's King Ahaziah, who had been visiting Joram in Jezreel. Jehu, who had an earned reputation for driving his chariot like a madman, chased Ahaziah, who was driving for his life, across this southeastern portion of the Jezreel Plain. Likely, Ahaziah was hoping to get to Israel's capital at the city of Samaria where troops loyal to the house of Ahab would stop this assassin. But when Ahaziah ran out of the plain's level ground near Ibleam, where a valley pass climbs from the Jezreel Plain into the hills of Samaria, Jehu caught up with him and wounded him. Ahaziah was taken to Megiddo to the west, where he died.|
|27:20 - 28:05||Downfaulted basins of Northern Samaria: After climbing the pass at Ibleam, we enter the hill country of Samaria. Here in its northern section, the hills are still relatively low, surrounding broad plains or downfaulted basins that contain rich agricultural soils and provide easy passage. We are in the tribal territory of Manasseh - or the western half-tribe of Manasseh, to be more precise. As we move through Manasseh, note the relatively broad valleys leading from the coastal plain, the Jezreel Plain and the Jordan Valley deep into the heartland. That openness is one of the reasons the Northern Kingdom of Israel was far more open to adapting its religion to that of its pagan neighbors than was the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The valleys facilitated trade in ideas as well as material goods. They also made the region a much-earlier target for invasion and conquest by the great powers of the day. The Northern Kingdom was taken captive approximately 135 years before the Southern Kingdom.|
|28:05 - 29:25||Dothan: Here at Dothan, a young Joseph finally caught up with his brothers and their sheep, having been sent by their father Jacob. His brothers considered killing their hated sibling but settled on selling him to a caravan of Midianites who, rather than taking their normal route from Arabia across the Negev, had swept northward to Gilead to purchase balm to include with the wares they were taking to Egypt. Here, the king of Aram attempted to capture Elisha the prophet. He came by night and, in the morning, the plain around Dothan was covered with his chariots. Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his distraught servant who then saw -- on those hills we now see surrounding Dothan's plain -- chariots of fire protecting the prophet.|
|29:25 - 32:15||From Dothan to the City of Samaria: Continuing the story ... God struck the Aramean army blind and Elisha came out of Dothan and offered to lead the king and his troops to the place where they could find Elisha. Unaware of the prophet's ruse, the Aramean army blindly followed Elisha all the way to the capital city of Israel -- Samaria. For the next few minutes, we'll follow their route along an easy valley and over a high ridge to the City of Samaria. A modern note ... the community we cross at the top of the high ridge is Homesh, one of five Jewish communities forcefully evacuated and destroyed by Israel's Ariel Sharon in 2005. Note it's strategic location - it commands the passage between Dothan and Samaria and the long ridge that allows one to ascend from the Plain of Sharon to th west to deep into the hill country.|
|32:15 - 33:45||City of Samaria: Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom - Israel - from the time of Omri (father of Ahab) until the Assyrians conquered Israel in 721 B.C. Here Ahab and Jezebel ruled. The extensive terracing makes the hill on which the city stood appear wreath-like. Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley -- to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine! ... That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, will be trampled underfoot. Here, in Jesus' day, King Herod built a royal city, Sebastos, to honor his Roman patron, Augustus.|
|33:45 - 34:45||Cross the hills to Wadi Zeimar: The road from Samaria to Shechem, where we're headed, crossed these hills in the time of the Northern Kingdom. We're headed to Wadi Zeimar, the modern name of the valley that stretches approximately 17 miles westward from Shechen down to the coastal plain. It is also referred to by some as Nahal Shechem. It's broad, gently sloped and easily traveled. Further, it pierces the central mountain range, just ahead, and gives access to another broad valley leading down to the Jordan Valley. It's the easiest way to pass from one side of the hill country to the other.|
|35:10 - 35:50||Nablus: Nablus is the major Palestinian city in the northern hill country. Its name comes from the Roman Neapolis - Arabic lacks a "p" sound. It sits where the Wadi Zeimar cuts between two mountains, Mt. Ebal to the north and Mt. Gerizim to the south.|
|35:50 - 36:00||Shechem; Long before the Romans built Neapolis, there was Shechem. It is the first place located in the land mentioned in the Bible. Here is where Abraham first came. Jacob settled here for a period and bought land. Joseph's bones were brought here from Egypt. It was to Shechem the Israelites returned, under Joshua, to renew their covenant with God. Here, the northern tribes rejected Solomon's son, Rehoboam, as their king. And at nearby Sychar, Jesus shared water from Jacob's well with a Samaritan woman. The Shechem area, sitting here at the pass between Gerizim and Ebal, where the hill country's major highway intersected a major road linking the coastal plain and Transjordan, certainly deserved the name, "center of the land."|
|36:15 - 37:40||Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal: Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses told them to go to these two mountains standing over Shechem to renew their covenant. The tribes were divided between the two mountains and the covenant's blessings were recited from Gerizim and its curses from Ebal. Interestingly, the facing slopes between the two mountains form two natural ampitheaters that may be where the tribes stood to take advantage of the acoustics. You can see the deep semi-circular recesses as we loop back over Gerizim, Nablus and Ebal. Atop Gerizim is the home of the Samaritan community. The archaeological remains of their ancient temple -- noted in the story of Jesus and the woman at the well - are there as well as the site where the Samaritans still celebrate the Passover in a manner quite similar to that described in the Book of Exodus.|
|37:40 - 39:25||El Mukhna: As we sweep back
over Shechem, we head south along a broad plain, called El Mukhna (if we had gone north,
we would have soon reached the Wadi Farah which leads down to the Jordan Valley and one of
the main fords across the river to reach Transjordan). Here we are, essentially at the top
of the hill country of Samaria and we're on a plain hemmed in by hills and mountains on
both sides. It will not be this way when we get to hills of Judah. Here, in Samaria, the
geologic structure is like a bowl - the harder rock layers form the edges of the
"bowl." where those edges have been breached by streams, broad gentle
valleys have formed that allow easy access here into the interior. A bit further south,
when we reach the tribal territory of Ephraim and Judah beyond, the geologic structure is
like an inverted bowl. Streams have eroded steep, relatively narrow canyons that are
difficult to traverse - the adjacent ridges provided better access between the hill
country and the coast. Keep your eyes on the changing landscape.
Also, remember poor Rehoboam, Solomon's son. He had come from Jerusalem to Shechem to be confirmed as king by the northern tribes. They asked that he not work them so hard - Solomon's great wealth had, to a large degree, come from their conscripted labors. Rehoboam denied the advice of his elder statesmen and listened to the court's younger voices, responding he would exceed his father's demands. It was instant rebellion. Rehoboam's head of forced labor was stoned and the young king was forced to flee by chariot for his life to Jerusalem - along the road we're traveling now.
|39:25 - 40:30||Tappuah-Lebonah Hills: As we approach the dome-like hills of the territory of Ephraim, the broad valleys are still to be seen but they twist through the mountains in wide meanders past the biblical cities of Tappuah and Lebonah.|
|41:00 - 43:20||Shiloh: It was to Shiloh that Joshua came and set up the Tabernacle during the conquest. It remained the spiritual center of Israel through the period of the judges and until the eve of the monarchy. It was to Shiloh Hannah brought the young Samuel to serve in the Tabernacle under Eli. The Ark of the Covenant, taken from Shiloh into battle against the Philistines, was lost to Israel's arch enemy. The Philistines destroyed the city and it lost its place of importance. But, thanks to the archaeologists, it's giving up its secrets. The plain to the north of the city well fits the setting required for Shiloh to be the place all Israel would assemble for war or annual festivals and sacrifices. Continuing northward across the plain, we run full-on into the "downside-up" bowl that it the dome of Ephraim.|
|44:10 - 44:30||Baal Hazor: Here is the second-highest elevation along the hill country's spine - only the hills around Hebron are higher. Absalom, David's son, raised sheep here. It was during sheep-shearing time, he convinced his father to send his brothers to a feast he had prepared to celebrate the shearing. At his command, Absalom's men fell upon his brother Amnon and killed him in retaliation for Amnon having raped Absalom's sister, Tamar.|
|45:30 - 46:40||Bethel, "House of God": The city of Bethel, formerly called Luz, sits where the southern border of Ephraim's dome meets the lower-lying "saddle" of Benjamin. Here both Abraham and Jacob encamped and built alters to the Lord. Jacob's vision of a ladder or stairway reaching to heaven occurred here. The ground east of the city was where Joshua kept his men in ambush to attack the city of Ai. When the tribes of Israel made war against the tribe of Benjamin for the brutal murder of the levite's concubine, Bethel was the place they met to mourn, plan and inquire of God. Bethel's enduring importance came under the reign of the Northern Kingdom's first king, Jeroboam, who made Bethel the second site where he placed the golden calf. Both Bethel and Dan were border towns and Jeroboam's sanctuaries were meant to make it unnecessary for the people of the north to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship and celebrate the festivals.|
|46:45||Between Bethel and Ai: This is a good place to pause the flight and view the piece of open ground east of Bethel along the modern road. On at least 10 occasions, the Bible pairs the city of Bethel with the city of Ai, to its east. And in four of those instances, the relatively flat piece of ground where the modern highway runs is the intended reference. Here is where Abraham camped and built his altar. Here, he stood with his nephew Lot, and divided the land. A long, nearly straight valley leads from this spot down to the Jordan Valley, providing a nearly unobstructed view toward the cities of the plain that tempted Lot (we'll have to wait for another flight to explore the implications for locating the city of Sodom). Here, God made his promise to Abraham and his offspring to give them this land.|
|47:05 - 47:25||Bethel Hills: I've dubbed these steep hills the Bethel Hills - I don't know their local name. Anyone traveling south from Shechem would have to make a choice before reaching Bethel. This group of steep hills to the south and east of Bethel forced one to take the western route through Bethel and on to Mizpah and Ramah, or the eastern route past Ai, across the Micmash-Geba "pass" and on to Ramah. The prophet Isaiah describes the advance of the Assyrian army on Jerusalem using the eastern bypass. I suspect the prophet from Judah who was told to go to Bethel to cry out against Jeroboam's sanctuary altar - and told to not return by the same route - took the one path to reach Bethel and the other route to return.|
|47:35 - 49:20||Mizpah, Ramah, Gibeah of
Saul and the Benjamin Plateau: We are
now entering the tribal territory of Benjamin and the
landform here is one of a plateau. Viewed in terms of the higher ground to the south and
north, it is a saddle across the central highlands that provided east-west passage between
Joppa on the coast and Jericho in the Jordan Valley.
The plateau was the scene of much fighting with the Philistines. They had invaded and occupied the hill country from their territory on the south coastal plain and Benjamin bore the brunt of it. It was to Mizpah the prophet Samuel called the people of Israel to return to true worship of God and to see God smash their enemy. Samuel again summoned the people to Mizpah for the selection of Saul - of the tribe of Benjamin - as king.
Controlling the plateau was seen as critical by both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Following the split, Asa of Judah and Baasha of Israel fought to possess it. Baasha pushed south across the plateau, capturing Ramah and cutting off Judah's access to the Joppa-Jericho route. Asa then paid Israel's northern enemy, the Arameans, to invade from the north. Baasha retreated to face this new threat and Asa pushed the border to the north side of the Benjamin plateau, seizing and fortifying Mizpah and Geba, effectively blocking both bypasses around the Bethel Hills.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., Gedaliah was installed as governor at Mizpah by the victors. Here he was assassinated.
Only 2.25 miles across the plateau is Ramah. Somewhere between here and Bethel, the prophetess Deborah held court before she became famous for helping defeat the Canaanites at Mt. Tabor. Ramah was the home of the prophet and judge Samuel (but not the same Ramah referred to as his birthplace). As noted previously, Ramah was strategic to the defense of the Southern Kingdom and was initially captured by Baasha of Israel, pinching off Judah's access to the route leading to the coastal plain and Jericho. Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the captured Jeremiah was released at Ramah. The prophet's mournful words describe the sight of his fellow Jews being marched out of Jerusalem, past Ramah, into the exile: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more." They resonate with memory of Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, who died giving birth to Benjamin and was buried about 10 miles south of here near Bethlehem. They are echoed by Matthew when he tells of Herod's massacre of baby boys following Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.
Another 2.2 miles south and we reach Gibeah of Saul. As the name implies, it was King Saul's royal city. It almost wasn't because there almost was no Saul or any other member of the tribe of Benjamin. Earlier, during the period of the judges, a great crime occurred here. A levite, traveling with his concubine from Bethlehem to his home in Ephraim needed lodging as the day ended. Refusing to stay in the pagan city of Jebus (Jerusalem), he pressed on until he reached Gibeah, an Israelite town. Rather than receiving the safety and hospitality the covenant guaranteed, he was threatened with rape - as had been God's messengers in Sodom - and his concubine raped and murdered. It lead to all Israel waging war against Benjamin, nearly wiping out the tribe. Centuries later, it was still remembered as the epitome of wickedness by the prophet Hosea.
Here at Gibeah, we are at a pinch point. Note how the stream beds from the east and from the west have eroded to narrow the flat ground to only a few hundred yards in width. We are right on the spine of the hill country. Whereas the broad open valleys seen in the north hill country controlled travel, here it is the erosion from the east and west that force one to follow the most level ground along the water-parting route. At Gibeah, where the way is relatively narrow, it's easy to see why the prophet Samuel might have feared Saul would hear of him traveling from Ramah to Bethlehem - as we are now - on his way to anoint David as the king's successor.
|49:35 - 52:40||Jerusalem: The
city is a flight - or several - unto itself. Rather than try to do the subject justice, I
refer you to Stephen
Langfur's excellent reference on Jerusalem. I first toured Israel in 1986 and Stephen
was my guide. He's simply the best at marrying geography, history and Bible together.
That said, I will point out some of the places we'll see as we pass by to help with orientation. First, note the northern approach to the city - it's broad and the ground's relatively flat. The north side of the city was always its vulnerable side. There were no natural defenses. Here, the red 1949 armistice line clutters the view but dramatically illustrates the situation on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War - particularly where the main highway sits in what was the no-man's land.
49:55-50:30: The Valley of the sons of Ben Hinnom, or Gehenna. It was at times a place of child sacrifice. It surrounds the Upper City on its west and south sides and ends where it joins the Kidron Valley.
50:30-50:50: As we turn left, we are looking up the Kidron Valley. The modern neighborhood of Silwan is on the immediate right and on the left is the spur that once was the city of the Jebusites. David captured it and made it his royal city, his capital. Further up the spur is the platform of the Dome of the Rock, where Solomon's and Herod's temple's stood. Here, Abraham was prepared to obey God and offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice until God stopped him and provided a substitute. To the left is the Old City of Jerusalem, to the right - across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount - is the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.
51:15-51:35: Mt. Scopus sits at the head of the Kidron Valley and is the location of Hebrew University. In the time of David, this was the site of Nob and the location of the Tabernacle. David, while fleeing Saul, was given bread by the priests and Saul's servent, Doeg, slaughtered them and their families.
51:35-52:00: The Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples often stayed on the Mount of Olives when they were in Jerusalem. At Bethphage, near the summit, Jesus got the donkey he rode on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It was from the Mount of Olives Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection.
52:00-52:25: We'll sweep back across the Kidron Valley, the City of David, the Upper City and the Hinnom Valley to rejoin the water-parting route at the old Jerusalem train station.
|52:40 - 53:40||Jerusalem to Rachel's tomb: Abraham passed this way in his wanderings through the hill country. It was on their way south from Bethel that Jacob's wife, Rachel, died and was buried "on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)." The levite and his concubine passed along this road as they made their fateful journey from Bethlehem to Gibeah. While the way is relatively level, the land to the west is deeply cut by the steep Valley of Rephaim, part of the Nahal Sorek system. After David had been crowned king by all the tribes and had captured Jerusalem as his royal city, the Philistines made their way up to the Valley of Rephaim in order to capture David and squash the newly unified Israel. Their thrust here was designed to cut David off from his base in Judah, severing the southern central range in half. It was along this road Absalom returned from Hebron to overthrow his father and seize the throne. With him, from Giloh, was Ahithophel, David's most trusted adviser and now betrayer. This is also the path followed by the wise men, who after meeting with Herod, continued on their way to Bethlehem where they found the child Jesus. We mentioned the Valley of Rephaim, off to our right - on one of the ridges sitting over the valley was the town of Bethar. There, in A.D. 135, the revolt of Simon Bar Kokhba against Rome came to an end, and, with it, the end of Jewish sovereignty of this land until 1948.|
|53:40 - 55:10||Bethlehem: Also
known as Ephrath.
It was the hometown of Naomi,
who returned here after living across the Jordan Rift in Moab, with her
daughter-in-law Ruth. Ruth became the grandmother
of David. Samuel
anointed David here. It was from
Bethlehem David traveled westward, down a continuous ridge to the Valley of Elah in the
Shephelah, to take food to his brothers who were fighting against the Philistines --
he ended up slaying Goliath. The prophet Micah prophesied that out of
Bethlehem "will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are
from of old, from ancient times." That was fulfilled with the birth of
Note the city is situated not on the water-parting route, but to the east of it. Jerusalem and Hebron are as well. Why? Here in the south, there is considerably less rainfall than in the north. The clouds, as they move in from the Mediterranean drop their moisture as the air rises over the central range. But the rainfall decreases dramatically as the air descends toward the Jordan Valley. Further, the geology of the central range is characterized by different types of limestone - a very porous rock that does not hold water well. The rainfall sinks in and keeps on going. But, it eventually flows out again in springs that are found at lower elevations. And it is along this spring line that sufficient water can be found to support these towns. Recall that it was water from the well in Bethlehem David desired while he was on the run from Saul.
|55:45 - 55:50||Solomon's Pools and Jawbone Hill: Solomon's Pools have absolutely nothing to do with Solomon, but were part of the water-transport system Herod the Great built to bring water to the Temple Mount, where great quantities were required for the ritual ablutions and the crowds coming to the holy city. I will wait for another flight to make the case, but I believe the itinerary described in Judges 15, the topography and the presence of the spring that feeds these pools points to this being the place where Samson killed the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.|
|58:40 - 60:45||Hebron: Also known as Kiriath Arba, Hebron has its strongest association with Abraham. The patriarch came here, setting up his tents and the nearby Oaks of Mamre, after splitting the land with his nephew Lot. Although he stayed for a time in the Negev and even Egypt, it was to Mamre he returned. He was here when he pleaded for God to spare Sodom from destruction. Here, Sarah died and he purchased the cave of Machpelah in Hebron where Sarah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried. The site is revered today. It was from here, Jacob sent Joseph off to find his brothers - an errand from which he never returned. During the time of the conquest under Joshua, the king of Hebron joined forces with other Amorite cities to fight the Israelites and lost. The city was destroyed. Hebron was given to Caleb - like Joshua, one of the original 12 spies and, like Joshua, one of the only two adults to have left Egypt with Moses and to have lived to posses the land. Hebron was the capital of Judah and it was here that David was annointed king seven years before he became king over united Israel and made Jerusalem his royal city. Absalom, when he plotted the overthrow of his father, likewise went to Hebron to have himself declared king. After the Babylonian exile, Kiriath Arba was one of the places in Judah to which the Jews returned.|
|60:45 - 62:45||Hebron to Debir: As we head south from Hebron to Beersheba, we are descending from the hill country to the Negev - from approximately 3,000 foot in elevation to approximately 970 feet. What rainfall there is this far south has eroded many parallel valleys. We begin losing the plateau we've been flying along since Bethel. The Bible does not explicitly mention many events occurring along this section, although Abraham's and Isaac's moving back and forth between Hebron and the Negev would have been across this ground. This is the way followed by the 12 spies sent by Moses to survey the land. When Joshua conquered the southern Canaanite confederation, the battle's path began back on the Benjamin plateau, moved westward down to the lowlands - the Shephelah - and southward, paralleling our flight. He turned east into the hill country to attack Hebron after taking Lachish in the Shephelah and Eglon on the edge of the Philistine plain. After destroying Hebron, we are told, "Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir." He had cut the city off from any hope of relief from its Canaanite allies in the north, and then, in a mopping-up operation, turned south to destroy the stronghold that could be a threat to his rear. We are now following that path.|
|62:45 - 63:10||Debir: Formerly
Sepher. Also known as Kiriath
Sannah. Its king was asked to join the Amorite confederation to fight against Joshua
during the conquest of the Shephelah and the southern hill country. After Joshua destroyed
the other cities in the confederation, he turned
back and destroyed Debir and its inhabitants. Into that vacuum came Caananites. Caleb
offered his daughter Acsah in marriage to whomever would capture Kiriath Sepher.
Othniel took it and Caleb gave two springs nearby to his daughter.
Debir's strategic importance, whether for the Amorites, Canaanites or Judahites, was as a fortification to resist intrusions from the desert tribes - particularly the Amalakites. As you will see as we continue, the southern rump of the hill country has no natural defense. It is open to easy invasion on many fronts.
|63:10 - 67:50||Debir to Beersheba: The land continues its drop in elevation, covered with many small eroded valleys and small hills. Unlike the hill country of Judah or Ephraim to the south, with their steep elevation on both sides and defensible ascents, here the land is wide open to invasion from the desert tribes. When David fled Saul and became a mercenary in the army of the Philistine king of Gath, he operated from the city of Ziklag (which we will see shortly). He convinced his Philistine lord that he was harassing this southern rump of the territory of Judah when, in fact, he was protecting it by attacking the Amalekites and preventing their infiltration here. To the east of us, David and his men provided protection from desert raiders to the flocks of a man named Nabal, who proved to be arrogant and ungrateful for the favor. Indeed, when the Israelites were first going to enter the promised land under Moses from Kedesh Barnea in the Negev, their first target was Arad as a precursor to an invasion across this southern flank. As you will see, well short of Beersheba, even the gentle hills give way to flat, open ground.|
|67:50 - 69:40||Beersheba and the Negev: The modern Negev - meaning "dry" or "south" - is considered to be a large triangle with its northern border running from the Mediterranean south of Gaza eastward to the Arabah; its eastern boundary coinciding with the edge of the Arabah; and its western boundary following the present boundary between the State of Israel and the Sinai. In area, the Negev makes up over half the territory of modern Israel. In the biblical period, only the northern portion was meant by "Negev" - to the south was the Wilderness of Zin. The east-west zone from Gaza to Gerar to Beersheba to Arad is lower in elevation than the hill country to the north or the desert to the south and, as such, served as an important transit zone - the "incense route" from the Mediterranean to southern Transjordan and to the Red Sea at Eilat and Aqaba and on to Arabia. Much of the land is covered by fine, wind-deposited soil called loess, which forms an impervious crust when the first rains hit it, causing increased runoff and deeply eroded "badland" topography. It is drained westward by the Nahal Besor - the "Besor Ravine" associated with David and the Amalakites - to the Mediterranean. The Besor has many upper branches, one of which is the Nahal Beersheba, here by the city of the same name. Its strongest association is with Abraham and Isaac, who both dug wells here and made covenants of peace with their hostile neighbors. It was from Beersheba, a young Jacob set out for Haran after he deceived his father into giving him the blessing meant for his brother Esau. It was also here God spoke in a vision to an elderly Jacob as he set out for Egypt to be reunited with his long-lost son, Joseph. We have two instances of Biblical characters - Hagar and Elijah - venturing into the wilderness south of Beersheba where they hopelessly gave up on life under a bush - probably tamarisk trees in both cases - until God intervened. Two of the prophet Samuel's sons served as judges here, but their corruption became the occasion for the people of Israel to ask for a king.|
|69:35 - 72:30||Beersheba to Ziklag: The return trip to Dan begins ... The desert tribes were not just a threat to Judah's hill country, but also to it's western lowlands - the Shephelah. Here, the approach is even more open and lacking natural defenses. Raiders headed into the Shephelah from the south are funneled between the region's southwestern hills of Eocene limestone and the hill country's heights of Cenomanian limestone at Ziklag. A Philistine royal city, it was David's headquarters during the time he served Achish, king of Gath. Achish believed David was attacking Judah's cities in the Negev when, in fact, he was attacking the desert tribes in order to provide protection to Judah. This site, on the Shephelah-Negev frontier, was of strategic importance to both Philistia and Judah. But it had to be occupied and rigorously defended. When David and his army were away at Aphek, 45 miles to the north, the Amalekites were able to sweep in and overrun the site.|
|72:30 - 84:20||The Shephelah and the
Judean moat: For the next 35 miles or so, we'll be flying along the "Judean
moat" - the boundary between Judah's hill country and its western
foothills or lowlands - the Shephelah. In many places the boundary is clearly defined
by a north-south valley separating the series of ridges climbing eastward to the top of
the hill country and the low-lying, rounded hills to the west.
To offer a simplified explanation, the landscape here is the result of the exposure of three different types of limestone. The Cenomanian is the hardest of the three and the lowest layer. It is the so-called Jerusalem stone that graces so many buildings in Israel - it is the stone Solomon and Herod used to build the Temple. It erodes to create steep canyons and prominent cliffs, and when it completely breaks down, a very fertile soil. The next layer on top is Senonian chalk. As the name implies, it is very soft - where it is exposed, you can easily break off pieces with your hand. Atop the chalk layer is another layer of hard limestone called Eocene. It's not as hard as Cenomanian, so it tends to erode into smoother hills and it is not as fertile. Add to this limestone layer cake geologic forces that push some regions upward and others downward. The uplifted areas are subject to more rainfall, runoff and erosion. Entire geologic layers can be eroded away and deposited at lower elevations as soil. That's what we have here. To the east, the hill country of Judah has been pushed upward and its Eocene and Senonian layers eroded away, leaving the hard Cenomanian layer behind. In the Shephelah, the low-lying rounded hills are the top layer of Eocene limestone, still in place. But at the Shepelah's eastern edge, where the Cenomanian starts poking upward, the soft Senomanian chalk is exposed. And, when that happens, we find major zones of passage through Israels hills and mountains.
Here, it's expressed as a "moat" between the Shephelah and the hill country. Back at El Mukhna, which we flew after leaving Shechem, it expresses itself as a broad valley (we will be flying there again and we'll see even more dramatic evidence of the role exposures of Senonian chalk played in defining zones of passage). Across the ridge of Mt. Carmel, the strategic passes are all in places where this soft chalk is exposed (we'll see it on another flight).
The Judean moat was a major line of defense for Judah. Enemies who fought their way through the hills of the Shephelah would still be faced with the wall of the hill country to climb. It also provided an internal line of defense, allowing the movement of troops north and south to meet any invader's advance through one of the several east-west valleys through the Shephelah. Many of the cities fortified by Rehoboam for the defense of Judah are found here along the moat.
It's no accident the red line of the 1949 armistice hugs the eastern side of the Shephelah, even following the moat closely in places - it was a natural line of defense. "History does not repeat itself without explaining itself," wrote 19th century geographer George Adam Smith, "and the explanation is usually geographical."
75:55 Although I can attest to no named biblical site here in the area of modern Dayr Samet, it had to have been important strategically to the defense of Judah. To the west, the easy valley through the Shephelah's hills leads to the important fortified city of Lachish. to the east, several ridge routes quickly climb to the southern rump of the hill country of Judah, depositing you between Debir and Hebron. In Joshua's conquest of the south, he came south through the Shephelah, conquering Lachish - 8 miles to our west on the lowland's western boundary - then Eglon - possibly 7 miles out into the Philistine plain at Tell el Hesi or 7 miles south at Tell Eitun, before ascending to the hill country to take Hebron. If he ascended here at Dayr Samet, his plan was to cut the line of communication between Hebron and Debir and to prevent Debir from sending assistance or attacking his rear as he took Hebron. With Hebron subdued, he turned back and conquered Debir.
77:00 Here is another important crossroad. To the east, is the route to Hebron. To the west, the broad valley through the Shephelah leads to two important fortified cities that protected the approach toward Judah: Maresha and Moresheth Gath. On the west side of the hills of the Shephelah, this valley broadens and is probably the site of the Valley of Zephathah, where the vast army of Zerah the Cushite made its attack and was repulsed. During the days of the Maccabees, the Selucid general Lycias, led a large army - including 32 war elephants - up the ascent here toward Hebron. In the battle, Eliezar, younger brother of Judah Maccabee, fought his way through the enemy's lines and killed one of the elephants with his spear, only to die himself when the animal fell on him and crushed him.
78:00 Keilah - We are definitely entering "David Country," though truth be told, he undoubtedly used the section of Judean moat we just followed many times as he went back and forth from Ziklag to this area and on to Gath. It was here at Keilah, during the harvest, David rescued the city from marauding Philistines who had pushed through the Shephelah's hills to loot the threshing floors. News of David's feat reached Saul who saw an opportunity to trap David in the town of Keilah. Before he could come, David inquired of God and was told the people of Keilah would betray him to Saul, so he and his men left for the southern hill country of Judah, moving to the eastern-desert side and eventually to the area around Masada and Engedi. From this point onward, the Judean moat is broad and well-defined, especially where it intersects the watersheds coming down from the hill country.
79:00 Adullum - David escaped here to the Cave of Adullum after being told by Jonathan his father Saul was intent on killing him. Here he began gathering other "enemies of the state" around him - about 400 in all - that became the kernel of his own army. While here, his family from Bethlehem - just up one of the close-by ridges - visited him. In another story illustrating the connection between this place and Bethlehem, David, longing to drink the water of his hometown, was rewarded when three of his top 30 men fought their way into the town - then under Philistine control - to bring him a drink. Adullum is also important in the history of the patriarchs. It was here Jacob's son, Judah, came, setting the stage for his illicit relationship with Tamar.
A word about the Cave of Adullum ... the Shephelah is a warren of caves because of the geology we've already discussed. The Senonian chalk is easily eroded and mined. It was another cave in the Shephelah - at Makkedah - where Joshua trapped the five kings of the Amorite confederation before he executed them. Further south, near Maresha, are the Beth Guvrin caves, an amazing and beautiful complex of some 800 caves. Where the Senonian layer dominates on the east side of the hill country by the Dead Sea is another group of famous caves - the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The same easily worked Senonian chalk was used by Jewish slaves, captured by the Romans and forced to build the ramp up the side of Masada.
79:10 - 80:00 Valley of Elah - Here the Philistines, on the southern hills, and Israel, on the northern hills, were locked in a stalemate that was broken when the shepherd David killed the Philistine champion, Goliath. The site of their contest probably took place about a mile to the west, but here in the broad eastern end of the valley, the army of Israel would certainly have been dug in since the ridge route where the modern road ascends leads to Bethlehem and the heart of Judah. For more detail and a Google Earth flight, click here.
80:00 - 80:40 The moat narrows as we pass from the Elah watershed to the Sorek. Zanoah is one of the towns listed by Joshua as Judah's inheritance.
81:20 Beth-shemesh guards the eastern end of the broad Sorek Valley - at the western end is the Philistine city of Ekron. It was from Ekron the captured Ark of the Covenant was sent on a cart drawn by two cows to Beth-shemesh after it had caused so much misery to the Philistines. Alas, 70 men of Beth-shemesh presumptuously looked inside the returned ark and were killed by God. Beth-shemesh was the site of a battle between Amaziah of Judah and Jehoash of Israel - Amaziah lost, was taken captive and Jerusalem plundered. During the reign of Judah's Ahaz, the Philistines pushed their way up the Sorek and captured Beth-shemesh. While we are not given details, given the number of instances where the Philistines pushed all the way to the Valley of Rephaim - the upper portion of the Sorek watershed - it's highly likely they used this corridor to ascend the hill country.
81:35 We're in "Samson Country". Ahead on the horizon, at the top of the hill on the north side of the valley is the site of Zorah, birthplace of Samson. We won't be flying there, but you can pause and navigate there to take a look. Further down the Sorek Valley, before you reach the Philistine city of Ekron, is Timnah, where Samson sought a wife (and in the vicinity of where Judah had sexual relations with his daughter in law).
82:05 - 82:30 It was here at Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol, "the Spirit of the LORD began to stir" Samson. Mahaneh Dan - which means "camp of Dan" - was on the itinerary of places men from the tribe of Dan stayed as they went far to the north to explore for a new place to live. Their tribe was small and they were unable to take their full inheritance from the much stronger Philistines. So, squeezed between the Philistines and the tribal territory of Judah, they decided to find a new place to live. They found the "peaceful and unsuspecting" city of Laish at the base of Mt. Hermon, conquered it and renamed it Dan - the city where we began and will end our journey.
82:30 - 83:15 The moat narrows again as we cross over to the next watershed. This would be the route taken by the Ark of the Covenant after the people of Beth-shemesh asked the people of Kirath Jearim to please come and get it. At 83:15, the modern road ends at Israel's Highway 1, the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Turn right here - east - and go about five miles to the site of Kiriath Jearim, where the ark stayed in the home of a man named Abinadab for 20 years.
83:15 - 84:40 Although it's hardly worth of being called a "moat," the small dip in the ridge ahead is its continuation. When we get to the other side, we're in a broad, triangular valley. This is the Valley of Aijalon, forever linked to Joshua's battle cry, "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon." This was the beginning of Joshua's conquest of the south, to which we've made frequent reference. We've essentially been flying much of that battle in reverse. We will continue doing so until we reach Gibeon on the Benjamin Plateau in the next few minutes. Like Joshua, Saul and Jonathan fought the Philistines on the Benjamin Plateau and forced them down to the Valley of Aijalon. It was here Jonathan, who consumed honey he had found in the forest, was almost executed by his father for having violated his order not to eat until evening.
The significance of the Valley of Aijalon can hardly be overstated. It is wide open on its west side to the Philistine Plain. It gives enemies access into the territory of Judah without the trouble of fighting their way through the hills of the Shephelah. It was the scene of numerous battles between the Maccabees and the Seleucid Greeks as well as between the Israelis and the Arabs in the 1948 War. Not only does it provide entry deep into the territory of Judah and Benjamin, it sits at the base of the easiest ridge route to the top of the hill country, the Beth Horon ridge. That's where we're headed next.
|85:00 - 86:50||The Beth-horon Ascent: The ancient Beth Horon road from the coastal plain to the Benjamin Plateau followed the two-laned road we see below. It passed through two towns in particular, Lower Beth Horon and Upper Beth Horon. There are few invasions of the hill country around Jerusalem that were not made along this route. The Maccabees - who were from Modiin at the west end of this ridge, gave a severe defeat to the Selucids in an ambush along this ascent (1 Maccabees 3:1-25). This is the route down which Joshua chased the Amorite kings and Saul and Jonathan the Philistines. The cedar logs, floated down the coast from Tyre to Joppa, for the building of Solomon's temple were brought up this route. Given its importance, it's no surprise we're told of Solomon building up the towns of Beth Horon as part of the defense of Judah (and to collect taxes on trade passing through, no doubt).|
|87:20 - 89:20||Gibeon and the Benjamin
Plateau: We are now back on the Benjamin Plateau. Perhaps after seeing the
significance of the Valley of Aijalon and the Beth Horon ascent, you can see why this
region was such an important zone of passage and location of so many biblical stories.
When Joshua and the Israelites first entered the land, Gibeon was
part of a four-city confederation that included Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath
Jearim . Ethnically, they were distinguished from the Amorites and Canaanites as
Hivites. Following the destruction of Jericho and Ai - the later only six miles to the
northwest - they decided deception made more sense than resistance. They fooled Joshua
into making a treaty of peace by leading him to believe they came from a far distance and
were not from any of the places Israel intended to conquer. When soon discovered, Joshua
kept his word not to destroy their cities, but imposed a penalty - they were to be
woodcutters and water providers for Israel, particularly the altar. Interestingly, the
area between Gibeon and Kiriath Jearim is well forested (Kiriath Jearim means
"village of the forests"). By successfully making peace with the Israelites,
Gibeon incurred the wrath of the Amorite kings, who attacked them - Joshua came to their
Following the death of King Saul, David was anointed king over Judah, and Saul's former general, Abner, put forward Saul's surviving son as his successor over Israel. It was here at Gibeon, at the city's water system, Saul's and David's men met with tragic results. Later, David gave the Gibeonites permission to take revenge on survivors of Saul's clan because he had violated the agreement Joshua had made with them and had put many of them to death. In the later years of David's reign, the tabernacle and altar were at Gibeon and were still there when Solomon came to the throne (although the Ark of the Covenant was in Jerusalem). Here, Solomon prayed for wisdom.
|90:00 - 90:50||Ramallah: Ramallah has no biblical significance of which I am aware, but it is the largest and most prosperous of the Palestinian cities on the West Bank. Founded as a Christian town, it is now mostly Muslim. It was here PLO leader Yassir Arafat had his headquarters. The yellow-dot placemark for Ramallah is at his tomb location. As we fly north, note the drop-off to the west - we're on the western edge of the Dome of Ephraim.|
|91:25 - 91:55||Gophna: Other than possibly being the city of Ophni mentioned by Joshua, the town of Gophna does not appear to have been mentioned in the Bible, but it played a role in the Maccabean revolt against the Selucids and the Jewish revolt against Rome. Judah Maccabee actively recruited fighters in the Gophna hills and gave the Selucids a severe defeat nearby, trapping 2,000 well-armed enemy troops in a narrow defile, even though the Jews were armed mostly with sticks and stones. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the Romans housed priests here who had defected from the city. In later centuries, it was an important Christian city and remains a Christian-majority town still. While not as easy to travel, the twisting north-south road passing through Gophna connected Jerusalem with Shechem. In 1987, going from Shechem to Jerusalem, our tour bus took this road at night. Being prone to motion sickness, I was not only relieved when we left this terrain as we reached the outskirts of Ramallah, I knew intuitively I had reached the relatively flat and smooth Benjamin Plateau, though it was dark and my first visit. Nausea is a powerful teacher.|
|91:55 - 94:00||Gophna to Lebonah: Here on the western side of Ephraim, the east-west trending valleys and ridges support few settlements today, except along some of the ridgetops. The paucity of modern settlements is probably reflected in the little mention of this area in the Bible. It also probably explains why it was one of the major areas of Maccabee activity - it provided the kind of isolated landscape where a guerilla army could prepare to strike and the kind of landscape that gave it an advantage over conventional armies who excelled in open-field combat. At Lebonah, we're back to the broad internal valleys that characterize the territory of West Manasseh.|
|94:20||Tappuah and the Nahal Kanah: The valley coming in from the lower left is here the boundary between the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. It heads westward to the Mediterranean as the Nahal Kanah. Interestingly, Tappuah, the site atop the hill on the north side of the valley, belonged to Ephraim on the south side, although, Joshua tells us, its lands belonged to Manasseh. We won't be flying there today, but about five to six miles west of here is the modern village of Hares, possibly the transposed Serah in Timnath Serah, the place where Joshua settled after he had conquered and divided the land. At any rate, there are three tombs there visited by Jewish pilgrims: Joshua's, his father Nun's and Caleb's, the other spy who brought back a good report to Moses.|
|95:30 - 96:40||El Mukhna: We are back at El Mukhna, the broad valley we traveled earlier when we headed south from Shechem. It is on our right as we follow the uplifted Eocene limestone that will become Mt. Gerizim, ahead. All along the eastern base of these hills, the Senonian chalk layer is visible.|
|96:40- 97:30||Mt. Gerizim, Shechem and Mt. Ebal: We take the leap from the mount of blessing to the mount of cursing. Note the location of the yellow-dot placemark for Mt. Gerizim. It's located where the ancient Samaritan temple was located when Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well talked about true worship.|
|97:30 - 98:25||Wadi Beidan: This steep defile is easily spotted on satellite images of this region. It is the continuation of the Senonian chalk layer and here dramatically shows the role of geology in forming important passes. The road from Shechem goes north through the Wadi Beidan to the Wadi Farah (also known as Wadi Far'ia), a broad, NW-SE trending valley formed by two parallel faults that gently descends to the Jordan Valley. Jacob and Abraham, when they came to Shechem, came through here.|
|98:40 - 100:20||Tirzah and the Wadi Farah: At the head of Wadi Farah is the site of Tirzah, set like a jewel at the head of this important passage between the hill country of Samaria and the Jordan Valley and Transjordan beyond. Tirzah means "beautiful, delightful, pleasant" - while I've not been to the site, every image I've seen of the setting indicates it was well named. It's legendary beauty finds its way into the Song of Solomon: "You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah." As we circle around the site, you will be able to see the long view down the Wadi Farah. When the United Kingdom split, Jeroboam initially ruled Israel from Shechem, which he fortified. But soon, we find his palace in Tirzah. Other Israelite kings rule from here until Omri moved the capital to the city of Samaria on the other side of the Gerizim-Ebal massif. Tirzah is associated by some with Aenon, a site where John the Baptist was baptizing.|
|100:20 - 101:15||Thebez?: It doesn't look like much, but that small notch ahead as we leave Tirzah is another "pass" that follows the Senonian chalk outcropping. We are now following the route used by Abimelech, the son of Gideon (Jerub-Baal), who tried to make himself king. But his rule was short-lived, with the people of Shechem revolting and the violent Abimelech slaughtering many of his subjects. After destroying Shechem by fire, he next went to Thebez, where he again began a siege. Intending to set the tower ablaze where the city's people had taken refuge, he got close enough that one of the trapped women dropped a millstone, hitting Abimelech in the head and mortally wounding him. He called on his armor-bearer to run him through with a sword to avoid the shame of dying at the hands of a woman. The modern town of Tubas, ahead, is generally considered to be the site of Thebez, although not entirely with confidence. Archaeological and other evidence is lacking. It may be that the similarity between the names and the proximity to Shechem is the only connection.|
|101:15 - 102:15||Bezek: We are continuing to follow the natural path created by the Senonian chalk layer. Ahead, it results in a break in the low hills. There is the site of the biblical Bezek, where Saul mustered the tribes of Israel to rescue the city of Jabesh Gilead, on the east side of the Jordan River, when the Ammonites had it under siege and were threatening destruction unless all the men allowed their right eye to be gouged out. This was Saul's first military campaign. His night march from Bezek across the Jordan to Jabesh Gilead resulted in saving the city. For Saul, this was personal - let's review some history. It was his royal city, Gibeah, that had been destroyed by all the other tribes following the rape and murder of the levite's concubine. His tribe of Benjamin only survived because the city of Jabesh Gilead did not participate in the war and the other tribes destroyed it and gave its young women as brides to the men of Benjamin to keep their tribe from going extinct. Odds are good that Saul had a family relationship to Jabesh Gilead that night.|
|103:30 - 107:05||The Bethshan/Jordan Valley: From Bezek, we drop down the valley that follows the chalk layer until we reach a broad plain covered in agricultural fields. The area immediately in front of us is sometimes referred to as the Bethshan Valley to distinguish it from the Jordan Valley a short distance ahead. This area is on a high terrace, so giving it a different name makes sense.|
|104:35 - 104:50||Rehob: Rehob (or Rehov) can be translated "market," and, given its size and location (dominating the Bethshan-Jericho road and the Bethshan-Bezek-Shechem road into Samaria), it was probably well-named. There are a number of sites named Rehob in the Old Testament (as there are a number of sites named Kedesh -- there were a lot of markets and a lot of sanctuaries), but none of them are this site. Tel Rehov, however, is listed in an Egyptian list from the time of the patriarchs. Excavations at the site in 2007 revealed the first beehives found in the ancient Near East. They have been dated from the 10th to early 9th century B.C., after the northern and southern kingdoms split. Subsequent analysis of 3,000-year-old bee parts established the Israelites were using a variety of bee now found only in Turkey, suggesting an international industry was operating here. A storage jar found near the apiary is stamped with the name Nimshi. Nimshi was the name of the "father" (most likely grandfather) of Jehu, the Israelite commander who destroyed the house of Ahab after being anointed by Elisha (whose hometown of Abel Meholah is about 7 miles southwest of Rehob). Another storage jar stamped "Nimshi" found here raises the possibility that Jehu hailed from Rehob or its vicinity. Note as we approach Rehob, the step down from the Valley of Bethshan terrace to the Jordan Valley on the right.|
|105:35 - 107:05||Bethshan/Scythopolis: Bethshan is a large tell strategically located at the east end of the Harod Valley where it meets the Jordan Valley. It controlled east-west traffic between Transjordan and the Mediterranean coast, as well as north-south traffic on the west side of the Jordan River. While it was allocated to the tribe of Manasseh, the Canaanites occupying it, with their iron chariots, were too strong and could not be dislodged. The archaeological record indicates others did replace the Canaanites at various times - Egyptians and Philistines. When the Philistines killed King Saul and his sons, it was to Bethshan the bodies were brought for a gruesome victory display on the city's walls. Men from Jabesh Gilead - the city Saul saved in his first military action as king - showed their gratitude by coming at night to retrieve the bodies and bury them. As we circle Bethshan, the mountains of Gilboa -- referenced in David's lament -- can be seen to the west. The tell was later abandoned and the city of Scythopolis was built below. In the New Testament era and afterwards, it was one of the cities of the Decapolis - the only one located west of the Jordan River.|
|107:10 - 110:50||Western Lower Galilee and Belvoir Castle: We fly across a series of tilting blocks separated by streams that cut into the lower Galilee from the Jordan Valley. Belvoir Castle, one of the Crusaders' strongholds, was excellently located to keep watch over the Jordan Valley and Transjordan beyond.|
|110:50 - 111:40||Lower Jordan River: We dip down from the Lower Galilee to where the Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee. The State of Israel has built a facility for Christian pilgrims here for baptisms, although it is highly unlikely this is anywhere close to where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Nonetheless, the waters are much cleaner here than the probable location near the river's southern end.|
|111:45 - 113:45||Golan Heights: As we sweep out across the Sea of Galilee, we see the escarpment of the Golan Heights that runs along the eastern side of the sea. Prior to the 1967 War, the Syrians occupied the top of the heights and regularly fired down on the Jewish settlements below. Thanks to the suggestion of a well-placed Jewish spy in Damascus, the Syrians planted shade trees at the site of their bunkers to relive their soldiers of the heat ... and in the process, helped the Israelis target their artillery.|
|113:45 - 115:15||Hippus: Sitting on a prominent hill in the center of a valley leading from the Sea of Galilee at En Gev to the top of the heights is the site of the Decapolis city of Hippus - or Hippos. With its Roman architecture - columns, temples, public buildings - it must have looked like a gleaming crown atop that hill in the afternoon sun to those on the west side of the lake. For the pious Jews residing on the lake's northwest corner, it was an unavoidable reminder of the proximity of paganism. Sitting on the slope where we believe Jesus gave his sermon on the mount, Hippus is ever in view. When Jesus said, "A city on a hill cannot be hidden," every eye in his audience must have immediately been drawn across the lake. During the Byzantine period, the city was known as Susita and was the seat of a bishop.|
|115:35 - 116:10||Gergesa/Kursi:
Continuing north above the shore road, we come to Kursi
and the ruins of the Byzantine church and monastery built here in honor of the miracle
Jesus performed by driving out the legion of demons and sending them into a herd of
pigs that ran into the sea and drowned. Kursi is the Arabic name for what the New
Testament calls Gergesa.
Normally, we would think of this is the land of the Gergesenes, but Mark and Luke call it the land of the Gadarenes. Gadara, a city located southeast of the Sea of Galilee and nearly 6 miles from the shore does not seem to be what is meant by the gospels' story. There the plain is broad and flat. Here at Gergesa, we find the closest steep hill to the lake's eastern shore, which seems to recommend this spot (although it's not, perhaps, as close to the shore as most of us envision when reading the story).
It's certainly likely that sections of the coast (and perhaps fishing rights) were allocated to various cities in the region and possibly Gadara held the rights here. But would it have had the rights at Gergesa's shore? The New International Version footnotes say some texts read "Gadarenes" and others "Gergesenes" and then resolves the problem by creating the term, "Gerasenes." The NIV further complicates matters by rendering the term in question as Gadarene in Matthew's account, while the KJV renders it as Gergasene. Confusing, isn't it. At least be aware that there were no such people as the NIV's "Gerasenes" living close to the lake.
|116:10 - 117:20||Northeast shore of Sea of Galilee: Along the northeast shore of the lake, the steep escarpment ends and the rise to the top of the Golan Heights is characterized by a long slope cut by a number of deep canyons. This has resulted in a fertile delta area and a section of shoreline that almost certainly was a rich fishing ground - we certainly have mention in the Gospels of Jesus and his fisherman disciples crossing over to this region from Capernaum. One of the canyons leading down to the shore here was where the site of Gamla was located. Often called the "Masada of the North," the city was destroyed by Vespasian in the Jewish Revolt at great costs to the Romans (War of the Jews, Bk 4, Ch. 1).|
|117:20 - 118:10||Bethsaida:
of Jesus' disciples were from Bethsaida -- Philip, Andrew and Peter. It makes sense --
"Bethsaida" means House of
the Fisherman. But the site generally believed to be Bethsaida, Et Tell, is 1.8 miles
inland from where the Upper Jordan meets the lake. True, its tell is by the river, but
that's a long way from the shore for men who must daily rise early to fish. Josephus tells
us Philip the Tetrarch renamed Bethsaida as Julius and his description gives credence to
the identification of the only large tell in the area as the city mentioned in the New
It's a hotly debated topic among archaeologists. Some have argued that the delta of the Upper Jordan has advanced in the last 2,000 years and Et Tell was once closer to the sea. Others point to at least one site along the present shore and have conjectured that perhaps there were two Bethsaidas, with the one closest to the water being where the fishermen lived. All the theories have problems and lack the archaeological finds needed to place them in the first century with confidence. Those problems notwithstanding, Bethsaida is remembered as the place where Jesus healed a blind man. The rising plain northeast of the city is a likely candidate for the feeding of the 5,000.
In recent years, a consensus is forming that Bethsaida/Et Tell was the capital of the Aramean kingdom of Geshur in the 10th and 11th century B.C. King David married Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, and she gave birth to Absalom. Absalom, after he killed his brother, Amnon, escaped here to Geshur and hid out with his Aramean relatives for three years until he returned to Jerusalem and plotted the overthrow of his father.
|118:15 - 120:15||Upper Jordan River: We're now ascending from 700 feet below sea level at the shores of Galilee to 200 feet above sea level at the southern end of the Huleh Basin. The river here cuts through where the ancient lava flow of the Rosh Pinna sill met the lava flows of the Golan Heights. Watch for the Bridge of Jacob's Daughters, a crossing point of the Jordan River and one of the reasons Hazor, to the west, and the Rosh Pinna sill were so important strategically. Given the 900-foot drop over a distance of about nine miles, it's no surprise there's some good whitewater here for recreation.|
|120:15 - 125:00||Huleh Basin/Golan Heights: We're back at the Huleh Basin. Here in the southwest corner, the waters from the marshes drained into the Jordan River. The Golan Heights climb steadily to the east but there is no steep escarpment as there was along the Sea of Galilee.|
|125:00 - 126:15||Caesarea Philippi/Banias and Mt. Hermon: The abundance of water flowing from Mt. Hermon accounts for the lushness of Banias -- or Paneas. According to Josephus, its "natural beauty had been improved by the royal liberality of [Herod] Agrippa, and adorned at his expenses." (The Wars Of The Jews, Bk 3, Ch. 10, Sec. 7). Philip the Tetrarch renamed the place Caesarea Philippi. Somewhere in its "region," Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" and Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is a good place to consider Psalms 42 and 43, treated as a single psalm in some Hebrew manuscripts.|
|126:35||Dan: Home again!|