No two trips are the same. If this statement is true when traveling internationally, it is a steely reality of travel in Israel-Palestine. Embracing this truth can be scary. However, if attempted, it can free the curious explorer from the tyranny of the timetable. What is more, it suggests another, perhaps wiser, tack: stop dictating and begin engaging a culture other than your own.
When contacted by an individual who is exploring travel possibilities, I try to avoid the frontal approach and begin with more revealing questions. Why do you want to go there? What do you hope to gain as a result? What kinds of experiential goals do you have? What spiritual aim is behind your request? What is the best strategy to get you there? Thinking through these kinds of questions should happen before you pack your socks.
Once these ideas are out in the open, I work with travelers to meet the goals they have set for themselves. This is why no two trips are the same: no two travelers are the same! Some of our group leaders embrace the traditions that fill nearly every valley, hill, rock, and church in this antique land. In this case, we meditatively walk the Via Dolorosa and pray on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Other group leaders prefer an academic approach; they wish to understand not just the detail of the biblical narratives, but the geographical and archaeological folds that curl around the text. Some outdoorsey-adventuresome types want to camp where Paul slept, hike where Jesus walked, and scuba-dive where Paul sailed! We do that too! More realistically, most first timers in Israel/Palestine want a little bit of everything: it is a sampler platter!
I thought it might be helpful to offer a schedule from a trip that we have planned for this coming summer. Realize that this itinerary was only partly produced by me. It was also produced by a tour leader who is seeking to meet a very specific set of goals for a particular group of people in a twelve day package. Take a look and let me know what you think. If it sounds like an experience that runs parallel with your own goals, maybe you should join up? Give me a holler. If, on the other hand, it prompts thoughts about another kind of trip or other kinds of goals, let me hear those as well.
Here it is.
Days 1 & 2 – Travel days
Depart USA and transfer to hotel on the Mediterranean Sea. Stroll on the beach after dinner!
Day 3 – Caesarea, Muhraqa, Megiddo
Two spectacular sites frame the beginning of our tour. The first is associated with the New Testament period, the second, with the Old Testament period. Caesarea-by-the-Sea, or “Caesar City,” was built as the imperial center of the Roman government. Its harbor, theater, and marbled streets signal the arrival of foreign occupation in the region, and, not surprisingly, the beginning point for Christianity in the Gentile world. The second site of the day is Tell Megiddo, an ancient command post of the northern Heartland. Many battles were waged here including those of Israelite kings and Egyptian pharaohs. These two cities will be used as a lens to introduce the land, its history and its interpretation. Overnight in Tiberias.
Day 4 – Nazareth (Church of Annunciation), Sepphoris, Nazareth Village, Christian Holyland Foundation
Spend a day in the rolling hills of Galilee visiting sites and people connected to the ministry of Jesus. Stops include the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, a structure built over the ancient village where Jesus spent his boyhood years. Nearby is Sepphoris, another stop of interest for the student of the New Testament. Here are the ruins of a great Roman city, a capital of the Galilee, and a place where Jesus and Joseph may have worked as carpenters. Part of our day will also include a walking tour of Nazareth Village, an attraction that offers a living display of the life, times, and teachings of Jesus. Finally, visit with contemporary Arab believers and learn about how the ministry of Christ continues in Galilee right up to our own day. Overnight in Tiberias.
Day 5 – Capernaum, Mt Beatitudes, Tabgha, Bethsaida, Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Mt Arbel lookout
Travel to Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Visit the synagogue there and see the ruins of a house believed to be that of the Apostle Peter. Continue to Tabgha, the Mt. of Beatitudes, and Bethsaida, three sites of memory variously linked to two specific acts of Jesus: the feeding of the 5,000 and the Sermon on the Mount. With these stories in mind, go aboard your own wooden boat and feel the wind and the waves of the Sea of Galilee! Finally, conclude the day with a hike to a majestic overlook to the Galilean region. Overnight in Tiberias.
Day 6 – Dan, Banias, Caesarea Philippi, Nimrud Fortress
Experience the beauty of the far north. Leave Galilee behind and travel to the site of Dan. Here an Israelite “high place,” gate complex, and fortification walls are visible. Continue to the birthplace of the Jordan River at “Panias,” named after the Greco-Roman god Pan. Consider the nearby site of Caesarea Philippi where Peter declared Jesus to be “the Christ.” Finally, climb into the heights of Mt Hermon (the “Golan Heights”), a snowy peak that marks the highest spot in all the Heartland. It is likely that this is the “very high mountain” where Jesus was transformed. Overnight in Tiberias.
Day 7 – Jericho, Qumran, Dead Sea
Begin this day by following the Jordan River to the desert lands in the south. Stop at an oasis where the walls of Jericho “came a’ tumblin’ down!” Peek toward the caves near Qumran and share the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Consider the mysterious community responsible for the production of these scrolls and the viewpoint that they present. Relax and finish the day with a swim (or a float!) in the Dead Sea. Overnight in Ein Boqeq.
Day 8 – Masada, Bethlehem-Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem-Church of Nativity
Travel in the cool morning hours to the site of Masada. On this rocky mesa, Herod the Great built an extravagant desert palace. Zealots later captured the site and made it their last stand against the Romans. Travel from this site of disaster to a site of celebration: Bethlehem! Here, walk the fields where shepherds first heard the angelic announcement. Join your voice with theirs in song! Enter the Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuously functioning church in the world. See the cave where tradition suggests Jesus was born. Overnight in Jerusalem.
Day 9 – Davidson Center (Excavations and Jesus Steps), Western Wall, City of David, Pool of Siloam, Rabbinic Tunnel
Experience the wonders of Jerusalem, both ancient and modern. Stroll through the excavated remains of the city from the time of Jesus. Climb the stairs that once led worshippers up to the Jerusalem Temple. Stand in front of the Western Wall along with other worshippers and try to imagine the sights, smells, and sounds of that ancient structure. Travel back in time and explore an even earlier aspect of Jerusalem. In the City of David excavations, archaeologists are currently excavating the ancient Canaanite and Israelite remains. See this work, and (if you dare!), wade through the secret underground water systems that made life on this rocky hill possible. Bring your flashlight! Overnight in Jerusalem.
Day 10 – Mt Olives, Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb
Begin this morning on the Mount of Olives. From here, walk the path to Calvary, traditionally remembered as the Via Dolorosa. Stop along the way at the Pool of Bethesda and other sites. Enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and stand in reverence before the place where Jesus died, was, buried, and rose again. Conclude this emotional and final day of touring with a visit to the Garden Tomb and hear the Easter story afresh! Overnight in Jerusalem.
Day 11 – Free day in Jerusalem
Use this unstructured day of free time to sightsee, rest in the hotel, or shop in the Old City. Transfer to the Tel Aviv airport for an evening departure.
Day 12 – Travel Day
Return to USA