Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
The second part of Day Three was spent visiting the ancient cities of Jericho and Beit She’an and then traveling north to our hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
Leaving Jesus’ traditional baptismal site at Qasr al Yehud, we drove through the eastern side of Jericho past an ancient sycamore tree in the compound of the Russian Museum. The tree certainly isn’t the one that Zaccheaus climbed in order to see Jesus, but it could be a younger offshoot. (Some sycamores have lived to be over 500 years old.) The tree used to be accessible from a narrow street and the local kids would climb it for a photo-op; now it’s surrounded by a protective fence and wall.
Other things in the town have changed as well. During our last visit in 2009, relations between Israel and the West Bank/Palestine were strained and we had to stop and change buses at the check point in order to enter the city. We didn’t have to do that this time (nor did we have to do it in Bethlehem, either), but I don’t know if that’s because we used a different tour company or because both governments are committed to improving tourism in the region. We ate lunch at the Temptation Restaurant and Tourist Center. The buffet salads were good and plentiful, and Randy thinks they have the best lemonade of anywhere in the Holy Land. The super-size gift shop was awesome and stocked a large supply of dates, fruit, and souvenirs, including Hebron glass.
The afternoon was personally a tough one for me because it included four things I really do not like: hot weather (about 96 Fahrenheit), crowds (more later), being in high places, and being in high places in a conveyance that dangles and sways. Several years ago the Jericho Cable Car Center opened as one of the premiere local attractions, and it can transport over 600 people an hour from a base near the old city ruins to the top of the Mount of Temptation. Here there are shops, restaurants and cafes, along with terraces that can accommodate “up to 350 people.” And from there it’s an easy walk up to the Greek Orthodox Qurantal Monastery, which boasts a cave where Jesus purportedly stayed during his 40 day fast.
From the pictures on the website, I had envisioned a restful, after-lunch Bible study with some quiet time for reflection on the deeper meaning and personal application of the passages about Jesus’ temptations. But when we got to the top, we were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of Palestinian school children — mostly girls — who were on spring break. Many of them followed us around like we were rock stars, taking our pictures and practicing their conversational English on us. One sweet little pipe-playing girl was an especially capable “flirt.” It wasn’t hard to imagine the same kind of beauty in the Biblical matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca or Rachel.
There were a few times I was “tempted” to start tearing out my hair when my “perfect” itinerary was frustrated, but once I calmed myself down, I have to admit that this “spontaneous” afternoon ended up being quite delightful. (Sometimes God has to knock me upside the head to get my attention!) While some of the group ended their time in Jericho by exploring the archeological excavations of the “oldest inhabited city on earth,” others of us got in another spot of shopping, a much-needed sit in the shade, and a cool drink at “Elisha’s Spring.”
We left Jericho late afternoon and drove north to Beit She’an for an “after dark” tour of the archeological ruins in the national park. Situated at the crossroads of the Jordan and Jezreel valleys, the city was strategically located to control both the east-west and north-south travel routes. About 1000 BC, King Saul lost a nearby battle with the Philistines and they hung his beheaded body on the city walls. A military stronghold for the victorious Kings David and Solomon, the city was later destroyed by the Assyrians and did not flourish again until the Greco-Roman period (roughly 300 BC – 400 AD) when it was renamed Scythopolis. Though there is no indication that Jesus ever visited the city, is was the most prominent member of the Decapolis (Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20 and 7:31) and a center for pagan culture. The movie and lighted tour gave us some great context for understanding Jesus’ time and surroundings.
A late supper and comfortable rooms were waiting for us at the Royal Plaza Hotel, which is located on the southern end of Tiberias just a block from the Sea of Galilee. After an eventful and somewhat surprising day, we all wondered what tomorrow held in store.
Click here to see additional pictures from Day Three, Part 2.