My parents went to Israel and Jordan in May, which was a really special experience for them. Here's their summary of their trip, for interested friends and family, with photos here.
We began every day boarding a bus. As soon as we departed, Fr. Senior would read a scripture passage which was relevant to what we would be seeing. He then went over the day's itinerary. We generally left at 8:00 a.m. and returned or reached our day's destination between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. We spent the first few night in Jerusalem, then spent one night in Aqaba, Petra and Amman in Jordan. We then spent three nights in Tiberius and then the final two nights in Jerusalem.
We began our trip with a visit to the Israel Museum where we viewed a true-to-scale model of what Jerusalem and the Temple looked like at the time of Jesus. This was very important as the Romans destroyed the Temple in 76 AD and then rebuilt Jerusalem approximately 50 years later. After being rebuilt as a Roman City, it then was changed and walled by the Muslims. Recently, as Aelia Capatolia evacuations have recovered the baths and steps leading to the Inner Temple area as it was at the time of Jesus. The Western Wall was an original wall part of the Temple.
We next saw Yad Vashem (Holocaust Remembrance Center) and viewed Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
We then entered what is now called the walled city of Old Jerusalem. In particular, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which enclosed both the site of the crucifixion and burial tomb. We did not go inside the actual spots on this day, but did ten days later.
I should add here that Fr. Senior is truly a scholar in both the scriptural and historical aspects of what we were seeing. He would give us a 0 - 10 perspective on whether what we were seeing was actually where events happened or just in the area. As to the site of the crucifixion, the tomb, and the nativity, he was virtually certain that these sites were accurate.
One other observation is in order. The proximity between Calvary and the tomb was very surprising, but made sense. Calvary was outside the city and Jesus had to be buried quickly due to the approaching Passover. What also was surprising was how far Jesus was arrested from Jerusalem. While under Jewish law the Passover meal had to be eaten within the city, most spent the night outside Jerusalem (no hotels then) and Jesus was staying with Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany. From Jerusalem, He had to first cross the Kindred Valley (a few hundred yards), then reach Gethsemane on His way to Bethany. He was arrested in Gethsemane where He had stopped to pray.
After leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we went to a chapel for Mass which was in the area of the Last Supper (Cenacle). This was also in the area where Mary reputedly died before being assumed. This point is debated as some believe she would have died in Ephesus in Turkey where John took her.
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The first part of the day was spent returning to Old Jerusalem where we visited the Temple Mount area, the excavations and the Western Wall. The Temple Mount is a Muslim shrine (no longer allowed to enter) which is the spot where the Ark and the Holy of Holies was located.
The excavations have uncovered the landing to the Inner Temple and both the bathing areas required to be taken before entering and the rooms where lambs, goats and doves were purchased for sacrifice, and where Jesus used whips and chastised the money changers. Jesus would have walked on the very pavement now uncovered.
We then drove to the city of Jericho, which is reputedly the world's oldest city. It is an active city. Along the way, we traveled through Qarantal, where Jesus was tempted by Satan after fasting for 40 days. We then visited the Church of the Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept as he envisioned the destruction of Jerusalem.
We then drove back and visited the gardens of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested and the walked through the Kindred Valley back to Old Jerusalem along the same path Jesus would have taken. The Kindred Valley also houses an ancient Jewish cemetery referred to in the Scriptures. I personally felt more connection here with being in touch with Jesus than even within the Holy Sepulcher.
On Day 3, we went to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is less than an hour away, but is in the Palestinian zone, so a type of border crossing is required. We first went to Mass in a chapel in the fields where the angels appeared to the shepherds. We next went to see the ruins of Herodium, one of Herod's palaces and his burial site. We next visited Bethlehem University. We ended the day by visiting the site of the Nativity. The site is housed within a room in a church. Although it is pretty certain to be the site of the Nativity, there is nothing in the site itself (other than knowing it is the site) to conjure up what is must have been like. It was nevertheless quite a feeling to be there.
We then left for Jordan. On the way we visited Wadi Qelt and Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and Masada, which is a Herodian fortress where the final Jewish rebels committed suicide rather than become Roman prisoners in 73 AD. This included the synagogue where the vote was likely taken to take this course. Some of the views along the way were amazing . We then drove to the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth). We stopped for lunch at a beach area where we could swim in the Dead Sea. It was very much like swimming the Great Salt Lake, but much hotter. Once floating, it was hard to get standing again. It was also very rocky and impossible to get deep enough to float without sandals or water shoes.
We then went through a long (but not hostile) border crossing into Jordan and drove to Aqaba for the night. Aqaba is on the Red Sea. It is where Lawrence crossed the desert to defeat the Turks whose artillery faced the sea. We stayed at a fabulous Intercontinental Hotel with beach access to the Red Sea. This was also very rocky and very salty, but much cooler. It is what is now Jordan's only port.
On Sunday morning, we had a 2 - 3 hour drive to Petra. Our hotel was directly across the street from the National Park. We dropped off the bags and immediately began touring Petra. We have some good photos and a brochure. It was really amazing. It really bore no relevance to the rest of the trip, but is not to be missed.
The area around the Dead Sea scrolls, past the Dead Sea and into Jordan, reminded me a lot of southern Utah.
On Day 6, we visited Shobak Castle, Madabah, Mt. Nebo and the likely spot of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. Shobak is one of many Crusader Castle high up on a hill.
Madabah is the site of an inlaid true-to- scale tile map of the Judea area created in the blank century. It is amazing how accurate it is and has been used in actually locating ancient sites in recent history. It was likely created around 550 - 570 AD. Mt. Nebo is the supposed place where Moses saw the Promised Land and then died at age 120. The view is breathtaking.
The likely location of Jesus' baptism is now a little trickle as the river has separated. The larger sector now divides Israel and Jordan and is only about 100 feet wide. A quick swim could save 2 hours of driving time to cross the border.
We then spent the night in Amman, the largest city in Jordan.
On Day 7, we toured a bit of Aman and then to Bet Shean which was a 2nd century Roman city. The ruins are still being excavated but featured baths and an amazing theater. We then visited an ancient synagogue, Bet Alpha with beautiful floor tiles.
We visited Mt. Arbel which offered spectacular views, the likely area where Jesus spoke about the Beatitudes. The version we have in the gospel could be a consolidation of several sermons. We then visited the likely site on the Sea of Galilee where, after the resurrection, Jesus grilled fish for the disciples and where he made Peter head of the church. Fittingly, we had a fish lunch. We then drove to Capernaum where we saw the ruins of the home of Peter where Jesus performed many miracles, including where the cripple had to be hoisted through the roof. There was also a model depicting how Peters house likely looked and how you could enter through the roof.
We then drove to the Jordan River park in Bethsaida and then to the Golan Heights where we could see the current Israeli- Syrian border.
On Day 9, we visited Nazareth, where Jesus was likely conceived and spent the majority of his life. Nazareth is now a pretty modern city. We next visited Sepphoris which a city between Nazareth and Caesarea where it is likely that Joseph and Jesus acquired work. We then visited Magdala, which was home to Mary of Magdala and the boat museum where a boat of the type used by the Apostles was unearthed. We also boarded a boat and rode on the Sea of Galilee conjuring up many Gospel descriptions. By the way, modern thinking now suggests there is no evidence Mary of Magdala was a woman of ill repute.
On Day 10, we visited Megiddo, had Mass at Murakah on Mt. Carmel and then visited Caesarea.
Megiddo, where John envisions as Armageddon in the Book of Revelations, was a succession of kingdoms between 8000 and 4000 BC. It's most recent improvements were undertaken by Ahab. It was very high up and you could still see stables, a pit for grain and could still walk through a tunnel to the bottom where the inhabitants could secure water, even during a siege.
Caesarea was a Roman capital city built by Herod on the Mediterranean. The ruins, still being excavated, feature a theater shops, chariot racing arena and ruins of underwater harbor. St. Paul spent two years there under house arrest before being sent to Rome.
(Video from Day 10 combined with Day 11 below)
On Day 11, we visited the Bethany area where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived and where Jesus stayed during Passover, including his last night he slept. The area is separated by a wall dividing Jerusalem.
We then returned to old Jerusalem where we walked along the Via Delorasa and then separated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We waited what seemed like an eternity (40 minutes) to see the Tomb and Calvary site. Quite an end of a truly amazing trip.