We landed in Tel Aviv in the morning, prepared to see what countless pilgrims before us have seen. There are many things to see, of course. Tel Aviv is right next to old Joppa, where Peter saw the vision of the unclean animals in the sheet, and where Jonah made his famous run for it.
Before landing, I suspected that the great blessing for me would be a sense of spatial arrangements, and not so much the terrain on the ground. A number of the biblical sites are thirty feet underground, and so it is not strictly speaking quite accurate always to say that we are “walking where Jesus walked.”
But the mountains are pretty much what Jesus saw, as well as the Sea of Galilee occupying more or less the same space. The Jordan river still runs north to south, although at a much smaller volume. But then again, whenever any of us look at the moon, at any point in our lives, we are seeing what Jesus saw also. So what is special about this place?
It turned out that gaining a sense of the spatial topography really was one of the great benefits. On the one hand, the Valley of Jezreel, seen from the top of Mt. Carmel, was as broad and as spacious as you might expect. You might be more familiar with that place as the site for Armageddon, and there was room for armies down there. On the other hand, the Kidron Valley, separating the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem was kind of a shock. Our bus drove us to the top of the Mount of Olives, and we walked down to the bottom in about twenty minutes. It was steep but doable, whereas getting down to the Valley of Jezreel would have been more of a production, taking up a good chunk of a day.
Another thing—the land is crammed with significant places, sprawling across millennia, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. In the middle of our time here, while driving from Nazareth to Jericho, our wonderful guide—Baruch—was saying, rapid fire, things like “on the left you see the place where Elijah healed the son of the Shunammite woman, on the right is Gilboa, where Saul and Jonathan died,” and thus he continued.
Some of the sites are the result of educated guesswork, along with some dependence on the educated guesswork of pilgrims in the Byzantine era. If there ever was a favorite occupation of the Byzantines, it was building churches to commemorate every other Bible story. The oddest was the one marking the cave where Lot’s daughters committed incest with him. Okay, I guess.
Speaking of educated guesses, I am thinking of places like the traditional site where Jesus was preparing breakfast over a coal fire on the beach, the time when He restored Peter. But the synagogue at Capernaum, which was the center of the Lord’s Galilean ministry, a stone’s throw from the foundation walls of Peter’s house, is remarkably well attested. So maybe.
And others are simply slam dunk identified. The foundation of Jeroboam’s golden calf altar at Dan is . . . still right there where they left it.
Another site that was way cool was the Valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath. The Israelite ridge was on one side, with a creek bed along the bottom of it, and the Philistine ridge was across the way. I brought home a small rock from that creek bed. Not many people realize this, but I picked up the one that had been right next to the one that David picked up. One has a sense about such things.
You didn’t ask for it, but here are just a few snapshots. Comments are open.