So it’s been a number of months since I’ve been back. John asked me to make this little blog available to the public (I had written it for my family to keep them up to date on my whereabouts) and link to it off his site to give anyone interested a brief look at one person’s experience on the trip.

I admit Israel was not on my top 10 list of places to visit (probably not even in the top 50), but after being in John’s Sunday school class for the past four or five years, the desire to go grew substantially. The basic gist of John’s class is Jesus was Jewish and if we want to be like him and if we want to understand this thoroughly Jewish book we call the Bible, let’s try to learn more about that culture and see if it changes the way we think about things. Personally I can say it does. I look at the Bible a little differently now as I try to see it as a 1st century Jew would. I try to figure out what names mean, where places are, what Jews would have done for their festivals, what word-pictures are trying to be painted, how things in the new testament link back to events in the old.

I’ve been asked what has surprised me most about the trip. I’d have to say the biggest surprise was I just didn’t realize how big a deal it would be to actually stand in these places I’ve read about all my life. Now that sounds pretty obvious, and after being in John’s class, I’ve pretty much seen all the sites we went to and knew the stories associated with them. So being a bit of a cynic I thought being there wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I was wrong. You can insert your favorite clichés here about a picture being worth a thousand words, or being there makes all the difference, and they apply.

The other thing that surprised me was the relationships I formed with the folks in my group. Being a little on the anti-social side, I had not considered at all how I would get along with my tour mates. But in that short time I feel like I came to know the six others in the group extremely well as we shared our lives and these experiences together.

The team – baddest folks this side of Mt. Carmel

I can’t recommend the trip enough (John regularly takes groups – check his site: walkthestory.com). I’d love to share more if you want to get together for a shawarma laffa and a Maccabee beer. My favorite food there.

Day Eight

Harod’s Palace to Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the Garden Tomb

A half day of activity today since this is our last day here. We started off at Herod’s palace where Jesus’ trial is thought to have taken place. We discussed all the events in the trial and scourging of Jesus. Then on to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – one of the two traditional places of the crucifixion and burial. John thinks it’s this spot for a number of reasons. Here we discussed the crucifixion and all the events that happened after. Blake, Daniel and I got kicked out of the room with the first century tomb in it. There was a misunderstanding.

In the church of the holy sepulcher
In the church of the holy sepulcher

Then off to the garden tomb which is the second likely spot for the crucifixion and burial. Where it happened is not important – that the burial and resurrection did happen is.

Tomb at the garden
Tomb at the garden

For supper John is taking us to his favorite restaurant in Jerusalem. I’ll let you know how his taste is.

Love to MJ, Lane and Holt.


Day Seven

Archaeological park to Southern stairs to the top of the Mt of Olives to the Pool of Bethesda to Gethsemane to the Western Wall (busy, eh?)

I actually woke up at 5:30 am and realized that it was about sunrise. There’s stairs to the roof, so I went up there to watch. It was worth it.


Our first stop today was the Archaeological park right next to the temple mount. We were able to see the original foundations of the temple mount and paving stones from Jesus’ time. It’s amazing to see the amount of perfection in the stonework and to understand the labor that went into it. Humbling to know we are called the temple now.

wall corner
Temple mount foundations

The southern stairs are the main way the people would have gotten into the temple mount. This is were I think the Holy Spirit comes on the people in Acts and the 3000 are converted. God changes the location of the church from the temple to us. Cool to be there.

Southern Stairs

Then we drove to the top of the Mt. of Olives and got a great view of the eastern side of the temple mount. We saw a shepherd in the wilderness (just to the east of the mount) leading sheep, so it was an opportune time to discuss the 23rd Psalm and talk about shepherds (the number one description of God in the Bible – you get a prize if you know the second most used description). We also touched briefly on the triumphal entry.

View from Mt of Olives
View from Mt of Olives

The pool of Bethesda was the site of Jesus’ healing of a cripple and we discussed how Christ’s healing is still just as real today. It was a great lesson.

A Gethsemane is an olive press. Most folks don’t know that but you get the picture of Jesus getting pressed for us as he is in the garden nearby the Gethsemane. There has been only one discovered on the Mt of Olives so it is possible this is the exact one. We discussed the last supper passover as well (in about 10 minutes – usually takes John about three hours to get through that). It’s just sweet to see it all for real.

olive tree
Olive tree

After sundown we went to the western wall as the Sabbath started. No photos allowed, but it was  a mass of folks all praying and swaying and dancing. It was really crowded, but we made it to the wall so we were at least able to touch it. Pretty cool, but I’m not a fan of big crowds.

[vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/6yjkTw4p8Kc”]
Busy old-city street. Listen for the call to prayer.

Tomorrow is our last day – we will spend it in Jerusalem. Can’t believe it’s almost over…

Day Six

Mt Carmel to Caesarea to Jerusalem

We started out today with a steep hike up Mount Carmel, site of Elijah putting the Baal priests to shame. It’s a tough climb to the top (thankfully the weather was a lot cooler) and Elijah climbed it, built an alter, dug a trench, slaughtered a cow, climbed back down, killed all the Baal priests, climbed back up to check the weather, climbed back down and then ran about 18 miles. In one day. Some of the reasons why he’s a hero to the Jews. Our lesson was a verse in James that says “Elijah was a man just like us”. Big shoes to fill.

View from Mt Carmel
View from Mt Carmel

Then on to Caesarea, a beautiful man-made seaside port built by Herod the Great. Pilate lived here and Peter came here to visit the centurion after a vision. Paul was imprisoned here while on his way to Rome. It’s an amazing architectural wonder that was a marvel of the world, covered in marble, technologically advanced. But now, of course it’s just ruins. So think about what you are putting your efforts to in life – are they for things that last?


Our last two nights are in Jerusalem and we started off in the old city looking at a restored ruin of Sadducee homes, thought to be where Caiaphas the high priest lived. It’s an extravagant place, proof of how they lived so lavishly making money by extorting folks at the temple. Punks.

We finished with a walk through some of modern Jerusalem outside the old city to John’s favorite ice cream place. A definite highlight.

Ice Cream place
Ice Cream place

Tomorrow we will be in Jerusalem for the day.

Day Five

Capurnaum to Susita to Harod Spring to Nazareth

First to Capernaum where Jesus made his home base during his ministry. It is a fantastic archaeological site with a synagogue, homes, all kinds of cool stuff. This is where the elite of the rabbis taught as well as the home of Matthew.

Synagogue at Capurnaum

Then we had a nice hike to the ruins of Susita, place of the feeding of the 4000 and where the demons are cast out of the crazy man and into the pigs. Jesus tells the man to stay there (he wants to go with Jesus) and from him others in that area came to believe Jesus is the messiah and a whole church started there.

Landmines at Susita
Landmines at Susita

The Spring of Harod is where Gideon whittled down his army to 300 folks by having them drink from this spring. Pretty cool to get my photo taken drinking from the same spring.

Scoop and drink, don’t lap like a dog!

We got to Nazareth in the late afternoon and walked outside the city in some fields and discussed the parable of the sower, how Jesus had his disciples eat wheat on the Sabbath, the story of Ruth, and how Jesus was probably a stone worker (sorry you carpenters). It was a full walk.

Wheat in Nazareth
Wheat in Nazareth

Tomorrow – up to Jerusalem (you always say up because it’s built on hills – nothing to do with north / south).

Day Four

Mount Arbel to Bethesdia to Korazim to the Jordan River

Started out strong today with what John said is the hardest hike of the trip – especially as the temperature was supposed to reach 107. It’s the hottest it’s ever been in this area since John has been coming here. The hike is 100% uphill with some places so steep there are handholds, so it’s more climbing than hiking. Mt. Arbel is where some Zealots hid out from Herod the Great. He killed them all anyway – it’s a sad story. All the area of the Galilee can be seen from this – the tallest point here.

On the way up the mountain

The view
The view

Then we went to Bethesdia – home of 5 of the 12 disciples and a fishing village (just ruins now). This is the traditional spot (on a nearby hill) of the feeding of the 5000. We also checked out Korazim, a well-maintained ruin site that includes a synagogue. We talked about what it would have meant to be a disciple in that time and how they studied and where chosen. John challenged us simply by asking if we wanted to be disciples of Jesus. Good question.

Room in Korazim
Room in Korazim

Next was the Jordan River. We talked about how it has played into the Story. When the Israelites moved into the promised land, they were led by men carrying the Ark of the covenant. The text says they actually got into the river before it was held back and the people walked through. Our lesson was sometimes we need to move forward in faith (get our feet wet) before God will show up. We then got in the river which was a relief on such a hot day. We were really challenged in our beliefs about baptism (such a divisive issue anyway) and how the Jews would have probably viewed it. We can talk about that later if you want.

Cooling off in the Jordan
Cooling off in the Jordan

On to the Sea of Galilee. We saw two spots 1) Taghba springs, where Jesus told Peter, James and John to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they made the large haul – he then told them to follow him 2) the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount.

There’s so much taught by John I’m trying to retain just a percentage of it. Plus I’m sleepy. I can tell more when I’m back. Tomorrow – to Nazareth.

Day Three

Bethlehem to a cave to Jericho to the Sea of Galilee

Today we left Palestine to go to the Sea of Galilee. On the way we stopped at a typical cave where shepherds would be able to bring their sheep in at night. John (who has written his master’s thesis on how Jesus’ birth would have gone down) gave his “sorry to ruin Christmas for you, but pretty much everything you think about it is wrong” teaching. I had heard it before and it is very interesting. I can share it with you if you ever want to hear it. The punchline is basically Jesus was born into a filthy place for you.

Shepard Cave
Shepherd Cave

sheep pen with settlement in backgroundSheep pen with settlement in background

After walking back to the car past an illegal Israeli settlement, we drove to another strenuous hike – the Jericho road at 1PM with over 100 degree heat. It was quite a sweet walk. This is a road that Jesus would have definitely been on and where the parable of the good Samaritan took place. It was very interesting to see how narrow the road was (couple of feet wide in some places with steep 100 foot drops), so that the folks who passed the wounded man by would have really had to step around him.

jericho road
Jericho road – it’s that little path down there

We made our way north to Jericho. The original city (founded c. 9000 BC – oldest city on earth) the Israelites marched around is there as an archaeological dig. We of course marched around it. No trumpets, though. We also were able to see the spring that Elisha threw salt in to make clean. The spring is still pumping out nice cool water – we got to dip our feet into it after the over 100 degree day.

After that, north to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. We’re in a nice hotel run by German Arabs. That sounds kind of funny.

Sea of Galilee

Tomorrow we should be able to go for a swim and who knows what else. John doesn’t tell us till we get there.

Day Two

En Gedi to Qumran to a Dead sea beach

Today we hiked quite a bit and most of it was strenuous (some of our group couldn’t do it), so I loved it. We started off at En Gedi, an oasis in the wilderness near the Dead Sea and the place where David cut off Saul’s robe corner. It is a beautiful spot with little waterfalls and pools to wade in and it’s in the middle of the desert. The idea of Living Water is well illustrated here. Views from the top of the mountain were stunning.

En Gedi
En Gedi

En Gedi

From there we went to Qumran, site of the dead sea scrolls discovery. We talked about the Essenes and how they lived and what they did to preserve the Text. Another hike took us to a mountain height that looked down on a large wadi – dry river bed.


After that was a public beach access to the Dead Sea and we all took a dip and rubbed ourselves with Dead Sea mud. Supposed to be restorative and good for the skin. I thought it was pretty nasty. The water is so salty it effects water density and you float really easily. Just don’t put your face in it.

Our evening meal was at Abu Ali’s house – our driver that has accepted John as a brother. They are Muslim and John wants to continue to get to know him and show him the love of Christ. Like most Eastern culture, hospitality is way more important than what we know. They gave us a couple of salads, a huge main dish of rice, potatoes, cauliflower and chicken, yogurt from their goats, watermelon, two desserts, mint tea and coffee. It was fantastic and we all ate till we were stuffed. The family (there are 11 kids plus daughters-in-law and their kids) didn’t eat at all except for Abu Ali. They just served. Took about 3 hours and was a real treat.

Feast time!

Tomorrow we’re off to the Galilee.

Day One

Newark to Tel Aviv to Bethlehem

Our flight was shorter than expected – about 10 hours. Unfortunately I couldn’t sleep a wink, so I ended up watching 4 movies. It’s interesting that I’ve been awake for about 30 hours and I’m not really tired right now. I was about 5 hours ago, but seem to have gotten a second wind.

We hit the ground running. Directly from the airport our driver (Abu Ali – John has used him for 10 years – we are eating at his house tomorrow!) took us to our first stop, Zo’rah – the place were Sampson was from. Talked a little about Judges, how being out of community and relying on your own strength is bad for you and how God can redeem and use folks who mess up a whole lot. Also talked some general geography talk.

Then we hiked to a place that overlooked the valley of Elah – where David fought Goliath. We could see where it is thought the Israelites were on one hill and the Philistines on an opposite one with the valley in between. Then we went down into the valley of Elah in the river bed (dry in the summer) where David would have picked up his stones – pretty cool!

Elah Valley
Valley of Elah

Wadi - David's stones
Wadi – David’s stones

Then it was on to Adulam where there are a number of caves in the ground. There is one where it is thought David and his mighty men hid – it was quite cool (literally and figuratively) to crawl around in some of the other caves as well.

David's Cave
David’s Cave

Then a nice buffet at our hotel where the owners have known John for 10 years. After that, we just wandered around downtown Bethlehem for about an hour or so. I answered a trivia question correctly in the van, so John gave me 20 shekels for ice cream. Tasty.

Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity

Tomorrow – the Dead Sea among other things.

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

So I leave tomorrow for Israel. John says it’s a 5-movie flight (he measures flights in the number of movies you can watch). At 11 hours, as long as each movie is 2.2 hours long, that’s doable. Yeech.

Doesn’t look too far, does it?