The day after Christmas 2018, the Anderson family – Bob, Marsha and Rebekah – of Green Bank, traveled to Israel for a special trip into the past.
Bob gave a presentation about the trip at the Durbin Lions Club meeting last Tuesday.
For the 10-day trip, the Andersons were part of a group of 28 who visited ancient cities and viewed artifacts connected to the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The journey began in the city of Caesarea which was built by Herod the Great. From there the group traveled to Mount Carmel, Haifa and on to Megiddo.
“The interesting thing about Megiddo is that you look out and you can see this huge fertile valley and the plains of Megiddo,” Bob said. “In Hebrew, mountain is either ‘Tel’ or ‘Ar’ and so this mountain is Armegiddo and there are the plains of Armegiddo [Greek name: Armageddon] where the final battle of Revelation takes place. It is just an absolutely beautiful valley.”
Megiddo is one of many places where excavations were taking place, giving the travelers more insight into the ancient cities, now buried under the sand, rock and dirt.
“I can’t remember, but I think at Jericho there were twenty-five layers of civilization,” Bob said. “This one [Megiddo] was probably about the same – where it would be destroyed or razed and then another city or fortress was built on top of it.”
The next city on the journey was Nazareth where the group visited the Church of the Annunciation.
“It was a beautiful church,” Bob said. “This church is built over what is supposedly Mary and her parents’ house. When you look inside, there’s an altar in there. How much of this is original? – it’s hard to say. A couple of us asked our tour guide, ‘how sure are you that this is their house?’ He said, ‘this one and several others, we are very sure.’ Because, at the time that Mary and Joseph lived there, there were only thirty to fifty families in that place. The early Christian disciples talked to Mary, and she pointed out where they lived and it was preserved through the ages.”
Bob said the guide explained that several of the locations they would visit are historically proven because of the word-of-mouth through the years stating that the location was the site of a significant time in Christ’s life.
From there, the group moved on to Cana of Galilee where Christ was said to have performed his first miracle – turning water into wine. Because the miracle was performed during a wedding, the pastor with the group asked the men if they wanted to renew their vows at the church there.
“Of course, we said, ‘yeah, but we’ve got to ask our wives,’” Bob said, laughing. “I asked Marsh and she said, ‘I guess so.’
Bob explained that Marsha may not have seemed enthusiastic because they have renewed their vows twice since their wedding.
“I guess we’re good for another year,” he said, jokingly.
The group followed the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias and on to Caesarea Philippi. After the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided between Philip and Agrippa. Caesarea Philippi was built by Philip at the foot of Mt. Hermon, where shrines and temples were built for the worship of many gods.
“It was at Caesarea Philippi with all these shrines to these gods that Jesus asked his disciples, ‘who do people say I am?’ And they said, ‘some say you’re a prophet and some say you’re Elijah and some say you’re a reincarnation of Moses,’” Bob continued. “Then Jesus asked the disciples, ‘who do you say I am?’ And Peter said, ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God.’ He told the disciples ‘don’t tell anybody about that yet, I’m not ready for that to be known.’
“When you hear a story like that, it really puts the scripture into context with the setting, and you understand, why He asked this.”
It was also the area of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, and here, again, there is a church built to honor the significance of the area.
Next on the journey was Capernaum, known as the Town of Jesus. In Capernaum, the group visited the ruins of Peter’s house where he and his mother-in-law lived. It was at that house where Christ healed the mother-in-law.
The group then went out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, where Christ walked on water.
To commemorate that event, a church service was held on the boat.
The trip continued to Bethlehem, where they visited the Church of the Nativity.
“We stood in line for an hour and a half to get down and see the site of the Nativity,” Bob said. “This is supposedly where Jesus was born. It was just a little hollow probably no higher than a table, and you had to stoop down to see it.”
They also traveled to the church built where Christ taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. The walls were lined with ornate mosaics with the Lord’s Prayer written in different languages.
From there, the group entered the Garden of Gethsemane and saw both the public and privately-owned sections of the garden. This was the place where Christ prayed the night before he was crucified.
The garden is filled with olive trees and the guide explained that the trees “live forever.”
“He said every five hundred years, the trunk splits and you can count the number of splits and know how old the tree is,” Bob said. “They were thousands of years old.”
The garden was also filled with clover, but unlike most clover, the leaves were speckled with red dots. It is said this only happens to clover in Israel and is symbolic of the blood shed by Christ.
After visiting the Church of the Nations and the eastern part of Judea, the group traveled on to Masada which was one of the last fortresses to fall to the Romans.
Next, although not directly a part of Christ’s path, the group traveled to Qumran which is famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“There was a group of religious monks there at the time, 70 years A.D. and they wrote the Bible on scrolls and then put them in urns back in those caves,” Bob said. “Then, ultimately, [the monks] were wiped out by the Romans, as well. Then in 1948, after Israel became a state, there was a shepherd who was looking for a goat.
“He kept calling the goat, and he didn’t get an answer. So he took rocks and threw them into the caves up on the hillside. He threw a rock and expected to hear it go bouncing around. Instead, he heard, ‘clunk,’ and heard something break.
“So, he scrambles up in there, and there are these vases full of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were removed and are in the Israeli Museum of Antiquity.”
When the shepherd found the scrolls, he could not read them, so he took them to a friend, who could read the original language. The friend read a passage and said, “These are important.” The part he read was from the Book of Isaiah.
The final leg of the trip took the group to the city of Jerusalem. While there, they saw the pools of Bethesda, where Christ healed the lame, and the Via Dolorosa – the path Christ took as he carried his cross to Calvary.
“We have a map that shows the Via Dolorosa, and you can follow the final steps of Jesus,” Bob said.
Along the path are signs showing important sections, including the place where Simon of Cyrene took the cross to carry it for Christ, and a place in the wall where Christ placed his hand to steady himself.
At the end of the path is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built by Catholics on the site where it is believed Christ was crucified.
“There was another area called the Garden Tomb, and it was a very peaceful garden and there was a tomb cut into the rock face,” Bob said. “To see the tomb, you go in and there’s an antechamber, a hallway and then to the right, there was another little pathway. There were two places where you could put people – two stone beds. You couldn’t take pictures inside but we certainly all went in there and saw it.”
While the trip lasted only 10 days, the experience and memories will last a lifetime.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org