Revisiting Israel - Day Four (Part One)
Our first visit today was a trip to the Golan Heights. When they call them heights, they are not kidding. The bus took us up the side of a mountain with some sharp corners and a cliff drop off guarded only by an electric military fence. The fence is equipped with sensors, so any time it is touched or there is any activity nearby the military are alerted. Nice to know if you got stuck help would be forthcoming. But I seriously doubt that such a fence could keep a tour bus from falling to the rocks below, should our driver have missed a turn. Fortunately, Ishmael was a good driver! We stopped at a plateau of the Golan Heights and walked to a viewing area. The view was hazy but still beautiful closer in. We saw some conies on the rocks and in among the trees. They are adorable – as you can see here. Reminded me of the prairie dogs we saw in South Dakota though bigger. Someone said they were related to the elephant family, but they sure are smaller in comparison!
Our next stop took us past the Decapolis cities where we ate lunch the day before. The terrain is very green, grassy yet rocky with shrubs and farms and trees of various kinds. As we left the Jordan Valley, we entered the Valley of Jezreel near the opposite end from Megiddo where we were the other day and entered the town of Bet She’an (Biblical Beth Shan) on our way to Gideon Springs.
Gideon Springs showed us a cave and a stream where they believe Gideon took his remaining 10,000 men and had them drink from the spring, for God to show Gideon which men to keep in his army and which to let go. Only 300 remained with which God helped Gideon defeat their enemies. (See Judges 7)
On the road again, we passed Mt. Gilboa, much closer than before, on our way to Bet She’an where there were two archaeological excavations.
One was quite large – at one time a bustling Roman retirement community complete with amphitheater, baths, municipal building, thoroughfare, shopping mall, and houses.
You can see where the city leaders chose to renovate by paving these massive streets of intricate mosaic tile designs, covering them over with blue marble.
Large columns lined the streets, which were once covered with roofs to keep prospective shoppers protected from sun and rain – not unlike our indoor shopping malls today.
Above this ruin on the top of the hill is another Tel – an ancient city – the Tel of Bet She’an at the time of David.
This is the place in 1 Samuel 31 where the Philistines took the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and two of Saul’s other sons after killing them on Mt. Gilboa and hung them on the walls of Beth Shan. This was the site I wanted to see, but it was a long climb to the top and our guide only gave us 20 minutes. We walked fast. It was an exhausting climb but worth it. (It took 30 minutes rather than 20 to get back to our group, but our guide didn’t complain.)
The Tel was broken into numerous rooms. I soaked in the atmosphere, the very rock and sand the people of David’s day may have touched. The view was fantastic and it put the story in a perspective I didn’t have before. My only confusion, which I need to research more, is whether this Israelite city was occupied by Philistines at the time they killed Saul and Jonathan or if the people of Bet She’an were merely Philistine sympathizers with no loyalty to their own king.
The Tel says it was an Israelite settlement, which was apparently true. But the book of Judges tells us that the Israelites weren’t able to drive the Canaanites out of Beth Shan because they were determined to stay there. Maybe they still had a foothold all those years later during Saul’s reign. It may be impossible to know for sure. (This last picture is a view from the top of that Tel.)
I paid for that climb for a few days afterward with severely aching muscles, but to me this was one of the highlights of the trip. I thought this Tel on the hill from Israelite days was far more interesting than the one from Roman times. But that may have to do with my love of the Old Testament. The Roman settlement was pretty cool, if nothing more than for its size! It was amazing to find so much intact from one era.
Our next stop was Qumran and the Dead Sea and then Masada. Too much to post for one day. Until tomorrow…Shalom