Jericho, Nazareth and Tiberias
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
and the walls came a' tumblin' down.
Visiting Tell es-Sultan, one really can see what might have been the legendary walls of Jericho described in Joshua 6, the first battle fought by the Israelites in the land of Canaan. Strata 10,000 years old have been found in this major archaeological dig in the West Bank city of Jericho, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the lowest at 850 feet below sea level. However, first up this morning was another significant archaeological site located adjacent to our hotel, Hashim’s Palace, the winter palace of the caliph during the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750CE). Destroyed by an earthquake in 749CE, excavations have revealed beautiful mosaics and stone work still intact. During our visit, we were greeted with “practice security” by young Palestinian men in training to protect Palestinian Authority officials in site visits. It was a bit unsettling to find ourselves surrounded by men dressed in dark clothing and sunglasses (in two waves, no less!) until their purpose was explained to us!
Before leaving Jericho, we took a cable car up to the Mount of the Temptation, traditional site of the temptation of Jesus by the devil as recorded in Matthew and Luke, chapter 4 (in both). It is easy to imagine Jesus being offered possession of the kingdoms of the world from this high vantage point, even if they weren’t the devil’s to give! A spectacular orthodox monastery is built into the side of the mountain. While we did not visit the monastery (it takes about 30 minutes to climb up a steep flight of stairs from the cable car landing), we did have a magnificent view of Jericho and the Jordan Valley.
Boarding the bus to leave Jericho, we drove north along the Jordan River to Bet She’an, another extraordinary excavation site dating from the 5th millennium BCE when it was an Egyptian site of occupation in Canaan. A mixture of Hellenistic and Roman architectural styles, with a Greek amphitheater located near a Roman coliseum, baths and a gymnasium, there are lovely mosaics, colonnades, and stone work to explore. In biblical times, the body of Saul and his sons were displayed on the walls of Bet She'an after being killed by the Philistines (I Samuel 31). This site was also virtually destroyed by the earthquake of 749CE.
Leaving Palestinian territory, our next stop was Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home. Our destination was the Church (or basilica) of the Annunciation, considered to be the place where the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she would bear a son and name him Jesus (Luke 1). In stark contrast to many of the sacred Christian sites we have visited, this is a modern building dating from the 1960’s built on the grotto where the annunciation was said to have occurred. Nearby is St. Joseph’s Church containing the grotto where the human father of Jesus practiced his carpentry trade.
Finally, we ended the day at our hotel in Tiberias, on the shores of Lake Galilee. We were thrilled to have Will and Erin Brown join us for dinner. Will is a 2011 YDS graduate, and he and Erin are living in Nazareth for a year, Will teaches at a small seminary there while Erin teaches school.
We’ll have a busy day tomorrow exploring this region of the Galilee where Jesus carried out much of his earthly ministry, including a visit to Capernaum and a boat ride on the lake.
Elaine Ellis Thomas
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1) - St. Joseph's Church, Nazareth
Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Jericho traffic jam