“Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה) – “Happy New Year” in Hebrew
Happy New Year from Israel and the city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee! I ended up staying up to see the new year last night standing by the shore on the Sea of Galilee. It was quiet and peaceful with the sound of parties way off in the distance. Not a bad way to start off 2020.
This morning I woke up at 6:30am after a good night’s sleep to a beautiful morning on the Sea of Galilee. We had breakfast at the hotel and then boarded the bus for a ride to the northernmost parts of Israel. Along the way we had some beautiful views of the Sea of Galilee while Murad talked to us about archeology, the naming of historical periods, and a little bit about the history of Israel and the surrounding nations.
After about 45 minutes we arrived at Tel Hazor, which is the largest archaeological site in Israel. It is approximately 180 to 225 acres, but only the top 40 acres of the tell have been excavated.
Tel Hazor is located in the Valley of Huleh and was first occupied in approximately 2,800 BC. The earliest reference to Hazor dates to the late 19th or 18th century BC in the Egyptian Execration Texts. The next historical references, from the Mari archive (17th century BC), show that Hazor was already a city of regional prominence at the time (more on this below).
The Bible first introduces Hazor related to Israel’s conquest of Canaan. In Joshua 11, Jabin, the king of Hazor, called upon other Canaanite kings to meet Joshua and the Israelite troops for battle near the waters of Merom (Josh 11:7). Joshua 11:10 refers to Hazor as “The head of all those kingdoms.” The Israelites defeated the Canaanites, killed Jabin, and burned the city to the ground. In Judges 4, Hazor is under the leadership of Jabin king of Canaan (Judg 4:2; 17).
Hazor became an important Israelite city during Solomon’s reign, as Solomon built up garrison cities and strategic bases. Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer were the most important of these cities (1 Kgs 9:15). The last historical reference to Hazor indicates that the city fell to Assyria in 732 bc, along with other cities in the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kgs 15:29).
When we first arrived in Hazor, Murad took us to a place with a beautiful view of the Valley of Huleh with the Northern Galilee mountains in the distance. He told us that just past these mountains is the country of Lebanon. He said that the city of Hazor gained prominence from its strategic location and proximity to the main route to Mesopotamia (note the description from Joshua above). During the peak of the Canaanite period it possibly had as many as 20,000 inhabitants.
Some of the highlights of our tour of Tel Hazor included:
*A main gate from the time of Solomon (10th century BC)
*A palace from Canaanite period (14th to 13th century BC)
*A water system from the time of Ahab (9th century BC) similar to the one we saw in Megiddo yesterday.
*A citadel in the upper section of the site that is from the 11th century BC.
*A tower from the time of Ahab (9th century BC) that is above the citadel (upper right)
During the tour Murad also told us about 18 texts that were discovered in Hazor that contained laws similar to laws of Hammurabi.
As we left the site on the bus, Murad explained how different levels or strata are dated in a tell. One way is through analyzing each strata relative to the other, and the second way is through analyzing shards of pottery. Pottery shards are examined to ascertain the material, method of making, etc. which helps determine what time period it belongs to.
Our next stop was at Tel Dan at the foot of Mt. Hermon. Dan is also a very important archeological site, and this stop was definitely the highlight of my day. Dan is noted for being the first place where the name of David was found in 1993 in an inscription that reads “King of Israel, King of the House of David”
Dan is first mentioned in the Bible in Gen 14. Abraham is pursuing Chedorlaomer king of Elam, who had abducted his nephew Lot, when they looted Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham caught up with Chedorlaomer at Dan (Gen 14:14). According to Judges 18:29, Dan was called Laish (or Leshem) prior to Israel’s conquest of Canaan, so the use of the place-name “Dan” in Gen 14 likely reflects a later updating of the text to use the Israelite name instead of the Canaanite name for the site.
The tribe of Dan, originally given territory on the southern coast, migrated there when they could not defeat Philistine coastal inhabitants (Josh 19:40– 48). A group of Danites went north to Laish and destroyed it (Judg 18:27). They renamed Laish “Dan” after their patriarch.
Dan was also the location of a large religious complex, built by Jeroboam during the Divided Monarchy (1 Kgs 12:26–33). Jeroboam built a large altar and temple complex at Dan (and at Bethel; see 1 Kgs 12:29) in an effort to stop Israelites from going to Jerusalem to worship. He set up a golden calf in the shrine and proclaimed, “Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt” (1 Kgs 12:28).
During the eighth century BC, Dan traded hands several times between the Israelites and the Arameans. Dan was briefly captured by Ben-Hadad I—king of the Arameans of Damascus in the end of the 9th century BC—when he was bribed by Judah to break his alliance with Israel (1 Kgs 15:20; 2 Chr 16:4). By the reign of Ahab (ca. 874–850), Dan was once again under Israelite control. Ahab defeated Ben-Hadad (possibly his son Ben-Hadad II) and Ben-Hadad offered to give back “the cities which my father took from your father” (1 Kgs 20:34). This included Dan and was an offer Ahab agreed to. Ahab was condemned for accepting this concession instead of killing Ben-Hadad, as the Lord had ordered him to do (1 Kgs 20:42). Ahab built a huge wall around Dan, measuring 13 feet thick and 50 feet tall. Dan was recaptured by the Arameans under Hazael in the late ninth or early eighth century, but the Syrians would only control it for a short time. When Syria was threatened by Assyria on its eastern border during the early seventh century, the Israelites under Jeroboam II took the opportunity to recapture Dan.
Upon arrival at Tel Dan, we could easily see part of Mt. Hermon from the parking lot. Mt. Hermon is in the Golan Heights and consists of several mountains that reach a height of 9,232 ft above sea level. The snow from the top of Mt. Hermon supplies the 4 tributaries to the Jordan River. The largest of these tributaries is Dan Springs, which was the first thing that we saw on our walk to the city. This stream moves very fast and supplies 1/3 of the water to the Jordan River.
Murad led us on a walk to Dan that wandered back and forth across this stream and through a National Park. At Tel Dan, we were first able to see the restored outer wall and city gate.
We then climbed up into the ruins through the gate and made our way to the remains of Jeroboam’s temple that is mentioned above from 1 Kgs 12. This was the actual site where Jeroboam placed his golden calf for the people to worship. Pretty incredible. From there we went to a lookout point where we could clearly see the border between Israel and Lebanon.
After coming back down to the city walls, we walked around to see “Abraham’s Gate.” This is a mud brick gate discovered in the 1980s that is remarkably intact. It is from the 18th century BC, which would have been the time Abraham. It is possible / likely that when Abraham pursued Chedorlaomer to Dan / Laish to rescue Lot that he entered the city through this gate!! I was BLOWN AWAY by this and could have stayed for hours. I was in awe. There has been no restoration on this site. It is exactly as it was discovered, and it is awesome! Probably the oldest gate in the world.
Even though they have been predicting rain ever since we arrived in Israel, we had our first sprinkles that turned into a light rain while at Abraham’s Gate. We’ve been quite fortunate with the weather so far, but it is showing rain for the next several days.
Before going to our next site, we stopped at a Lebanese Restaurant right at the border. I enjoyed some chicken Shawarma, which was fairly tasty. My dad tried some type of fried vegetable falafel, which looked kind of iffy. It didn’t seem like he enjoyed it very much.
Our next stop was Caesarea Philippi, which was right next door to the restaurant. The city was originally built by Herod Philip, the second son of Herod the Great at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. It was adjacent to a spring, grotto, and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan.
Pan had the face of human and the ears, beard, and body of goat. He was the god of forests. We toured the shrine to Pan and learned a little about the history from Murad. Part of the shrine consisted of an altar cut into the mountain.
The real significance of Caesarea Philippi is with Peter’s confession. It is mentioned in both Matthew and Mark as the setting for a conversation in which Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—to which Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:13–20; Mark 8:27–30). Luke records a similar conversation but does not mention Caesarea Philippi (Luke 9:18–22). Jesus comment about the “rock” could possibly have been inspired by the giant rock mountain face at the temple of Pan.
Before leaving Caesarea Philippi, we crossed the street and took a short walk to see the recently uncovered remains of Herod Agrippa II’s palace. Agrippa II was only the second Herod to also be called king (after Herod the Great). He also tried Paul in Caesarea Maritima in Acts 25. and 26. This palace was awesome and huge! Unfortunately, just as we were leaving I tried to take some steps down into the ruins and fell and dislocated my ring finger.
The sight of my mangled finger sent me into shock and I almost passed out several times. A young man named Josh helped me pop my finger back into place, and then a very nice former nurse instructed to sit down and lower my head until the dizziness and lightheadedness from the shock wore off. I also got a lot of help from my dad, Claudean, and others who got my finger cleaned up and bandaged. All told, this could have been a lot worse. My finger is swollen and really sore, but we don’t think anything is broken.
Our final stop of the day was at a lookout up on the Golan Heights. This is a non-biblical site but is a very important part of recent history between Israel, Syria, and Egypt. At the lookout, Ami from the other bus told us about Israel occupying the Golan Heights in 1967 and taking it from Syria, and then how Syria and Egypt attacked Israel in 1973 on Yom Kippur in an attempt to take it back. Ami was a reserve soldier in the Israeli Army during this war. He was a tank driver and commander. He talked to us about the terrible experiences from that war and about losing one of his men.
After leaving the Golan Heights, we came back to the same hotel in Tiberias for the night. Dinner was again at the hotel buffet. I got to talk to my girls for a few minutes again tonight and it was good to hear their voices. It is now just after 9:45pm as I type this in the hotel lobby while I listen to a local musician perform. I don’t understand any of the words to the songs but am really enjoying it. PSA – dislocating a finger makes typing more difficult.
Tomorrow we begin to focus on the ministry of Jesus around Galilee, and I can’t wait!