Published: February 24th 2011February 24th 2011
It was another beautiful morning in Galilee. We began our day with a drive to Bet She’an. Bet She’an was the capital of the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a confederation of ten Gentile cities around the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. At one time, Bet She’an was a fortified city built on a tel, but by the time of the Roman Occupation of Israel, the population had out grown the original city walls. At the height of its inhabitation, Bet She’an was a beautiful city laid out on the Roman grid pattern with the places of worship and government at the heart of the city and residences built around this center.
On the tel was an acropolis, a temple devoted to the worship of the Romans’ pagan gods. There were many other temples and decorative fountains in the center of the city. These were built of limestone and marble, and they were decorated with extravagant mosaics. There was a huge open air market where every day goods were sold, and a sigma, the Roman version of a shopping mall, where the elite went to purchase their luxuries. And of, course there were bath houses, as well as a
theatre and ampitheatre for entertainment. Around this were the homes of the common folk, and these were built of the local basalt. Surrounding the whole of the city was a fortified wall. Bet She’an fell to ruin in the Byzantine era. In 749 C.E., the city was destroyed by a cataclysmic earthquake. We got to do some exploring here, and the archeology buffs amongst us really enjoyed wandering around Bet She’an where the excavations of the city are ongoing.
After Bet She’an, we began driving south following the path of the Yarden. We entered the Judean Desert. It is much warmer here than it is in the Galilee. Spring was just beginning in Galilee, but here it was well advanced. It is amazing to see that, even in this time of drought, the desert is blooming. We saw so many orchards and vineyards. It was just incredible, and such a beautiful sight. The Yarden River is the border between Israel and the kingdom of Jordan. It was a little hazy today as there was some dust in the air, but even so, we could see across the river and into Jordan. We also saw Mount Gilboa as we continued
Our guide seems pretty knowledgable about ongoing archeological and restoration matters, and today, we were able to greatly benefit from his knowledge. There is a site just recently opened that allowed us to visit the site of the ancient crossing of the Yarden River. It was here that Yehoshua ben Nun (Joshua) led the Children of Israel across the Yarden and into the Promised Land. Eliyahu (Elijah) is also greatly associated with this place as it was here that he crossed the Yarden and was carried away in a chariot of fire. And of course, it was here that Y-shua came to be immersed by Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist).
After the Yarden River crossing, we continued our journey south through the Wilderness of Yeriho (Jericho). On a high hill, overlooking the desert, we could see the modern city of Yeriho. Again, the haze obscured things somewhat, but we could still see a great distance. From here, we began our ascent into Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). We climbed slowly out of the Judean Desert approaching the City. Soon we could see the Mount of Olives in the distance. We approached the City via the tunnel that runs under
the Mount of Olives. From the moment we entered the tunnel, we were craning our heads in preparation for our first view of the City. Exiting the tunnel, you leave a great darkness and are brought into great light.
What can be said about seeing Yerushalayim for the first time? There are no words to describe the feeling that bursts upon you from the very first moment. It is something that you must experience for yourself to truly understand.
We drove a little further on to Mount Scopus, one of the three peaks of the Mount of Olives. Standing there, we could see the City so clearly. We said the bracha (blessing), the Shehecheyanu, and drank a glass of sweet wine to savor the moment.
It was a very full day for all of us, and we are glad to be here in Yerushalayim.
Just a quick note…internet access here is scarce unless you feel like paying for it, and it can be very expensive. Also, Shabbat begins tomorrow at sunset. So, it may be several days before you get an update. I promise to fill you in on everything at the earliest opportunity, but please understand,
it may take awhile.
Shalom Alechem from Yerushalayim