Our 11 Days Protestant pilgrimage crosses Israel north to south and west to east. It includes all of the major sites and places that are mentioned in the New Testament, the important Old Testament sites as well as a few must-seen-while-around sites and other off the beaten track yet highly significant biblical sites.
Arrival, The Mediterranean coast
After reception at Ben-Gurion airport we will head to beautiful ancient Jaffa. Jaffa was the port city of Jerusalem; the raw materials for Solomon’s Temple were brought to Jerusalem from Tyre via this port. It is where Peter witnessed the revelation that started a new era by separating Christianity from early Judaism on the roof of the house of Simon the Tanner and where it first left the borders of the Holy Land, with Peter’s departure to Rome.
Caesarea was the Roman capital of the Holy Land. In the theater of the Roman city a seat with the inscription of the name ‘Pontius Pilate’ was discovered by archeologists. Caesarea is known for being the city where the first gentile was baptized to Christianity, and from where Paul sailed to Rome.
From Caesarea we will continue north to Acre, the capital of the Crusader kingdom and a UNESCO recognized world heritage site. Acre is actually two cities in one- the Muslim Othman city with the impressive Al-Jazar Mosque and the underground remnants of the crusader city and its Knight’s Halls. After visiting Acre we will make our way to the hotel in Haifa.
Haifa and Jezreel Valley- the valley of the Old Testament
Haifa, the 3rd biggest city in Israel is where we will wake up and spend the morning starting at Stella Maris, a magnificent lookout over Haifa Bay that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Bahai Gardens in Haifa are the world center of the Bahai religion and a giant masterpiece of gardening; we will not leave Haifa before viewing it on our way to the Muchraka at the top of Mt. Carmel where the Alter of the prophet Elijah stood.
Looking over the notorious Armageddon Valley that knew countless decisive battles throughout the years and being a hill that contains 30 different cities that were built each one above the other’s ruins and were all destroyed at the past 4,000 years, Tel-Megiddo or Armageddon is where the book of revelations foresights the final struggle and will be our next stop.
From the top of Mt. Tabor the scenery of the valley where the acts of the judges Debora and Barak took place is well seen. Another important site mentioned in the book of Judges is the cave of Ein Harod Spring, where Gideon the judge assembled his warriors and used a unique test to pick just 300 of them to attack and beat the army of dozens of thousands Amorites that threatened the tribes of Israel. All of the above are within the schedule for the second day before arriving to Nazareth for overnight.
Nazareth and its surroundings
In the vivid museum of Nazareth Village the ancient ways of life become 3D. Here you will visit a family house as it was at the time of Christ, pick herbs that are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures and talk to both a shepherd and a carpenter who still work in traditional methods. Nazareth Village is considered to be the closest similarity to being alive in the times of the Bible. We will then continue to the Old City itself, starting from the Church of St. Gabriel. It is from the spring that bursts in the crypt of this church that the people of ancient Nazareth, including the family of the Lord, drew their water. The alleys will lead us through the colorful market to the Church of Annunciation. During the reconstruction of the church in the 1950’s archeologists discovered the remnants of 1st century AD Nazareth that today can be seen around it. In the center of the ancient village lays a house that for the past 1700 years is believed to be the house of Mary and Joseph and the place where Mary was announced.
Just like Jesus himself we will begin our way from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee making a stop at Cana. In the crypt of the Wedding Church we will see the huge ancient stone jars, similar to those that contained the water that Jesus transformed into wine during a wedding in his first miracle that took place in Cana.
Close by to Cana there are ruins of a city that used to be the Roman capital of the region, Sepphoris. Here is where ancient Judaism was redefined by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and the book that he edited- the Mishna, was sealed and signed. From Sepphoris we will move on to Beit-Shearim, where for many centuries Jews from all over the world came to be buried, and most of whom never saw the land alive. This unique ancient necropolis is a must visit while in the region.
From Beit-Shearim we will drive to Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee
On the 4th day we will travel throughout the region where Jesus started his ministry.
From Tiberias we will drive to Capernaum, ‘The Town of Jesus’ and the birth town of Peter. We will visit what tradition and archeology recognizes as both the house of Peter as well as a monumental byzantine synagogue. From Capernaum we will ascend to the Mt.of Beatitudes that watches over the entire region and captures the spiritual atmosphere of the Sermon on the Mount. Continue to the remnants of Chorazin, the flourishing town that rejected Jesus and was condemned by him. Tabgha, where the miracle of multiplication occurred will be our last stop before boarding a traditional cruise on the lake itself.
After lunch, we will visit Magdala, an important town in the time of Christ and where Mary Magdalene came from. There we can visit one of the oldest synagogues in the world, also known as the synagogue that Jesus most probably preached in.
The Biblical North
Our first stop today will be the biblical city of Hazor, one of the cities built by King Solomon that holds remnants of more than 4,000 years old. From there we will continue north; Dan was the major northern city of the Kingdom of Israel, where the sinful King Jeroboam built an altar that is still seen there today. Our next stop will be Caesarea Philipei , just under Mt. Hermon where Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was. The New Testament records that Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then blessed Simon, saying: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16-19). Our next stop will be the beautiful Golan Heights with an impressive lookout from Mt. Bental to the surrounding area. Continuing our trip in the Golan Heights, we will visit the Talmudic Village of Kazrin that recreates the life in the ruins of a genuine ancient village.
If time allows we will stop in Kursi, on our return to Tiberias, where a Byzantine monastery is present to commemorate the miracle in which Jesus removed devils from the possessed into a herd of swines, making them run to the water of The Sea of Galilee.
Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea
According to the Bible, The Jordan River is a place of deep changes. When the people of Israel crossed it they had become from nomads to settlers, when Elijah crossed it he ascended to heaven, and of course this is where Jesus was baptized by John and started the gospel, and this is where we will start the day. Later, we head to Beit-She’an, the city which the body of King Saul was hung on its wall and a flourishing capital of the north in Roman times. Beit-She’an is the perfect place to see the glory and mightiness of the Roman culture that was the spiritual atmosphere in which Christianity was shaped.
In Jericho, the lowest and most ancient city in the world we will see the bricks that witnessed the people of Israel entering the Holy Land, touch the waters of Prophet Elisha’s Spring and climb the cable car to the Mt. of Temptation of Christ. Our next stop will be Qumran, remnants of a small farm that was home to the famous Essenes. We will then drive to Masada, the desert fortress standing on a 550 meters high cliff overlooking the Dead Sea. We will not miss a chance to float in the saltiest lake of the world before heading to Jerusalem.
Welcome to Jerusalem and Bethlehem!
The first day in Jerusalem will start with the traditional welcome ceremony to the Holy City at the top of the Mount of Olives with the magnificent panoramic view over the city walls and the Temple. Mt. of Olives is the mountain of redemption for all three monotheistic religions. We will first visit The Church of Ascension. A few steps away stands The Church of Pater Noster, where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. Descending towards the Old City itself we will enter the tear shaped church of Dominus Flevit, where Jesus witnessed the great beauty of the city and shed tears for he knew it is condemned to be destroyed. Outside the church we will see a genuine 1st AD Jewish burial cave with the ossuaries that were found in it. The name Gethsemane derives from the Hebrew and Aramaic word for olive-press; the ancient olive trees that Jesus prayed amidst and that gave their name to the mountain are still there. We will visit the olive trees and The Church of Agony that is dedicated to Jesus’ prayer and capture by Judas and the roman soldiers.
From Gethsemane we will enter The City of David, where the first houses of Jerusalem were built more than 3,800 years ago. Archeologists discovered parts of the city from the times of the Kings including a 2,800 years old huge water tunnel. When Jesus arrived to Jerusalem he first came, like all Jewish pilgrims, to the gathering place in the Pool of Siloam, and made another miracle by making a blind man see again. Just like the pilgrims back then we will ascend by the recently uncovered underground main street of biblical Jerusalem. Meeting sunlight again just under the gigantic Western Wall of the temple is a remarkable experience. Picturing the entrance to the Temple and its surroundings by the memories of 4,000 years that are kept in the bricks laid in the Davidson Archeological Park is unforgettable. From there we will continue to the last remnant of the Jewish Temple and the holiest place for Judaism – The Wailing Wall, named after the tears shed on its huge bricks by Jews morning the destruction of their Temple at the last two millenniums.
From there our bus will take us to Bethlehem, where sights and landscapes are still much like they were 2,000 years ago. Just east of Bethlehem at the town of Beit-Sahur, at the tip of the Judean Desert, we find The Church of Admiration of the Shepherds. The highlight of our visit to Bethlehem will be of course the 1700 year old Church of Nativity, in the birth town of Jesus Christ. From Bethlehem and before returning to Jerusalem we will drive to the Ha’Ela Valley, where young King David fought and beat Goliath. After this very busy and exciting day, we will find some rest in our hotel in Jerusalem.
Antiquities of Judea and Samaria and modern Jerusalem
Behind the Holy city lays the smallest desert in the world. On the morning of the 8th day we will drive to the Khan of the Good Samaritan that was the inspiration for the famous parable of Jesus. A minute drive from there lays one of the oldest monasteries in the world: during the 5th century a person named Avtimus looked for some peace and quiet near Jerusalem and found it in the Judean Desert. The impressive remnants of his doings can still be seen today. We will then continue to Samaria to visit Shiloh, the first capital of the tribes of Israel, where Joshua set the Tabernacle and where it stayed for 200 years until the founding of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon.
Returning to Jerusalem, we will visit the Israel Museum. The enormous Model of Ancient Jerusalem brings to life how the city used to look like when Jesus roamed in it. The Shrine of the Book holds the most important discovery of the 20th century -the Dead Sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls are parchments that were written by the ancient sect of the Essenes and contain the earliest versions of the Old Testament known to us, as well as other scriptures that describe their unique way of life. From the museum we will continue to the picturesque village of Ein Karem amidst the mountains of Jerusalem on the outskirts of the modern city. Ein Karem is the City of Judea, home of Elizabeth and Zacharias and the place where John the Baptist was born. After walking in the beautiful village alleys and before returning to our hotel, we will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Old city of Jerusalem
Early in the morning we will ascend The Temple Mount, where for a period of 1,000 years stood the first and second temple. The waters of Bethesda (Aramaic for ‘house of mercy’) served for more than a thousand years as a health resort; it is there where Jesus performed a miracle and made a crippled man walk. The Via Dolorosa will lead us to The Holy Sepulcher Church.
After lunch continuing to Mt. Zion, on the hillside which the first Christians called home, Mt. Zion. We will visit the Church of St. Peter Ingallicantu (cock’s crow) that stands above the house of the high priest Caiaphas. It was here that Jesus’ prophecy to Peter, that he will deny him three times before the rooster crows twice, was fulfilled. Within a walking distance we find the Room of the Last Supper, and The Tomb of King David just under it. This 900 years old chapel is, according to tradition, the place where both the Last Supper and the Pentecost took place. Entering the Old City back through Zion Gate, we will proceed to visit the Wailing Wall tunnels, underground tunnels dug by archeologists sweeping through time and reaching the foundations of the ancient wall. Then we will return for our last night at the Jerusalem hotel.
Garden Tomb and the Negev
On the final day in Jerusalem our pilgrimage rises to its peak. A few steps outside the Old City we reach The Garden Tomb, also known as Gordon’s Calvary. In the 1840’s local Christians started to notice a skull shaped cliff just outside the Old City. Archeological examinations revealed a garden with 1st century AD Jewish burial caves, very similar to what the scriptures describe. After a service in The Garden Tomb, we will head south. During the way to The Negev district we will stop at Emmaus, where Jesus was first seen after the resurrection.
Be’er Sheva is the capital of the Negev district. In the times of the bible it also was an important city, started when Abraham and Isaac dwelt there. Today Ancient Be’er–Sheva is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and the best kept city from the times of the Old Testament in Israel. From Be’er Sheva we will drive further south to Tel-Ovdat. The Nabataeans were Nomads that came from the Arab peninsula and based themselves as masters of desert trade; they are mostly known for their famous capital carved inside rock – Petra. Ovdat was their important city in the Negev where a few of the oldest churches in the world, built when the Nabataeans accepted Christianity in the Byzantine era, were found. We will spend the last night either in Be’er -Sheva or Arad.
Tel Arad and departure
After having the last breakfast in Israel we will drive to Tel-Arad. Arad is one of the most ancient cities in Israel, going back as far as 4,500 years. It is also the first city that was attacked by the people of Israel, and later on was an important city in the Kingdom of Judea border. The great desert view of the valley below will be a perfect background for your farewell before heading to the airport.