Day 3: To Upper Jordan

So, sad news about that map I was going to keep updated for you, friends.  Whether because I’m not on the original computer, or because I can’t do it on my tablet, I can neither update the old map nor do a new one for you.  My jury-rigged solution is to take pictures of other people’s maps:


(This is actually from the second site of the day, so bear with me for a moment, because the point I want to make to you here is that we were REALLY  CLOSE, all day, to other countries–specifically Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.  At times today, we were closer to Damascus (capital of Syria) than we were to Jerusalem (capital of Israel).  It was sort of a reality check, to realize that all these countries are just all smashed up together.  America is such a big place–I think it’s easy for us to lose track of how closely other countries rub shoulders with each other.  The entire area we’re exploring, by the way, is only about the size of New Jersey.

Okeedokee, here’s the stuff about today’s sites.  We started at Hazor, the largest Canaanite city that’s been excavated and a really big deal back in the time of the biblical matriarchs and patriarchs; the book of Joshua describes it as “the head of all those kingdoms” (11:10).  The site of the excavation is quite extensive–several acres–and looks, as you might suppose, like an awful lot of rocks.  But very significant rocks.


The rocks are made of baked mud, which you must admit is surprisingly durable.  And literally makes the bricks as old as dirt.  😀  The site dates back at least 4000 years–which is old.  Really old.  Like, time of Abraham old.


You can see the remains of the palace at Hazor, with a nice altar in the front yard, which must have made a nice home for Jabin, a king mentioned in two major Israelite battles in the book of Judges.  (Hint: he loses.  A lot.)

Confession: the problem with excavation sites is that, without a guide to tell them apart or something noteworthy to make the visit stand out, like cows grazing in a nearby field with landmines in it (totally happened yesterday at Bethsaida–see how well I remember?), the places don’t really stand out distinctively in my memory.  And my camera was dying, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures.  So if there was more to Hazor, I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it is.

This is actually turning into a surprisingly pressing issue–we’re doing SO MUCH, every single day, that it’s easy to forget things.  Going through pictures in the evening in the last two days, I keep going, “Oh!  We visited there?  That was today?  Really?” 

(I even forgot to tell you yesterday that we visited Migdal, where Mary Magdalene is from.  That happened, by the way.  Sorry.)

Anyway.  I WILL remember visiting Tel Dan, because it was so pretty and peaceful.  Dan is the uppermost limit of the traditional borders of historic Israel (“Dan to Beersheba” is how the Bible often describes the borders).  And as you can see if you scroll back up to my picture of the map, it’s quite near the present-day borders too.  Dan is in the foothills of the range that includes Mount Hermon, the biggest mountain around (9000 ft–it always has snow on it!).  It’s also where the Jordan River has its headwaters, though it’s also fed by springs from other mountains as well.


Fun fact of the day #143: Jordan means “descending from Dan.” As we walked the trail at the preserve, it like water was just seeping out of the mountain everywhere, and tiny streams consistently cut across our pathway.


Dan isn’t just another pretty forest preserve, though: it’s also the site of MORE OLD ROCKS!


The metal frame represents an altar that occupied the ancient site.  The Bible refers to the time when the Israelite kingdom, united under David, splits after the death of Saul.  This guy from David’s army, Jeroboam, takes over the northern half, while Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, takes the southern half.  One problem you face when you’ve just taken more than half a kingdom from the guy who’s cornered the market on access to God (because the Temple was in Jerusalem, and the divinely-elected king was supposed to be from the House of David), is how the heck to legitimize your authority as king.  So Jeroboam neatly solves this problem by telling the people that it’s no longer necessary to take that long hike to Jerusalem to make their sacrifices, because of the conveniently-located shrines he’s set up at the northern and southern edges of his kingdom, one in Bethel, and one in Dan!  He also set up a golden calf at each one, much to the consternation of the guys who wrote the book of Kings, who thenceforth use the phrase ” the sins of Jeroboam” as shorthand for idolatry. 

Hence the obnoxious model of an altar at Dan.  Ta-da!

From Dan, it’s also possible to see the land of Lebanon.  WHAT.  True story.  There’s a super-fun bunker you can crawl through to the lookout point, too.


I was also just debating whether to show you more old rocks, and when I shared this struggle with Annabelle, another member of the trip, she said, “Of course  you should show it!  It’s super-old stuff made of mud!  None of our crap lasts anymore.”  With that endorsement, I share with you this triple-arched gate (the other two arches are behind the first) which is the oldest gate in the entire Middle East.  It dates back to 2000 BCE.


That’s 4000 year-old mud that is amazingly well-preserved.  Maybe this explains mud baths!

So then we went to Caesarea Philippi, where there were more interesting old rocks.  Caesarea Philippi was built by the least notorious of the three sons of Herod the Great, Herod Phillip.  He got the quiet corner of the kingdom, including modern-day Golan Heights, and decided to build a big fancy Roman city right into a cliff-face.  Today there survives a grotto where the god Pan, a.k.a. Banais, was worshipped.  According to our guide, many unsavory things were done in this city in the name of pleasing the gods, including child sacrifice and orgies.  It was in the district of this city that, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” 


After this, we loaded up and drove to lunch.  As we drove, our guide pointed out how you could tell when you cross from the foothills of the Hermon range into the Golan Heights.  The Hermon range is primarily limestone, a nice white rock, while the Golan heights, thanks to ancient lava flow (did I mention that the Jordan Rift Valley is on a tectonic ridge?) is made of black volcanic basalt.  Driving along, I could look out the window to the left and see all white walls checkering the fields, while on the right the walls where black.  Further south, this same geological division marks the national borders between Jordan and Israel.  (There’s also a big valley in the middle.  It’s not like people get confused if too many rocks get thrown, or something.)

Lunch!  Lunch happened in a little village in the Golan Heights with a strange history.  Back in 1967, the Six-Days War happened in early June.  This was the situation:

-In May, the Soviet Union warned Egypt that Syria was about to launch an air strike on Israel (which later turned out to be untrue).  Egypt reacted by moving troops into the Sinai peninsula and asking the UNEF troops stationed there if they wouldn’t mind stepping out of the way.  Egypt reoccupied this strategic point that controlled access to the Gulf of Aqaba, and declared that Israel was no longer allowed access to the Gulf.  President Nasser stated that this was the first step in a project to destroy Israel.  Understandly, Israel was royally pissed. 
-As the political situation deteriorated, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon signed off on mutual defense agreements.  If Israel attacked any of them, the other two would come to their aid.  So Israel faced a three-front war, with diplomatic options rapidly running out.
-On June 5th, Israel launched on aerial attack on Egypt, successfully crippling its air force, which is a pretty key force to have when you’re fighting in a desert.  When the Jordanian army responded by opening fire on Jewish Jerusalem, Israel retaliated on both Jordan and Syria.  At the end of six days, Israel had captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal and the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Here’s a map that helps this make way more sense.

(I’m working off of the description in Alan Dowty’s Israel/Palestine, which seems to be pretty fair and balanced, but I’d be glad to hear other persepctives and understandings!)

So the place where we had lunch today was in a formerly Syrian village (pre-1967) that’s still hanging on.  It’s populated by Druze, which our guide described like this: Druze are to Islam what Mormons are to Christianity.  Out there on the fringes, and rather isolationist.  The Druze of this village rejected Israeli citizenship but are also no longer Syrian, so they just sort of exist out there in the desolate rocky landscape of the Golan heights, farming and keeping to themselves and, apparently, feeding enormous passing tour groups.

I had something called saag–a homemade super-flat bread spread with goat cheese curd and thyme in olive oil.  The old nonna who was making the bread was at work on the floor behind a counter, rolling the dough into balls, spinning them into thin layers like really really thin pizzas, stretching them on what appeared to be a repurposed seat cushion, and frying them on a turtle-shell hot black thing. 


It was yummy.

After that, we hit two different lookout points as we circumnavigated the Sea of Galilee.  From the first, we could see an Israeli bunker on the hill towering over us, a U.N. bunker on the valley below us, and a Syrian village on the hill behind that. 


At the second, a recording playing over a loudspeaker talked about fraught pre-1967 context of the Golan Heights, where children were forced to grow up in bunkers before Israel stepped in.  The self-professed bitter and disillusioned person standing beside me observed that Israel’s “fix” was to take over everything and expel the Syrian refugees.  I felt like I had no idea what was going on.  How do you know what truth is in a situation so loaded, and when the interpretation makes a difference to so much?

The lookout was called Peace Valley.


To lighten the mood, our bus driver took us down the thrillingly twisty roads that descend from the Golan Heights so we could drive over the Jordan River (tourist baptism site out your left window!), and went around a roundabout three times just for kicks.  I’m still a bit dizzy, from more than the drive.


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