Spend two days touring and an overnight stay in B&B accommodation. Visit Jerusalem's Old City; see the Byzantine Cardo, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall and the four quarters which make the city a holy place for all three of the monotheistic religions. In Bethlehem see the Church of the Nativity and the Grotto where Jesus was born. Driving south through the Judean Desert visit Masada and see the hill top remains of Herod's palace fortress. Take a dip in the Dead Sea at the lowers point on Earth. Return to the hotel passed the Dead Sea scroll caves and the ancient city of Jericho.
We start with a breathtaking view of Jerusalem. As if in the palm of our hand, we see the Old City and the Temple Mount area spread before us and imagine the Second Temple destroyed in 70 CE and Solomon’s Temple before that, destroyed in 586 BCE.
As we drive along the Kidron Valley we have an excellent view of Mount Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations as well as of the monumental ancient Jewish burial tombs. We enter the Old City through the Zion Gate, passing the Armenian Quarter to the excavated Byzantine Cardo. Although this fifteen hundred year old main street of Jerusalem was partially destroyed and unused during the Moslem conquest it had a brief new lease of life during the Crusader period and the excavated Crusader shops are now modern stores.
Continuing through the Jewish Quarter we proceed to the Western Wall (Kotel). This two thousand year old wall is part of the encircling and supporting wall built by King Herod when the Temple Mount area was enlarged.
As we walk along the Via Dolorosa we join the many pilgrims who are following the Stations of the Cross ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church built over the place of the crucifixion of Jesus and the burial tomb. Originally built in the Byzantine period, it was partially destroyed during the Persians and Moslem conquests and then rebuilt and slightly altered by the Crusaders. We stroll through the market alleys before departing for Bethlehem, (city of bread), hometown of Jesse, father of King David (I Sam 16:1), and birthplace of Jesus (Mat. 2:1).
A short walk across Manger Square brings us to the well-preserved Byzantine Church of Nativity. First built in the 4th century and enlarged in the 6th, the original mosaic floor is revealed through trapdoors in the later floor. Unlike most churches in the Holy Land the Church of Nativity was not destroyed by the Persian and Moslem conquerors but the entrance was lowered forcing us to crouch as we enter.
If we look carefully we can see the faint Crusader decorations on the columns. Descending to the Grotto of the Nativity we see the star indicating the place of the birth, with the words “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary” in Latin. Opposite are the Manger and the altar dedicated to the three Wise Men. Both the Church and Grotto are Orthodox.
During the centuries after the expulsion of the Crusaders little was done to maintain the Church of Nativity, which suffered both earthquake damage and a fire. Partial restoration was undertaken during the British Mandate and since 1967 extensive repairs have been carried out under Israeli auspices,
As we depart, in the distance we see the Field of Ruth. This is where Ruth the Moabite, daughter-in-law of Naomi, great grandmother of King David, gleaned in the fields of Boaz. (Ruth 2:1ff).
As we descend 1,200 meters from Jerusalem through the wilderness of the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea, we pass the Inn of the Good Samaritan and stop briefly at the “sea level” marker. In the distance we see Jericho, the oldest city in the world, perhaps due to its luxuriant oasis and its proximity to the Dead Sea, an ancient source of salt and we recall the conquest of Jericho by the Israelite tribes, led by Joshua, who had just crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. (Josh 6).
We continue along the shores of the Dead Sea to Masada. As we ascend in the cable car, we look down at the Snake path which was used two thousand years ago when King Herod built this fortress like palace. In fact, there were two palaces, as well as a swimming pool and a well-preserved beautiful bath-house.
Maintained by a small Roman legion after the death of Herod, it was seized by Jewish zealots at the beginning of the Jewish revolt against the Romans which culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. We stand over the ramp, built for the Romans by their Jewish slaves, which facilitated the breaching of the wall after three years of siege.
The synagogue, which was built by Herod, proved conclusively to those who doubted that there were synagogues even while the Second Temple stood. We see where the first piece of parchment to be discovered in an Israeli archaeological excavation was found. And on it, legible to the naked eye were the words of the prophet Ezekiel, the “dry bones” prophecy, ending with the promise “I will take the children of Israel from among the nations … and bring them in to their own land … and the nations shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel …” (Ezek 37)
On our return journey we pass the oasis of Ein Gedi where David hid from the wrath of King Saul (I Sam 24:1ff) and Qumran where the two thousand year old Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Finally we enjoy a therapeutic swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, where the water is almost 35% salt and even those who cannot swim can float.