The Land of Israel today has many similarities to Jesus’ time. Most of the Biblical sites have been identified, and many have been excavated. New cities have been rebuilt with the names of the ancient cities, fulfilling the Biblical prophecy:
”And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” (Is. 61:4)
In 1867, Mark Twain visited the Holy Land. He describes it as “desolate and unlovely.” He writes, “Renowned Jerusalem, the stateliest name in history, has lost all it’s ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village…Capernaum is a shapeless ruin…Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth” (Innocents Abroad). Miraculously, today, millions of people visit these very same sites and many more that have been uncovered from the ground and have come back to life.
The following are just some of the ancient Christian and Jewish sites mentioned in the Bible or other ancient sources that you can include in your itinerary. Whichever sites you and your group will visit, we are certain that walking in the land of the Bible will make the Scriptures come alive. The list begins with many options for meetings and activities that are relevant to these sites and Judaism and Christianity in general.
Experience traditional Jewish Sabbath meals with explanations about the customs. Jerusalem is ideal for the Shabbat experience, but any place in Israel is a possibility. Perhaps include in the experience Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming in the Sabbath) at the Western Wall, a speaker or discussion group, and synagogue visit.
The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), located in biblical Efrat, offers a team of scholar rabbis and educators committed to working with you and your group to develop learning sessions in Hebrew Bible study that will enhance one’s journey to the Land of Israel. Their biblical sessions are based upon a unique, interactive approach – that includes Christian hermeneutics and allows not only for the Christian participant to be part of the process, but provides the spiritual group leader with a meaningful theological role in the learning session. Depending on your group's itinerary, the CJCUC programs, (meals and overnights) can be held in their main Efrat boutique hotel and meeting space, in Jerusalem at our satellite facilities, or at your Jerusalem-based hotel. By providing a deeper understanding of God’s Word, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, the CJCUC programs will be a highlight of your group’s tour to Israel (from the CJCUC website).
Shoreshim, located amidst the stoned alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem, has become well known for its blend of meaningful Biblically inspired gifts and the ongoing dialogue and discussion sessions regarding Israel, Judaism and the Bible. We welcome you to share that experience in our shop on the Main Hurva square in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. You can schedule a discussion session for your group, or just drop by for some great conversation during store hours.
In 1967, Rav Ariel was among the soldiers who found himself gaurding the Temple Mount. He said that the energy there was electric! He was expecting that something big would happen, perhaps the Temple would be built. Instead, everyone celebrated the Western Wall, and gave the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Wakf to administer. He was devestated, but realized that the Jewish people just didn't understand well enough to realize the significance of the Temple Mount. The Wall was only important because of it's proximatey to where the Temple stood on the Temple Mount. Not the other way around. So, over time, Rav Ariel opened the Temple Institute to educate about the Temple. The Institute has an inspiring movie, a model of the 2nd Temple, musical instruments and vessels made according to Biblical descriptions. The Temple Institute is in the Jewish Quarter, and is a nice compliment to a visit to the City of David, Davidson Excavations and Western Wall.
With maps, mission packs, information sheets and mission packs in hand, you will explore the streets and sites of Mount Zion and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. With your feet you will tread in the footsteps of kings and prophets, with your eyes you will witness the remarkable miracle of return and with your heart you will feel the undying Jewish spirit of determination and faith.
On the Jerusalem Watchman Scavenger Hunt you will encounter the places, people and events that helped to weave the incredible tale of Mount Zion and the Jewish Quarter. You will visit sites like the Upper Room (Room of the Last Supper and Pentacost), King David’s Tomb, The Rebuilt Hurva Synagogue and the Golden Menorah (ready for use in the Third Temple).
There is no better way to encounter and experience the epic tales of the past, intertwined with the present and future!
Micah Harrari, a Levite and master craftsman, originally built the first harp in the land of Israel in 2000 years, for his wife Shoshanna as a birthday gift. She had longed for a harp of her own for many years, seeking an instrument to connect her soul to the true source of music - a sacred instrument to be used for creative expression, devotion, and prayer. Basing his designs on the information found in the Bible, Talmud, and archeology, this first harp opened the way for many more to follow spreading the mystical sounds of David's harp from the streets of Jerusalem to the four corners of the world. (from their website). Visit Harrari Harps in their workshop, just outside Jerusalem, for a special tour.
This shop is known as the Garden of Eden of Jewish Books. This English language Jewish bookstore in the center of town of Jerusalem is a perfect place for a speaker to meet the group as well as an opportunity to browse and ask questions about Jewish books including the Hebrew Bible, Rabbinic sources, and books on modern topics.
When in Tzfat...If you are visiting the mystical town of Tzfat, a talk by a kabbalah artist can be a meaningful addition to your tour. Learn about kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and how the concepts are represented in art.
We can arrange an inspiring talk or music session for any Jewish topic or holiday.
Mt. Arbel offers a breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee and the Evangelical Triangle -- the area where Jesus spent most of His Ministry. Arbel is mentioned in Jewish sources in relation to the Messiah. It is one of the stops on the Gospel trail.
Beit Shearim was one of the towns of Jewish leadership after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, who compiled the Mishnah (the first compilation of Oral Law), lived in Beit Shearim and was buried there. The burial caves--a testimony to the thriving Jewish community after the destruction of the Temple--are spectacular.
Banias is one of Israel's most beautiful nature reserves. It's spring feeds into the Jordan River. The reserve's large waterfall tumbles down a 33-foot precipace year-round, a nearby cave houses remains of a temple to the Greek god Pan. Remains of a temple built by Herod the Great stand in front of the cave. After Herod's death, his son Phillip inherited this area, and in 2 BCE Phillip founded his capital near the Banias Spring calling it Caesarea Phillippi. In Christian tradition, this area is known as the place of an important interaction between Jesus and Peter.
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:13-19).
An early morning or sunset ride on the Sea of Galilee can be one of the highlights of any trip. Boats can be arranged from different points in the Sea (Tiberius, Ein Gev, Capernaum, Ginosar) depending on your itinerary. One great idea is to take a sunset boat ride to Ein Gev and enjoy a delicious dinner of St. Peter's Fish.
Capernaum was the home of Simon Peter and other disciples and the town in which Jesus frequently stayed and did many miracles. The town extended a few miles to Tabgha which was used for agricultural purposes. Over the centuries, Simon Peter's home became a church which was rebuilt several times. Next to the church was the local synagogue which was also rebuilt over time. Their existence side by side for many generations is fascinating, and can lead to many interesting discussions on the subject of Jewish and Christian relations today.
Capernaum is mentioned many times in the Scriptures. One Sabbath, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum and healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean devil. Afterwards, he healed a fever in Simon Peter's mother-in-law. It is also the place where a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7:1–10). Capernaum is also mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (2:1), it is the location of the famous healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof to reach Jesus. We can see in the archeological excavations that the houses were very simple, one-story homes. This can help us understand how the roof was easily removed.
In 1986, there was a severe drought in Israel causing the waters of the sea of Galilee to recede revealing a 2,000 year old boat from the time of Jesus. The boat was carefully removed and is on display at Kibbutz Ginosar. A boat from the time of Jesus is very exciting, but it's all the more meaningful because of the location in which it was found. Modern Kibbutz Ginosar is named after ancient town of Genesareth in the approximately same location. Genesareth (meaning garden of riches in Hebrew) was the place of the following miracle: "On the day of this miracle, Jesus was preaching near the Lake of Genesareth (Sea of Galilee), when he saw two boats at the water's edge. Boarding the one belonging to Simon (Peter), and moving out a little from shore, he sat and taught the people from the boat. Afterwards, he said to Peter:
"Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."
Peter answered: "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done so, "they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break," requiring help from another boat. When Peter saw the large catch, which filled both boats almost to sinking point, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Jesus responded "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men," after which Peter and his partners James and John left everything and followed Jesus (Gospel of Luke 5:1-11).
Kibbutz Ginosar is a great stop on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee to go for some coffee or a cool drink, some souvenir shopping, and to see the boat.
See an reconstructed Jewish village in the Golan Heights that shows what life was like in the time of Jesus.
Korazim --an ancient Jewish town known in Jewish sources for it's wheat fields--is known in the New Testament as Chorazin. Chorazin was a town near Capernaum in which Jesus did miracles. The people there did not accept Jesus and He cursed them, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. (Luke 10:13-15).
There is a magnificent synagogue excavated in Korazim today. It is a wonderful place to visit in order to understand the ancient Jewish communities and the evolution of the synagogue which only was used as a place of prayer from the time of the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE. One of the fascinating artifacts is a "Seat of Moses" that has an Aramaic inscription honoring a donor to the synagogue. Jesus said, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Matthew 23:2-3).
On first glance, Korazim might appear to be a difficult site in the context of the friendship developing today between Jewish and Christian communities. However, the opposite is true. It's a wonderful place to visit and to use as a springboard for a deep and meaningful discussion.
This national park contains the ruins of a Byzantine monestary which was built here because it seems to be the place where the following miracle took place:
And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region (Matthew 8:28-33).
The location of the miracle was discovered by road construction workers in the 1970s who came upon a mosaic floor.
See gates from the time of King Solomon and a water system from the time of Ahab. This remarkable ancient city is mentioned in the book of Revelation as the site of Armageddon.
After the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Jewish leadership moved from Yavne to different sites throughout the Galilee such as Sephoris (Tzipori) and Tiberias. Visit communities from the times of the Mishnah and Talmud in the Galilee. See the impressive remains of synagogues from those times and later eras when Jews returned to the Galilee, particularly the cities of Tiberias and Tzfat.
Mt. of Beatitudes is the place traditionally believed to be where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount.
The eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 are stated as:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6)
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5:8)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. (5:9)
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
We know you will feel blessed to stand in this spectacular place, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, in which Jesus taught.
See what life was like in Jesus' time at Nazareth Village.
This site is a must-see for many groups. The scenary is breathtaking both with it's lush forested areas, rushing waters, and views. It's the perfect site to understand the geopolitics of the region because it borders on Lebanon and the Golan Heights. In warm months, it's possible to take off your shoes and deep your feet in the refreshing Dan River. This site has become famous for it's Biblical history including one of the "high places", the alters of the First Temple Period, the Gate of the City of the Tribe of Dan, and the "House of David" inscription. The first piece of archeological evidence of the house of King David.
Tzfat is a very special place to visit. It's located in the Upper Galilee, not far above Mt. Beatitudes. Tzfat is a picturesque mountain-top town, painted in blue like the heavens. It's overflowing in handmade art and jewelry, fascinating Jewish history from the golden age of Tzfat which followed the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492, and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Tzfat means to look out. One interpretation is that Tzfat is awaiting the Messiah, who according to Jewish tradition will stop in Tzfat before arriving to the Mt. of Olives and Jerusalem.
Yardenit is a picturesque baptism site on the Jordan River South of Tiberias. Many groups will enjoy going to either be baptized or even just to put their feet in the water of the Jordan River. Yardenit has one of the largest souvenir shops that cater to Christian tourists in Israel.
This site is a must-see for many groups. The City of David, located just outside the walls of the Old City, near Dung Gate, is the best place to undertand Ancient Jerusalem from the time of King David until the destruction of the 2nd Temple. The site has an optional 3D movie, fascinating archeology, many tunnels from different periods, and impressive lookouts over the Mt. of Olives, the Walls of the Old City, and Silwan, an Arab neigbhorhood in East Jerusalem. Here, your group will gain a better understanding of archeology, the Biblical connection to this area, and the modern political issues regarding East Jerusalem. At the bottom of the City of David is a spring known as the Shiloah in Hebrew or Siloam in Greek where Jesus healed a blind person. It's possible to walk through a water tunnel (filled with water up to 70cm) built by King Hezekiah that ends up at the Siloam pool. The site has a wonderful gift shop with reasonably priced unique gifts and a refreshing kiosk with cold drinks, coffee and snacks (the only one in the area). The City of David continues to exacavate and open new areas, so even if some of your group has been there before, it's always worth another visit. One very exciting newly opened tunnel leads to the foundations of the Western Wall, below the level of the pavement. Amazing
Most groups will want to include a visit to the Garden Tomb in their itineraries, even those who have been before. It is a wonderful oasis of prayer amidst busy Jerusalem.
At the bottom of the Mt. of Olives, in the courtyard of the Church of All Nations, is a beautiful small garden of very old olive trees. These trees have been dated 1600 years old and are very likely grown from the shoots of the very trees that were in the garden in the time of Jesus. Inside the church is the Rock of the Agony, where Jesus prayed His last night. The garden is busy because it is the entrance to the church as well. Some prefer to arrange a private prayer session across the street in a private garden. The trees in that section are planted more recently.
Not far from the Garden of Gethsemane is a grotto (cave) known as the place where the Disciples fell asleep, betraying Jesus. This grotto today is a Catholic chapel. This grotto is not commonly found on most itineraries but it can be a very unique addition to your group's tour.
It's wonderful to walk through Jaffa Gate into the quaint atomsphere of the Armenian Quarter. This area has some great shops and sites including the Tower of David Museum which details the history of Jerusalem in this ancient fortress. The Tower of David offers a sound and light show at night. This is a fabulous evening event for your group in the warmer months. You can include it in your itinerary or suggest they purchase tickets on line to go during a free evening.
So much can be said about the Mt. of Olives where Jesus spent His last week and the Ascension took place. It's also fascinating to delve into the Biblical traditions about the Mt. of Olives and the end of days, King David's experiences there, and it's connection to the Temple. There are many ways to include a visit to the Mt. of Olives in your tour. Many groups visit the lookout at the top. This has a spectacular view of the mountain and the Old City of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount and the Jewish cemetary of over 100,000 Jewish graves dating back to the First Temple Period (Your group can enter the tomb of the prophets Hagi, Zackariah, and Malachi). Some will also visit the courtyard of Pater Noster where there is a grotto in which, according to tradition, Jesus stayed overnight during His last week and taught the Disciples there. The courtyard is dedicated to the Lord's Prayer which is displayed in beautiful tiles in approximately 100 languages. Another possible stop on the Mount of Olives is the courtyard of the Dominus Flevit Church. This courtyard includes second Temple burial ossuaries, a spectacular view of the Temple mount. It commemorates the place where Jesus wept over the Temple and is also the exact location where the Red Heifer was sacrificed. Some groups will enjoy walking down the steep decent of the Palm Sunday Road. Others will prefer to travel up and down the Mountain by bus or cab. Mt. of Olives is also a place to better understand the miracle of the 6 Day War. For groups who really enjoy walking, it's possible to descend the Mount of Olives and walk through the Lion's gate into the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City.
Many groups enjoy a visit to the Rabbinic Tunnel which is also known as the Western Wall or Kotel Tunnels. This site is very popular and often requires booking 4-6 months prior to your tour. The highlight of this tour is reaching a point of the Western Wall that is one of the closest places to where the Temple stood. It is also a good place to better understand the Western Wall and Temple Mount, to learn about the way in which the massive stones of the Temple mount were moved, ancient water systems in Jerusalem, and medieval architecture in the area. Most groups will include either this tunnel or the City of David Tunnels in their itinerary.
In 1948, the Jordanians bombed the Jewish quarter mercilessly, killing many and destroying homes and synagogues. The blessing in all this destruction, was to be discovered after 1967, when the Jewish Quarter came back to Israel's hands. Archeologists began excavating in these now exposed areas and made remarkable finds about Jerusalem such as the First Temple period Broad Wall built by King Hezekiah, mansions of the wealthy Temple priests during the time of Jesus, and the Byzantine Cardo, the main shopping area (today also a modern shopping area) of the city dating back approximately 1600 years. There are sites and small museums in the Jewish Quarter that can be included in any itinerary, particularly for those who have seen the main sites already. The Jewish Quarter is a wonderful place for free time for a meal and souvenir shopping.
This site is a must-see. It can be combined with the City of David or visited on it's own. It has an air conditioned indoor section with a movie and archeological artifacts which is optional. The excavations here are spectacular. Your group will see first hand the grandeur of the 2nd Temple, money changer's stores, the stairs where Jesus walked at the entrance to the Temple Mount, evidence of the destruction, ritual baths (mikvahs) and much more. This site is directly next to the Western Wall Plaza so many groups will visit both.
In 1999, mosques were built/expanded on the Temple Mount. In 3 days, bulldozers and dump trucks came in and hauled out hundreds of truck loads of material from the Temple Mount and dumped in the Kidron Valley as waste. Israeli archeologists followed these events and took the issue to the Supreme Court of Israel which ruled that the material could be sifted to salvage any archeological remains. Although the location of these finds will never be known (and in archeology where it is found is important as what is found), many important pieces have already been recovered including pieces of stone from the 2nd Temple, animals bones from sacrifices and much more. Anyone who would like to participate in this exciting historic project, can visit the sifting center and carefully check through buckets. Who knows, perhaps your group will find an ancient coin or spearhead from the time of the Macabees!
The Upper Room is located on Mt. Zion, not far from the Jewish Quarter. The room itself was built in the Crusader period, but is on the traditional location of the actual place. It has great acustics if the group likes to sing. Near the Upper Room is the traditional Tomb of King David (most likely descendents of King David, rather than David), and a very powerful Holocaust Memorial established in 1949, one of the first ones set up in the world. Oskar Schindler's grave is also nearby on Mt. Zion.
Many groups will like to visit the famous Western Wall Plaza. Although the Wall itself can be accessed in the Rabbinic Tunnel and Davidson Excavations, this Plaza is where the Jewish people gather for prayer and celebrations. As it has the status of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, men and women have separate areas to approach the wall and modest dress is required (covering heads, shoulders and knees). It can be wonderful to visit the Western Wall for the Friday night, Kabbalat Shabbat, welcoming in Shabbat services with singing and dancing.
It is possible to visit Shepherds' Fields and Bethlehem. Most Israeli guides are not able to enter the Palestinian Authority, but Essential Israel is able to provide a guide and driver who will be able to take your group for a half day tour to these areas.
Enjoy hand's on archeology in Biblical Maresha/Beit Guvrin. Ideal for families and younger groups.
If you are driving through this area on the way to Ashkelon or Arad, definitely stop off in the Elah Valley. There is a lookout from Tel Azekah where you can see the battlefield where David fought Goliath, or perhaps, your group would prefer to walk through the (dry) river bed where David found stones to slay the giant.
If you have already been to Masada, consider a visit to Herodiun, which is a "boutique" version. Herodiun is located next to Biblical Tekoa which gives you an insight into Biblical history as well as the modern Arab-Israeli conflict over the West Bank. You will see the impressive remains of Herod's palace, his burial site, massive ancient water cisterns, renovations made by the rebells hiding out during the siege of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and tunnels that were inhabited during the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE.
Walk in the footsteps Abraham and Isaac as they approached Mt. Moriah. See archeological evidence why this is understood to be the main road from Beersheba to Jerusalem since Biblical times. This can be a quick stop or an easy 1 hour walk in Gush Etzion, near Efrat.
See how water was channeled from the area of Gush Etzion to Jerusalem since time of the Hasmoneans (ruling dynasty of the Macabees). Your group can enter the water tunnel (in summer) in Gush Etzion, near Efrat. You can also visit a dry section of this same tunnel in Jerusalem, underneath the "Tayelet" Promenade in Talpiot. This is a 500 meter dark, narrow tunnel. A real highlight for some groups!
This site is located in the Jordan Valley and can be a nice stop when travelling between Jerusalem and the Galilee. It's the place identified as the historical location where the Israelites entered the Promised Land with Joshua and where Jesus was baptised by John. The water is not always so clean and there are Jordanian soldiers on the other side of the river (as it is also accessible from Jordan), so many groups prefer not to enter the water to be baptised.
The excavations are extraodinary at this ancient port built by Herod. Ceasarea was the administrative center of the Romans during the time of Jesus. The "Pontius Pilate" inscription was found here. It's also a great place for enjoying the beach (great beach for families), free time for shopping and dinner by sunset. In the summer, there is outdoor seating and live music.
Consider a walking tour of picturesque Jaffa including the place where Jonah fled from God and the House of Simon the Tanner.
Many groups will enjoy Herod's mountain top desert palaces and the new museum of artifacts at the visitor center. Masada has several good options of places to eat.
The Israel Museum is a must-see for many groups. Highlights include the Jerusalem 2nd Temple period model, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Archeological Wing that includes most the major finds of archeology in Israel. The musuem was recently redone, so if you haven't been there in the last year or so, definitely consider it for your tour. The Israel Museum is near the Knesset, Knesset Menorah, Rose Garden, Supreme Court, and other official government offices. There are places to eat in the museum as well as in the Knesset. It's possible to spend an entire wonderful day in this area.
This museum, across from the Israel Museum, contains many impressive finds from throughout areas mentioned in the Bible and often has unique special displays.
The Rockefeller Musuem has many important archeological finds that are not displayed in the Israel Museum. It's best for groups who have been to Israel before and have already visited the Israel Museum.