Israel Day 4: Bet Guvrin-Maresha, Valley of Elah (David & Goliath), and Caesarea

In Israel is it custom for all hotels to have buffets for every meal, including breakfast. The Holiday Inn goes beyond all breakfasts. There are 5 different buffets and so many options to choose from. You can even have salad and sushi if you’d like.

 We leave the Ashkelon area and head to the national park of Bet Guvrin-Maresha. Here is there are many ruins that they have discovered and we take a good majority of the day to see quite a few things.

The amphitheatre. It is large and has many details still preserved. They would fight animals and gladiators in the ring, along with filling it with water and putting on performances. You can see the box where the Roman governor or authority used to sit. JT gives a thumbs down like in gladiator.

The tunnels underneath the complex where the animals and gladiators used to be is huge. At all of these sites its amazing to think how they constructed such large complexes.

The Columbarium Cave (Pigeon Coop Cave). This is an underground cave in the shape of a double cross and there are more than 2,000 niches in the walls where pigeons are housed. They were used for food, sacrifices, and their poop was collected for fertilizer.

The Olive Press. This ancient olive press is one that comes with quite a bit of symbolism for Christians. In the process of crushing olives into oil there are three steps/kinds of oil that are gathered:
First Press: Virgin Oil (Cooking/Anointing kings)
Second Press: Healing Oil/Light Oil
Third Press: Cleansing Oil
In the Garden of Gethsemane (which in Hebrew means olive press), Jesus was crushed three times:
First: He is the anointed King
Second: He came to bring healing and light to the world
Third: He came to cleanse us from our sins, which we could not escape

This specific olive press was uncovered from the 4th Century BC.

When we get up to the top, Yuval teaches us about the Carob Tree. This is also known historically as St. John’s Bread Tree/Locust Tree (John the Baptist). When we read the Bible, we think that John ate honey and locust, however, what he was most likely eating was the Carob beans, because locust weren’t even clean animals for Jews to eat. This makes the most sense as he stayed along the Jordan river, which is covered with date palm trees (which produce honey) and Carob trees. Carob beans were also the first source of weighting diamonds, as the weight of a Carob bean is also the exact weight of 1 karat of diamonds. Fascinating!

The Sidonian Burial Caves. Inside these inside these ancient burial caves/tombs is where Israelites used to bury their dead. Once the body was decayed, they would gather the bones and place the bones in a box somewhere else. Here’s JT decaying:

The Bell Caves. These are underground quarries that were used in the Byzantine period to build houses and buildings. A small hole is created until you reach the limestone bedrock and then they use chisels and shovels to dig out all the rock they needed. The caves are huge! I can’t even imagine how they must have pulled out all the rock through that small hole.

Also touring a lot of the national sites are teens in the army. We just happened to see a troop leader with her machine gun. Nice. 

Remember the story of David and Goliath? That’s our next stop for the day. We hop on the bus and about 15 minutes away we pull off the side of a road and get out into a field. Really? This is where we’re stopping?

JT and March stop to talk with a local farmer in the valley. He grows mini-zucchini plants.

This is the Valley of Elah, where the Israelites fought the Philistines. We read the story in 1 Samuel 17 and you can literally see the story unfolding in front of you as you look at the land and match it up to what the Bible records. Amazing.

JT, Marcy and I found our stones in the creek, similar to what David would’ve used to bring down Goliath.

From there we got back on the bus and had a long ride in front of us to head up the coast to Caesarea. Along the way we pass by a large wall with barbwire at the top. This is the West Bank wall that separates the territory of the Palestinians from Israeli citizens. Crazy to think there is still so much hostility right across the wall. As we drive on you can see Mosques and other neighborhoods where the Palestinians live.

We arrive in Caesarea and the cool air breeze is a nice welcome. It gets hotter each day of our trip. As we walk closer to the excavation, Marcy looks at me and says this could be her future home. The people are so nice, it’s not overly populated, and the water is beautiful. We immediately see why Herod the Great built such a large seaport city here.

The Theatre is our first sight. Shows are still performed on this stage today and as the audience watches the performance, they can look past the stage out to the Mediterranean. Just breathtaking.

This is also where Paul was imprisoned for 2 years. In this theatre Paul was condemned and we even walked on the same stones he walked on while in changes.

Some say that Pontius Pilate never existed. Well, here’s the stone they discovered to prove it. His name is inscribed on the stone, thus proving his existence.

JT on the coast of the Med with Dr. Hannah. We’re so glad he invited us on this trip.

Ever seen Ben Hur? Well, this is a hippodrome. This is where chariot races happened. Right on the coast of the sea.

When Paul left Caesarea on his journey to Rome, he left this port right here. His small boat he got in to get out to the larger ship would’ve been docked right where this pool of water is. I can’t believe we’re in the exact spot that Paul was in.

I know this is random, but we actually ran into 3 brides/grooms getting their wedding pictures taken. I would LOVE to do photography here! It’s popular for a lot of the locals to come to the historical ruins to get their portraits done.

Also random, stray cats are to Israel as dogs are to Venezuela. Precious as they are, they're everywhere! 

After a long day, we head to our hotel which is actually at the only 18 hole golf course in all of Israel (they’re not big golfers here, too many sand traps… bahaha j/k). The hotel is beautiful and the food is good. They even give us a welcome snack upon arrival (fruit juice, sweet bread, and dates).