As long as we’re doing field trip days, I’m just going to tell you the basics from site to site. It’s easier for me and more organized for you, so let’s do it.
Hazor was amazing. I did my site report on it, so I was terribly excited to see it, and it fulfilled my hopes. I was given the opportunity to tell everybody about the site when we first got there. The city is massive. The upper city, on which the citadel sits, encompasses about thirty acres, while the lower city sprawling out into the valley encompasses some 180 acres. Obviously very little of that is excavated, but it’s still amazing to think about. We walked among the ruins, looking at the water system and the watch tower and the six chambered Solomonic gate. I got to see a destruction layer in the citadel that may have been the layer left by the Israelites in their conquest of the north. Hazor then was one of the greatest cities the whole region, known in the Bible as “the head of all those kingdoms.” It was immense, heavily populated (some 25-30,000 people), well fortified, and very wealthy. Not much remains of it now, but what there is remains as a testament to its former glory. It just goes to show, I suppose, that the Lord’s will cannot be stopped by any one wall or city or kingdom, no matter how great.
Next Stop: Tel Dan. Dan was another great city, though primarily in its Israelite days. It held a very important position, being one of the strongest cities on the northern border, such that the kingdom of the people of Israel was said to stretch “from Dan to Beer Sheba.” Dan today is more of a wildlife park. Hiking the trails through the trees to get to the top of the tel was almost like hiking in Olympic National Park in Washington. The trails were cool and lush and shady, cris-crossing over a little stream from time to time. At the top we saw a steel outline of a massive altar, meant to give the viewer an idea of how big Jeroboam’s idolatrous altar might have been. It was huge, at least eight feet high—definitely meant for attention and intimidation. We talked about Jeroboam’s sin and Israel’s constant slide into idolatry from then on. Jesus Christ is constantly calling them back to Him all through the Old Testament. He never stopped giving them chances until there was nothing but punishment and consequence left. The way the Bible paints it makes it sound vengeful or angry sometimes, but that’s not how it is at all. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love their children and who them great mercy in giving them every opportunity to return and try again.
Thanks for letting me wax eloquent, there. Back to Tel Dan. We explored some more ruins (some restored and some not). The best part was seeing a gate that dates back to the days of Abraham. The scriptures say that Abraham came to Dan (which was then called Laish) to rescue his nephew Lot. If Abraham actually entered the city, that gate was the one he entered through. That was a very cool thing to see. It’s probably the most ancient piece of history I have come into contact with.
After we finally got down from the Tel, we had a lunch break with the other class. It was good to have time to sit in the shade and breathe some air and enjoy one another’s company. I talked with Brother and Sister Squires for a bit (the music couple from the center). They are one of the funnest couples I think I’ve ever met. Fifty-six years of marriage lets you get to know your companion very well indeed—and I think the Squires have fun with it.
Our next stop was Caesarea Phillipi (aka Banias), where Jesus promised Peter the keys of the kingdom. We weren't there very long, but the place was beautiful and I really enjoyed it. We saw a few remains of buildings and pagan temples in the area, as well as a beautiful little river that flowed down down through the site to the entrance. We sat in a little river by the river and talked about what had happened here in Caesarea--where, against a backdrop of pagan idol worship, Peter proclaimed to Jesus "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." Peter would eventually give his life standing up for that knowledge. He is a powerful example of testimony and of giving your all for the Lord, down to the very last. We sang a couple hymns there and enjoyed the warm day and the beautiful little river gleaming in the sun.
After Caesarea, we drove up many hills to get to the ruins of Nimrod’s Castle, a crusader-turned-Muslim fortress high on a hill. It was awesome. I got to explore secret passages and underground rooms and climb a watchtower to overlook the hill. It was cruel and unusual that we were only given twenty-five minutes there—we could have spent all day. I think my favorite moments were hiking with others who were pretending to be knights. Neil even had Mary make a video of him sprinting down from the tower, halting in front of the camera, and gasping “Dragons! In the East Tower! Couldn’t save them… we lost the entire Schade division…” and then collapsing on the ground. Neil is the best. He makes me laugh all the time.
Our last site was Har Bental, a mountain overlooking the border between Israel and Syria. Obviously we did not enter Syria, but I can now say that I have seen it. We looked at the road to Damascus and talked about Paul's miraculous conversion story. We got to walk at our leisure through the trenches at the top, which have been preserved in memorial of the Six Days War. We also were able to go down through a tunnel and into an underground bunker. I was down there by myself, and the stillness was eerie. It was hard to imagine the place filled with the sound of gunfire or echoing with distant explosions. It was very cold up there on the mountain, and my hands were officially numb for the first time since March, but the view was spectacular and Brother Judd's devotional was wonderful.
That night at Ein Gev, we enjoyed a delicious dinner highlighted by the dessert--chocolate and vanilla ice cream hearts (so yummy). That evening we had two bonfires (even and odd numbers according to your number on the bus count, just to mix things with the two classes) where we had testimony meetings. I have been able to bear my testimony a couple times while here in Israel, so I didn't bear mine on that occasion. It was good to listen to everyone else's, though. The spirit was present and I felt my own testimony confirmed by the experiences and examples of others.
I've been making a goal to read through one of the chapters in the Book of Mormon about Jesus Christ (as recommended by Preach My Gospel) every day. That evening I did some of the end of third Nephi. I love Nephi's testimony of Jesus Christ. He teaches the doctrine of Christ so clearly--in plainness, as he says--and he shows such love for those he is teaching. I love the Book of Mormon--I have come to know the Savior and my Heavenly Father from reading from its pages.
That's all for now--more soon!