The Seas of Israel
In thinking of the State of Israel, most people don’t consider The Seas of Israel. Israel conjures up images of arid lands, Bedouins, camels, and ancient ruins. Without a doubt, all of these are in Israel, but within the boundaries of Israel are the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean. Each of these is unique unto itself both in topography and history. In addition, traveling between them offers some amazing sites as well. I’ve been to Israel over a dozen times, so in this blog we’ll share just a little about The Seas of Israel in text, pictures, and video. (In a later post, I’ll address Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, etc.)
The Sea of Galilee
Most pilgrims who visit Israel come on a religious pilgrimage. Since the Sea of Galilee is a key site in biblical history, it’s always a “must.” Near the Sea of Galilee Jesus chose His 12 disciples; Jesus not only calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, but He literally walked on it. The hill where Jesus fed the 5,000 with leftover loaves and fishes rises directly from the sea. And, several of the villages where Jesus initially preached are near of the Sea of Galilee.
As we know from the biblical account, storms can rise quickly on the lake (the sea is actually a lake), so a calm ride on the sea as the morning sun is rising is a memorable experience. Just thirty kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee is a “must see” site: the ruins of ancient city of Bet Shean.
We were first introduced to Bet Shean in the late 1990s. Until just a few years before that, little was know about this ancient city so few tourists visited it. The only biblical record to Bet Shean is that Saul’s bady was “fastened to the city walls” after he was executed. Bet Sean is the most extensive archeological site in Israel, and it is amazing. Approximately 40,000 people lived in Bet Shean until 749 BC when it was completely destroyed by an earthquake. The city housed shrines of heathen worship, a theater, a main street with shops, baths, and a hippodrome nearby.
We have visited Rome, Athens, Caesarea, Ephesus, Istanbul, and other ancient sites. Yet, Bet Shean is far and away one of the biggest and most complete excavations of an entire ancient city that can be found in the entire world. Please don’t miss Bet Shean when you visit Israel.
Qumran and Masada
On the road to the Dead Sea are two major historic sites: (1) Qumran, where the a Bedhoin shepherd found the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. And, (2) Masada was one of King Herod’s desert palaces. A small collection of Jews fled there to escape Herod and made the top of Masada their home. From 72 – 73 C.E. Roman General Flavius Silva led a ruthless siege on Masada with battering rams and constant bombardments. Finally, when the Jewish people atop Masada realized that the brim of the mountain was being breached by the Romans, all 960 of them committed suicide. This is one of the most epic stories of national heroism in Jewish history. Both Masada and Qumran are HOT, but visiting them is indeed a must!
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is unquestionably one of the most unique spots on earth. Located between Israel and Egypt, it is 1,300 feet below sea level at its surface, and 2,300 feet below at its lowest spot. My first view of the Dead Sea was surreal. The Dead Sea looks more like what you might imagine the surface of the moon than Earth. The area is blasting hot, yet it’s nearly impossible to get a sunburn there because of the sea’s depth and the angle of the sun.
Nearly every Israeli visitor makes an effort to visit the Dead Sea if only to experience the dense salt content and float on the water. Really! It’s true–you can float! Yet, the biggest surprise to me on my first visit to the Dead Sea was the plethora of high dollar hotels located by its shores. People come to apply Dead Sea mud to their skin to cure eczema or just to soak up rays and get a beautiful tan without getting a burn.
Perhaps the most significant sea of Israel is the mighty Mediterranean on Israel’s northern border. Access to “the Med” gives modern day Israel such ports as Ashdod, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. These are now major world cargo ports. At the shores of the Mediterranean Sea near Caesarea stands the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater–restored and still in use today. (One time when we were visiting there, a
performance of “Porgy and Bess” was in progress!) Just north of the theater at Caesarea ancient Crusader ruins can be visited as well. This is a beautiful area!
The Seas of Israel
Israel is indeed a colorful land of many contrasts. It is a land of history–both ancient and contemporary. It’s topography is varied and the three seas of Israel–The Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean–all add to that color and history. I hope you have an opportunity to visit all three and experience how each of the has contributed to the landscape that we call The State of Israel.