Northern Israel

On the third weekend of the Shiloh excavation, I took a carload of team members north for a weekend trip to sites in the Galilee region and beyond. We made a list of sites we’d like to visit, but we left a bit of free time for spontaneous adventures.

Caesarea Beach

Our first stop was an unplanned one. We decided to travel up along the coast of Israel, and as we were passing Caesarea Maritima, one of our group members, who had recently injured his back, asked if we could stop so he could do some stretches.

I turned off the highway and parked at the Caesarea beach. I’d been here several times before and always enjoyed it. The sea is a glorious blue, lapping peacefully against the edge of a wide sandy beach. A Roman-era aqueduct runs parallel to the beach line, its arches creating picturesque frames for the view of the beach. For two of our group members, this was their first visit to the Mediterranean Sea, and they were glad of the chance to take off their shoes and wade into the waves. I walked along the beach, looking for bits of glass polished smooth by the sea’s waves.

We didn’t spend a lot of time at the beach, but we were all glad of the chance to stop there. We got back into the car and resumed our journey northward.


Our first planned stop was at Hazor. We had gotten an early start to our day, so even with our unplanned stop at the beach, we arrived shortly after the site opened for the day.

Hazor water system

Hazor is a massive site that has been extensively excavated. I discussed it in a fairly recent blog post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. We explored the palace/temple, an oil press in a four-room house, and the gate complex. Here is a video that I helped one of our team members make explaining how the city gate worked.

We also descended the many steps into the water system. When we reached the bottom, we found that the archaeologists were still working in the water system. There were not there at the moment, but they had left pails full of dirt with a sign inviting tourists to help out by carrying them up to the top. We obliged and several of us carried pailfuls of dirt back up the steps with us. Does that mean that I can add Hazor to the list of sites that I’ve helped excavate?


The mudbritck city gate at Tel Dan

Our next stop was at the ancient site of Dan. This is one of my favorite sites in Israel because this is one of the sources of the headwaters of the Jordan river. Springs gush out of the rocky ground and streams trickle through pebbly beds, joining together into a mighty rushing river.

Dan is probably most famous for being one of the high places for the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam erected two golden calves, one here at Dan and one at Bethel, in an attempt to prevent the Israelites from going to Jerusalem to worship God (1 Kings 12:26–30).

We wandered around the site, stopping to examine the archaeological ruins and to dip our feet into the water.

Caesarea Phillipi

Caesarea Philippi

From Dan, we headed to Caesarea Phillipi, which lay nearby. This site also featured a spring that filled a large pool with water.

A steep cliff face was the main attraction at this site. The site dated to the Roman era. Shrines were carved into the rocky surface, part of the remains of a temple to Pan. A dark cave leading downward was known as the gates of hell. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), it was fenced off, so I couldn’t explore it. It was here at Caesarea Phillipi that Jesus promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Perhaps they, like us, were gazing at the same gaping entrance to darkness below.

At Herod Phillip’s palace

After admiring the rocky cliff area, we set out in search of an area marked on the site map as an archaeological excavation. It proved elusive, and we ended up going on a pleasant ramble along a dirt path lined with green foliage. At one point, we entered a tunnel and crossed beneath the highway. Later, we crossed a river on a pretty bridge. Finally, the path turned and we found ourself in a large archaeological complex. We had lost track of where we were on the site map, but if we calculated correctly, it was probably the palace of Herod Phillip II.

Abel Beth Ma’achah

Our final stop for the day was at Abel Beth Ma’achah, a site in the far northern point of Israel. This site name appears several times in the Old Testament, usually in reference to the first city attacked by invaders from the north. That made sense, because it is almost certainly the farthest north tel in Israel.

Abel Beth Ma’achah

We found the site with no problem, but getting up onto the tel was not so easy. We drove around the perimeter of the mound, looking for a route up. Finally, on our second lap, we found a gated gravel road.

The gate had a sign in handwritten (cursive) Hebrew. Google Translate could not read it. I looked up a chart of Hebrew cursive letters and deciphered it one letter at a time. Once I had figured out the letters, I typed the message into Google Translate and was rewarded with a legible reading. It was a sign requesting those who went through to shut the gate behind themselves. We went through and shut the gate. I opted to leave my car at the bottom, since the road looked a bit rough.

We hiked up the road and found an old excavation area at the top. There wasn’t a whole lot to see there, so we kept looking. By following trails, we were able to find several other old excavation areas scattered across the site. We knew that a team of archaeologists were planning to excavate at Abel Beth Ma’achah this summer, but they had not yet started for the season, so there were no new excavations yet.

We hiked back down the trail to the car. We hadn’t really been able to understand what was at the site from what we had seen. At best, all we could say was that we had seen the site. I’d love to get a tour from one of the archaeologists excavating there sometime so that I can understand it better.

Abel Beth Ma’achah was our last stop for the day. We headed back south to the Sea of Galilee. We had reserved an Air B&B on the northwest side of the lake. We had another full day of sightseeing planned for the next day, but I think I will save that for another blog post, since this one is quite long already.

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