This morning’s activities started rather solemnly. We left the hotel at 8:00 AM and drove around the west side of the Sea of Galilee in order to get to the outlet at the south end of the sea, which is the Jordan River. The Jordan River is an ancient body of water, as seen by its meandering nature. It doesn’t so much flow straight as an ordinary river, but rather meanders, like a snake moves across the sand. To give you an idea of just how “back and forth” it is, the distance between the outlet of the Sea of Galilee and the entrance to the Dead Sea is about 70 miles, as the crow flies. But if you were to get into a boat and follow the course of the river you would travel 210 miles.
Near the outlet from the Sea of Galilee we followed the Jordan River to the place of baptism. This is not the place where Jesus was baptized. That would be much nearer the Dead Sea, and the Jordan River at that point hardly exists anymore. This place of baptism is for the multitude of tourists who come here wanting to be baptized in the Jordan River like Jesus was. As I said earlier I was appointed to be “John the Baptist” (and I’m not even a Baptist!). We had about a dozen people who were wanting to be baptized in the Jordan so I gathered them together in one of the little alcoves they have for this purpose and had a little teaching session from Romans 6:1-6. We had several Catholics, Presbyterians, non-denominational church people, and some without any particular church background so I knew I had better be as plain as I could be from the text of Scripture. They were all very appreciative of the teaching and my assistance in this matter. I hope it bears some spiritual fruit for all of them. As a memento of this special experience each of the baptismal groups were videotaped and when we were ready to leave everyone was able to buy a DVD of their baptism. Our tour group consists of forty people and are quite a cross section of ages and interests. So any tour guide has his hands full appealing to everyone, but I think we are all working fairly well together.
After leaving the Jordan River we passed through the biblical town of Bet Shean and stayed long enough to view an ancient Roman amphitheater. It was quite well preserved and only recently were they able to purchase the entire property from a local owner so they could complete the archeological dig and open it up to view for tourists.
We then went on to Jericho where we were able to see the hodge podge of results when various archeologists take turns trying to find the old city walls of the town and none of them agree on the results. Why is that important? Well, when Israel entered the Promised Land to conquer it Jericho was their first conquest. And everyone knows the story of “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumbelin’ down.” Which walls? And when did this happen? They are still arguing about that, but in the meantime there are these huge ugly mounds of dirt lying around that I am sure the city fathers would love to get rid of. Jericho is also considered the oldest continuosly inhabited city in the world. And it was called the city of palm trees. We can vouch for that. Another thing people want to see when they come here is the Sycamore tree. What Sycamore tree? You know, the one that Zaccheus climbed in order to see Jesus as he was passing through the town. Well, we did see a Sycamore tree but can’t vouch for the idea that “this is the one.”
The group then went on to visit one of my favorite places—Qumran. It was here that the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947—one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century. Why was this important? It seems that the oldest copies of the Old Testament manuscripts we possessed before 1947 were from about the 10th century A.D. –about 1,000 years after Christ. It had always opened up the criticism that the Old Testament Scriptures couldn’t be trusted since our copies were so late in history and far removed from the times they wrote about. But when the Dead Sea scrolls were found they contained copies of almost every Old Testament book (except Ruth), including two complete copies of the book of Isaiah (a book filled with prophecies of the Messiah). And when the newer copies were compared with the much older copies (dated about the 2nd Century B. C.) , it was found that they were almost exactly alike—a great testimony to the scribes who copied them during that 1,200 year period. And, of course, it weakens the argument stated above.
We continued our trip from Qumran (located by the Northwest shore of the Dead Sea) to our hotel located by the Southwest shore of the Dead Sea. I was amazed at the resort amenities in this very hot wilderness location. The last time I was here there was no activity in this region except for a few hyenas and Ibex roaming about. But now we could sit by the salty sea in a lounge chair and even dip our bodies in this slimy body of water and bob around like a cork, as you will see Kathy doing in one of these shots I have provided for you.