Day 5: Jordan River Baptisms, Jericho, Mt. of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem Old City

Day 5 of the Ecclesia Houston holy land tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started departing Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee shortly after sunrise as we made our way to the Jordan River, the river in which Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan.

I will say that this day of the itinerary is usually the most intense, as we cover so much ground in one day. It’s like packing three days into one. By the time we reached Jerusalem, many of the group remarked something to the effect of, “Wait, we were just at the Jordan baptismal site this morning?”

As you will see in the photos that follow, after our visit to the Jordan River, we made our way to a vista point allowing us a look at the Mount of Temptation where many from the group were able to experience a camel ride. It was a very fun break along the way.

Our tour guide Bassam pointed out that according to Luke’s Gospel 19:1-10, Jesus came through Jericho and met Zacchaeus the tax collector who had climbed a Sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus. In Jericho today, there is a large, old sycamore tree that stands at a major intersection in town. Bassam pointed it out to us and told us that local tradition claims it as Zaccheus’ tree. Although the tree is quite huge, it’s probably not the original tree. If nothing else, it gives visitors a concrete idea of what the scene might have looked like on that day when Jesus passed through the town.

Some very interesting facts about Jericho. Jericho is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. It sits at the edge of the Dead Sea valley, 846 feet below sea-level, which also makes it the lowest inhabited city on earth. It is, literally, an oasis in the desert — a large spring there has fed that part of the valley for thousands of years, and is the only way people have survived there.

We then made our way up to the Mount of Temptation and the Monastery of the Temptation, a Greek Orthodox monastery. The earliest monastery located on the site was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century above the cave traditionally said to be that where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. The monastery receives its name from the mountain which the early Christians referred to as the “Mount of the Temptation.” The Mount of Temptation was identified by Augusta Helena of Constantinople as one of the “holy sites” in her pilgrimage in 326 AD.

When the Crusaders conquered the area in 1099, they built two churches on the site: one in a cave halfway up the cliff and a second on the summit. They referred to the site as “Mons Quarantana” (from Quaranta meaning forty in Italian, the number of days in the Gospel account of Jesus’s fast). Thus the Arabic name of the mountain is Mount Qarantal.

Later in the post, you will see that our journey took us to the archaeological site of the Qumran Caves where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries were made by a shepherd boy, then to the Dead Sea where the group took a float in the extremely bouyant waters, and ultimately on up into the holy city of Jerusalem where we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, and the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. More on these Jerusalem sites in the posts to follow! Quite a day!

Some personal thoughts inspired by this journey:

I have often reflected on the power of a photograph to freeze time and capture a fleeting moment, and for this single moment, at least a thousand words could be written to describe what was felt and experienced within that frame. Then you stop to think of all the countless trillions of images like this which are accessible to God at any given time, and that he knows each one, feels each one, and has books written in his heart for each of us, lovingly journaling all that we have seen, felt, celebrated, and suffered. God sees all and knows all. Just a few pages ago, Jesus was being baptized by John, and in just a few page-turns in our story, we will be in the glory of heaven with God. “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.” (Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 4:17-18).

As it is recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus assures us, “My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:2-4). This idea of pilgrimage extends not only to a visit of the holy land but of our entire lives. We are on a journey, and God, in his ultimate love for us, has shown us the way to live it and promises that he prepares a final home for us at the end of this long journey. What is beautiful is that, while the journey is often full of sorrows and intensity, he has given us fellow sojourners to share the burdens along the way. We have experienced that on this journey here in the holy land. Just a few days ago we were a group of strangers. Now, already, especially after a day like today, we are already starting to feel like family. We have access to so much in the Body of Christ if we only choose to open our arms and receive the love and life-giving support that is available. While my life has seen its share of hard times, I am grateful for all the ways I have found strength through God’s promises and all of my brothers and sisters whom God has gathered around me on this pilgrimage; both this week and in the grander pilgrimage of life.

I wasn’t able to make it up to the Monastery, to the Qumran Caves, nor the Dead Sea on this visit, as I was in serious need of a break, but here are some of my favorite shots from my archives:

Jordan River, Mount of Temptation, Qumran, Dead Sea, Jerusalem Old City

The day started with sunrise over the Sea of Galilee as we made our way along the Jordan River to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. From there we stopped in Jericho for some camel riding before we took the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation where we toured the Greek Orthodox Monastery built into the cliffs of the mountain. Afterward we were treated to views of the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The group then enjoyed a dip in the Dead Sea to experience the extreme buoyancy and rejuvenating properties of the Dead Sea minerals. From there we were not far from Jerusalem so we drove on in to the city to get settled at our hotel. After a much needed break we walked into the old city at Jaffa Gate and enjoyed pizza and wine at Jacob’s Pizza before heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After that we walked through the dark walkways across the city to the Western Wall. Quite a day!

Day4-1Day4-2Day4-3Day4-4Day4-5Day4-6Day4-7Day4-8Day4-9Day4-10Day4-11Day4-12Day4-13Day4-14Day4-15Day4-16Day4-17Day4-18Day4-19Day4-20Day4-21Day4-22Day4-23Day4-24Day4-25Day4-26Day4-27Day4-28Day4-29Day4-30Day4-31Day4-32Day4-33Day4-34Day4-35Day4-36Day4-37Day4-38Day4-39Day4-40Day4-41Day4-42Day4-43Day4-44Day4-45Day4-46Day4-47Day4-48Day4-49Day4-50Day4-51Day4-52Day4-53Day4-54Day4-55Day4-56Day4-57Day4-58Day4-59Day4-60Day4-61Day4-62Day4-63Day4-64Day4-65Day4-66Day4-67Day4-68Day4-69Day4-70Day4-71Day4-72Day4-73Day4-74Day4-75Day4-76Day4-77Day4-78Day4-79Day4-80Day4-81Day4-82Day4-83Day4-84Day4-85Day4-86

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jordan River, Mt. of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem by Night

On day 5 of our journey we covered a lot of ground. We started our day at a baptismal site believed to be the closest to where Jesus was baptized. It’s a beautiful area with nothing else around it except for what’s across the river on the Jordanian side, you’ll see a couple of orthodox churches.

Day5-2Day5-3Day5-4Day5-8Day5-9Day5-6Day5-7Day5-10Day5-5Day5-11Day5-12

From there we went on to Jericho for some camel rides and a trip up to the Mount of Temptation on the cable cars. The views from the mount’s sheer cliff dropoff are breathtaking.

Day5-14Day5-16Day5-17Day5-1Day5-18Day5-21Day5-19Day5-20

Next up was the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.

Day5-27Day5-25Day5-26

Next we heard from a representative of a local water conservationist NGO (EcoPeace Middle East) who showed us how far water levels were dropping. She took us to a previous resort that is now closed and abandoned because it is no longer at the shoreline of the Dead Sea.

Day5-23Day5-24Day5-22

After that we visited Kalia Beach on the Dead Sea where we experienced the peculiar sensation of extreme buoyancy and the rejuvenating effects of the mineral-rich Dead Sea mud.

Day5-29Day5-30Day5-34Day5-35Day5-31Day5-32Day5-33Day5-28

We packed up and then made our way to Jerusalem. We enjoyed wine and pizza in the old city at Pastor Chris’ favorite spot, Jacob’s Pizza. Then we were able to make it to the Holy Sepulcher before closing time. We entered the old city through the Jaffa Gate…

Day5-36Day5-13Day5-37Day5-38Day5-40

Afterward we saw the generations-old tradition of the locking of the doors of the Holy Sepulcher, something I personally had never witnessed in any of my five visits here.

Day5-41Day5-42Day5-43

We walked onward through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Pastor Chris was invited by some orthodox Jews to dance with them as they sang songs at the wall. Quite a night!

Day5-44Day5-47Day5-46Day5-48Day5-45Day5-49Day5-50