Monday, July 13, 2015

ISRAEL: TEL DAN, THE GOLAN HEIGHTS, MOUNT HERMON, AND THE HERMON SPRINGS AT BANIAS

One of our excursions took us north towards Mount Hermon, which is situated on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The Golan Heights are located on the southern slopes. I was surprised this area was part of our itinerary because of the repeated conflict that has occurred there.
The Golan Heights were part of Syria when Israel seized the region in the Six Day War of 1967, and it's been a hotspot ever since. Mount Hermon, which straddles Syria and Lebanon, is a natural buffer between Israel and Syria, a strategic lookout point, and a highly desirable piece of real estate. 

We started out at the Tel Dan National Park, a nature reserve that includes some ancient Canaanite ruins. The snowmelt of Mount Hermon collects in the Dan River, which flows through the park and feeds into the Jordan River. A third of Israel's water comes from this source.
It is a picturesque setting, peaceful and unspoiled.

We were there in March, prime time for spring run-off, and water was plunging down the channel:


 

We stopped mid-way down the trail at a shallow wading pool and listened to Michael tell us the story of Elisha and Naaman. Elisha told Naaman the leper to wash in the Jordan River. Naaman said he would rather wash in Damascus, but eventually he followed directions and was healed.

Michael pointed out that we all, like Naaman, want to do it our own way. Then Michael asked us, "Why did Naaman have to dip himself seven times in the river? And which dip healed him?" He pointed out that the accumulation of simple, repeated acts brings God's blessings. There may be times when we say, "This isn't working," but we need to keep going. We are usually not asked to do great things, but rather simple things again and again and again.
I was determined to put my feet in every significant body of water we visited, so here we are with our feet in the Jordan River (or at least its tributary):
It was cool and refreshing:
Our Israeli guide Ilon also listened and waited for his turn:
After a nice rest and a good lecture, we got back on the trail:
We came across some very old ruins. Somewhere around here was the Biblical city of Laish, which was conquered and destroyed by the tribe of Dan in the 11th century BC. The tribe rebuilt the city and renamed it after themselves.
Markers along the way tell the story:
After the death of Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The people of the northern kingdom included the people of Dan. To keep his people from going to the temple in Jerusalem, their leader Jeroboam built a sanctuary and put a golden calf in it. Over the ensuing centuries, a cult center developed in Dan and other heathen gods were worshipped there.
A map shows the structure of the site:
Diagrams help visitors envision the rites:
A steel structure outlines the ancient main altar:
Here is the bema or "high place":

Our guide told us that just over yonder hills is Syria. Really? Yikes!
We got back on the bus and traveled through more beautiful countryside, all part of the Golan Heights:
We arrived at Banias, another source of water for the Jordan River, again made of snowmelt from Mt. Hermon:
The site has dual interest. This area was associated with the Greek god Pan (the god of wild places and of hunting), and during the time of Christ it was the city of Caesarea Philippi.
It was here, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, that Jesus asked his apostles who they thought he was. At first they responded with what those around them said about Jesus, that he was John the Baptist, or Elias, or Jeremiah, or another one of the prophets. But Jesus pushed and asked who THEY thought he was. Wonderful Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father which is in heaven." 
Surprisingly, we did not see a single mention of this scriptural event anywhere, no little church built up on the spot, no marker or monument. There was just the life-giving water bursting from every nook and cranny:

On the other hand, there is some fuss about Pan. The Cave of Pan is partially visible in the picture below:


The Ptolemaic kings built a cult center in this area in the 3rd century BC. 

This section is the Court of Pan and the Nymphs:
According to signs at the site, it was built in the mid-1st century AD, and the artificial cave in the previous pictures was quarried at the same time. It held a statue of Pan. In 148 AD, additional niches were carved into the rock, one for Echo, who was a mountain nymph and Pan's escort, and the other for Hermes, who was Pan's father.
It's interesting to see the overlap of the beginning of Christianity and the continuation of pagan worship.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop to procure some sustenance (we often had long days with no lunch provided). I got a kick out of some of their merchandise:




5 comments:

  1. I think this was some of the most beautiful scenery of our trip.

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  2. Contrast Dan and Banias with Masada. Mt. Hermon was certainly more inviting than the mountain Masada was on, the streams more inviting than the Dead Sea. In Israel you just walk from one archaelogical site to the next and the parking lot you are on is covering up other archaelogical sites.

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  3. Did you bring back some Holy Water? BTW, we finished watching Masada last night. Good suggestion!

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    1. Since I'm not sure what the Jorden River is, I passed. Glad you like Masada!

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  4. I loved this post--such beautiful scenery. And I'm happy to know that Israel has America's back.

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