Israel Trip – Magdala, Bethsaida, Dan, Banias Spring, Caesarea Philippi

Posted April 19, 2020 by Phyllis Helton in Israel 2020 /

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Our third day found us traveling to a newly discovered archeological site, the town of Magdala. This town is on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee, just a little north of Tiberias. It was rediscovered in 2009 when the land was purchased for a retreat center. There are archeological tests required in Israel before building can commence – while performing them, the ruins of this town were discovered.

The synagogue here dates back to the first century AD and some scholars believe that Jesus would have taught here during his ministry!

In case you are wondering why Magdala sounds familiar, it is the hometown of the Mary from whom Jesus cast the demons. After her deliverance, she traveled with Jesus and his disciples. She was at the cross when Jesus was crucified (unlike most of the disciples!) and was the first person Jesus appeared to after he rose from the dead!

Magdala was also the home of Yosef ben Matityahu, later known to the world as Josephus Flavius.


Bethsaida was the recorded birthplace of several of Jesus’ disciples: Andrew, Peter, and Philip (John 1:43-44). In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus led a blind man out of the village of Bethsaida and healed him.

In Luke 9:10-17, we are told that it was near the town of Bethsaida where Jesus fed 5,000 men (not including women and children) with only five loaves and two fish.

Sadly, the people of this town were like those of Capernaum and refused to believe Jesus’ message and thus the city was condemned in Matthew 11:20-24. To this day, there is speculation as to whether the ruins we visited here are from the city of Bethsaida or if it was another site.

Camels, Purim, and Lunch

Little did we know that the opportunity for riding a camel we had here at Bethsaida would be the last one on the trip. Only a few from our group took advantage of it here.

Notice the tag in the camel’s ear in the picture. Do you think this is the equivalent of a license plate?

From here, we headed North. For lunch, we stopped at a food court along the way. We noticed many people in costume and found out they were dressed that way because of Purim. Apparently, dressing in costume is one of the ways it is celebrated in Israel right now. Purim is the celebration of the deliverance of the Jews from total annihilation, as recorded in the book of Esther.


In Genesis 14, we are told Abram’s nephew Lot was taken captive along with the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. In a daring move, Abram took his 318 trained men and chased the armies of four kings all the way to the north of Israel to Dan and made a magnificent rescue!

In 1979, the earliest man-made arch in the world was found here at Dan. It is almost 4,000 years old and is known as Abraham’s Gate. There is a distinct possibility that Abraham walked through this very gate to enter the city!

When Israel was divided into two kingdoms, Jeroboam became the king of the Northern tribes. In an attempt to keep the tribes from going to Jerusalem (in the Southern kingdom) to worship, Jeroboam set up two altars, in Dan and Bethel and erected golden calves at both! This is told in I Kings 12:25-33.

The site of the altar was found along with a horn of the altar. In the picture below, the metal represents the height the altar would have been!

Across from the gate of Dan, off in the distance on the slope of Mount Hermon the Nimrod Fortress was barely visible. Also known as the Nimrod Castle, it is a medieval Ayyubid castle situated on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon, on a ridge rising about 800 m above sea level. It overlooks the Golan Heights and was built to guard a major access route to Damascus against armies coming from the west.

Caesarea Philippi

This was such a lovely area, with streams of water and towering red cliffs. The current name, Banias, reflects the pagan usage of this area, as at one time there was a temple to Pan.

While we were looking at the cave of Pan there, I noticed up on the cliff some pigeons fluttering around and then realized there was another creature up there. I was excited to realize it is a hyrax, also known as a coney or rock badger. Immediately I thought of Proverbs 30:26

Hyraxes – they aren’t powerful but they make their homes among the rocks

Tonight during devotions, part of the reading was Psalm 104. Verse 18 also speaks of the hyrax:

High in the mountains live the wild goats, and the rocks form a refuge for the hyraxes.

It was while near Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asked His disciples who the people said he was. The answers ranged from John the Baptist, to Elijah, to one of the other prophets. He then asked who they said He was and Simon Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20

How about you? Have you come to know Him as God and savior?


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