We continued our theme of going where our friends have not gone by heading to Gamala. It was cold. So cold in fact, that it turned out the trail was closed and we could not actually hike out to the site. We were able to huddle above at the overlook, however, and Curtis told us the story. This was the site of the last stand of the Jewish rebellion circa 64 BC. The Rabbi Gamaliel later spoke of it when he encouraged the religious leaders in Jerusalem to leave Jesus alone because if it wasn’t from God it would come to nothing just like the uprising that culminated there at Gamala.
It helped us understand better the political climate of the sliver of time between the Hasmonean dynasty and the failed rebellion that would come in AD 70. Jesus came to a diverse culture full of zealots and Hellenists…Pharisees and Sadducees…Jews and Samaritans…it was an ever-thickening hot mess of strong opinions and corrupt leaders; high taxes and low tolerance of others.
Sounds a little familiar.
Gamla was never rebuilt and it’s ruins were silent. Just us and the birds soaring overhead did not seem to be bothered by the cold.
Again, Jesus likely did come here although it was not specifically named in Scripture. He likely brought His simple message to these redneck farmers. Maybe many times.
From there we took a hard turn and studied some of Israel’s modern history from the unlikely university of the Eli Cohen. Your friends have not been here.
The building lies in a quiet strip of nothing, almost on the current Syrian border (and within the disputed territory). It was a fabulous and fabulously cold experience to walk through the long, graffiti covered halls and ponder the years of hatred and conflict, plotting and planning that was hosted in the many rooms. (If you aren’t familiar with Eli Cohen, you can see the dramatized version of his story in the Prime Video feature, Impossible Spy)
We shivered our way back to the van and it took a while even then to warm up. We headed from there to Banis—there’s nothing quite like visiting the gates of hell on a snowy March day.
Banis is beautiful but it was the site of some of the most grotesque pagan practices of that time. There is record of Jesus coming to this area—known then as Cesarea Philipi. In fact, Jesus may have stood on the same rock we stood on near the temple to the god Pan a/k/a the “Gates of Hell” when he famously declared that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
It was sunny, windy, and snowy alternately so we didn’t loiter too long before making our way into the restaurant there for a delicious “Lebanese” lunch.
When we were sufficient full of chicken kabobs and hummus, we headed towards Nimrods castle—not an original plan but kinda a cool place if you ever find yourself in Israel with a couple of hours to kill.
The most pressing question on many of our minds was…how in the world did they heat this place? I can’t even imagine living in a stone structure on top of a snowy mountain with nothing but cold wind for company. Brrr.
Clearly, tons of time and effort was spent building this incredible defensive. It now provides an amazing house for the Irex (?) which appear to be living there quite comfortably despite the weather.
Our last stop was beside the side of the road to get some fresh pomegranate juice. The local vendors seemed very glad to see a van of tourists pull up. I suspect it has been a long two years of shut down for them.
I was exhausted by the time we reached the guest ranch and more interested in a hot bath than dinner. The front desk lady took one look at me and asked, “where on earth did you go on this cold day?”
So I told her: A cold place, a really cold place, and an even colder place.
So I told her: A cold place, a really cold place, and an even colder place. I guess I should have told her the truth: a closed national park, the Israeli/Syrian border, and the gates of hell. So…what did you do today?