It was just another roadside stop on my quest to find and photograph every biblical site known in the country of Jordan.  While most tourists, even those biblically oriented, don’t visit much more than Petra, Jerash (Gerasa), and Mount Nebo, there are dozens of other sites in Jordan mentioned in the
Old Testament.  I was at one of these when my traveling partner decided he had seen enough piles of rocks and was going to wait in the car.

This site, however, was more than a pile of rocks.  Recent excavations had revealed some walls, floors, and a cave.  As I made a circuit around the site, I had the distinct impression that I was looking at a temple.  I cannot recall now all the features that led me to this conclusion, but by the time I returned to the car I was absolutely convinced that I had “discovered” a temple at biblical Ataroth (modern Attarus or Ataroz).

Some later research revealed that excavators from LaSierra University believed they were working on an Iron Age temple.  The natural question for me was whether this was a Moabite temple or an Israelite temple.  I was not privy to the details, and these could be ambiguous in any case (faithless Israelites do not look very different from their neighbors).  Biblically we know that this area, the Medeba Plateau, shifted hands several times between the Israelites and their cousins.  Perhaps you recall Jephthah’s declaration that this land belonged to Israel for 300 years (Judges 11:26).  At the time he was contesting Ammonite control, but at other times it was the Moabites who were trying to expand into the land that Israel conquered under Moses (Numbers 21:21-35).

Yesterday news of the temple discovery was published by the Associated Press (HT: Joe Lauer).  The story notes that about 300 vessels and deity figurines were uncovered, most in the last few months.  It also attributes the temple to the Moabites.  Such a designation does not surprise me for two reasons. 

First, the Moabites probably controlled this area more than the Israelites did.  Second, there are political reasons for not associating ancient Israelites with the country of Jordan.  But if you’re thinking that the Israelites would never have a temple outside of Jerusalem, then you haven’t read your Bible very well.  The Israelites had shrines all over the place.  Even Solomon built a high place to the Moabite god for his Moabite wife (1 Kings 11:7).

The AP article has only two photos about the discovery, both showing artifacts.  Below are two images of the temple itself, both taken six years ago.  Apparently it was the recent discovery of the figurines that led to the press conference only now announcing the temple.

Ataroth temple on summit, tb061204042
Iron Age temple at Ataroth
Ataroth temple eastern end, tb061204039
“Holy of holies” of Iron Age temple

One of my favorite hikes in Israel is described in a recent story in the Jerusalem Post.  The Nahal Darga is a large canyon that drains the Judean Wilderness into the Dead Sea.  The marvelous hike combines spectacular views, historic caves, and challenging climbing.  Jacob Solomon’s article offers sage advice, but if you’re planning to heed the call, do not make the same mistake that he does and miss the real jewel of the hike, that is, climbing down the canyon itself!  Some excerpts from the article:

This is a memorable, varied and demanding full-day route. Shaded for much of the way, the earlier parts follow the deep, steep-sided gorge of Nahal Darga, and the sun should be well behind the Judean Hills by the late afternoon descent to the finish at Mitzpe Shalem. Check the flash-flood forecast immediately before this excursion….
You have reached one of the last stands of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132-135 CE), led by Simeon Bar Kosiba, a.k.a. Bar Kochba. The official Roman conversion of Jerusalem to the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina with a temple to the god Jupiter fired a rebellion of sufficient magnitude for Emperor Hadrian to bring down his premier general Severus, then in Britain. The fighters retreated, making their last guerrilla-style stands in these mountains in the hopeful but erroneous belief that the geographical obstacles you have just surmounted might deter Hadrian’s imperial army.

If you do opt to climb through the canyon, you must be in good shape, you may need climbing rope, and you will get wet and probably dirty.  You also would be wise to leave anything behind that cannot get wet, including your camera. 

Nahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107575Nahal Darga from above
Wadi Murabaat, Bar Kochba cave, view from interior, tb021107619Wadi Murabaat = Nahal Darga, Cave where Bar Kochba scrolls found

Nahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107581

The best part of the hike is through the canyon itself 
Nahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107612 
The best time of the year to hike Nahal Darga is February to April.  After that, the temperatures are too hot and the water becomes too putrid.

The Jerusalem Post has an article about tourism in the Golan Heights, including Mount Hermon, Druze villages, B&Bs in Ramot, wineries and Hammat Gader.

A budding tourist industry, which boasts a ski resort, boutique wineries and posh inns, has sprouted on the unlikely brush and volcanic rock terrain of the Golan Heights, where memories of bloody battles are still fresh.
The Mount Hermon Ski Resort, which peaks at about 2,225 meters above sea level, has some 50 days of good skiing a year, says General Manager Menahem Baruch. The resort draws about 280,000 visitors a year.

Mount Hermon ski area, tb020506986
Mount Hermon ski resort

An intelligence-collecting radar station sits on the mountain’s summit, where, on a good day, a naked eye can see all the way to Damascus. The land is dotted with trenches, foxholes, and a now-empty army base captured by the Syrians in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and later retaken by Israeli troops, at the cost of the lives of more than 100 soldiers.

“The Hermon is not just a ski resort,” Baruch says.

“Since Yom Kippur [War], it has become the eyes of the nation and has taken on the significance and importance of a national site.”

In 1983, there were 6,800 Jews living on the Golan. In 2005, that number had almost tripled to 17,000, who live alongside 20,000 Druse and 2,000 Muslims, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In the past three years, the government has invested NIS 26 million in improving the tourist infrastructure on the Golan. At the end of last year, there were 17 hotels in the Golan and nearby Upper Galilee, with 1,340 rooms available. More than 48,000 people stayed in the area in 2007, according to the Tourism Ministry.

I love the Golan and this article gives only a few of the reasons why.

The rest of the story is here.


My impression that there were too many tourists in Israel last month was correct.  In fact, there has never been more tourists in the history of the nation.  Haaretz reports:

Nearly 300,000 tourists visited Israel in May, an all-time record, the Ministry of Tourism said.
The number of tourists was five percent higher than May of 2000, Israel’s record year for tourism, and at the current pace, 2.8 million tourists are on track to visit by the end of the year, according to the ministry….
By 2012, the ministry’s goal is to attract five million tourists, have 220,000 workers employed in the tourism industry and have tourism revenues of NIS 43 billion.

Goals are good, but it might be wise for the budgeters to keep in mind that 5 months after Israel’s record-breaking May 2000, tourism nearly ground to a halt for about 3 years.

Mount of Olives from City of David, tb051908125dxo
Tour buses parked near Garden of Gethsemane

If the optimists are right, you’re best to avoid the month of May in future years if possible.  You know it’s going to be bad when there are no seats left for your group’s flight in a year in advance (that’s my situation for next May).  Here are some advantages to going in other months:

  • February: no tourists (but potentially lots of rain)
  • March: everything is green and wildflowers are everywhere
  • August: no tourists (but you’ll know why as you hesitate to get off the air-conditioned bus)
  • October: possibly my favorite month of the year in Israel, with great temperatures and no rain
  • December: clearer air (less haze) means better panoramic views

This might be of interest to some readers:

Dear Professors, Colleagues, and Group Leaders, We are currently taking sign ups for the MARCH 6-14, 2009 FAM. TRIP! And this year we are offering a SPECIAL optional Extension to Israel! We are happy to have Dr. Mark Wilson accompany the Fam. Trip group next year, to share his vast knowledge of the country, its culture and history. The March familiarization trip is for professors who are bringing or would like to bring a group to Turkey and want to come to experience some of the sights on their own before making a group tour. This trip has very limited space because of the special price.  The professor price of $1,195 is land, airfare & tax inclusive, based on double occupancy, with airfare from New York, JFK. The cost of a single room is $1,490 per person. Please ask for our spouse rate. Participants of this trip are responsible for their own transport to and from JFK. If you are interested in signing up for this trip please contact me for further details. As usual, we will be organizing yet another memorable event, open to all Christians, at the ancient city of Ephesus.  We would like to invite all of you to join our Famous Ephesus Meeting May 2009! www.ephesusmeeting.com , you can watch our introductory movie here. Ephesus Meeting 2009 is a spiritual journey to the Biblical Sites and the Early Churches in Turkey. We have many wonderful University, College, Seminary and Church groups join this event. The event is an unforgettable experience of fascinating speakers, wonderful music, and a spiritual ambiance in an ancient land…. We are also excited about our NEW website. Please click here, www.turkeystudyabroad.com, to view our special group programs of Cultural Exploration and Education, Art Programs, Archaeology Programs, Culinary Programs and Ancient Medicine Programs. We hope to meet you AT OUR BOOTH in Providence, RI November 19-21, at ETS (booth #406), and in Boston, MA November 22-24, at SBL, (booth #117).  We will also be offering an additional meeting, with a slide show presentation, on The Seven Churches, and the Footsteps of St. Paul in Asia Minor.  ETS additional meeting, date and time will be announced and the SBL additional meeting is Sunday, November 23 from 4:00- 6:30 pm…. Ephesus Meeting www.ephesusmeeting.com
Tutku Tours www.tutkutours.com