To the east of the Jordan River today is the country of Jordan. In Old Testament times, Israel was largely to the west of the Jordan River, so the area to the east was called Transjordan (across the Jordan). The tribes that settled in Transjordan were: Reuben (on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, south of us), Gad (the area we drive through tomorrow), and half of Manasseh (on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, north of us). The territory to the east of where we land (Amman) was owned by the Ammonites.
Tomorrow we travel northwards up the Jordan River valley, on the eastern side of the river. For most of the year, the river no longer flows; all the water is used for irrigation. Cutting deeply into the landscape, you’ll see the Jabbok River on our right. Remember when Jacob had cheated his brother and fled for 20 years? On his return journey, it was as he crossed the Jabbok that he wrestled with God, and his name was changed from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:22-28). Some Jewish people still think of themselves as the people who strive with God.
The territory west of the Jordan River is today known as the West Bank. Unfortunately, we cannot enter this space. In the time of the Divided Kingdom, Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom (Israel). After Assyria invaded (722 BC) the area was settled by people of mixed ethnicity, called the Samaritans in Jesus’ day.
About 13 km south of the Sea of Galilee, we’ll change buses as we cross into Israel. We’ll then continue northwards to Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. At least 15 man-made ports were scattered around its shores in Jesus’ time.
Tiberias was built by Herod Antipas as capital of the region in honour of Tiberias Caesar (reigned 14 – 37 AD). It was the largest city in Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry, and it later became a key centre of Judaism (after 135 AD). As far as we know, Jesus never went there! Why would Jesus avoid such an important place? (Hint: Matthew 14:1-2; Luke 13:31-32; 23:8-12.)