Galilee. We spent today traveling around Galilee, beginning with a drive up to Mount Arbel. Part of the “Horns of Hattin” the summit is 390 meters above the Sea of Galilee and provides an overall view of the north and west corner of the lake. There are signs at the top near the Carob Tree lookout which point out important towns and villages long the shoreline. There are quite a few spectacular photo opportunities at the summit, I have taken group photos at the Carob Tree several times. Actually, I set the all time record for group photos, using every camera
From Arbel we drove through Tiberias to the Jordan River. It was very quiet there, no other tour busses and few people were at the baptismal site. We had a chance to stand by the river and talk about about the more likely locations for the baptism of Jesus, then I read from Matthew 3, beginning with John’s preaching and the account of Jesus’ baptism. Since we had just driven through Nazareth, it was easy to picture Jesus walking from his hometown after he was rejected in the Synagogue to Capernaum.
(As a somewhat oddball aside, there is a small olive tree with a plaque dedicating it to Glenn Beck as a “friend of Israel.” I decided next time I come to the Jordan I am going to sneak in a plaque with my name on it and stick it some place so I too can have a dedicated tree or bush. Possibly a shrubbery.)
Since we were on the south end of the lake, we continued north around the east side of the lake (passing Ma’agan, my favorite place to stay in Galilee) and visited Kursi. This is a little 6th century Byzantine church built near the place Jesus cast out the demon into a herd of pigs. There are many problems with this tradition, not the least of which is that the cliff the guides point out as “the cliff” is so far from the Lake that the pigs would have to fly several hundred feet to hit the water and drown. To my knowledge there is no evidence of a cemetery there either. Still, the location is on a natural road to the Golan Heights, so there may be more to the tradition than meets the eye. We took a few minutes to read Luke 8:26-39 and I talked a bit about why it is important that the demons knew exactly who Jesus was, while the disciples witnesses the calming of the sea and could only ask, “who is this man?” (Luke 8:25).
We continued around the lake to Capernaum. The major attraction for most people the site of Peter’s house. There is a large Catholic church looming over the remains of a house from first century Capernaum and there is very old tradition that this was Peter’s house. I suppose that this might be true, but that does not matter as much to me as the fact that there is a large fourth century synagogue quite near the house, which appears to have a first century synagogue underneath it. I would love to see more work done on the back corner to determine if that room is in fact the first century synagogue, but it would also be a shame to destroy the beautiful later building.
We took a few minutes to read Mark 2:1-12, another passage where people wonder who Jesus is. In this case, Jesus claims to forgive sin, prompting a charge of blasphemy in the minds of the teachers of the Law. Since Jesus did not immediately heal the man, how could he claim to forgive sin! Yet Jesus does heal the man in order to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive. As a bonus, we were able to walk right down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where I read John 20, a resurrection appearance of Jesus on the shore of Galilee. If we assume Peter’s house was on that edge of Capernaum, then it is likely that the beach where Jesus met his disciples was in that area.
After lunch in Nof Ginnosaur, we finished the day at the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like all the sites we visited this day, it was extremely quiet, no tour busses were in the garden when we arrived. We spent a few minutes quietly inspecting the church and garden and then gathered for a time of reflection in one of the pavilions normally reserved for eucharist. Another advantage of the January tour is that the place was deserted – usually reservations are required to use those areas (and raging Protestants like me are not likely to get that reservation!) I read from Matthew 5 and reflected a bit on Jesus and the Law. Since it was our last time together as a group before some of us split off to go to Petra, we had a time of sharing some of the “highlights” of our short tour.
We are off early tomorrow to cross the border into Jordan. We have a day of touring on our way down to Petra. It is hard to believe that this tour is just about over, or that I have to return to the frozen tundra of Michigan in just a few days.