This was another day of great weather for our tour, just a bit over 80 and breezy. We started the day Yardenet, location in Gaillee on the Jordan River for Christians to get baptized. Well, not all Christians, I suppose. We spent only thirty minutes talking about the likelihood this was the place Jesus was baptized as well as the reasons Jesus wanted to be baptized by John in the first place. It really is a lovely place early in the morning before the tourists start showing up.
From there we drove through Tiberias to Mount Arbel. This is a National Park which includes a hike to one of the most spectacular viewing points in the Galilee. Located on the west side of the lake, we can see all of the significant Jesus sites in Galilee. Since the Parks service took over Mount Arbel, they have improved the trail and provided toilets and a cold water tap. If you have the time to get there first thing in the morning, I highly recommend the walk.
Coming down from Arbel we drove to several of the traditional locations for Jesus’ ministry. For the most part these traditions go back to the Byzentine period, but they are still only traditions. I personally think it is better to say a particular site is “in the general area of where Jesus did something” without claiming absolute certainty (or worse, sacred ground). For example, the Mount of Beatitudes is as likely as any of the surrounding hills for the Sermon on the Mount, but it is probably not the mount. Jesus taught in many such places, and the Sermon was not really delivered in one location. But the Mount of Beatitudes is a nice place to read and reflect on Jesus’ teaching.
We ate lunch at “Jesus Boat” at Nof Ginnosaur on the plain of Gennesert. There is a display describing how the boat was discovered and preserved, and you can pay for a multimedia tour and see the actual boat. I have done this a few times and I have enjoyed the presentation, but I am not sure it is worth the money for college students. I called the cafe ahead of time and they had falafel, schwarma, schnitzel, and pizza waiting for us, $10 or $11 including a drink (including juices, $3 alone). They spiff the plate up with a few chips and offer a piece of chocolate for desert. The shop is good for a few Christian souvenirs (“ie., “Jesus Junk”), but I thought the prices were higher than usual.
After lunch we drove up to Capernaum. The site is significant as the traditional location of Saint Peter’s house and more importantly, a fifth century synagogue which has been nicely restored. We happened to get there before many of the big tour groups had finished lunch, so the park was virtually deserted. I was able to go right to Peter’s house and everyone entered the church to look down through the glass floor into the house itself. After this we looked at the various archaeological pieces on display before entering the synagogue.
The highlight of visiting Capernaum today was our time on the beach. We had an amazing spot by the lake, and I read from John 21, the catch of fish and restoration of Peter. (People from my church might recognize that as my sermon a few Sundays ago, but that is not likely!) the time we spent reading Scriptue and talking by the sea was probably the best time I have had at this (usually crowded) Christian site.
One other note: this is the first time I have visited Capernaum since they have finished renovations on the entrance. They have moved all the lintels to the left of the synagogue and opened up a huge space decorated with a mosaic. Peter himself has been moved to overlook the lake. There is now a wide open area for people to sit in front of the church. I hope they now continue this project and use brick for the area guides sit and talk to the groups. The area had many benches and shade, but it is paved with gravel so it is impossible to move 25 people quietly past another tour group.
We ended our drive around the lake at Kursi, the traditional place where Jesus cast out a demon into some pigs (Luke 8:26-39). There is a late Byzentine church there, but the chances the cliffs just behind the church are the actual cliffs the pigs run off seems remote. It is the right general area, however, since the villages in the area would have been Gentile, and the lake is nearby. Kursi is a strange place to visit since I have never seen another group there and even the person in the ticket booth seemed surprised to see 25 people marching into the church. Yet the grounds are very well kept, the trees and plants in the church are quite nice.
We returned to the hotel at Ma’agan for pool and dinner. Tomorrow we crossed into Jordan and visit Jeresh, ending a long day of travel in Petra.