The tour today focused on sites in the Jesus sits in Galilee. We left about 8 AM and made a stop at Yardenet, the pilgrim baptism site on the Jordan River. This is a location that is set up for large groups to come in and participate in a baptism in the Jordan River, although this is not the site Jesus was likely baptized. He was probably baptized near the Dead Sea since those were John the Baptist was baptizing in the Gospels. Nevertheless this is an interesting location because it preserves A portion of the Jordan River for Christian pilgrims. We didn’t perform baptisms today, but I did read from the Gospel of Matthew and talked briefly about Jesus is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.
From the baptismal site we drove through Tiberius to Mount Arbel. This is not so much a biblical site, but a hike up to the top of Mount Arbel to view the sea of Galilee. From the top of the cliffs we can see the west and north quarters of the sea, essentially where all of the Jesus sites are located. We always take a group photo at the carob tree at the top of the hill but it was struck by lightning recently and there is nothing but a little stub left.
Returning to the shore of the sea of Gallilee we stopped at Migdal. Although it was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. The signs of the site suggest the stone is carved to look like the second temple, although this is not particularly conclusive.
But I think it is interesting that this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth. These were not mentioned on any of the signs, and the brochure was late on details. Site costs 10 shekels for students and 12 shekels for adults, so groups will have to weigh the cost for such a short visit. I was told if I made arrangements ahead of time we could have a guide for the site.
After eating lunch and doing some shopping at Nof Ginnasar we arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about 2 o’clock. All of the Catholic sites are closed from noon until two, and there were only two of the buses waiting in line when we arrived. Neither of these groups seemed to enter the actual garden or visit the church. The group was able to visit the chapel, and then we gathered on the rocks near the front of the garden to read the Sermon on the Mount, then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately. This was one of the best visits I have had to the Mount of Beatitudes since it was so quiet and reflective.
We went back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to visit Capernaum. For most the highlight here is Peter’s house, although it is difficult to see much of the house due to the large church built over the top. There is also a beautiful synagogue, although it dates to the fifth or six century, long after the time of Jesus. For me, the highlight of a visit to Capernaum is walking out in the beach near the Sea and reading the Bible. In this case I read Mark 2 since the healing of the paralytic takes place at Peter’s house.
It was getting late in the day so we continued around the lake to Kursi, the traditional site of the exorcism recorded in Mark 5. There is a small Byzantine church on the site which has only partially been restored. We talked through the story, look at the cliffs and wondering how the pigs made the leap into the sea. The simple solution is the pigs were far closer to the Sea than the impressive cliffs.
When we finally turned back into the Ma’agan parking lot we had traveled around the whole of the Sea of Galilee. My students were very tired out by this time and were looking forward to the pool or a nap before dinner.
Tomorrow we enter Jordan and visit Jerash on our way to Petra.