Jesus in Galilee

Our day focused on sites in Galilee associated with Jesus and his ministry. We stopped at Yardenet yesterday. Yardenet is the pilgrim baptism site on the Jordan River. It is set up for large groups to 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.

This year we went round the lake counter-clockwise.We did this on the advice of our Israeli guide who thought it would be better to visit Mount Arbel later in the afternoon so the sun to the west and the viewing of the Sea of Galilee is better. This means the day began by driving from Ma’agan 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, or this traditional site is not correct.

Kursi, Mark 5 , Demons

We arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about ten AM, and it was packed full of pilgrims. We managed to weave our way through several larger groups and find a nice mostly shaded spot to read from Matthew 5 and talk a bit about the Beatitudes. (See this post, What are the Beatitudes?) The group was able to visit the octagonal chapel then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately.

We drove from there to the Church of the Primacy of Peter. For whatever reason, I have never visited this site before. This is a traditional location of Peter’s restoration in John 21. There is a beautiful garden (although most of it is fenced off from tourists) and several place for Catholics to celebrate Mass. We walked around to the back of the church and found a quiet spot to read the story of Jesus’s third resurrection appearance in John’s Gospel. (For more details on this story, see this post.) Although the passage has many intriguing details (153 fish and the different words for love), my focus today was on Jesus’s final words to Peter: “You follow me.”

Since Capernaum is not closed at noon, we visited the location of Peter’s house about noon. This was to our advantage since most of the larger groups were clearing out for lunch. 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

After lunch (Aroma Coffee, avocado sandwich and ice coffee) we stopped at Migdal. Although this village 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. Some scholars have suggested the stone was carved to look like the Second Temple, although this is not particularly conclusive. What is important is 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.

Migdal Synagogue Stone

Finally, 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. Usually I do this site early in the day, but as I said the guide suggest the end of the day for better viewing. My concern is that it would be blazing hot by the time we made the half-mile hike from the visitor’s center to the top of the hill. Turns out we were both right, the details are clearer in the afternoon sun, but it was also extremely hot and there is no shade sine the carob tree at the top of the hill was struck by lightning (it is recovering, but is a few years away from provide shade). 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.

Mount Arbel

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.

Israel 2012, Day 8 – Following Jesus in Galilee

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 in the group, some twice.

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.