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.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 7 – The Jesus Sites

IMG_0359 Jordan Open BibleThis 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.IMG_3211

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.IMG_0405 GBC Bag

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.


GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 6 – Heading to Galilee

We started very early today and drove from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Herod the Great’s tribute to the Roman Empire on the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of the best presented sites in Israel and I have always enjoyed the walk along the beach. We started at the theater and spent quite a bit of time looking at the various columns and other architecture behind the theater itself. Several students took some pictures on the columns of Herod’s palace (without my approval of course).

At Caesarea

At Caesarea


The palace has a cistern which is labeled as the pit in which Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea, but this seems to be unlikely since he was a Roman citizen under house arrest. Another room  has a sign indicating it is the location of Paul’s appeal to Caesar, but I am not sure how that can be known. It seems to me it is best to just say Paul was at the location and leave the details vague.

After the students put their feet in the Mediterranean, we walked across the hippodrome to the aristocratic homes overlooking the sea. I noticed a few Greek mosaics I had not seen before, although I might find I had photographs of them already. We finished out Caesarea in traditional fashion for my tours, at the gelato shop near the exit.

We traveled across the Jezreel valley, stopping at the MacDonald’s near Megiddo for lunch. This was quite the experience. First, they have a “Big American” burger that I have never seen in American, the thing is as big as a small pet and probably was about 9000 calories. But I got a small fry and diet coke, so I am going to be okay. Second, Anna Lange was ahead of me in line and tried to pay for her meal (19.40 shekels) with an American $20 bill. A manager was called to make change, and he gave her two coins totaling .60 shekels. She asked me if that was right, and I called for the manager who sheepishly gave her the additional 65 shekels she was owed. It was a pretty clear attempt to steal from an innocent tourist.


Bet Shean Theater

After our lunch, we drove to Bet Shean, another favorite of mine. Like Caesarea, this site is excavated to the Roman period, although the city has a long and important history. After starting in the theater (where Ben Stout reenacted scenes from Lord of the Rings, or maybe Gladiator, I could not really tell), the group divided, with some hiking to the top of the Tel while the rest followed me through the bathhouse, agora/market, and sacred precinct. There are several pools and a nicely restored public toilet. It was a bit cooler today, but still quite warm without shade, so we only stayed about two hours before heading to our hotel (and pool).

We arrived at Ma’agan Holiday resort in Galilee in time for the students to enjoy an hour or so in the pool before dinner. I have been using this hotel for ten years now, and I have to say it is my favorite in Israel. While the rooms are a little smaller than most hotels, but it is right on the Sea of Galille and the grounds are immaculately landscaped. The hotel has expanded and modernized the resturant. Most of the tables have a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee and the dining area is much more appealing. Several students commented they enjoyed this food better than the Leonardo, and I thought the fried eggplant was phenomenal.

When I got to my room, I noticed my iPhone had slipped out of my pocket on the bus. Despite telling the students to double check their seats, I left my phone (and camera) behind on the bus. Fortunately the driver noticed it and called me on my Israeli phone to let me know. The downside is I do not have any pictures to post tonight. I will fix this when I get my phone back. Hopefully I can get this posted, the free internet at the hotel has not been reliable (although the Bruno Mars CD that has been playing all evening is working fine, sadly enough). Some of the guys are watching a soccer match in the lounge, looks like they are having a great time with some Israeli fans.

Tomorrow is devoted to the “Jesus sites” around Galilee, check back for updates tomorrow.


Jesus and Purity (Part 2: Qorban)

Exodus 21:17  “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 “‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

Deuteronomy 27:16  “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Qorban is an Aramaic word (קָרְבָּן, κορβᾶν) referring to something giving as a gift to the Temple, whether to a sacrifice, oath, or gift. Mark 7:9-13 refers to a way two law as could be set against one another in order to circumvent the original intention of the Law. This flows logically from Jesus’s rejection of hand-washing for ritual purity. Ritual purity does not necessarily mean the Law has been kept in “spirit and in truth.” The qorban tradition illustrates his point well.

Erich Lessing, from Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009

Photo by Erich Lessing, BAR, May/June 2009

Some Jews noticed a potential tension between the command to honor one’s parents and the commands to honor oaths, especially to oaths to God. Someone might potentially make an oath to give to the Lord gift of property or money. They Temple could receive the oath as a promise but not necessarily collect the oath until a later time. By analogy, compare this to a faith-promise commitment to a building program at your church. You promise $10,000, but the church does not need it right away. You get the “spiritual benefit” of giving money without actually taking the money out of your bank account.

By declaring some amount of money as qorban a person can avoid using the money for the care of parents. If the gift was considered an investment in the Temple, the giver avoids using the funds to support his parents. If Jesus can raise the question, then this potential loophole in the Law may have been a well-known financial maneuver. An example appears in a parable in the Mishnah:

There was someone in Bet Horon whose father was prohibited by vow from deriving benefit from him. The man in Bet Horon was marrying off his son, and he said to his fellow, “The courtyard and the banquet are given over to you as a gift.  But they are before you only so that father may come and eat with us at the banquet.” The other party said, “Now if they really are mine, then lo, they are consecrated to heaven!” He said to him, “I didn’t give you what’s mine so you would consecrate it to Heaven!” He said to him, “You did not give me what’s yours except so that you and your father could eat and drink and make friends again, and so the sin [for violating the oath] could rest on his head!” Now the case came before sages.  They ruled, “Any act of donation which is not so [given] that, if one sanctified it to Heaven, it is sanctified, is no act of donation.” m. Ned 5:6

R. T. France points out two elements of qorban based on this story. First, the original qorban is unalterable. Someone swearing such a vow cannot break it later if it turns out to be a bad decision! Second, the property remained at the disposal of the son even after he made the vow. His father could not touch it, but he could.

Rather than a shrewd legal scheme, Jesus sees qorban as breaking of the Law and a grave sin.  This word for “transgress” is a fairly rare word in the New Testament, used only here and in Acts 1:25 for the sin of Judas, and once in 2 John 9.  It literally means “go along the side of…”, or “pass over…neglect.” This hypocritical legal tactic is an illustration of the words of Isaiah:  “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Usually Evangelical Christians chuckle about the hypocrisy of “those Pharisees” and contemporary preachers rail against the “traditions” of the Pharisees. But is this really fair?  If the goal was to keep the Law of God, the the Law must be correctly interpreted and applied. How is this qorban tradition any different than a Christian finding a way around head-covering (1 Cor 11:2-16) or Paul’s command to keep women silent in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35)? I do not think Jesus is against trying to keep the commands of God, but what is it about this particular practice that bothers him so much he is able to call it a sin?

When we find some exegetical warrant to set these things aside, are we not dismissing the commands of God?

Socio-Economics in First-Century Galilee

I recently reviewed Sean Freyne’s The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion, and I found it to be a stimulating book that challenged some popular ideas about Jesus and his time in Galilee. Freyne was a well-known expert on Galilee and he began this new book with three chapters on the history and culture of the region in the first century. He challenges the common assumption that Galilee was a Gentile region in comparison to Judea. While the region was encircled by Gentile cities, a strong Judean presence was in Galilee with “a long-standing and deep attachment to the symbols of Jerusalem and its Temple” (48). From the Hasmonean period on there was a “steady growth” in the number of settlements with a distinctive Judean ethos (18). Evidence for this comes from the presence of miqva’oth throughout the region and a few traces of pre-70 C.E. synagogues (Khirbet Qana and Magdala, for example).

GamlaThe synoptic Gospels do in fact portray Jesus as frequently teaching in synagogues in Galilee. There are leaders in those synagogues who challenge Jesus on Sabbath traditions or other important symbols of Judaism. If Galilee were predominately Gentile, it would seem strange to find a synagogue in the small, poor villages. One problem is perhaps the frequent publication of photographs of the fourth to fifth century Capernaum synagogue in textbooks about Jesus. In Four Portraits, Strauss proper identifies it as a late synagogue in the caption to the photo on page 129, but by placing the image on a page describing early Jewish synagogues, it gives the read the impression a first-century Galilean synagogue was an impressive building. That is likely not the case. The synagogue at Gamla is a better example of the size of a pre- A. D. 70 structure. Nevertheless, even Galilean Jews were concerned with their traditions.

Freyne also challenges the usual description of the economic and social conditions of Galilee. This is ground Freyne has covered elsewhere in more detail. He begins with the economy of the Hasmonean state, suggesting that Galilee experience some growth as Judeans moved into the region for economic reasons. While Herod is sometimes characterized as an oppressive ruler for the “ordinary people,” Freyne insists the Herodian period not necessarily characterized by oppression and extreme poverty. He cites several examples of Herod providing for the people in times of drought or famine (118). Even under Antipas, the ruler functioned as a Roman benefactor.

Here Freyne is reacting to the work of Crossan and others who tend to overplay poverty as a factor for describing the culture of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus. He lists a number of items drawn from Mark’s gospel and Josephus indicating a more robust economy than usually granted. For example, In Mark 6:56, people could be expected to have money to provide food for themselves; in Mark 1:20 fishermen hired servants; in Mark 5:26 (cf., Life, 403) people who provided medical services expected to be paid (132).

The bottom line here is simply that Galilee was not an economic backwater nor was it less “Jewish” than Judea. (An important resource for the archaeology of the Period is collection of essays, The Galilean Economy in the Time of Jesus, follow the link for a PDF version of the book.) As far as we know in the Gospels, Jesus does not go to the major centers of Gentile population (Sepphoris and Tiberius). The Galilee we know from the Gospels is more or less Jewish and those Jews are interested in the symbols of Jewish identity. For the most part Jesus interacts with common Jewish people, but occasionally a Pharisee or well-placed leader in a synagogue. While there is certainly some prejudice against Galileans in Acts 4:13 and other texts, the region should not be thought of as backwater populated primarily with poverty-stricken uneducated Jews.