Today we joined a bus tour to see some sites. As opposed to the footpath we just travelled where it was all about experiencing the journey, the rest of our trip will be the shotgun approach to seeing a country, all destination, fast paced, efficient, perhaps even Western? And did we ever cover a lot today! Here is a picture of our royal steed:
1. Boat Ride: We started the day off on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Winds were high so we left out of En Gev on the east side of the lake instead of migdal on the west which is the typical jumping off point. Waves on the tiny lake were choppy but not too high. At times they can get 12 feet high of the winds coming over the various mountains stir them up enough! The picture of us below on the boat is facing North with Bethsaida plain to our right and Capernaum off to the left on opposite shores. The prevailing winds are out of the East and would have pushed us from the direction of Bethsaida towards Capernaum. Here we reflected on Jesus’s miracle of walking on the water. In that story, the winds were going the opposite way because we know the disciples were trying to make it to Capernaum but fought the wind and were blown off course, ending up at Kinneret further South. In Job 9, God is described as “trampling” (literally walking upon) water. In the miracle Jesus revealed himself to be God. The captain of the vessel was a messianic Christian, and after the teaching he led us in a time of worship!
3. Arbel Cliffs: We drove up to the Arbel cliffs on the West side of the lake to orient the group to the lay of the region because of its great views. The weather was perfect for it, sunny, windy, cool, mostly clear. From there we contemplated the area of Galilee which was captured by Assyria in 732BC (2 Kings 15:29) before Israel was conquered in 721 BC. Isaiah the prophet describes the area as being treated with contempt (Isaiah 9:1) because it had already fallen to the Assyrians at the time of his writing. He goes on to prophesy that later on it God would make it glorious, which was fulfilled 700 years later when Jesus ministered from there. The cliffs we stood on have historical significance because Herod the Great conquered rebels living there early in his reign to stabilize the area. They were rebelling because the emperor had granted him the kingdom of Israel in 37bc, but he was not Jewish. His father was Idumean/Edomite and his mother was nabatien, a dessert dwelling group. He had to take the land by force and started in Galilee. Jewish rebels took refuge in the caves in the cliffs which Herod rooted out. The views were outstanding.
4. Magdala: From the cliffs we headed to “Magdala” (Aramaic for tower) or “Migdal” (Hebrew for tower). They found a synagogue here which is currently the oldest excavated one dating to about 27AD (because of a coin found onsite). Peculiarly, it faces West, not South to Jerusalem like later ones. An important item found inside was a rectangular object believed to have been used to support the Torah or perhaps as a seat while reading it. It is the object in the picture below. It is carved with a flower and palm trees on top, two water basins and a menorah on the front, and columns porticos, called Stoas (roofs supported by columns) on the sides. These carvings all point to the Jewish temple in some way. Since Jesus was crucified in 33AD, this synogogue was in use during His ministry and it is probably that he ministered here. They have also found Mikva (Jewish ritual baths for purification), houses, and a place used to salt fish for export. Josephus tells us that there was a theater here as well which has not yet been found. With a theater comes a Gentile population which is not surprising because the International highway comes right beside the town. It too was a hustling bustling place.
This is the town where Mary of Magdalene was from. She is mentioned 12 times in the gospels. Mary Magdalene was first to the tomb. She knew where it was because she followed His body after it was removed from the cross. She was at the cross with Jesus’ mother. She has the honor of being the first disciple to see the resurrected Jesus. Luke 8 provides her bio. She had 7 demons casted out from her, and unlike the person who had the legion casted out, Jesus allows her to follow Him. She was friends with Joanna the wife of Chuza, who was Herod Antipas’ steward. Herod Antipas ruled out of nearby Tiberias so she was politically connected. She was also a woman of means and helped fund the ministry (perhaps she was connected to the local fish industry?). She gives up her position and wealth to follow Jesus, instead funding 13 men who would change the world and ends up becoming the first evangelist of the risen savior when she goes and tells the apostles!
We also know that Jesus visited Magdala from Matthew 16, because just after the feeding of the 4000, which happens on the other side of the lake, he departs by boat and lands in the region of Magadan. When the sea level was low, the locations of all of the ancient harbors were documented and the docks were found for Magdala. Pretty cool to be in a place we know He went. The Pharisees and Saducees tested him here by asking for a sign, which he refused to do because of their motivation and their failure to see the signs he had already done. Lame we’re walking, leper’s cleansed, blind given sight. So he leaves, and we did too, for lunch!
5. Traditional lunch of St Peter’s fish. Sadly, there was no shekel in its mouth like the one Jesus told Peter to get from the mouth of a fish to pay a tax. Note that it’s about the size of Sherpas head. For a freshwater fish it had a surprisingly good texture (not mushy even though it’s called mushti) and the flavor was not at all fishy.
6. Corazim: in Matthew 11:21, Jesus condemns 3 cities in the Bible because the inhabitants didn’t believe even though Jesus performed miracles. Those cities were Capernaum (where he did many recorded miracles), Bethsaida (where he healed a blind man and fed 5000 nearby), and corazim (where none are specifically mentioned). We looked at an “insula” which is a New Testament House. This one was made of Basalt rock (local). The people listening are inside the wall of the main house. There was an open courtyard outside that would have been shared among the sons and their families who would build rooms onto that area when they got married. Families were intimate in those days, with people’s identification through first their father, then their clan, and finally their tribe. Now we just have a last name.
7. Mt. of Beatitudes: Next up was the Mt of Beatitudes. This site has no archaeological significance but is a pretty stop that remembers the sermon on the mount. Luke 6 says he came down to a flat place. Matthew 5 says he went up onto a mountain. Then both follow with somewhat similar texts. Some argue that both texts occur in the same location (i.e. a level place on a mountain). Others argue it was two similar sermons. How many of you have heard your pastor preach the same sermon twice?
In the sermon, Jesus lays out a standard that is impossible to meet with statements like, “Be perfect,” “Your Righteousness must surpass that of (the most religious people)” and He finishes by calling the people “evil”. This sets the stage for later teachings that you must have His righteousness imparted to you because you can never be good enough to enter heaven. We arrived at 3:10, left at 3:30, and read the entire text of the sermon on the Mount! Cheerio had to run to keep up!
8. Capernaum: We then headed down to the city of Capernaum. Literally the “village of Nahum.” (Not necessarily the prophet mentioned in scripture). To give a sense of what life was like in the first century, the international highway connecting Egypt to the Tigris and Euphrates and the empires on either side passed right through this town, which made it an ideal place to collect taxes! Matthew who wrote the first gospel worked here. We know that the Romans taxed the Egyptians to fish in the Nile. There was probably a similar law in Israel to fish on the Galilee (think fishing license) so that may have been part of the taxing going on. For sure there was a fishing industry which employed several of Jesus’ disciples. We also know that this area was known for boat repair (Boatbuilding occurred further south). Josephus fell off his horse in bethsaida, and came here for medical care, so there were doctors. There was also a Roman centurion to protect the strategic area. We know that Jesus interacted with those Roman guards from stories in the gospels. Another occupation present was “teknon” which means literally a worker of raw materials- carpenter if working wood, mason if working stone. Jesus was a teknon by trade, although the Bible doesn’t specify if Jesus was a carpenter or a mason. The basalt rocks from the area were used to make mill stones and are found throughout the region. Did Jesus move here for work? In any case it was a bustling area.
The main archeological site is a reconstructed 4th century synagogue built on top of a first century synagogue assumed to be the one Jesus taught from and a nearby house believed to have belonged to Peter where Jesus healed his mother in law. In Mark 1, Jesus entered this synagogue on the sabbath and cast out a demon, causing word to spread about Him into surrounding areas. He then went to Peters home and healed Peter’s mother in law. He then healed many. Early the next morning He left to go to a secluded place to pray. When you stand in Capernaum, the only nearby secluded place seems to be up the hill. When the disciples found Him and told him everyone was looking for him, Jesus said after praying, (and probably with a good view of surrounding area), ‘no let’s go to the other towns’. God told him where and when to take the message when he took time and prayed. Here is a picture of us in the airspace above that same synagogue where Jesus cast out a demon and preached! And we had it to ourselves because we were late in the day. Amazing! And Cheerio has a stinker in her diaper….
9. Where pigs died and demons fled: On our way back around the East side of the lake, technically in the Golan Heights, shortly after sunset, we pulled off the road at basically the only place with a steep bank going into the lake. The pillbox in the picture below was used by Syria to snipe Jewish fisherman in the lake until 1967 when the area came under Israeli rule. Mark 5 tells us about a time Jesus crosses to the East side of the lake, where he ran into a man with a legion of demons dwelling in him. Jesus allowed the demons to flee into a large herd of swine which promptly ran down a steep bank and into the sea where they drowned. The site has never been excavated to look for tombs also mentioned in scripture because the area uphill still has many mines left behind by Syria! The biblical story reaches a low point when the locals reject Jesus because he was bad for business. I wonder how many reject him today for the same reason? Unlike Mary Magdalene, Jesus refuses to allow this man to become a follower and instead sends him out to tell the surrounding Gentile cities what had been done for him.
We covered a lot of ground today. Both of us had beeen to Israel before and really were hoping to cement in our minds the land that Jesus walked. It was very helpful for us although we were grateful to have been here before with at a “slower” fast pace to have the background.
Hike the Good Hike!
Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)