THE JORDAN RIVER: Just as Georgia, Alabama, and other states and counties in the United States quarrel over water rights today, so have Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians attempted to preserve their proportion of the Jordan River and other natural resources. With rainfall in the Middle East being irregular and immigration population increasing in Israel and the birth rate in the country of Jordan, demand for water has increased. For example reports suggest that the population of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, in 1990 was 6.7 millions, projected to increase to 10.9 millions by 2010. The Jordan River has supplied Israel and Jordan with a majority of their water. It is estimated that more than 50% of Israel's water sources rely on rain that falls outside of its borders.
The Jordan River is some 156 miles long, and up to 20 yards wide and 17 feet deep. The river enters the Sea of Galilee about 26 1/2 miles from its sources. In this distance, there is a drop in the river of 1,682 feet, or 60 feet per mile. From the three peaks of Mount Hermon reaching to 9,230 feet in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, water from melting snow feeds the springs and streams that run into a swampy Lake Hula, ultimately forming the Jordan River. The river flows into and out of the Sea of Galilee, ending in the Dead Sea that has no outlets. Today, north of the Dead Sea, attempts are made to keep the Jordan River pure, both for consumption and baptisms.
During our travel, from several locales we could see the Jordan River and the snow covered peaks of Mt. Hermon, a region in Israel that has been significant both in the Old and New Testaments. For example, in Psalm 89, verse 12, two prominent mountains sing out to God: "Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name."
The Jordan River and its surrounds are valued, not only as vital resources, but for their sacredness, for their references to experiences vital to Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Palestinians. Using the Jordan River as a landmark, Isaiah prophesied, "But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations." (Isaiah 9: 1) Matthew recounted God's promise to Isaiah: "[Jesus] left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum ... in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali" that the prophecy of "Isaiah might be fulfilled ...." (Matthew 4: 12-17) John the Baptizer also endorsed Isaiah's prophecy: "This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, `The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" (Matthew 3: 1-6, citing Isaiah 40: 3) Here is a picture of a site that we visited on the Jordan River where individuals and groups go today for renewal.
Apparently Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament and, at the time of Jesus, was likely a small village. Travelers from other regions, however, reportedly passed nearby. In the Gospel of John, when "Philip found Nathaniel," he said, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathaniel responded, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip answered: "Come and see." (John 1: 43-46)
At Nazareth the angel Gabriel said to Mary: "`Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.' But Mary was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her. `Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High ....'" (Luke 1: 32)
To commemorate Gabriel's prophecy to Mary, in Nazareth the Roman Catholic Church built the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of the sacred sites we visited. Below is a picture of a relatively small bronze panel of Joseph and the young Jesus located on the main entry gate of the lower basilica of that church, called the Central Portal of the Christ Gate. R. Friedrichsen of Germany created the gate. At a work bench, carpenter Joseph appears to be instructing Jesus on the proper use of a hand plane. (See Mark 6: 3)
When exciting the Siq, we marveled at the small and large facades of tomb-monuments protruding somewhat from the hills along both sides of the extended valley. The size and ornamentation of the carved tomb entrances apparently depended upon one's standing in the community. There was also an ancient amphitheater.
BACK INTO ISRAEL: Leaving the country of Jordan through a checkpoint south of the Dead Sea, we returned to Israel.
THE DEAD SEA: We stopped to enjoy the shore and water of the Dead Sea. This Sea is approximately fifty miles long, eleven miles wide, and 1,378 feet below sea level. Its average depth is some 400 feet, increasing to a maximum of more than 1000 feet. Annually the water level decreases. Fed by the Jordan River, the Dead Sea has no outlets.
Discussions have been held among countries in the region concerning the possibility of digging a canal from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Water brought from the Red Sea would be controlled to ensure an optimum depth for the Dead Sea. Such a project could also increase clean water, hydroelectric power, crop production, tourism, and employment for all in the area. A botanical garden would be included. Projected to be the "Valley of Peace," sponsors hope for unprecedented cooperation among people in the region. Earlier consideration of digging a channel from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean Sea was abandoned.
On our tour, members dabbled, waded, or floated in the Dead Sea. Some spread what they believed to be healing mud from the bottom of the Sea onto their bodies. At the official gift shop nearby, customers could purchase two "nature's soap" bars, one with glycerine the other with sulfur, both containing "Dead Sea Black Mud." From the Dead Sea, large industries process kitchen and industrial salt, potash for fertilizer, bromine, and magnesia. Some refer to this body of water as "The Dead (Living) Sea". It is blue-green and quite visually appealing, and pictured below.
CAESAREA: Named by Herod the Great in honor of the Emperor Caesar Augustus, Caesarea was a walled in city on the Mediterranean coast. When Emperor Caesar Augustus
decreed "that all the world should be registered," Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem where "she gave birth to her firstborn son...." (Luke 2: 1-7) During much of Jesus' life, Caesarea was under Roman control.
When Paul left Corinth, where he "testi[fied] to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus," he landed at the deep port Herod had dug at Caesarea. (Acts 18: 5-24). In Caesarea "some elders and an attorney" accused Paul of being "a pestilent fellow, an agiator among all the Jews ... and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." In response Paul expressed "faith in Christ Jesus," and apparently remained in prison in Caesarea for two years. (Acts 24: 1-27)
Following God's instructions, Simon Peter baptized Cornelius of Caesarea, a Gentile and "devout man who feared God." Peter explained: "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.... I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ -- he is Lord of all." (Acts 10: 34-36)
By the 19th century, Caesarea was in ruins, and today is an archaeological park where we toured the remains of the old harbor, promontory palace, Herod's amphitheater, the port, and a Roman theater.
NAZARETH: On our travels we visited Nazareth, presently the capital and largest town in the North District of Israel, about 80 miles from Jerusalem and 14 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. At least 60,000 persons live in Nazareth. Arab citizens of Israel make up the majority, with approximately one-third of those being Christian and two-thirds being Muslim. Our tour guide, a resident of Jerusalem, noted that the number of Christians in Israel is decreasing.
Nazareth is located among hills that reach to some 1,600 feet. As noted later, Luke describes how some members of the synagogue in Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off this high hill. In the picture below, one finds products distributed by the Sons of George Shukha for sale today by the owner of a local market in Nazareth. The Sons of George Shukha is a company begun as a small grocery in 1930 in Nazareth by their father. Shukha markets rice, coffee, beans, dried fruit, berries, spices, herbs, cheese, and other products.
Upon exiting the lengthy passageway into the valley of the monuments, one first sees the tall "Treasury," hand carved from the hill side. The purpose of this ancient structure is disputed. Mary Jo Logue took the photograph below of the "Treasury." (The author stands to the left wearing a hood.)
Upon departing Bethlehem, we toured Jerusalem midst the rain and snow, the "Upper Room," Garden of Gethsemane with the old olive trees, and the Basilica of the Agony, Via Dolorosa to the cross, the Garden of the Tomb, Emmaus, and Chapel of the Ascension. Below is a picture of olive trees at Gethsemne. When compariing the trees in the present garden, one can not determine which is oldest by appearances because the trees continuously regenerate.
Initially Jesus' ministry took place in a sizeable northern region of Israel called Galilee that, according to Jewish historian Josephus of that day, included some 200 villages with varying populations. Jesus engaged audiences from Cana to Capernaum with healing, a humane and disciplined interpretation of The Law -- The New Covenant -- and the potential for eternal life..
Jesus also found time for personal meditation. Just as today in Galilee, although there were numerous populated areas, there were also isolated places for solitude. For Jesus, however, praying privately was not always convenient. People found him. Matthew (14: 13-14) wrote, "Now when Jesus heard" that John the Baptist had been killed, "he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion on them and cured their sick". "The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, `Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.'" (Mark 6: 30-31)
One morning, "while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there He prayed. And Simon Peter and his companions hunted for him. When they found Jesus, they said to him, `Everyone is searching for you.' Jesus answered, `Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also for that is what I came out to do.'" (Mark 1: 35-38) "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity." (Matthew 9: 35) The picture below shows both the Sea of Galilee that Jesus crossed numerous times -- a trip we found challenging -- and the kind of shore where he sought solitude and from which he likely taught followers and healed the sick.
SYNAGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM: Built upon the highest point in Capernaum, this synagogue was destroyed along with the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans around 69 or 70 years after Christ's ministry. Then, between 250 and 300 years after Jesus, a white limestone synagogue was built upon the site. A considerable section of this more recent limestone synagogue stands. Archaeologists have also found significant remains of the original synagogue in which Jesus taught. Even on a sometimes hurried tour, one is inspired when standing where Jesus read and interpreted prophesy from Isaiah. The original synagogue was "built" by the "centurion" stationed there, further indication that the citizens of Capernaum were probably generally poor. (Luke 7: 4-5)
In the picture below, one sees basalt stones on the floor beyond the fence from the original synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus read scripture and taught; there are also walls and a column from the more recently constructed synagogue. Through the opening beyond the tree is the Sea of Galilee. Mary Jo Logue hooded from the cold wind walks among the sacred ruins.
BY INVITATION: When John the Baptist was reluctant to administer baptism to Christ, Jesus insisted: "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness'." (Matthew 23: 13-15) Later, traveling from the Sea of Galilee to the town of Caesarea Philippi at the southern base of Mount Hermon, "on the way Jesus asked his disciples, `Who do people say that I am?' And they answered him, `John the Baptist ... Elijah ... one of the prophets .....' Jesus asked them, `But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, `you are the Messiah.'... Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said this quite openly .... He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, `If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" (Mark 8: 27-34)
At Tabgha we also visited the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, a modest Franciscan chapel constructed in 1933 on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. After his Resurrection, Jesus appeared near this site for a breakfast of freshly caught fish with Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two other disciples. From their fishing boat, "that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, `It is the Lord!' When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat ...." Three times Christ asked Peter, "Do you love me?," with Peter responding, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you." In reply, Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." (John 21: 1-19) The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter commemorates Jesus’ reconfirmation of Peter, and is shown here.
I walked today where Jesus walked,
In days of long ago.
I wandered down each path he knew,
With reverent step and slow.
(Music by Geoffrey O'Hara, to the poem by Daniel S. Twohig.)
Just to the side of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, shown above, is a stone pathway on which
Jesus could have walked, pictured below.
SEA OF GALILEE: Fed by melting snow from Mt. Hermon and the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee is approximately 27 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea and some 60 miles northeast of Jerusalem. This lake is pear shaped, about 13 miles long and ranging from 4-to-8 miles wide, 80-to-157 feet deep, and 680 feet below sea level. Three types of fish have thrived in this fresh water lake: sardines (possibly used by Jesus to feed the 5,000), barbels (catfish family), and musht (tilapia, "St. Peter's Fish"). At one of our stops, the chef served whole tilapia, a dish also popular in the United States and raised in holding ponds. Tilapia from the wild in the U.S. keep lakes clean of unwanted growth.
Our tour group sailed across the choppy Sea of Galilee on January 23, 2008. Our boat captain described how suddenly the lake transforms from one of tranquility to violence. Even on our ride the waves splashed against the windows of the boat. Because of being well below sea level and surrounded in part by hills, contrasting air temperatures drive strong winds onto the Sea and boats. Consequently, the Sea is subject to sudden violent storms.
Jesus walked, prayed, healed, and taught from the hill sides, along the shore, and from boats on the Sea of Galilee. Mark (4: 1-2) described how "Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them" . "Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge." (Mark 4: 1) "And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.... Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, `Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Jesus said to them, `Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?'" (Mark 4: 3540). The picture below of the choppy Sea of Galilee was taken from our tour boat. The shore is visible in the background.
Jesus' Galilean Ministry and Beyond
Inspired by Calvin and Mary Jo Logue's tour, January 21-31, 2008
Upon returning from our tour of Israel, I taught eight lessons to the Tuck Class of First United Methodist Church, Athens, GA concerning what I observed and learned on the trip; this class will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. Then I taught four lessons about the trip to Israel to the Cornerstone Class, at the same church. Supplementary details come from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible; e-mailed information from authorities in the region; official web sites; and items selected from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org.
On our tour of Israel we visited the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, built in Jerusalem on the hillside of Mount Zion to memorialize Simon Peter's initial rejection of Jesus and his subsequent regret. Galli-cantu means cock-crow in Latin. Catholic tradition suggests this could be the site of Caiaphas' palace. Some maintain that Jesus was imprisoned in one of the chambers we saw beneath the church. Matthew wrote, "Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered." (Matthew 26: 57, NRSV) Below is a picture of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. (Unless noted otherwise, the pictures in this narrative were taken by the author
While this likely was the case with other houses in Capernaum, the dry-stone basalt walls at the site of Peter's home reportedly would have supported only a light roof, making it easier to lower a paralyzed man for Jesus' attention, one of the memorable Bible stories I heard growing up in Methodist Sunday Schools in Alabama.
"When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, `Son, your sins are forgiven.' Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, `Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" Jesus "said to them, `Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say `Stand up and take your mat and walk?' But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' -- he said to the paralytic -- `I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.' And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God ...." (Mark 2: 1-12)
Excavations at Peter's house help us understand one of Jesus' several analogies. The floor of Peter's home was made of black basalt cobbles in which one could easily lose a coin. "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them," Jesus insisted, "does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15: 8-10)
At the beginning of the 5th century after Christ's ministry on earth, remains of "Peter's house" were still standing, but changed into a church. Eteria, a Spanish pilgrim, wrote in her diary: "In Capernaum, the house of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, became a church; the walls, however of that house have remained unchanged to the present day."
JERASH: On our tour we crossed the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee, and entered the country of Jordan through a carefully monitored checkpoint. In Jordan we first visited Jerash. Jerash is valued historically for its Greco-Roman ruins, including Hadrian's Arch, temples, theaters, and baths. From 350 years after Jesus' ministry, a Christian community lived in Jerash. The picture below is of an oval Forum at Jerash, covered with the remains of a stone surface and surrounded by a colonnade.
Throughout our tour vendors sold jewelry, clothing, books, flutes, and souvenirs of every kind. The gentleman below set up his mobile outlet near Jerusalem where we tourists circulated.
After teaching and healing throughout Galilee, Jesus "went home" to Nazareth, "and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him .... And Jesus called them to him, and spoke in parables.... `If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.'" (Mark 3: 19-24)
Because of his claims, Jesus was rejected by some members of synagogues in Galilee. For example, in Nazareth, Jesus read from the prophesy of Isaiah, concluding that, `Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" When some of the members of the synagogue heard this and other explanations by Jesus, "they got up, drove him out of the town, and led hm to the brow of the hill on which" Nazareth "was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff." (Luke 4: 18-20).
Although on our trip we did not search for Cana, because of its close proximity to Nazareth, it was mentioned by the tour guide. While the precise locale of the town of Cana apparently is questioned, tradition suggests that Cana, by the modern name of Kafr Kanna, is about five miles northeast of Nazareth. Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding there.
"When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, `They have no wine.'" After discussing the problem with his Mother, and hesitant, Jesus finally obliged by changing water to wine. "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days." (John 2: 1-12).
CAPERNAUM: Capernaum became the base from which Jesus ministered to a diverse population scattered throughout the region of Galilee. "Now when Jesus heard that John [the Baptizer] had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea ...." (Matthew 4: 12-13). When returning from a tour of teaching and preaching, Jesus got "into a boat ... crossed the sea and came to his own town." (Matthew 9: 1) In Capernaum, reportedly a poor Jewish fishing village that stretched more than five football fields along the sea, Jesus explained how one could have eternal life (John 6: 25-27); called Levi from the booth (Mark 2: 13-17; Matthew 9: 9) where he collected toll tax from people traveling from Damascus to Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea, and Tyre to Egypt; healed a centurion's servant without seeing him (Matthew 8: 5; Luke 7: 1); healed others brought to him (Matthew 8: 23-27; Mark 29-34); and boarded the boat from which he calmed the sea. (Matthew 8: 23)
Being the first town travelers came to when they crossed the Jordan River from east to west, Capernaum housed a customs office. Apparently there was also a small garrison overseen by a centurion who, as noted below, funded the construction of Capernaum's synagogue. Said to be a poor community itself, houses were modest and built of black basalt formed by solidification of magna rock. I brought small basalt rocks from beneath the Sea of Galilee and had them framed for two Sunday School classes. Some Christians lived in Capernaum early on, including Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Capernaum was mostly Christian by the 4th century after Jesus.
Although the town of Capernaum apparently is not mentioned in the Old Testament, and was unoccupied during the Israelite period before Christ, excavations indicate it was settled much earlier. Situated below sea level, this crossroad trading center was located 10 miles from Tiberias and 2.2 miles from the Jordan River where caravans stopped to resupply with produce and dried fish.
Only remains of Capernaum exist today, an archaeological park. Archaeologists discovered a pool in which fish were kept and cleaned, 2 meters wide, 5 meters long, in the form of two semicircles with a platform in the middle from which fishermen could work. Also found was an olive press, shown in the picture below.
Although apparently not mentioned in the New Testament, some question if John the Baptist and/or Jesus could have been influenced by the Essenes. Approximately one thousand persons are buried at Qumran. There are also remains of cisterns and dining and/or assembly room. Below is a photograph of remains of a ritual bath on Qumran.
MOUNT NEBO: Mount Nebo is where Moses reportedly ended his journey from Egypt. Located in western Jordan overlooking the Dead Sea to the southwest, Mount Nebo is some 2,680 feet above sea level. From this mountain on a clear day one can see both Jerusalem and Jericho. In Deuteronomy (34: 1- 4) one reads: "Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab [west of the Dead Sea] to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain ... as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, `This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, I will give it to your descendants; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.'" Standing on Mount Nebo, we saw the expansive view Moses had of the land of promise, as exemplified in the photograph below.
On Masada we also saw remains of storage facilities, barracks, armory, and palace. Pictured here are the remains of the synagogue, suitable for community meetings and worship. Built during Herod's time, the revolting Jews adapted this space for a synagogue.
MEGIDDO: From the Sea of Galilee we drove west to Megiddo. On a hill overlooking the Jezreel valley, in ancient times Megiddo was significant because of its strategic location on a trade route between Egypt and Assyria. Also the Romans traveled through that pass. Important battles have taken place in the vicinity. In 1918, during World War I, British Empire-led troops defeated the Ottoman (Turkish) army. "By the waters of Megiddo," prophetess-and-Judge Deborah's forces defeated Sisera, commander of a Canaanite army that controlled northern Israel. (Judges 5: 19) King Solomon used "forced labor ... to build the house of the Lord ... wall of Jerusalem" and "Megiddo." (1 Kings 9: 15) Some suggest that the book of Revelation predicts that ultimately a battle between good and evil will take place at Megiddo (Harmagedon/Armageddon). (Revelation 16: 16)
Excavations have uncovered some twenty layers of life at Megiddo. An archaeologist discovered remains of a church from the third century after Christ. Below is a picture of a public grain silo in Megiddo at the time of King Jeroboam II, the 8th century before Christ. Reportedly this silo, dug in the ground and walled with rocks, held 450 cubic meters of grain.
THE "JESUS BOAT": In 1986, during a severe drought, when water was pumped from the Sea of Galilee to irrigate parched fields, the level of the water dropped, revealing widespread mud flats. Two brothers, second generation fishermen, discovered the remains of a boat that, according to Carbon 14 dating and methods of construction, was built about 40 years before Jesus and in use at the time of his ministry. The boat was 27 ft. long, 7 1/2 ft. wide with a preserved height of 4 1/3 feet. The boat could be sailed or rowed. While designed for a crew of 5, skeletal remains from Galilee from this period indicate that males averaged 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed about 140 lbs.; so this boat or one like it could have accommodated Jesus and his 12 disciples. Below is a picture of the remains of this boat, found in the Sea of Galilee, and exhibited now at Yigal Alon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar, north of Tiberias.
THE WILDERNESS WEST OF THE DEAD SEA: In the Biblical narrative the region surrounding the Dead Sea has served as a route for travel, refuge, residence, and retreat. Because of a "severe" famine, for example, Abram (Abraham), patriarch of Jews and Arabs, and Sarai "journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb," southwest of the Dead Sea, "down to Egypt." (Genesis 12: 7-10) To escape King Saul's wrath, young David hid "south of Jeshimon," a desert at the northeastern end of the Dead Sea. (1 Samuel 23: 24) In the Wilderness of Judah, David wrote: "O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live." (Psalm 63: 1-4)
Because of the remoteness of the Judean wilderness and the area around it, monks and others have found sanctuary there. "John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1: 4) "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness ...." (Luke 4: 1-2) There he was "tempted" for "forty days." (Mark 1: 12-13) Monks sought solitude high on a rocky ledge northwest of Jericho at St. George's Monastery. Built in the late 5th century, the monastery was restored by monks in 1901. Located near a road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho during Biblical days, the area is associated with Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 29-37) The picture here is of St. George's Monastery, built into the mountain.
QUMRAN: Our tour drove from Masada to Qumran. Located on a plateau on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank, many contend that a Jewish sect, probably the Essenes, dwelled at Qumran, beginning between 134 and 104 before Jesus. Others maintain the area was a Jewish fort or residence of a wealthy patron. The Essenes were an ascetic Jewish religious group active the first centuries before and after Christ's ministry. Some maintain that the Dead Sea Scrolls were part of the Essenes' library. Other scholars believe that the scrolls reflect the views of Palestinian Jews generally, rather than the tradition of a particular sect. Approximately 900 Dead Sea Scrolls in varying lengths and conditions were found near Qumran in eleven caves on cliffs, including the book of Isaiah. On our tour, I stood a short distance from one of those caves, wondering how Muhammad edh-Dhib ("the wolf"), the young man who apparently first discovered the scrolls, cared for his goats among the steep hills and crevices. Here is a picture of that cave.
After Jesus recruited Simon Peter and his brother Andrew "from casting a net into the sea" and James son of Zebedee and his brother John "mending the nets," together "they went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority .... Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, `What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, `Be silent, and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him." (Mark 1: 16-22)
"When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side" of the Sea of Galilee -- another challenging trip -- "a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, `My little daughter (`about 12 years old') is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.' So Jesus went with him. And a large crowd followed Jesus and pressed in on him." (Mark 5: 21-24; Luke 8: 40-42)
"In the synagogue at Capernaum" Jesus also defined the basic ingredients for life: "This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." (John 6: 58-59)
Jesus was not only rejected by some citizens in Nazareth, but also in Capernaum. Tension between the Old Covenant and the New spread to his new residence. "Jesus ... came to his adopted hometown [of Capernaum], and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, `Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?... Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?'... And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, `Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.' And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief." (Mark 6: 1-6)
Jesus "reproach[ed] the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent," including Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum: "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down in Hades.'" (Matthew 11: 20-23) Again Jesus cautioned: "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." (Luke 10: 13-16) In response to a question by Simon Peter, Jesus replied: "From everyone to whom much has been given much will be required ...." (Luke 12: 48).
REMAINS OF "SIMON PETER'S HOME": When Jesus recruited Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, they resided in Capernaum. Although Jesus explained that he had "nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8: 20), he often hung his cloak at Simon Peter's home. "As soon as they left the synagogue [in Capernaum], they entered the house of Simon [Peter] and Andrew .... Now Simon [Peter's] mother-in-law was in bed with a fever" and Jesus healed her. (Mark 1: 29) "That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick." (Matthew 8: 14)
In Capernaum by the sea on our tour, we saw what many believe to be the foundation wall of Simon Peter's home, quite close to the remains of the synagogue where Jesus taught and preached. Later Peter's home would become what some suggest was the first Christian church. In the 1990s the Franciscans built a modern church whose floor shields the site of "Peter's house". This church, hexagonal in shape, hosts worshipers who can view the partial walls of Peter's home through a glass floor. Although I did not recognize this while there, later I learned that this Franciscan church was designed to represent the image of a boat, with wall decorations inside of stylized fish, waves, and fishing nets.
After visiting Capernaum and further reading, one is intrigued by the possible authenticity of the site of Simon Peter's home where Jesus could have stayed and ministered to those who lived in the area. What is generally referred to as Peter's House "stands out from the others," has 130 inscriptions in four languages, the name of Jesus appearing several times, reference to Jesus as the Christ, the Lord, and the Most High God, forms of crosses and a boat, a monogram of Jesus, Saint Peter's name twice, floral crosses, figs, stylized flowers, and geometric designs. The picture below shows remains of the foundation of "Peter's house" in Capernaum, protected by the floor of the modern Franciscan church.
MASADA: West of the Dead Sea we continued northward to Masada, an isolated plateau near the Dead Sea used as a strong-hold against enemies. Masada is approximately 1,300 feet high on the east side, and 300 feet on the west. Between 37 and 31 years before Jesus’ ministry, Herod the Great constructed a fortress on Masada as a place to escape should his life be endangered. Reportedly a wall 4,300 feet long and 12 feet wide was built around the relatively flat surface.
Josephus reported that, in the year 66 before Christ, more than 900 Jewish men, women, and children revolting against Roman rule escaped to this high plateau. When success of the Roman assault upon the Jewish strong hold was eminent, rather than be enslaved or killed by the enemy, some suggest that the Jews fortified on Masada cooperated by casting lots to determine which person would kill the other, depicted as a "mass suicide." From the top of Masada we saw outlines of Roman camps on the ground below where soldiers quartered. In the picture here, one sees a pile of large round stones apparently catapulted by Roman soldiers upon Jewish defenses.
Leaving Tabgha, we drove westward to Nazareth and Mt. Carmel overlooking the fertile Jezreel Valley. We stopped at Megiddo and then Caesarea on the coast before returning eastward across the Jordan river into the country of Jordan. At a closely supervised checkpoint, we entered the country of Jordan, and toured the town of Jerash and Mt. Nebo -- where Moses' journey ended. After visiting Petra in Jordan, we returned to Israel below the Dead Sea, and drove northward to Masada and Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery. North of the Dead Sea, we paused at Jericho, where our tour guide pointed out remains of a fallen wall. We then stopped at a baptismal site on the Jordan River.
Next we entered Bethlehem (meaning in Hebrew, "House of Bread," in Arabic, "House of Meat") through an Israeli checkpoint. The birthplace of David and Jesus (Luke 2: 1-7), Bethlehem is six miles south of Jerusalem with a population of more than 30,000, a town now walled-in by the Israelis and seemingly less prosperous. In Bethlehem we visited the Church of the Nativity that has an entrance so low one must bow to enter. As we drove in Bethlehem, we slowed for what appeared to be some sixty local guardsmen marching in rank in the street; their leader forced them unceremoniously to move to the side so our bus could pass. On their side of the Israeli wall, residents of Bethlehem have painted large murals expressing their attitudes toward being confined, as depicted in the picture below.
PETRA: Renowned for its architectural tombs, Petra (meaning "rock") is now listed as one of the wonders of the world. Today Petra -- also in western Jordan -- bustles with vendors, donkeys, carts, and camels for tourists.
While inhabited 7,000 years before Christ, by 1,000 BCE Edomites lived in the region. The Nabataeans, a nomadic Arab people, occupied Petra by the late sixth century before Jesus, and chiseled the numerous Tombs, dwellings, and other structures we saw there.
One enters Petra through a long, high, and relatively narrow mountain passage, known as the Siq. At one place in the passage way, one
finds faint remains of a large camel and handler carved onto the wall. In the picture below, one sees a channel low on the left side of the corridor (Siq) dug to carry water to Petra.
The owner of a store that sold wood carvings, glassware, and other items opened a branch business in Bethlehem because of the danger to tourists attempting to travel to his hometown of Hebron. Young residents of Bethlehem pictured below observed us as we left that store. Some of their clothing differs significantly from that worn by the senior citizen of Bethlehem two pictures down.
The Basilica of the Agony is also located at the Garden of Gethsemane, called the Church of All Nations because the facility was constructed from funds provided by several countries. Built in 1924, this Basilica is run by the Franciscans to commemorate the site where Jesus prayed before his arrest. Matthew (26:36) tells how, "Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, `Sit here while I go over there and pray.'" The Basilica of the Agony is pictured below and is just to the right of the olive trees shown above. Indeed, in the photograph below one can see the olive trees to the far left.
Our excursion to Israel with Educational Opportunities Tours went from Tel-Aviv to Tiberias, Capernaum, and the Mount of Beatitudes by the Sea of Galilee. We also stopped at Tabgha on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, the traditional site where Jesus fed the 5,000. (Matthew 14: 13-21) This event is commemorated by The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Founded around 350 after Christ by the Order of the Benedictines, the present church was built in 1982. In this sacred place, on our trip, some of us lit candles for a moment of meditation and in remembrance of friends who were ill, as evidenced in the picture below.
MOUNT CARMEL: From Megiddo we traveled to Mount Carmel near the Mediterrean Sea, a range about 4 1/2 miles wide, forming a ridge to the northeast 1,700 feet high. Because the mountain has numerous caves on the steep side, over the centuries criminals and others have hidden there. Through Amos, God warned: "Though they hide hemselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them ...." (Amos 9: 3) Josephus, the Jewish historian, noted that Essenes, discussed further below, found refuge on Mt. Carmel.
Elijah admonished his people: "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." (1 Kings 18: 20-40) In a contest of miracles arranged by Elijah on Mount Carmel, the prophets and people of God defeated the prophets of Baal. We visited the Carmelite Monastery where, outside, there was a tall statue depicting Elijah's victory. In the 12th century after Christ, Roman Catholics founded the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carmelites), an Order that has increased in numbers significantly, including men, nuns, and monasteries world wide. The picture below, exhibited on Mount Carmel, is of an artist's representation of the prophets of the God of Abraham in competition with the prophets of Baal
John baptized converts "in Bethany across the Jordan." (John 1: 28) "The people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to John the Baptist, and all the region along the Jordan and they were baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matthew 3: 1-6) John "proclaimed, `The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.... I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'" (Mark 1: 7-8)
In the picture below, one sees our good friend and former minister collecting water from the Jordan to be administered back home for a family member's baptismal service.
TIBERIAS: Upon landing in Tel-Aviv by airplane, we drove the 83 miles to Tiberias by bus at night. Tiberias is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. In some texts in the Bible, the Sea of Galilee is called Sea of Tiberias. Today, home of at least 30,000 people, this town has become a popular holiday resort. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, named the town to honor Tiberius, the Roman Emperior at the time of Jesus. Mark (12: 13-17) related how, when "some Pharisees and some Herodians" were sent "to trap Jesus in what he said," Jesus used a coin with the image of Emperor Tiberius to reply. They asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?... Knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus said to them, `Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.' And they brought one. Then he said to them, `Whose head is this, and whose title?' They answered, `The emperor's.' Jesus said to them, `Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's.'"
MOUNT OF BEATITUDES: Roman Catholic Franciscans constructed the Church of Beatitudes on the hillside in 1938 to memorialize Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount," located between the remains of Capernaumand Tabgha overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The church's octagonal shape represents the beatitudes, a New Covenant priority placed upon "the poor in spirit," "those who mourn," "the meek," a desire "for righteousness," being "merciful," "pure in heart," "peacemakers," and withstanding "persecut[ion] for righteousness' sake." (Matthew 5: 10) The photograph below taken from the church shows that the setting could have accommodated "the crowds" (Matthew 5: 1) who came to hear Jesus.
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