I can say this of our day: we definitely got our money’s worth! We packed a lot into September 3rd.
After eating a leisurely breakfast with a view of the Sea of Galilee, we boarded the bus to head north. Our driver took us around the eastern side of the lake since later we would be on the western side, and he wanted us to get every view possible. One of the interesting things I learned about the Sea of Galilee is that it is 600 feet below sea level. I knew that the Dead Sea was below sea level, but I had no idea that the Sea of Galilee was too. On our way up the eastern side, our guide pointed out the place believed to be where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs and the pigs ran off the cliff. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of it from the bus but it was a pretty impressive cliff.
The first stop of the day was in Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is the place where Peter’s mother-in-law lived, and where Jesus preformed some of his recorded miracles. Peter’s mother-in-law’s house was preserved because a church was built around the house. Here you can see some of the remaining walls of the house and church. Another church has been built which is suspended over the site. This is the place where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever, and also where the “healing through the ceiling” took place (remember the 4 friends and the lame man?). Just 10-20 yards away is the synagogue where Jesus healed the withered hand. The synagogue we saw was from the 4th Century, but it was built on the same foundations as the one from Jesus’ time.
A couple of miles down the road and I found myself at the Mount of the Beatitudes. A beautiful octagonal church has been built on top of the hillside overlooking the Sea (octagonal, for representing the 8 Beatitudes). But the Sermon on the Mount actually took place down at the bottom of the hill, in the background of my picture. There, where the banana farm is located, is a naturally occurring amphitheater. Jesus would have known that by preaching there, thousands would be able to hear him. The nuns and monks that currently maintain the church and the grounds have planted beautiful gardens all around the church. So as we strolled around the grounds, we could smell the sweet fragrances from the different flora. The birds was singing their sweet little songs as they darted around between the trees. And then… I saw it in the banana farm. A Deere! Imagine… a John Deere tractor all the way over there!
From the Mount of the Beatitudes, we drove north to Dan. Currently, Dan is the northern-most point in Israel. To get to the ruins of the the city of Dan, we took an hour-long hike along the Dan River. It was so relaxing walking along the tree-covered paths and listening to the gurgling river. The Dan is one of 3 rivers that feed into the Jordan, and the name Jordan literally means “it comes from Dan”. We followed the river up to it’s source and where the ruins of the city lay. There were the ruins of Rehoboam’s (Solomon’s son) temple where he built a golden calf and led the people in false worship. Our trail then took us through some more wooded paths, and the trees smelled amazing but gave no hint as to what was lying around the corner. We rounded the bend, and I came face-to-face with the Gate of Three Arches! Ok, so this doesn’t sound that impressive, but let me explain. The Gate of Three Arches is a 4,000-year-old gate that was recently uncovered. Not impressed yet? What about if I told you that when Lot was kidnapped, Abraham pursued the kidnappers all the way to the Gates of Dan and there rescued him? I was standing where Abraham stood! It blew my mind! I was looking at the same Gate that Abraham and Lot saw 4,000 years ago! Impressed yet??Pretty cool, huh?? That right there, totally made my day.
Another short drive and we stopped for an interested lunch of pita bread and shish kabobs. As much as I liked the falafels, I was kind of happy for something else – falafels can be a bit heavy feeling in your tummy when you’re walking so much.
The restaurant was literally a half mile from our next stop – Caesarea Philippi. It is here that Jesus took his disciples to the “gates of hell” and asked Peter “Who do you say I am?”, to which Peter responded “You are the Christ.” This place was called the “gates of hell” because it was so evil – a pagan temple to the god Pan was built there over a cave where people would throw their sacrifices. The whole place looks daunting; the cave is at the bottom of a very sheer cliff that surrounds the area in a crescent shape. The temple was built in such a way that the Hermon Spring was under it, so the river flowed out from under the temple (another river that feeds the Jordan).
From Caesarea Philippi we headed back towards the Sea of Galilee. A farmer had bought some land there, and while plowing had uncovered a tile mosaic floor of loaves and fishes. Upon further exploration, archeologist found the foundation of a church there. A church was rebuilt on the site known as Tabga, or the Place of Multiplication. It is believed that here, Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. This makes sense geographically because we were back in the Galilean region where Jesus had done much of his teaching.
We moved on to another mind-blowing site – a 2,000-year-old fishing boat found in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. The boat was recently found buried in the mud because the droughts had lowered the level of the lake. It is approximately 30 feet in length and in amazing condition after sitting on the bottom of the Sea for so long! The boat is so fragile that they had to coat it with polyurethane to protect it during the moving process. It is now in a climate-controlled room.
We capped off our day with a ride on the Sea of Galilee. They took us for an hour-long voyage and played worship music on the boat. I had a fleeting thought of jumping out of the boat and trying to walk on water. Hey, Peter did it, why can’t I? But, I didn’t want to freak out the crew, so I stayed put.
We landed in Tiberias and caught a ride on our bus back to our hotel on the southern end of the Sea. And after a very hot, dusty day (107F), we all ran down to the pool before dinner. I’ve never been so thankful for pools!
Stay tuned for the next installment!