I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving break in Israel. This was not a mission trip, outreach trip, or anything else other than a sightseeing tour. But, it ended up being more than just sightseeing. I spent almost a week with 16 other people who were in some way or another associated with my high school, Providence Christian Academy. The trip was led by two of the most influential men in my life to this point who mentored me throughout high school and continue to speak into my life today. The next few posts will catalog the trip the best I can. There is no way I can write down everything we did, saw, or experienced, because I could probably start an entirely new blog of just pictures, videos, and stories from the trip. However, I will do my best to show as many pictures and videos and keep the narration to a minimum. I hope you enjoy these glimpses into Israel and, whether you have been 100 times or never step foot in the land where Christianity was born, it helps the Bible come alive in a new way for you. Enjoy.
Our hotel in Tiberias overlooked the Lake of Galilee. You will notice I refer to the Sea of Galilee as a “lake.” As our tour guide, Moshe, pointed out, the word “sea” denotes a body of saltwater; the word “lake” refers to a body of freshwater. Because the Sea of Galilee is a large, freshwater body of water, it is considered a lake not a sea.
We began our first day in the Galilee on a boat ride. Our plan was to take a boat from Tiberias (on the east side) to Capernaum (on the north side). We started out about 8:00 AM and all piled on the boat for the ride. The Lake of Galilee is 8 miles wide by 13 miles long. It is no small body of water. While on riding on the lake, it is easy not only to see how this area centered around fishing but also how a storm can pick up and the weather can change abruptly. Luckily, the waters were calm while on our way to Capernaum, but it was still wind still whipped around us nonetheless.
We arrived at the shore of Capernaum and walked into a museum almost straight from the boat. It was a museum that told the story of a 2000 year-old boat found in the mud of the Lake of Galilee. It had been excavated, extracted, and preserved and now sits in a museum near the site where it was found. We have no idea whether this boat was one Jesus sailed in, but it does give us a better idea of what a normal fishing boat would have looked like during the time of Jesus.
Our next stop was a short drive to the Church of the Multiplication. While we do not know the exact spot that the miracle where Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, we can look at tradition as a guide for a general area; that is what the Church of the Multiplication stands as, a reminder.
Our next stop was the ancient city of Capernaum. In the time of Jesus Capernaum was the center of commerce and trade in the Galilee. It was a populous city where at least a thousand people lived. However, today it is nothing but ruins. It is no longer a thriving city of trade; the remains are a tourist attraction of discarded stones. There are a few significant places in Capernaum today, however. The first being an eight sided building that many scholars believe to be the site of Peter’s house. Capernaum was the town many of Jesus’ disciples were from, so there is no Biblical evidence to suggest this was not Peter’s house.
But, many modern archeologists have posited this is not actually Peter’s house because most houses were only four sided. The more walls (i.e. the bigger your house) the wealthier you were. A common fisherman who took three years off of work to follow a traveling Rabbi would not have had the disposable income to build an eight sided house. Many believe that this is just a common meeting room that people would gather to listen to people talk or have gatherings, kind of like a community center. But, just because this was not Peter’s house does not mean it cannot hold significance to the Christian faith. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples returned to Galilee and continued living the life they had lived before Jesus chose them. This building would have been the place they went to preach or teach if they were not allowed in the synagogue. So, in theory, this could have been the first meeting place of Christians after the resurrection of Jesus. You could also argue this could have been the first church building the church occupied as well.
Another important building in modern day Capernaum is the ruins of the synagogue. There were two sets of ruins: one from the 4th century sitting on top of one from the time of Jesus. Remember that the ancient near East was conquered time and time again, and the conquering people would building on top of what was already there. We know from Scripture Jesus taught at the synagogue in Capernaum, but we cannot actually walk on it because the newer synagogue sits on top of the older one. Regardless, it was a special experience to be standing over the spot where we know Jesus taught.
We continued around the Lake of Galilee to the eastern side. During Jesus’ time this was where Gentiles lived. There is one story in the synoptic Gospels that records Jesus casting out a demon named “Legion” out of man from the other side of the Lake. The man came out of the tombs, met Jesus when he got out of the boat, Jesus cast the demons out into pigs, and the pigs ran into the lake. As we were driving, Moshe pointed out a spot that is the only place on the Lake that matches this description. There were caves that were used as tombs, the lake is a short walk away, and there were cliffs that match the description Jesus gave.
We then traveled north through the Golan Heights. this is the area in Northern Israel that was contested when Israel was fighting for her freedom. It has also been in contention with the border wars with Lebanon and Syria. There are still tanks and patrols that scour the area as constant presence to protect the border from invasion. It was a sobering reminder that people in Israel live in the shadow of war at any moment, yet this is daily part of life that does not phase them.
Our next stop was Caesarea Philippi. In the time of Jesus, this was considered a retreat. This was the place people would go if they wanted to get away and relax. There were pools to bathe in and springs to provide warm water. Like much of Northern Israel, it was very lush with many trees and grass. The weather was perfect and it was easy to see why people escaped to Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi is where Jesus tells Peter that on him he will build the church and the gates of hell would not prevail. This was an important phrase to use in Caesarea Philippi because local legends and myths actually said that there was a spot people believed to be the gates of hell. So when Jesus said this to Peter it was not just a random phrase, but it had a meaning that everyone could associate with because of the location.
We finished our day back on the northern shore of the Lake of Galilee at the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount or Mount of the Beatitudes. Overlooking the Lake at dusk was one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. What was even more memorable was the opportunity I had while there. At most every site we went to one of our leaders would teach on the Biblical significance or read the story of what happened there. At the Mount of the Beatitudes, I had that opportunity. But, instead of just teaching something from Scripture, I believed our time could be better spent if we tried to put ourselves in the moment those who had listened to Jesus were in. So I asked everyone to close their eyes and I just read excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount over everyone, asking them to think about the words they were hearing and try to image what it would have been like to heard these words from Jesus. I prayed to end our time and then we were allowed to walk around the area to take pictures and take in the beauty as the sun was setting. I am blown away by God’s goodness and how he used me to speak his words over people just like Jesus did thousands of years before.
Galilee was a beautiful area, but the next day we began our ascent to Jerusalem. We would make it there by nightfall with some incredible stories to share along the way. God taught me a lot in the days we spent in the area Jesus called home, but I was looking forward to the city on which so much of history hinges both for our faith and the faith of the world.