Pentecost Sunday began, for the Campbell University Divinity School study tour group, with a drive down the western shore of the Sea of Galilee as we made our way to Beth She’an, where an ancient tel comprising 20 layers of Canaanite, Egyptian, and Philistine civilization towers over the impressive remains of Scythopolis, one of the ten cities of the Roman decapolis. Beth She’an is remembered in 2 Samuel as the place where the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons on the wall of the city after defeating Israel and nearby Mount Gilboa.
Scythopolis (so named because it was populated mainly by Scythians) was a prosperous city with a beautiful colonnaded cardo, a huge temple to Dionysius, two bathhouses, a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and a theater. We visited the theater first, where contralto Susan Seveir, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., thrilled all present with a scintillating rendition of “The Holy City.”
After visiting the lower city, about half the group climbed the 200 or so steps needed to reach the top of the tel, where we could take pictures of the lower city and pose beneath a tree prop left from the filming of Jesus Christ Superstar more than 30 years ago (Judas hung himself from it in the movie).
From Beth She’an we traveled to Harod Spring, also known as Gideon’s Spring. Judges 7 tells the story of how God told Gideon to reduce the size of his army so any victory would be clearly attributed to God and not to the army. Gideon had 10,000 men drink from Harod Spring, choosing only those who “lapped like a dog” while remaining alert rather than sticking their faces in the water — and winnowed his forces to 300 people, who were indeed victorious.
A scenic drive past fields of sunflowers, mangoes, and other crops took us near Mount Tabor on our way back to Tiberius, where we had an amazing lunch of St. Peter’s fish at the Decks cafe, on the waterfront of the Sea of Galilee. We boarded a boat directly from the cafe and made our way north across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, where we viewed an ancient church built over the traditional site of Peter’s home, and saw a fourth century synagogue built over the basalt foundations of the first century synagogue where Jesus would have attended and likely taught during the time he spent in and about Capernaum.
One of the greatest surprises for some of our travelers has been the discovery that the “Sea of Galilee” (also known as Kinnereth and Lake Gennesaret) is not really a sea, but a big lake. A nice drive around the north and east sides of the lake brought us to the southern end, where 18 members of our group took the opportunity to remember their baptism in the waters of the Jordan River at a location called Jardenit.
It was a long and hot day, but filled with inspiring experiences that left many of us feeling, on this Pentecost Sunday, that the Spirit of God was indeed present in our midst.