If you’ve been virtually touring Israel with the study group from Campbell University Divinity School, you know that this was our second full day of exploring in Galilee. It was a full day, and the weather could not have been better.
We began the day with a short ride to Nof Ginosaur, where a first century boat was discovered in 1986. Painstakingly conserved over a period of several years, the remains of the boat now rest in a museum at Ginosaur, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (locally known as Kinneret, from the Hebrew word for “harp,” since the lake is shaped somewhat like a harp).
From the museum, we walked down to a dock where we boarded a large wooden boat (named “Faith”) to take us to our next stop at Capernaum, with a nice ride on the lake in between. The boat captain, Daniel Carmel, is a Jewish believer who enjoys singing gospel and worship songs in both English and Hebrew. While out in the lake, he stopped the boat long enough to demonstrate the use of a casting net and to sing “Here I Am to Worship” and “Amazing Grace.” CDs, of course, were available.
At Capernaum, we gathered beneath a large ficus tree for our daily devotion, which was led by Michael Tyndall. We then took a look at a 4th century church built over the remains of a shrine believed to mark the location of Peter’s house, where Jesus often lodged. A Catholic church resembling a flying saucer has since been built atop that, sitting on pillars in order to preserve access to the ancient buildings beneath.
Tabgha, just a short hop west, was next on our list. Tabgha is the traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000 and supposedly the place where Jesus fed the disciples fish for breakfast and challenged Peter after the resurrection (John 21). There’s no evidence that either of those things really happened there, but the Heptapegon Church there (“Heptapegon” means “Seven Springs”) has a mosaic floor that includes one of the most iconic images of Israel: just before the altar two fish flank a basket of loaves, a scene sold on ceramic dishes and other souvenirs throughout Israel.
Following a lunch of chicken schnitzel in pita bread, we made our way to Sepphoris, the most important city in Galilee during the first century. Despite its importance, it is not mentioned in the Bible, in part because it was a Roman city. It was just a few miles from the hamlet of Nazareth, however, and it is only logical to think that carpenters like Joseph and the young Jesus would have found work there and been familiar with its streets.
Sepphoris is home to a number of fine mosaics from a slightly later period, including one on a triclinium floor that celebrates Dionysus, the god of drinking. At the bottom of the mosaic there is a beautiful woman so tastefully portrayed that she became known as “the Mona Lisa of Palestine.” Sepphoris also features a well-preserved cardo (main street) in which ruts from the wheels of heavy wagons and chariots can still be seen. A synagogue found there is notable not only because it also has a beautiful mosaic floor — but because the design includes a large zodiac that illustrates considerable accommodation of local Jews to Roman culture.
We completed the afternoon with a trip to the top of Mt. Precipice, just across from the old city of Nazareth. From there we could see a gorgeous panorama of the Jezreel Valley’s rich farmland, cultivated so that it looks like a patchwork quilt. It was such a clear day that we could easily see Mt. Tabor to our left, Mt. Moriah straight ahead, and even the Golan Heights in the distance beyond.
After dinner we departed from the study tour aspect of the trip to engage in something more touristy, taking in a short light show over the harbor in downtown Tiberius before returning to the hotel.
Tomorrow will be a long but eventful day: we begin with a run to the coast to see Caesarea Maritima, then come back through the Jezreel Valley with stops at Megiddo and Beth Shan/Scythopolis. Then we’ll turn north and follow the Jordan River to Jardenit, where we will worship and celebrate a baptismal service, appropriate for a Sunday in the land of Jesus’ birth.