The third day in-country for Campbell University’s tour group (see earlier posts below) began with an early visit to Tabgha, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tabgha, a shortened Arabic version of “Heptapegon” (Seven Springs), is the traditional site of Jesus’ “feeding of the 5,000.” There is no hard evidence for Tabgha to be the place, of course, just a flat-topped rock where Catholics have long believed Jesus laid out the two fish and five barley loaves before multiplying them.
The church is home to some beautiful mosaics dating from the fifth century. The most famous one depicts the loaves and fishes. Set in front of the altar and well behind a rope, it is one of the most common designs seen on souvenir items, but one of the most difficult to photograph. The mosaics reveal a strong Egyptian influence, as they include wildlife common to Egypt, along with a “Nileometer” used for measuring the annual floods of the Nile.
Just a few hundred yards from the Church of the Heptapegon is another small church, this one called “The Church of Peter’s Primacy.” It commemorates the traditional site of where Jesus met the disciples by the Sea of Galilee following the resurrection, and its altar is also built over a stone outcropping – this one said to be where Jesus laid out the fish he was cooking for breakfast when the disciples came in after a night of fruitless fishing. We remembered these stories by reading them from John 21 and recalling how Jesus challenged Peter to look after his sheep. The church is located right by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which offered a good place for reflection.
Not much farther along the shore we came to Capernaum, Jesus’ adopted home for the three years of his active ministry. The site still has a small village feel as one walks down a dirt street beside the foundations of excavated houses. A modern Catholic church is built on stilts above an ancient octagonal church that was built over the house that early pilgrims believe belonged to St. Peter’s family, as evidenced by ancient Christian graffitti on the walls.
Capernaum was a fishing village, and a place where Jesus found friends. We remembered that as we sat on ancient building stones beneath a shady tree by the sea shore, as Susan Ulrich, Heather Webb, and Kerrie Clayton led us in worship.
Capernaum is home to a striking 4th century synagogue, indicating the importance of the village in later years. A side view indicates that the white stone of the synagogue was built atop the dark basalt foundation of an earlier building, which many suppose would have been the first century synagogue that Jesus would have frequented. To walk so close to where Jesus must have spent significant time was a meaningful, memorable opportunity.
From a dock just east of Capernaum, we boarded a wooden boat and set sail for Ginosar, where the carefully preserved remains of a first century wooden fishing boat are displayed in a museum next door to the Nof Ginosar Hotel, a lovely spot on the shores of Galilee that has been our home for the past three days.
Whether seated above or below, we experienced a smooth 40-minute ride on the same sea that Jesus and the twelve went fishing, and where Jesus walked on the water. During the ride, the captain raised an American flag and played “The Star Spangled Banner.” We enjoyed the breeze from the water, as well as the chan
ce to see sites from the sea that we had earlier visited on land.
The ancient fishing boat, often dubbed “the Jesus boat,” was found in the 1980s, during a period of severe drought. The boat was buried in mud and required extensive efforts to remove it without allowing the wood to dry, in which case it would have fallen apart. Nine years of effort and 65,000 thousand pounds of chemicals used during a years-long soak in a special tank were required to leave the boat solid enough to be dried and put on display. Specialists are still studying the boat, as evidenced by the camera and note pads seen beneath it.
After lunch, we drove past the village of Migdal and through the pass below Mt. Arbel called the “Valley of the Doves,” where the old road from Nazareth came to the Sea of Galilee just above the city of Tiberius. From there we drove through the modern village of Cana, near the ancient city where Jesus performed his first recorded miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding.
Behond Cana, we came to Tzipori, site of ancient Sepphoris, a very important city but one rarely visited by tourists. Sepphoris was an important Roman city during the first century, and became the center of Jewish learning and the seat of the Sanhedrin in the second century. Sepphoris is home to Israel’s most intricate and impressive set of mosaic floors. Most of them have pagan themes, including a large mosaic dedicated to Dionysus that once decorated a large villa. The mosaic depicts a boisterous drinking party, but also the enigmatic face of a beautiful woman who is known as “the Mona Lisa of the Galilee.”
Along the cardo (main street) of Sepphoris, one can see many mosaics, including some that comprise dedicatory inscriptions in Greek. Dr. Wakefield and several students enjoyed trying to puzzle out a translation from the inscriptions, most of which were broken in spots or used unfamiliar forms for Greek letters.
Our last stop of the day came in Nazareth, where nothing is left of the village that was Jesus’ home for most of his life. We drove to the top of a high hill called “Mount Precipice” from which we could look back at the main city (the Church of the Anunciation is near the middle, with a cone-shaped dome). Although it is not on the same hill upon which Nazareth was built, there are traditions that the sharp drop from Mount Precipice to the Jezreel Valley below is the place where the citizens of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus from a cliff before he gave them the slip and went to Capernaum.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.