Lucky (and still healthy) folks traveling in Israel and the West Bank with Baptists Today spent their last full day in the Galilee with a roundhouse road trip that began with such a traffic jam a half hour out that our driver made a skillful U-turn that took us backward for a bit and reset our itinerary for the day, but all worked out for good.
Our first stop was the Roman city of Sepphoris, just a few miles north of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, was said to be a carpenter (Mark 6:3: the word tektōn could also be used for “craftsman,” including stone masonry). There would have been precious little work in the small hamlet of Nazareth, but plenty to do in the booming nearby city, so it’s likely that Jesus would have worked there.
Sepphoris — known as Zippori in Hebrew — was the capital of the Galilee region during Roman times. It featured a fine streets lined with shops, fancy government buildings, and villas for the rich atop the acropolis, or highest part of the city. Buildings of every sort were decorated with elaborate mosaic floors, many of them featuring Egyptian or mythological motifs. Alas, the synagogue with its impressive floor festooned with a mosaic zodiac was closed for renovations.
From Sepphoris we drove west to the Mediterranean Sea, where we admired remains of an aqueduct that brought fresh water to Caesarea Maritima from the Crocodile River some six miles away. The aqueduct was an amazing feat of Roman engineering, with a precisely calculated gradual fall allowing gravity to do the work.
The theater at Caesarea is still used for entertainment, while Herod’s palace offers shelter to sea life alone.
Hungry for lunch as well as more adventure, we travelled to the ancient city of Megiddo, where 26 ancient civilizations dating as far back as 5,000 BCE lie stacked one on the other. There we admired imposing gates, Canaanite temples, a grain silo, stables, and a deep water shaft and tunnel that never fails to impress.
We were a bit concerned that darkness might fall before we reached Mount Precipice outside Nazareth, but we made it just in time to catch a beautiful sunset before pondering the story of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, announcing his mission statement of deliverance for the poor and oppressed — while roundly offending the people who had watched him grow up.
It led me to wonder how often our faith is authentic and radical enough to even be noticed, whether it causes offense or not.
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.