Travelers with our Campbell University Divinity School/Nurturing Faith Experiences tour group are getting their money’s worth. Our guide told a fellow guide what all we had done today, and he responded: “It takes me three days to do that.”
You can believe it.
After our second consecutive 6:00 a.m. wakeup call and a 7:30 a.m. departure, we drove west to Megiddo, where we examined a cutaway view of the tel – which has been home to more than 20 layers of civilization. We explored a Canaanite altar and high place, along with a huge in-ground community granary with steps leading both in and out, an area once dedicated to stables during the Israelite period, and a miracle of ancient engineering: a water tunnel that was cut straight down deep into bedrock, then horizontally to a spring that was covered over and buried beneath a hill so besieging enemies could not capture the town’s source of water.
Emerging from the tunnel into the bright light of a very hot day, we turned back southeast and drove to the ancient city of Beth She’an/Schythopolis. A tall tel marks the site of Beth She’an, a former Egyptian and Philistine outpost which figures into several Old Testament stories. At the foot of the hill is the impressive Roman city of Schythopolis, one of the 10 Roman cities known as the “Decapolis” in Jesus’ time.
Following a quick lunch, we turned north and drove along the east side of the Sea of Galilee to a point above the northeast corner of the lake, where we visited Bethsaida. During the early Iron Age, Bethsaida was known as Geshur, the capital of a small kingdom by the same name, the home of Absalom’s mother Ma’acah. She was the daughter of the king of Geshur, married to David to cement a political alliance. After Absalom murdered his brother Amnon as revenge for Amnon’s having raped Absalom’s full sister Tamar, he fled to Geshur for several years, probably entering the same Iron Age gate that we walked through on our way into the city.
In the New Testament period, Bethsaida was known as the birthplace of several disciples, including Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Jesus healed a blind man there, but later cursed the city for its lack of belief.
From Bethsaida we drove a short distance to Capernaum, a fishing village where Peter had a home that Jesus probably used as “home base” during his Galilean ministry. There Kristi Moore led us in a devotion, recalling how Jesus first called the disciples after challenging them to “launch out into the deep” and let down their nets for a catch. She likened the call to ministry to the risk of going into deep water to cast one’s nets.
We explored a Roman period synagogue there, along with the foundations of a Byzantine church built over what some believe to be the remains of Peter’s house. A modern Catholic church was then built over it, on stilts.
Next on the agenda was the Primacy of St. Peter, where a small church was built over a large rock known as the “Mensa Christi,” or “Table of Christ.” It is a traditional site marking Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after the resurrection, when they had gone fishing and Jesus challenged the luckless laborers to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, where they brought in a huge catch.
Things slowed a bit after that: we visited a museum housing the preserved remains of a fishing boat from the time of Jesus, and then embarked on a boat of our own, traveling from Nof Ginosar to a dock in the city of Tiberias.
Being in a boat on the waters of the Sea of Galilee was a special experience for all concerned, and a bit more restful.
That’s good, because 6:00 a.m. will come quickly again tomorrow, as we head across the border and into the country of Jordan for a day with fewer stops, but more miles to travel.
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.