Sunday, July 12, 2015
Today’s focus was a continuation of Jesus’ ministry along the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee.
We start our day in Bethsaida which is on the north-eastern of the lake, east of the Jordan River. This is the site of recent excavations. Bethsaida is a mile from the lake set upon a hill, but is believed to be the home of many fisherman, as evidenced by fishing artifacts found be archeologists. Jesus preached and healed many in this area. Everywhere he went, people followed him, and the sickly touched his clothing hoping to be cured. We got off the bus and climbed up the hillside to the ruins of an ancient palace dating back to biblical times.
This spacious palace faced a courtyard that led to the city gate. Its wide entrance opened into a vestibule and it had a throne hall surrounded by eight service chambers.
This palace is of Neo-Hittite Aramaen style that was common in the Iron Age (10th – 8th centuries BCE).
No one knows if Jesus ever saw this palace, but it was in these hills that he recruited more of his disciples.
Near the ruins, we found a covered respite offering shade to imagine what Jesus was thinking and what he said to his followers. Along the way, St. George’s staff members gave us papers with the scriptures appropriate to the current site. It was here in Bethsaida that Jesus gave sight to the blind man, then told him to go home and not to stop at the village.
The inhabitants of this palace were Aramaens and the high places and ritual objects reflect their religion.
On the sacrificial high places were found fragments of basins, horned altars, and an incised stone depicting a crouching bull. In the pit near the high place were bones from sacrificial animals of types that comply with Leviticus II.
Then the driver then took us northeast from the Sea of Galilee and into the heart of the disputed the Golan Heights. We entered the foothills of Mt. Hermon (elevation 9,000 feet, the highest point in Israel and a popular ski resort) and are now in the town of Caesarea Philippi at the Hermon Stream National Park. Here we’ll see biblical ruins and springs which create a lush environment for plants and wildlife. Jim Stewart read scripture as the rest of us sat in the shade by the soothing sounds of the springs. We started walking up the mountainside to a deep cave and the columnar remains from the Temple of Pan (Pan being a god of nature, this site was known Paneas in Greek or Banias in Arabic) in the 3rd century BCE. We saw the grotto of the God Pan and an artist’s rendering of what this magnificent temple once looked it. I can’t say enough good things about the significant contributions archeologists have made to history.
After another delicious lunch (entrée selections were whole fish, filet of fish or marinated grilled chicken), we drove a short distance to the boat museum, through which we had to pass to get to the boat ride on a “Jesus boat,” a replica of the boats from the first century. In the museum we see the extraordinary exhibit of a 2,000 year old wooden fishing boat discovered under the Sea of Galilee in 1986! The hull is held together by a customized steel frame with large pins which provide structural support for this 18’ vessel made of 12 different kinds of wood. The use of different woods demonstrated that the boat had been repaired several times over the course of its lifespan. This is likely the type of boat Jesus and the disciples would have been in during the storm when he asked them if they believed in him. We saw a movie narrated by the recovery team, discussing the delicate steps they took to get the boat out of the water.
In the exhibit, we saw a replica portion of the vessel wrapped in a cocoon of fiberglass and polyurethane foam that was used in order to lift it from the muddy sea bed and to float it to its restoration site, where it underwent an 11-year conservation process.
It was now time for the boat ride. We were fortunate to be the only passengers on this boat ride and enjoyed the relatively smooth ride amid strong winds and a few whitecaps, as we headed along the northern coastline of the lake. The views were beautiful, but the profound impact was that we were on the same waters where Jesus had walked on water and had taught the disciples. A single body of water has never been so meaningful to me!
Thinking there was nothing that could top this day, I returned to my lovely modern room at Pilgerhaus and walked down the hill to the outdoor chapel overlooking the lake for Holy Eucharist before dinner. As we congregants sat on pews made from fallen trees, Bishop Ross (from the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia) welcomed us in Maori, as is their tradition, and prepared the bread and wine for our Holy Eucharist. All of us had a speaking role in the service. The theme of the homily was “what will you do with this experience when you go back?” What a memorable communion service it was, overlooking the lake that Jesus crossed so many times while he taught and inspired his disciples.
After dinner, most of us gathered on the patio overlooking the Sea of Galilee engaging in fellowship and enjoying a beverage.
Tomorrow morning is a light schedule, as we have free time to do as we please before 11 am checkout. Bye for now!