Capernaum, the Golan Heights, and Galilee sights

Sea of GalileeAfter this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. (John 6:1-3)

It is neither a sea nor is it called Galilee, but it is enormous and located in the region of the Galilee, so that is what I will call it for the purposes of this blog! Locally known as Lake Kinneret, this massive body of water is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, and it was here that Peter, James, and John plied the waters with their fishing nets, and Jesus crossed from side to side, stilled the storm (all three synoptics), and walked on the water (Mt. 14:22-33). It was in this region that our journey continued today.

Peter's house, CapernaumCapernaum was our first stop this morning with a visit to the excavation of Peter’s house and a synagogue of uncertain dating, reported to have been constructed on the foundation of an earlier synagogue built by a Roman centurion. We next drove up into the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in the 1967 War and currently considered annexed territory. On our ride, we witnessed Israeli soldiers in practice exercises in one of the towns abandoned by Syria in that war. Our guide claims that this is the first time he has seen that and speculates that the unrest in Syria is prompting the military to prepare itself in this area that is only about 45 miles from Damascus.

Our destination on the Golan Heights was the ancient city of Gamla, a stronghold against the Romans in the Great Revolt although it was the first installation to fall in 66CE. Gamla means “camel,” and the town was situated on two rounded hills that actually do look like a camel’s back. The hike to the ruins of the town was too long for today’s visit, but we were able to see it from a promontory lookout. Gamla is also home to a preserve for Griffon vultures, so we saw a number of them flying as well as rescued birds in a protected area that were being rehabilitated before being released into the wild. There is a beautiful waterfall at Gamla also, but it had turned into a windy, misty morning, so our hikers were discouraged from taking that route.

Descending from the Golan HeightsA tour around the Golan Heights provided views of the snowy slopes of Mt. Hermon (9,200 ft.), some of the famous “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4, Psalm 22), and spectacular views of orchards and the verdant Plain of Gennesaret leading back to Galilee. We travelled through Caesarea Philippi (modern-day Banias) and rode right along the border of Syria and Lebanon, for a while finding ourselves in the buffer area between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights that is under United Nations oversight. This is such a complicated land!

Descending from the Golan Heights, we made our way to the Mount of Beatitudes where we feasted on a lunch of St. Peter’s fish, fresh from the sea down the hill, at a convent adjacent to the Church of the Beatitudes. We then took a bit of a breather in a conference room so that Dean Attridge could fill out the story of what we had seen with scriptural interpretation and a smattering of historical Jesus analysis. Boarding the bus, we had just a short ride to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, where Jesus is said to have fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, the only miracle apart from the resurrection that appears in all four canonical gospels. This church has the iconic mosaic floor of the two fish flanking a basket of five loaves.

Galilee - The Jesus BoatOur final destination of the day was a visit to the “Jesus boat,” a 1st century fishing boat discovered buried in the mud in the Sea of Galilee in 1986 and since reconstructed and put on display. Was it the same kind that Jesus’ companions used for fishing and perhaps even one that Jesus used to cross the lake? It’s not likely, but it could certainly be very much like one he might have used. The highlight and culmination of the day was a 45-minute boat ride on the lake itself. It was then that we could sense just how long it might have taken for Jesus to crisscross this lake as is mentioned so frequently in the gospels. It was also increasingly windy and rainy, just as I’m sure the disciples experienced many times in their travels on those waters. About three-quarters of the way into the trip, our captain began to broadcast some traditional songs like “This little light of mine” and “Oh, happy day,” which got the group to jamming on the boat, with The Rev. Yolanda Smith, one of our travel participants, leading in singing and hand motions from liturgical dance. It was an unexpected and delightful end to a full day!