Today started with cheese at breakfast. Other things happened after the cheese, but I feel that the cheese is important to mention first. As well as the bread with chocolate baked into it. That’s very important too.
Thus fortified, we embarked on the second day of touring, visiting sites around the northern half of the Sea of Galilee, where most of Jesus’ ministry took place.
Our first stop was on the Mount of the Beatitudes, a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee with–according to our tour guide–some really excellent acoustics just right for speech-making, where Jesus delivered one of the five great speeches of Matthew, beginning with “Blessed are the poor…”.
There is a lovely church there…
…and extensive gardens, featuring beautiful flowers and sculptures and scriptures verses and unfortunate signage:
After walking around and reading from the gospel of Matthew, we hiked down the hill to Tagbha, which means “seven springs.”
I’ve gotta say, it was really nice to be out of the bus and actually having to work for our once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m formulating a hypothesis that if being a tourist is too easy, you just don’t appreciate the experience as much. A little bit of suffering goes a long way in improving one’s overall perception of an adventure. This explains airport customs.
Not to say that walking down the hill was at all torturous. Though Dr. Carlson did tell us the story of the woman who fell and broke her leg on one of their tours, and how he carried her down the hill on his back. If my hypothesis is correct, and individual suffering is directly correlated to the improvement of the overall trip, he must have had a really excellent rest of the tour.
Anyway. At Tagbha, we could walk right down to the pebbly shore of the Sea of Galilee. The sun, which had been covered by clouds for the whole morning, chose this auspicious moment to break through.
It was beautiful, and one of the lovely moments where I wasn’t haunted by a faint sense of being herded, but actually felt all the wonder of being on those shores, where Jesus walked two thousands years ago.
We also stopped at a nearby museum, which houses the Jesus boat. (Bible study class, you totally know this one!) The Jesus boat was found in 1986, and dates back to the first century BCE. There are over 20 reference to boats in the gospels, but this thing is the first archaeological specimen we have of what a boat in Jesus’ time actually looked like! We got to hear the fascinating story of how you preserve a boat on the verge of disintegration, and get it to the point that it looks like this:
We also got a tour of the basement of the museum, where lots of archaeological analysis is performed. It turns out that the professional workspace of serious amateur and professional archaeologists looks almost exactly like your parents’ basement:
Except where your parents have boxes labelled “Christmas decorations” or “Dad’s collection of sweater vests,” Israeli museums have these:
For something that reminds me so forcibly of all the sorting I need to do in my attic, it was really nifty.
Then we went to lunch. Most of the group went and ate tilapia that came right out of the Sea of Galilee, but I learned after an encounter with an enormous amount of falafel yesterday that I prefer a smaller lunch. (Plus, I had fish for breakfast. So there.) Instead, I went the scavenging route, unearthing a sandwich I’d packed earlier and purchasing a lemonade from a nearby gas station. Some much better foragers, who’d also chosen to forgo the fish, went out and found a grocery store, and came back bearing fresh pita, hummus, and strawberries. And they shared. Sandwich be darned.
After lunch, we went a-sailing on the Sea of Galilee. It was pretty and peaceful, except for the cheesy renditions of Christian CCM blaring over the loudspeakers, and the dance break. Yes, the dance break. Because nothing completes a boat ride around the Sea of Galilee like twenty tourists learning how to dance to the “Hava Nagila.” That part was awesome.
Then it was off to Capernaum, home of, like, a zillion of Jesus’ apostles. OK. It was five. My sense of reality was starting to skew by this point in the afternoon. Capernaum is pretty incredible–it’s like, having uncovered a couple of acres of ancient civilizations, all the archaeologists stood up, stretched, and said, “Ok, that’s good,” and walked off. So tourists wander across sidewalks that are really cement islands in the middle of a sea of exposed basalt ruins. You can see through the layers of time, from the neat, hewn bricks down to the walls of mortared fieldstone, which is the stuff that was contemporary to Jesus.
The reason we’re all really excited about Capernaum is that Simon Peter’s house is there. Like, really. And we found it. For reals. We’re pretty sure it’s a real McCoy. There is a church built over it, and there has been ever since the Byzantine era, but that doesn’t stop archaeologists. They just tunnel around it.
The gray bar at the top is the floor of the current church. The nice, orderly wall is the old Byzantine church. The wall of unhewn stones stacked into a wall is the original house, where graffiti including Simon Peter’s name and Christian symbols has us thinking we’re on the right track.
Simon Peter’s house. Mind. Blown.
The house is a few dozen yards from the Jewish synagogue (where a newer Jewish synagogue was built on the site of the original), and a few dozen yards to the Sea.
There’s one more stop–you guys still with me? We went to the site of ancient Bethsaida. At least, we think we did. There’s some question about whether the site is actually Bethsaida (from scholars, not from my sleep-deprived mind). But we were definitely there. At the site. Whatever it was. And there certainly was a very ancient civilization there, complete with basalt ruins and pagan altars and standing stones and wandering livestock.
Dr. Vitalis-Hoffman did some digs there, and gave a really excellent tour, which maybe I’ll come back and elaborate on. After dinner. Which started half-an-hour ago. That’s how devoted to you guys I am. Please be impressed.
Tomorrow, we hit up the land north of the Sea of Galilee. Stay tuned!