So, the next time I come to Israel (’cause there’ll be a next time, right?), I want to come with a choir. There have been SO MANY places where the hymns of the church have provided a compass for the experience–“The Angel Gabriel” in Nazareth, “Blessed Are They” on the Mount of Beatitudes, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” basically everywhere (thanks, YDS). And also, we have been in no less than three Roman theaters so far, with freakin’ awesome acoustics, and they are just begging to be sung in. In fact, today at one of the sites, five or six ridiculously talented people just broke out into “When Peace Like a River” in four-part harmony, and you could hear it all through those Roman ruins. Amazing.
OK, now that this plan of action for the future has been established, here’s what happened today:
Right out of the gate, we went to Mount Arbel, a big hill right outside of Tiberias. It was some interesting military history, most notably in a siege during the Crusader period, but mostly today it’s visited for the amazing views:
Unfortunately, the day was a little hazy, but you can see the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights and even Mount Hermon from there. It’s really beautiful, and I got myself into all kinds of weird positions in order to take pictures like this:
Which, by the way, are of our fearless leaders, two incredibly well educated men standing dangerously close to a cliff edge. Awesome. And while I was down there on the ground, someone took this picture with my camera, which pretty well expresses my mood for the day:
(I finally overcame the jet lag, and it was the first time I was laying down that I felt like I would happily get back up again!)
From Mount Arbel, we went to Sepphoris, which has been one of my favorite sites so far. “Sepphoris” is the Greek-i-cization (totally a word) of the Hebrew word for “bird,” (which I currently forget, but I know that the name “Tzipporah” comes from.), so I went a little crazy trying to take pictures of birds. Most of these attempts failed miserably, but by pure chance, I did manage to capture a lizard on a rock when trying to get a picture of the pretty bush:
Sepphoris was really nifty for reasons totally apart from the camoflauged lizards. For one thing, it was the most complete-looking Roman city we’d seen so far (though we’d see an even more impressive one by the end of the day). The cardo, a.k.a. the main north-south street, was clearly visible, and the games kids had carved into the stone were still clearly visible:
And the mosaics at this place where completely stunning. It is simply incredible to me that they are still so well-preserved. There were Amazons and other warriors, depictions of Dionysios and centaurs, and there was a mosaic of the Zodiac in a Jewish synagogue (!), and there was the mosaic I was most looking forward to seeing, nicknamed the Mona Lisa of Galilee. Unlike the actual Mona Lisa (so I’ve heard), she is even more captivating in real life as she is in pictures:
Guys. That gorgeous mosaic is made of little tiny chips of stone. And it’s made for walking on. What?!
Incidentally, no one knows who the woman is. She may be a Roman goddess, she may be the patroness of the house. We don’t know. But she is entrancing. These mosaics date back to the 3rd or 4th century, and are located in the house of an extremely well-to-do Roman citizen of Sepphoris.
Also in this house came a new addition to my secondary photo theme for this trip: unfortunate signage. Check this out:
The Greek says “‘ugei,” “Be healthy.” And that hole you see in the back is the latrine.
If you didn’t actually find that very funny, don’t worry. I’ve got another one:
Ok. So then after checking out the various buildings of Sepphoris, we checked out the water system, which involved some impressive tunneling. The most interesting aspect of this to me involves some theorization, so stay with me: Joseph (adoptive father of Jesus), was a carpenter. Except you only need to look around Galilee for, like, two seconds before you realize that wood is a whole lot more scarce than stone, and indeed, basically every building seems to have been made of stone. The word the KJV translates as “carpenter” is Greek teknon, which really is more accurately “craftsman.” Briefly, Joseph, and therefore Jesus, was far more likely to have been better-versed in stonemasonry than in woodworking.
WHICH MEANS. That the incredible feat of stonemasonry necessary in making this water system happen may have been achieved with the help of Joseph and Jesus himself. Sepphoris is only 7 miles from Nazareth, and was a bustling, growing metropolis in Jesus’ time. All the work was there. So as one of our professors pointed to a wall, explaining that the stonework had been overlaid with plaster to keep the water from seeping back into the rock, it was plausible to imagine Jesus doing that work..
After Sepphoris, we went to Megiddo, where in the 16th chapter of Revelation, John predicts the second coming of the Messiah will occur. Megiddo is the site of many, many, many an ancient battle, because it overlooks a major trade/travel route, and sits smack in the middle of the Jezreel Valley, which is the only nice flat space in the middle of all these Galilean hills, which are terribly inconvenient for war. The best known biblical account of the battle here is the fight between Deborah and Sisera in Judges.
(That’s a slice of the view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley behind me.)
We had a daily devotion at this point, led by Ellen L., who totally went and named the irony of being at this place of such enormous conflict when trying to follow in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace. She ended her devotion by having us share the peace, which was one of the most meaningful and cathartic pieces of this pilgrimage so far.
Megiddo is also a multi-layered site, in the sense that the oldest excavations date back to the Canaanite period (3-2 millenium BCE), and have several other layers of civilizations on top of it. Not least of all, archaeologists have determined that Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel and spouse of Jezebel, totally lived here.
After checking out the water system at Megiddo as well (183 steps down and 80 steps up, thank you so very much), we finally went to lunch. Hey America, guess what is your legacy?
Also, this sign, which I’m adding to my collection of unfortunate signage:
The Hebrew says “McDrive.” Not in Hebrew. In English, written in Hebrew letters.
Incidentally, there was a liquor store across from the McDonald’s where I bought a lovely bottle of Merlot from the Golan Heights (I saw those vineyards yesterday!), which I have been drinking since beginning the composition of this post. I thought you should all know that.
After lunch, we went to our final site of the day, Bet She’an. OK, people, I have never ever heard of this site, but it is HUGE. AND apparently does appear in the Bible. But it’s really remarkable because it’s such a conglomeration of various conquering empires. Most of the site is Roman ruins. But there’s also an Egyptian palace, from waaaay back when, I think even before Abraham, when Egypt rules the corridor to the northern empire.
There are also signs of Israelite habitation, and archaeologists have confirmed that likely much of the Israelite constructions comes from the reign of King Ahab, that dude who married Jezebel. But the most impressive ruins are from the era of the Romans, which dates to around the time of Christ, and a couple of centuries after that:
An earthquake in the third or fourth century seriously damaged the city, and I don’t think it was ever fully reconstructed after that. The level of preservation is pretty incredible, considering that these ruins are almost two thousand years old. Plus, the Romans worked a zebra into the mosaics of the agora, so that’s a major win for them:
AAAAAND, I found the first mosaic where I could read over half the words. This is a picture of the Greek word for “grace,” which seem like an excellent note to end on: