Yesterday’s blessing of rain proved to be today’s even greater blessing of a clear crisp sky, perfect for traveling around the country. From Jerusalem we left early toward the Salt Sea (aka Dead Sea) descending from the Holy City’s elevation of 800 meters (2400 feet) above sea level, to 400 meters below – the lowest place on Earth, passing the remains of the crusader’s Good Samaritan Inn along the way.
Turning north, we drive for a couple hours through the badlands near the Dead Sea, the major oasis of Jericho, and desert hills covered in more green than our guide can remember seeing in more than 20 years. There is even snow visible on the mountains, something one of our native guests, Dr. Adam Afterman, has never seen there.
Our guide for the weekend in the north of the country is led by Yitzhik’s wife, Yessika, who will prove to be a superlative guide, expert in Christian history, and theologian! In fact, we find out later, she does not even give tours any more, instead teaching tour guides, writing, and consulting with the state and archeological finds – we were very fortunate to benefit from her expertise!
As the landscape changes gradually getting more green, more naturally irrigated, and as we continue north along the Jordan river valley, we come to Lake Kinnesseret, the Sea of Galilee. Driving north along the west shore (clockwise), we make a brief stop in the town of Migdala, the home of Mary Magdalen, and site of a very recent discovery of a synagogue dating from the Second Temple period (ie, the time of Christ).
Apparently, the Legionaries of Christ are building a retreat centre there and while breaking ground for an ecumenical chapel (!) the buldozer hit some stone … which turned out to be part of the synagogue, the first discovered in the town after years of searching.
We continued to the Church of the Beatitudes, located on the hill above the Galilee near Capernaum, and then to Kursi, the site of an old Byzantine monastery and a small chapel recalling Jesus’ exorcism of Legion on the site. Then to Kibbutz Ein Gev for a lunch of St. Peter’s Fish, and then a boat ride across the lake back to Capernaum.
This is beautiful country. If I were God wanting to become Incarnate, this is a pretty nice place to grow up and spend a few years preaching and teaching!
Near Capernaum is a small fishing village with a well preserved synagogue a stone’s throw from the church built over the site of Peter’s house, which had itself been converted to a Domus Ecclesiae early on.
We then moved on to Tabgha (Arabic version of the Greek Heptapegon, meaning Seven Springs), where we checked into Pilgerhaus Tabgha, and got a couple hours to relax overlooking the Sea of Galilee during sunset. I had my first encounter with the hyrax there, munching on dinner outside my room.
At about 7:30 we got on the bus to head to Nabi Shueb, the Tomb of Jethro, and holiest site to the Druze. More about them to come, but this is a religion that separated from Islam about 1000 years ago, and honor Jethro, with Jesus, as the greatest prophets: Mohammad, Abraham, Moses and others honored as well. We were hosted to dinner by their top leaders, the President of the international council, sheikhs from all over, and were invited into the tomb of Jethro itself. I cannot express in a short space how rare an opportunity this was, and how honored we are by it; I am still processing it!