Capernaum: One of the highlights for me on this trip. This is where Jesus made his home during his three years of ministry (or however long it was) – see Matthew 4:13, and Mark 2:1. At the age of 30 Jesus left his family and home in Nazareth in the hill country of western Galilee to settle in the fishing village of Capernaum on the northeast part of the Sea of Galilee. This is where he met his friends Peter and Andrew, James and John. Due to earthquakes many centuries ago, Capernaum is ruins and rubble today. That said, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to get a feel for what life might have been like. At the back of the town is the second century synagogue where you can imagine Jesus teaching and healing – see Mark 1:21-33. In the center of town there is a round church built on stilts with a glass floor in the middle of the church. It is built over a house. It is a fairly sizeable house compared to the surrounding houses. In the house, directly below the glass floor of the church, is a room with some ancient Christian markings. Archeologists wonder if this might have been used as a place of worship or meditation by early Christians. Some therefore wonder if this wasn’t Jesus’s house, or perhaps Peter’s. Some wonder if Jesus didn’t have a room in Peter’s house. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fisherman. To own a wooden boat for fishing was an expensive enterprise. You can look around the landscape and see that it isn’t a land of forests. To import wood to build and own a fishing boat suggests these men were of some means and prominence in that town. It puts a whole new perspective on them leaving everything and following Jesus.
Tabgha: means “Seven Springs.” Here there are natural springs that well up and flow out of the ground into the Sea of Galilee. Because of the natural water source there is also vegetation (trees) that grow around there offering shade from the hot sun and arid surroundings. This was a natural place for people to gather and is suspected to be a place Jesus often taught and met with his disciples. It is the place attributed to Jesus teaching and feeding the 4000 (Matthew 15:38, Mark 8:9) and 5000 (Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, John 6:10). Because it is associated with that miracle the symbol you will often see around this area is the symbol of fishes and loaves. You will see this on the floor under the altar of the Church of the Multiplication run by the Benedictines. Next door (with a fence separating them) is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter run by the Franciscans. This church is built over a rock that is attributed to the place where Jesus broke bread after the great catch of fish in John Chapter 21. It is tradition for pilgrims to throw a rock from the shore into the sea with a prayer: confessing one’s sin and throwing that into the sea to be drowned, washed, and cleansed.
Caesarea Philippi: “Philip’s Caesar City,” built by Herod Philip in honor of Caesar. This is way up northeast in the Golan Heights near Syria. Built at the base of Mount Hermon near a grotto (cave) that was once the major spring that fed or began the Jordan River. After several earthquakes over the centuries the water source has been closed off. In ancient times there were temples built to the Greek god Pan where we get terms like panoramic (today’s pronunciation, I believe in Arabic, isBanias). There was also a temple built to Caesar. It was here that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say I am? And who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13ff. and Mark 8:27ff.) And it was after Jesus was here that he led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and was transfigured (Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2). Would that high mountain have been Mt. Hermon, the highest mountain in the whole area? No one knows for sure. Many places have been attributed to the transfiguration (like Mt. Tabor, which has a church atop attributing itself to the transfiguration), but it makes sense that Mt. Hermon would have been the site since if follows their time in Caesarea Philippi, though it was six days later, so it could have been anywhere.
Sea of Galilee: The Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:18-22), is also known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1); also known as Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). While we think of “seas” as salt water, this is what we would call a lake for it is fresh water. It is the main source of irrigation for the surrounding lands’ farming. For many millennia wars have been fought over control of this valuable water source. This is where Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:45-52), where Peter tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33), where Jesus calmed the storms (Mark 4:35-41), and where some of the disciples had made their living as fisherman (John 21). Across the sea, to the east, was gentile territory in Jesus’ day. Beyond those hills/mountains was the area of the Decapolis (“ten cities”) and the story of the Gerasene Demoniac(Mark 5:1-20) in today’s Jordan and Syria. It’s hard to imagine the herd of swine rushing down those “cliffs” to their death, even if the water levels were higher in Jesus’ day – it would take some effort and intentionality on the part of the pigs. The witness of the healed man from the legion of demons led to a Christian community that still exists today and boasts of one of the oldest Christian congregations on earth.
Highlights of today included taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (after a Saint Peter fish lunch), visiting Caesarea Philippi and the Golan Heights, visiting Capernaum, visiting the churches at Tabgha and the church on the Mount of Beatitudes, and, of course swimming in the lake. It was hot today (over 90 degrees), but tomorrow will be hotter as we go to Jericho, Masada, and the Dead Sea. It’s humbling and overwhelming at times seeing, walking, praying, and experiencing these places. As one person reflected, equally impressive are the living stones that still witness to Jesus today – the pilgrims we’re traveling with, as well as the pilgrims from all over the world coming with the same appreciation and devotion, speaking many different languages but united with us in this one faith and promise.