Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mother's Northern Tour, Day 2: "Jesus Sites" in the Galilee, followed by the Hula Valley and the Golan

The first thing that I did upon getting up Thursday, December 29, of course, was to go on a long run.  After that, I took Mom and Lindsay out to look at the Sea of Galilee off of our back porch (it was dark when we arrived last night).

Rachel, who was fighting a cold, stayed in our kibbutz apartment with Samuel while the rest of us went to several sites important to the Galilean phase of Jesus' ministry (see my earlier post here). We then went back to En Gev, where we picked up the kids and then took them with us on a driving tour up through the Hula Valley and then over and around the Golan.  Look at the map carefully, because our afternoon driving took us rather close to Lebanon and Syria!

Our first stop was at Capernaum, which served as Jesus' base for much of his ministry.  More miracles are recorded here than at any other site.  Before we did anything, we first walked down to the waterfront, reading from Matthew 4 and Luke 5 about Jesus calling fishermen as his first disciples.

The most impressive monument in Capernaum today is a striking white synagogue built in a very Hellenistic style. While it dates to the fourth century, long after the time of Jesus, it stands on the site of an earlier synagogue, which might date to the first century and can be discerned from the black basalt foundation that lies under the white synagogue.  Regardless of its dating, the tendency to build on the same sites makes it very probably that there was, at some point, a synagogue here where Jesus taught and worked miracles as described in the Synoptic gospels.

Under the courses of white stone can be seen the black basalt foundation of the earlier synagogue
The dark basalt that characterizes most of the first century structures can be seen in the foundations and remaining walls of many small homes that lie to the south of the synagogue.  This same stone was apparently used in the commercial production of millstones and other grinding stones, which makes one think of the image Christ used in his teaching of a millstone hung around one's neck.  One of the houses was identified by early Christians as the "house of Peter," and it became the site of a Byzantine and then later Crusader and Franciscan churches.  As we walked over to that site, with me pushing mother, a sweet nun in a group came over to pat mother's hand and smile at her.  I know that her needing to be pushed in a chair perhaps made her look sicker than she is, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.
Sketch of the first century "house of Peter"

The modern Franciscan church that straddles the ruins of the first century house, the early Christian house church, the Byzantine church, and Crusader remains.

We next drove up to the so-called Mount of Beatitudes, where a beautiful chapel at the top of a hill commemorates Jesus' delivery of the Sermon on the Mount.  There I met a sweet nun, Sister Mary Rose, whom we work with in getting places for our BYU groups to hold devotionals when they come here.  She, like the earlier sister, was very sweet with Mother, taking her hands and telling her how glad she was that Mother had made it here.  Very earnestly she said, "The Lord always answers our prayer, just not always when we want him to."  We read (and I translated) the Beatitudes in Latin alone the base of the chapel's dome.  We then walked through the beautiful gardens, finding a place to sit where we could read portions of Matthew 5-7 together.

This hillside outside of the church grounds may reflect what the the hill looked like when Jesus preached

Before going back to the kibbutz to pick up the children, we stopped at Ginosar, a kibbutz on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee where a first century boat was found.  This is the kind of boat that Peter, Andrew, James, and John may have sailed.

After picking up Rachel and Samuel, we headed north of the Sea of Galilee, taking some small back roads that allowed us to see ranches and other sights that we would never have seen otherwise.  Getting back on a major road, we drove through the rich Hula Valley.  Arriving at Qiryat Shemona, the second most northern town of Israel, we found a mall and had another riotous lunch at an odd place that mixed french fries and onion rings with highly spiced little hot dogs.  Mother wanted more salt, but when Lindsay and I tried to communicate that to our Hebrew-only store employees, somehow we ended up with Thousand Island salad dressing,packs and packs of it.

By the time we arrived at Banias, the modern site of the ancient Caesarea Philippi where Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the national park had closed (the early winter hours always catch us off-guard).  So, we stood outside the gate and read Matt 16 nonetheless!  We then drove throughout the Golan Heights, where I subjected my family to a lengthy discourse on the Druze and their religion since they are the major group on the highlands.

As we came around the far side of the Golan and started to head south, we came to a lookout point right on the Syrian border.  Here we were able to look out over the UN buffer zone that separates Israeli from Syrian forces.  We could also see the ruins of Quneitra, which was completely destroyed in the 1973 War and was left in that state as a witness of that conflict. 

While we were there, I met my Druze friend Ahmed, from whom I bought apples last time I was here.  He used to be a school teacher in Quneitra and is now retired, but he farms in the Golan and sells many products, jellies and the like, that his wife makes.

Quneitra ruins

With Ahmed at the Quneitra overlook

Ahmed and his wares

Mother's Northern Tour, Day 1: Caesarea and Nazareth

It is going to be hard to make up blog entries for the last three and a half days, so I will probably keep summaries and explanations short, referencing and linking earlier posts when possible.  I will start each day's entry with a map to allow readers see the territory we covered and to better picture where each site was located.  On our first day, for instance, we left Jerusalem in a rented car soon after breakfast and drove northwest to Caesarea Maritima.  From there we went to Nazareth, and after that we continued on to En Gev, a kibbutz on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee that operates a "holiday village," where we stayed the first two nights.

Caesarea was the port and capital that Herod the Great built on the coast. It was located on the earlier Phoenecian seaport of Strato's Tower, but Herod built a whole new artificial tower and filled his new city, peopled mostly by Greek-speaking Gentiles, with all of the amenities of a Roman city of the day (see towards the end of this earlier post).  Later, after Judea and Samaria were converted into a Roman province, the Roman governor had his headquarters here, so this is where Paul was brought to be tried before Felix and then Festus.

The first part of Caesarea that we looked at was the theater at the south end of the site.  This was the first time that either Mother or Lindsay, or perhaps even Elaine, had been in a Roman theater.  It was the first time for Samuel, too, so we occupied him by encouraging him to explore "secret passages."  Rachel was not with us for this phase of the northern trip, because she had gone ahead to Galilee as part of a district youth conference.

Samuel going down to his "secret passage"

Next we walked through the archaeological garden into the area that was occupied by Herod's palace.  This was built on two levels, both extending out into the sea.  The upper tier consisted of the public and ceremonial rooms, while the lower, surrounded by the sea on three sides, comprised his luxurious private apartments.

This audience chamber may well have been where the apostle Paul was tried
Samuel taking his turn helping Nana
 Next we explored the hippodrome or stadium.  Because it was filled with sand, it was, ehem, a little difficult pushing Mother through it in her wheelchair!  Samuel enjoyed the chariot and horse mock-up as well as the promenade fronting the hippodrome that overlooked the sea.

Watching the waves

Splashed by the waves!

Samuel taking a turn in Nana's wheelchair
The remains of the large Herodian harbor

Within the smaller Crusader-era harbor
After we left the main site at Caesarea, but before driving on to Galilee, we stopped to see the remains of the Roman-era aqueduct that brought water to Caesarea.

I clambered up into the water channel

the water channel at the top of the aqueduct

By the time we had arrived in Nazareth it was time to lunch.  Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel.  Like Bethlehem, it was formerly a majority Christian town, though a continued influx of displaced people as now made both majority Muslim.  But whereas Nazareth and Bethlehem were once very similar, the economic impact of the separation wall, as well as those opportunities afforded by being part of the larger Israeli society (not ignoring the social and other challenges faced by Israeli-Arabs), have made them very different now.  Nazareth by comparison was quite prosperous, as we saw in the mall at the edge of town where we got . . . yes, wait for it . . . Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch!

A mall called "Big Fashion"

A fun thing about Nazareth was all the Christmas decorations

This meal was hard to order when no one spoke English and it was SO expensive, but it was worth it!

I have blogged earlier about the sites at Nazareth, but it was exciting to have my family there to see them with me this time.

Basilica of the Annunciation

The grotto or cave system under the Church of the Annunciation
Mother under the American Madonna

Closeup of the Nativity creche
The upper sanctuary

Church of St Joseph

We then picked up Rachel in Nazaret Ilit, or "Upper Nazareth," and then drove on to En Gev, where we stayed for the next two nights.