Mount of Olives panorama

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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Galilee and Northern Israel, Day 2


We began our second day in Galilee at Magdala. Situated where the Via Maris exited the Valley of the Doves at the Sea of Galilee, Magdala was ideally situated to be a commercial center. Known in Greek as Tarichaea, it took its name from the word meaning "pickled fish," because this is where much of the fishing industry of the Sea of Galilee processed its fish by salting, drying, and pickling. We had a tour of the site by a sweet Mexican volunteer, who showed us the archaeology of the site, especially the first century synagogue, where Jesus almost definitely visited and where he probably read, worship, and preached.

Our group under the canopy protecting the remains of a first century synagogue at Magdala
The synagogue with the central stone, that may have held Torah scrolls during services

The central reading stone carved with symbols representing the temple
Mosaics on the synagogue floor with a rosette and squares
Fish processing center

A miqveh, or "ritual bath"
 Magdala's most famous citizen, of course, was Mary Magdalene. When we got to the Christian Spirituality Center, I asked for permission to have our devotional in the Pro Dignitate Mulierum rotunda, which has columns with the names of all the women in Jesus’ ministry. I read Luke 8:1–3 and talked about the importance of Jesus’ women disciples and then had the sisters in our group sing “As Sisters in Zion.” It was nice.

The women of our group singing "As Sisters in Zion"
Column honoring Mary Magdalene. There are other columns for each of the women in Jesus' ministry.

The main sanctuary, dedicated to the Twelve Apostles, has an altar shaped like a boat with a framing window that makes it look like it is floating on the Sea of Galilee.

We then went downstairs to the chapel that is designed to look like the first century synagogue. It features a lovely mural of the women with the issue of blood as she reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. There our guide bore lovely “testimony” of how Jesus heals us today.


Peter's Primacy

Our next stop was St. Peter’s Primacy, the traditional site of the appearance of the Risen Lord to seven disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I read and taught from John 21, after which we sang “My Redeemer Lives.” The site takes its name from Jesus commission of Peter to "feed his sheep." After the usual pictures next to, and some wading in, the Sea of Galilee, we looked into the small chapel that features the mensa Christi, or "meal of Christ," rock which is said to be where Jesus fed the disciples.



Our next stop was Capernaum, which was the headquarters of Jesus' Galilean ministry. When Jesus came to it, it was the headquarters of the fishing operations of both Peter and Andrew and of Zebedee and his two sons, James and John. It became so closely associated with Jesus that Matthew 9:1 calls it "his own city."

There I read from Mark 1 and talked about the miracles that Jesus performed there. We then sang “Our Savior’s Love.”

Diagram of the first century house identified as being that of Peter and the churches that have been built over it since
Remains of the Byzantine octagonal church built over the House of Peter.
A modern church has built straddling and over the House of Peter
We left the Capernaum dock for the traditional boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.


When we stopped mid-lake, I read Mark 4:35–41 and also recounted “Our Galilee Miracle” story about Samuel. The pictures below are from our 2012 experience on that Galilee boat ride. After I told that story and bore my testimony, we sang “Master the Tempest Is Raging.

Talking to Samuel about the miracle of Jesus.

Both Elaine and I had flashbacks at the `En Gev fish restaurant! We always brought our students here when we were posted at the Jerusalem Center 2011-2012.

Beit She'an/Scythopolis

Beit She'an was an important Old Testament site where the Jezreel Valley meets the Jordan River Valley near Mount Gilboa. Before the Israelites, it was a Canaanite city which the Egyptians had controlled (some of their remains are on top of the tel, or high archaeological mound that some of our group climbed. It later became an important Greek city named Scythopolis in the Hellenistic Period until it was destroyed by the Jewish Hasmonean family that ruled the Holy Land after the Maccabean Revolt.

The Romans refounded the city after Pompey's invasion in A.D. 63. As a reestablished Greek city, it was separated from Jewish territories and was part of the Decapolis, a league of ten Hellenized cities. Still, its importance on the routes through the Jezreel and Jordan valleys make it likely that Joseph and Mary would have gone through here on their way to Bethlehem, and Jesus probably passed through it frequently as well.

Most of the remains below the tel are from the Roman period, and the straight streets flanked by colonnades, the baths, theater, and other public buildings are some of the best preserved in the Near East. It remained important in the Byzantine (Greek-speaking, Christian Roman) Period and the early Islamic Period, but it was destroyed in the great earthquake of A.D. 749 and not rebuilt.

When we got the Beit She’an, it was the first time that I had visited the site of Greco-Roman Scythopolis when it was not beastly hot, which made it the most pleasant visit that I have had there.

The green tell looming over the Greek and Roman city

One of the colonnaded streets of Roman Scythopolis

The hypocausts are part of the heating system under the floor of the caldarium or "hot room" of the baths

Fallen columns from the A.D. earthquake. Christian Scythopolis did not recover

Group members MUST watch the video of the Belnaps dancing above!

We drove from Bet She'an to Jericho, where we checked in to the Jericho Resort Hotel, where we stayed the next two nights.

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