Friday, November 9
Today was a busy day with a number of sights to see. We started by going to Hazor where an excavation has revealed the remains of a fortress built by Solomon and enlarged by Ahab to help secure the northern frontier of Israel. From there we drove to Banias, also known as Caesarea Philippi, where a lot of pagan worship took place and where Jesus asked the disciples "Who do people say that I am?" and "Who do you say that I am?" There Peter made his famous confession: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Banias is "a" or "the" main source of the Jordan River. There was also a ruin of a temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus who was consider a son of the gods. In a place where people worship Caesar, a son of the gods, Peter confessed the Jesus was the Son of the living God. Driving up to Banias we passed by wire fences along the roadside with small yellow signs all along warning to stay out because of landmines. This is in the Golan Heights, a part of Israel that was taken from Syria.
From there we headed back down to the Sea of Galilee and were taken to a restaurant that served "St. Peter's fish" (Tilapia) that came with head and tail and fins all intact. The people who had it liked it but many were unimpressed with the high price and the poor (rude at times) service and the limited selection of food there.
After lunch we made a brief stop (I felt like our tour guide was rushing us) on a kibbutz where they found, have preserved, and are displaying, a boat that was found in the mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee during a time of drought in 1986. It's likely a fishing boat dated to the first century BC or first century AD. The type of boat Jesus and the disciples might have sailed in on that very lake.
From there we went to the site (?) of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. There are churches built over all of these places and this one has a rock under the altar where Jesus supposedly sat when he blessed and distributed the bread and fish to the multitude.
From there we rode the bus what seemed like a few hundred metres to the Church of the Primacy of Peter where, again supposedly, Jesus cooked breakfast on the shore for the disciples who were fishing. This was after the resurrection when Jesus asked Peter 3 times "do you love me" and told him to feed and tend his sheep. In this church there's a huge are of an outcropping of rock where, I guess, Jesus sat and cooked breakfast.
From there we went to Capernaum which really only exists in the excavated ruins. There is what is believed may be Peter's house over which a number of churches have been built. They were all octagonal shaped and a new modern church, also octagonally shaped, has been built over the site, but suspended on 8 columns around the outside with a window in the centre of the floor looking down on the ruins. There are also the remains of a residential area and the partial reconstruction of a 4th century AD synagogue.
From Capernaum we rode a boat across the lake back to our hotel in Tiberias. And wouldn't you know, the sky got cloudy and the wind picked up. People were asking if Doug and I had any prayers for calming the sea.
The lake is what strikes me most about this place. A lot of the traditions about these sites are so bogus but this is the lake where the disciples fished, where Jesus went out in the boat and preached, where he walked on the water and calmed the storm. We had morning devotions, before we set out today, overlooking the lake. Samir made a good point about the lake. All the water it receives it gives away at the other end and it is a living and life-giving lake. The Dead Sea, that receives water from the Jordan but has no outlet, is just that, dead.
On the boat ride they were playing some Christian music which included: "Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water. Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea.
After supper Doug and I walked through the town of Tiberias. You could have fired a cannon through there and not hit anyone. The Sabbath began at sundown so everything was closed except for a few corner cafes that hardly had anyone in them. We saw maybe a few more than a dozen people on our walk, probably all tourists.
Tomorrow we end up in Nazareth.
Saturday, November 10
Today we left Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. Some of the places we visited around there weren't exactly stirring to me but the lake made an impression on me.
We drove up through the town of Tiberias and went to Sepphoris, a short distance from Nazareth, to see some ruins of the former city there. Sepphoris, or Tsipori, is the supposed birthplace of Mary. There are some truly amazing mosiacs that were uncovered there. We climbed to the top of a Crusader citadel and could see Nazareth, Cana, and the Mediterranean Sea. This is also the place where the Mishnah (the first written record of the Oral teachings of the Jewish people) was written down c. 200 AD.
From there we drove to Akko. My guidebook to Jerusalem and the Holy Land describes it as "the most complete and charming old town in all of the Holy Land ... outside of Jerusalem." Our Rostad tour booklet said we'd get to walk through the town but we drove all the way there and walked up some stairs to the top of the old wall overlooking the Mediterranean, then got back on the bus and drove to Nazareth. Going to Akko turned out to be a complete waste of time. We ended up at our hotel, finished with our day, at 3 p.m. We could have easily spent an hour or more there. But before we ended up in our hotel we toured Nazareth.
Nazareth had no charm or historic atmosphere as far as I'm concerned. It's just a big city. First we stopped for a bite of lunch for those who wanted some. He took us to a falafel and shawerma place. That's Middle Eastern fast food. A few had some. A bunch of us went to a little variety store a few doors down. I bought a Coke and a can of Pringles.
After eating we went to the Basilica of the Annunciation. It's a neat place. On the main level are the remains of the original Byzantine church and the later Crusader church as well as the cave where the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary. Up above is the new/current church and all around the walls are huge artistic representations of Mary donated from different countries. It's a pretty new church (1969) but in my view very beautiful.
We exited a side door and walked through a courtyard. In this courtyard is a really neat baptistry that says "Germania" so I'm guessing it was given by Germany. Through the courtyard is the small St. Joseph's church (1914) built over the site of Joseph's home and carpentry shop. From there we walked through the "souk" a narrow winding marketplace to a church built on the site of what may have been the synagogue in Jesus' time.
We walked back through the souk to our bus and I thought we were going to our hotel but we made another stop at an Orthodox church that contained a running spring where the owners of this church suppose the Annunciation took place. From there we drove to our hotel.
The traffic in Nazareth is horrendous. There are all these huge tourist buses squeezing through fairly small streets with all kinds of private cares trying to get through as well.
I'm really getting sick of Samir's commentary. He's talking as if these things happened in these exact sites, no question about it. I was getting hints of some anti-Judaism coming through his "sermons" and today I was hearing more. He's spoiling some things for me. Doug, Joanne, and I are going to sit with him before supper to clarify our schedule for the rest of the tour because he keeps switching things around on us.
I found it interesting that at supper they wouldn't serve coffee. The reason, I think, is that people might put milk or cream in their coffee. The dining room is kosher and there was meat being served at dinner which can't be mixed or combined with any dairy according to kosher rules. At breakfast there was no meat so they could serve coffee and other dairy products. I also noticed that one of the elevators was a "Sabbath Elevator." I asked about it and found out that on the Sabbath it goes up and down, stopping at every floor, so that you don't have to press the buttons. Building is forbidden on the Sabbath and by pressing an elevator button you are completing a circuit which is building something.