Good evening from the heart of Bethlehem, dear reader. We pulled into town just before dinner and after a full day of visiting many sites, including some which literally, no question, had to have been walked by the historical Jesus. The days are simply too packed to put into one post so I’ve decided to split the remaining days into two posts each. Except the last day. That’s pretty much going to be on the plane. No one wants to read about that day. Especially over two posts.
But for now, we move on to Day 4, Part I. Settle in for a journey across many lands. But first, I’m on a boooooaaat!
No, not that boat. This boat:
Sailing the Sea of Galilee
We started off the morning on a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. This is the place Jesus did an amazing amount of teaching and preaching and miracles in the gospels. It’s the shore of this lake where he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. It’s where he teaches the crowds from the boat. It’s where he calms the storm (or two). It’s where he walks on the water. It’s where he appears after the resurrection. And it’s where he eats fish. Yes, well, that last one isn’t so much a miracle, except that he is supposed to be dead, so yeah, that eating fish on the beach when you’re supposed to be dead is a miracle.
Because the Sea of Galilee is at sea level and surrounded by hills and mountains that contour the land around it, the water can be either quiet or rough (and yes, that geographical context should give readers something to think about in terms of the sudden storms Jesus and the disciples encountered on the water). For our voyage this morning, it was nice and calm. No wild storms swept down the corridor this time around. It was smooth sailing.
Now, the Sea of Galilee is no sea at all. Rather, the Greek thalassa is the same word for “sea” as it is for “lake.” When translators set to work centuries ago working the Bible into English, men who didn’t know the geography, they translated thalassa as “sea” and the name stuck. Really, the lake of Galilee is the largest freshwater body in the Holy Land and gives Israel at least 30% of its freshwater use. In the distance, we could see Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in the area at 10,000 feet above sea level, covered with brilliant white snow that will remain until May or June. We could also see Zvat, the fourth Holy City (the Jews list Zvat, Hebvah, Jerusalem, and Tiberias as Holy Cities) on one of the hills.
This was the first instance in this pilgrimage that I got a little weepy. I mean, here I was, on a boat, sailing the Sea of Galilee, a body of water Jesus definitely was on in his life. How many hours had he spent with these fisherman, casting nets over the side late at night or teaching to the crowds on the shore? It was amazing. Our Bishop pointed out that Jesus had a pattern of teaching the people and being with the crowd, then getting the disciples on the boat while he went off onto the mountain to pray. Taking in all the scenery, it’s an easy scenario to conjure for me now.
At the halfway point, we stopped the boat and our guide said this was to see if we could walk back to shore or not. Bishop then led a brief worship service and afterward I spent some quiet time at the bow taking it all in, enjoying the light breeze through my hair.
I’m Near a 2000-Year-Old Boooooaaat!
Again. Wrong boat.
A few years ago, some locals discovered ancient nails along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They dug and found something special: a 2000-year-old boat. Made of several kinds of wood, this ancient relic was nearly destroyed as they excavated simply because they exposed it to the one thing it hadn’t had for two millennia: air. The wood smooshed in their fingers and they had to find a better way to get it out of the ground so they dug out toward the sea and yes, they literally sailed it out of its place on the shore. Imagine sailing on a 2000-year-0ld piece of history!
The boat was in a small museum and I found the small size, maybe twenty feet by eight feet tops (I forgot to record the actual measurements), fascinating. I asked Rev. Chris is she thought Jesus and all twelve disciples could be on a boat this size and she thought yes, if they didn’t have the same sense of personal space US citizens do! And indeed, right after that, Bishop confirmed this was likely the same kind of size and shape of boat Jesus and the disciples would’ve used. In terms of right-sizing the church, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some sort of “house church” / “boat church” small group metaphor at play.
Oh. I forgot to pack my baseball cap. I know exactly where it is in the living room at home, I can picture it clearly. Lucky me, there was a very special baseball cap on sale in the museum gift shop for only one dollar!
Of course, it fits. Well, almost.
But that didn’t get me down. I still got my Rage Face on.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I got the Bishop to Rage Face, too.
All the Colors of the (Valley) of the Wind
This place saw a second weepy moment for me, as it’s somewhere Jesus definitely walked. It’s the Valley of the Wind, a shortcut from Nazareth to Galilee along a wadi or small stream of freshwater. Jesus, having grown up in Nazareth, definitely would have taken this path through the high cliffs to get to the Sea of Galilee, to see a large body of water for the first time in his life. There is no denying the historical Jesus had to have walked here. It was humbling to be there.
As the rest of the group left, Rev. Amanda and I stayed behind to snap some quick pics of us at the wadi. Hanging back after the crowd had dispersed gave us a fun surprise: a mountain goat herd!
These kids didn’t care if we were there, they were gonna graze. We snapped photos, walked away, and they followed us at a quick clip. We snapped more photos and headed back to the bus, not wanting to press out luck in case we ended up as part of the running of the goats.
Animals spied so far on the trip, by the way: cats, dogs, woodpeckers, cows, and goats.
Let the Tubas Play on the Mount of the Beatitudes
We traveled to a mountain that has traditionally been identified as where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the famous multi-chapter-spanning sermon in Matthew that starts with the Beatitudes. Is it the actual mountain? We don’t know. But we can be confident it was in this region near the sea, and the trees and birds are mostly the same look and sounds. And so, to peer around at the lush surroundings, to take in the small things of nature chirping away the morning, it felt as close to the sort of place people would’ve experienced 2000 years ago as it gets.
Our guide, Sam, reminded us that the Greek used to translate the Beatitudes is always a little off in English. See, makarioi doesn’t necessarily translate as “blessed” or “happy.” This I knew but what came next was new to me. Sam suggested using the Aramaic word tuba. There’s not an easy translation for tuba, either, in that it’s essentially, “Get up, go, get involved, get your hands dirty, and in that you will find blessing.” Sam added, “It is a word of action.” I’m all for that. This way, it’s about not being a peace talker but a peacemaker, to not be proud but to be meek like children who forget and forgive. It was an interesting insight for me to consider.
Each of these sites come from tradition and are marked with churches and sometimes other buildings. In this case, there was a lovely retreat center run by a group of nuns. I went into each of the churches though I found myself more moved by the outdoor locations than the indoor ones for most of the day. Still, I felt compelled to enter each because, well, if I didn’t, then I didn’t, you know?
Stay tuned for Part II of Day 4, in which we travel to the traditional locations for where Jesus fed the crowd of 5000, where Jesus and Peter reconciled after the resurrection, the village of Capernaum where Jesus performed miracles, and information about Kairos trees. Until then, thank you for your prayers, support, and comments, my friends.