Here’s an attempt at describing the trip in a way that someone might be able to imagine being along for the ride. I hope it works. By request. This one’s for you, schnookums. 😉
As I sit here eating some fresh tabbouleh (sp?) I just made, I reflect on the journey. Ahh, the tastes of the Near East… especially the fresh salads, cheeses, and fish dishes. The breakfast smorgasbord (and I do mean smorgasbord!) that greeted us the first morning in Bat Yam was so spectacular we all jumped up to take photos of it. (They didn’t come out – drat!) The variety and richness of foods is something no American has ever seen or could imagine. Similar smorgasbords greeted us at our other hotels. I got used to eating tabbouleh for breakfast (yes I know it’s a dinner salad, I ate it for lunch and dinner too) along with all kinds of delicious things I don’t know the names of. I could eat a Mediterranean diet for the rest of my life and be happy as a clam.
Breakfast at Bat Yam offered another treat: because the hotel’s restaurant was on the 7th floor, we were surrounded by spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. If the weather had been just a few degrees warmer we would have eaten out on the deck. Here’s a photo taken from the deck. Not a bad view to eat by, eh?
Mediterranean Sea, Bat Yam, Israel
We stayed our first night in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv. The first day we arrived didn’t allow any time to start touring, so the tour bus took us straight to the hotel, where we freshened up, had dinner, and met Iyad, who would be our tour guide for the entirety of the trip. Iyad reminded us of the local time, customs, expectations, etc (things like, this is Israel, don’t ask for bacon with your eggs in the morning and we’ll all get along just fine 😉 ).
Before dinner my roommate/friend/travel-mate and I had had just enough time to wander down to the beach and wade in the Mediterranean and collect some shells… and take a few photos…
Bat Yam - Beach
Just about now I begin to realize I’m going to be dealing with language bigtime on this trip. I had been planning on trying to learn enough of the Hebrew alphabet to read the street signs, but the jewels of this language just begin to fall into your lap. We’re told, for example that “Tel” means “man-made hill”, so Tel Aviv is a man-made hill named Aviv. And “Mediterranean” means “Middle Earth” — long before Tolkein dreamed it up. And Bat Yam — “Bat” means “daughter”, and we’re staying in a city called “daughter of the sea”.
And the first stop on our first day of touring is the city of Jaffa (or Yafo or…. there are about 5 legit spellings) – which means “beautiful”. Judge for yourself:
Jaffa, whose name means "Beautiful"
Here also is where the tales of faith begin for us. Jaffa is, or was, the home of Simon the Tanner, where the apostle Peter was staying when he received the vision that eventually led him to welcome the first Gentile believers into the early church: Cornelius and his household.
From here we continued to venture north along the coast and came to Caesarea Maritima. This is not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi which is a “fur piece” down the road, and considerably more inland. “Maritima” means “by the sea”. If you’ve ever been to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, you have a feel for what this area is like: wind-swept, warm, sunny, semi-tropical, and stunningly beautiful. Now drop a few Ancient Roman ruins into the mix and the picture is complete:
King Herod's Answer to NASCAR - Racetrack at Caesarea Maritima
The photo above was the ancient world’s answer to Daytona — the racetrack by the beach (yup that’s the sea on the left). Note the expensive seats on the right. In the distance are ruins of the palace and port Herod built. This palace is the place where the apostle Paul gave his defense before Festus, Agrippa and others, and made the “appeal to Caesar” that eventually landed him in Rome.
After this I can’t remember any more what order we visited places in, and I’m sure I’ll miss a few. It was not unusual for us to tour 6 to 8 sites a day, or more — a real whirlwind. So here are some highlights. Leaving Caesarea Maritima we headed east and inland toward the Galilee region. We stopped in Nazareth, which was a tough town back then and still is today; but now as then it has its moments:
Nazareth is home to an ancient synagogue where it is believed some of the first Christian worship was held, and where Jesus Himself might have taught:
Nazareth is also home to sites purporting to be Joseph’s carpentry shop and the place where the angel told Mary she was going to have a child. This last is memorialized at the Church of the Annunciation:
Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Our stay for the next two nights was at a hotel in Tiberius, on the Sea of Galilee. Here’s a photo taken from our hotel room balcony:
Tiberias in Galilee
While in the Galilee region, we visited (in no particular order)… the Mount of the Beatitudes (this has a proper name but I forget what it is)…..
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount near here
The Church of the Pater Noster, built near where it was believed Jesus taught His disciples how to pray using the words “Our Father, who art in heaven…”.
Church of the Pater Noster - the "Our Father"
The church houses and displays the Lord’s Prayer in over 150 languages from around the world — a very moving sight.
The Lord's Prayer in Greek
As you can see from the photos above, the region of Galilee is absolutely gorgeous. Green, peaceful, full of life, and in many ways full of faith. One author described it as “the Israeli version of the Lake District” and that’s not too far from the truth (helpful, however, only to folks who have visited England! 😉 )
While in the area we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Our boat was a little bigger than this one but not a whole lot!
Boat on the Sea of Galilee
Here’s a photo taken from on board our boat:
View from the Sea of Galilee
It is believed the church in the photo below was built on the spot on which Jesus said to St. Peter “on this rock I will build my church”. Roman Catholics interpret these words to mean that St. Peter is the rock, the first among the disciples/apostles, which makes the heir of St. Peter (the Pope) the first among church leaders.
Those of us who aren’t Roman Catholic make note of this but interpret the passage differently: “the rock” is not Peter but rather Peter’s words of faith “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” — anyone who believes these words stands on the rock. But I’m not here to get into a theological argument… back to the subject…
Tabgha - The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
What I particularly liked about this location is that the church’s property goes all the way down to the lake’s shore. We got to dip a toe in the Sea of Galilee (very comfortable!) and could see fish playing in the water not far offshore. A place to fish indeed! It was also noted that many believe this particular beach is the one on which Jesus said to Peter three times “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” It was good to be here and reflect on that commandment and the reality of it.
Of all the places we visited in the Galilee region, my favorite was Capernaum. It was here that I felt closest to Jesus and His disciples, because it was here that many of them lived, and it was here that Jesus taught and performed miraculous healings.
And because it is not overly touristy. The whole area is maintained by a Roman Catholic order (Franciscans?) and has all the peace and tranquility of a monastery, only outdoors.
Capernaum, the ancient village, is still being excavated to this day, and it would be a thrill to visit again in another 10 or 20 years and see what they’ve uncovered. Already much can be seen: the foundations of the synagogue Jesus taught in (on top of which another synagogue was built, as shown in this photo) :
Capernaum: Iyad leans against a pillar of the Synagogue
Also visible are the streets, houses, doorways, gardens, olive presses… a complete town, or at least the bottom 3 or 4 feet of it. It doesn’t take too much effort to supply the missing parts in the eye of one’s imagination…
Capernaum - the Ancient City
Also while in the region, we visited the Jordan River baptism site, and most of our group chose to be baptized in the Jordan. (I chose to just be sprinkled as a “renewal”, having been baptized by immersion once before and feeling that was sufficient.)
I hear the water was quite cold. “Chills the body but not the soul” says pastor John. I think he just enjoys getting people wet…!
Baptisms in the Jordan
After our mad dash through the Galilee region we stopped at one more place on the way heading south… an unexpected delight. Beth Shean (or Bet’ Shean or a number of other spellings). I didn’t recall ever hearing of the place before, but it is indeed mentioned in the Bible, in the Old Testament… one of the many cities mentioned in connection with one of a seemingly gazillion battles fought in Old Testament times. Being IN one of these cities brought a new sense of reality to these ancient tales, and this one with some poignancy: it is believed Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle near here.
Beth Shean - the "Cardo" or Main Street
Of course the place didn’t look like this in Saul’s day. There are some ruins of the old Hebrew kingdom at the far end of the town, but the ruins seen here are of the Roman town that was built on top of it. This town was abandoned in the 700s after a massive earthquake, and what remained standing still stands pretty much untouched. The photo above shows our group heading out onto the Cardo – the Roman equivalent of Main Street where people would have shopped. (and there’s another language-lesson: “cardo”, the “heart” of the town… Latin this time…)
As a member of a NASCAR-loving family, I must mention Beth Shean, like all self-respecting Roman towns, also had a race track. It was, however, much smaller than the one in Caesarea. “Short track” I mused out loud, and all the NASCAR fans cracked up.
Race Track at Beth Shean
This post is getting far too long, and I’ve only talked about the first three or four days! For me, these were the most enjoyable days… surrounded by beauty, touched by the childhood places of Jesus and the disciples. I wish we could have spent more time here.
Will continue in another post.
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