The Jesus Boat

one of replicas of the ancient

one of replicas of the ancient “Jesus Boat” carrying a Ya’lla group on the Sea of Galilee

One of the most popular experiences included in our Christian tours of Israel is the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a large freshwater lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles across, better known in Israel as Kinneret, Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias. The lake feeds the Dead Sea, via the Jordan River, and, at roughly 700 feet below sea level, it’s the 2nd lowest lake on the planet, after the Dead Sea. It’s located in the Galilee region in northern Israel.

During a period of severe drought in 1986, the lake receded significantly, revealing the remains of an ancient boat buried in the sediment. The boat was excavated and dated to the 1st century, the time of Jesus. The boat is now housed in a small museum at Kibbutz Ginosar on the western shore of the lake. Close replicas of the boat take passengers on the lake past Christian sites, such as Tabgha (site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes) and Capernaum (the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry), and stop to visit the remains of the ancient boat.

remains of a 1st-century Galilean fishing boat known as the Jesus Boat or the Ginosar Boat

remains of a 1st-century Galilean fishing boat known as the Jesus Boat or the Ginosar Boat

For Christians, the lake and its surroundings are significant as the area where much of Jesus’ ministry and many of his miracles took place. Four of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John.

One day, after hours of pulling up empty nets, the four fishermen had just pulled into shore. (Andrew was already a disciple of Jesus, the first, but he hadn’t yet convinced the others.) Jesus approached and asked Peter to take him out on the lake a little way so that he could better address the crowd that had gathered to hear his teaching. Later, after the crowd had dispersed, Jesus asked Peter to move into deep water and cast out his nets. Peter thought this would be a waste of time, based on his experience earlier in the day, but out of respect, he did as Jesus asked. When the nets were pulled in, they were so heavy with fish the boat couldn’t hold them all. James and John came to help and their boat was also filled to the brim with fish. Jesus gained three more disciples that day.

Later in his ministry, Jesus had spent a long day preaching to a large crowd near the lake and needed to rest. While he and his disciples sailed to a quiet spot on the opposite shore, Jesus took a nap. When they reached the middle of the lake, a nasty squall rose up, bad enough to terrify the experienced fishermen on board. Jesus slept peacefully through the waves crashing on the deck and the pitching and rolling of the boat, until the disciples woke him, certain they were about to die. He told the storm to simmer down, which it promptly did, expressed his disappointment in his disciples’ lack of faith, and resumed his nap.

the Sea of Galilee

the Sea of Galilee

I could go on and on about Jesus and the Sea of Galilee, but I’ll save some stories for future posts.

The city of Tiberias on the western shore of the lake makes a good hub for visiting the area. For privately escorted Christian tours that include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and a visit to the ancient boat at Ginosar look here and here.

 

Machaerus Desert Fortress

The fortified mountain palace of Machaerus is infamous as the place where Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist, whom her step father Herod Antipas had imprisoned there for two years.

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:1-12)

Machaerus is one of three fortified desert retreats built by Herod the Great (father to Herod Antipas); the others being Masada and Herodium. It’s the only one east of the Jordan river, today in the country of Jordan, 40km south of Madaba, near the village of Mukawir. The stronghold at Machaerus was first built by the Maccabees, the Jewish dynasty that ruled the region for about 100 years before the Roman client-King Herod the Great launched his dynasty in 37 BCE. Machaerus was destroyed by the Romans in 57 BCE and restored by Herod around 30 BCE.

There’s little excavation and restoration and no signage at Machaerus, so bring your imagination and a guide. Aside from the historical context, the serene atmosphere and 180-degree views of the Dead Sea and rugged, deeply etched desert are well worth the climb, especially at sunset. The walk from the parking area to the top looks more daunting than it is. A moderately fit person can do it in 15-20 minutes. Wear sturdy walking shoes, carry water and avoid midday heat.

Thousands fed at Tabgha with 5 loaves & 2 Fishes

This mosaic floor from a 3rd-century church at Tabgha was incorporated into the newer Church of the Multiplication, which stands on the site.

This mosaic floor from a 3rd-century church at Tabgha was incorporated into the newer Church of the Multiplication, which stands on the site.

Tabgha is the site on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee traditionally believed to be where Jesus miraculously multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 men plus uncounted women and children.

After a long day of walking from village to village and teaching, Jesus and his disciples were tired and hungry. They went to a secluded place to rest, but were met by a huge crowd of people who came from all around to hear from this man, whose reputation as an enlightened teacher preceded him. There beside the sea, with the breeze in the palms and the waves lapping the shore, a multitude of faces looked to Jesus with hushed anticipation.

Jesus knew that many of the people were missing their dinner to be there, so he told the disciples to feed them. “With what?” they asked. “We have exactly 2 fish and five loaves of bread, barely enough to feed ourselves.” He told them not to worry and sent them out to organize the crowd into smaller groups. Then he prayed over the food. When the disciples returned, Jesus began handing them bread and fish to distribute to the people. The food kept coming until everyone was fed. There were even leftovers, enough to fill 12 baskets.

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, the loaves and fishes mosaic is immediately in front of the alter

Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha

Later than night, after the people had all gone home, Jesus went off by himself to pray. Just before dawn, when he saw the disciples out on the lake, struggling to row against the wind, he walked out to them. They thought he was a ghost and were pretty alarmed. Jesus assured them he was not a ghost but Peter wanted proof. Ghost or not, it had to be a shocking thing to see. So, Jesus told Peter to get out of the boat and join him, standing on the water. Peter got out of the boat and took a few steps, no problem, but when he took his eyes of Jesus, he began to sink. Jesus grabbed him and hauled him safely into the boat.

Tabgha is usually included in Christian itineraries of Israel. The city of Tiberias makes a good hub for touring the Galilee region. For itineraries that include visits to Tabgha click here and here.

Read about the “Jesus Boat” discovered in the Sea of Galilee here.

Blessed Are Those

view of the Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

view of the Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

The Church of the Beatitudes sits on a gentle rise overlooking the Sea of Galilee on the spot traditionally believed to be where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, which opens with the eight Beatitudes. This was one of the earliest sermons of Jesus and is generally believed to present the core values of Christian faith. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount happened just after Jesus began his ministry, traveling around the Galilee region preaching and healing. He was developing a reputation as a wise teacher and miracle worker and people began to seek him out.

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.
His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.

7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12

Foto Friday – Merry Christmas!

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Banias / Caesarea Philippi, Israel

waters of the Banias Spring (one source of the Jordan River), with Pan's Cave, aka the Gates of Hades, in the background - For Greco-Roman pilgrims to the sanctuary, the large cave, with its seemingly bottomless pool and flowing stream, marked an entrance to the underworld or “gates of Hades.” The spring no longer flows out of the cave but rises from the ground below.

waters of the Banias Spring (one source of the Jordan River), with Pan’s Cave, aka the Gates of Hades, in the background – For Greco-Roman pilgrims to the sanctuary, the gaping cave, with its seemingly bottomless pool and flowing stream, marked an entrance to the underworld or “Gates of Hades.” The spring no longer flows out of the cave but rises from the ground below.

In or around the last decade before the Common Era, the city of Caesarea Philippi was commissioned by Philip the Tetrarch, a son of Herod the Great. The site already had a long history as a religious sanctuary. For over two centuries it had been known as Paneas, a major sanctuary for the Greek god Pan. The modern Arabic name Banias derives from the Greek Paneas. Before the Hellenistic period, the area was sacred to the Canaanite god Baal. Sheltered in the foothills of Mt. Hermon, the region’s highest mountain, with abundant  water and a lush, garden setting, it does feel like hallowed ground. Continue reading

Capernaum, the Town of Jesus

the incomparable Jacob, one of our guides in Israel, at Capernaum

the incomparable Jacob, one of our guides in Israel, at Capernaum

After leaving his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus made Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the center of his ministry. The Gospels tell many stories of Jesus teaching and healing there.

the synagogue at Capernaum

the synagogue at Capernaum

 

Today, you can see the remains of a 4th-century synagogue, which stands on top of an earlier synagogue that is likely the one where Jesus preached. The remains of Peter’s House and the 5th-century church built around it can be viewed through the glass floor of the modern church built over the site. The tradition that the house belonged to Peter (the disciple of Jesus also known as Simon)  goes back to the middle of the 1st century.