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.


Private Touring in Israel

our guide Jacob modeling our touring van

our guide Jacob modeling our touring van

The advantages of a private tour may seem obvious to some, but we get quite a few questions about the distinction between our tours labeled “private” and those labeled “motor coach.” With Ya’lla Tours, and in general, a private tour means that the travel party travels with a guide in a private vehicle. The guide and vehicle are not shared with other travelers. Scheduled motor coach tours in Israel average about 20 passengers in a bus but could have anywhere from 2 to 50 passengers.

The biggest advantage of a private tour is the lower guide to traveler ratio. With a small travel party, there’s the opportunity for much more interaction and conversation between the guide and the travelers. It really becomes like a family unit. Rather than lecturing to a crowd, the guide has the time and proximity to speak directly to and with all of her/his travelers. With large groups at site visits, it can be hard to get close enough to the guide to hear what is being said, much less have a one-on-one discussion. (Don’t get me wrong, even guides of large groups strive to connect with everyone in their flock. I’ve been in groups of over thirty, where every traveler felt personally bonded with the guide. In addition to encyclopedic knowledge about their country, good tour guides possess infinite patience, humor, kindness and energy.)

Moving from place to place is also much easier with a small party. Vans can zip through traffic and maneuver ancient, narrow streets. Despite excellent drivers, motor coaches are far less nimble; it’s just a fact. Also, stops and site visits take considerably less time with a small party, meaning you see more and experience more of the destination. Imagine 2-5 travelers arriving in a van at Capernaum, for example. From the moment they park to the moment they are all gathered around their guide at the site should take five minutes. Now imagine a motor coach group of 20 – 50. Just getting everyone off the bus takes 5 minutes or more, plus another 10-15 minutes before the entire group is standing at attention, ready to learn about the site.

Finally, with a private tour, you have much more flexibility. From the outset, your itinerary is customized to your personal interests and needs. In Israel, this is especially important because, for so many, it is a religious destination. Scheduled motor coach tours are general interest tours designed for broad appeal. While they visit religious sites, the guide’s explanations are academic rather than religious in tone.

With a private tour, you can modify your itinerary as you go to suit your experience on the ground. If you fall in love with Jerusalem’s Old City and want to spend the whole day there, you can do it. Maybe you sacrifice another visit or have a longer day tomorrow to make up what you missed today; but you have options, the private itinerary is fluid. With a motor coach tour, such changes are impossible.

Now, all of this is not to say that we are totally down on motor coach touring. We are not. It’s a good value and can be a fun social experience, meeting and touring with people from all over.

Check out tour private and motor coach tours to Israel at

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.

Top 3 Christian Sites on the Sea of Galilee

For Christian Pilgrims, the Sea of Galilee in the north of Israel, is as important as Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake, known in Israel as Kinneret. Jesus was raised in Nazareth, which is in the region but not right on the lake. A great deal of his teaching was focused on the communities around the lake.

The top 3 Christian sites to visit there are: Continue reading