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.
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
Safed (also spelled Tsfat, Tzfat, and a number of other ways) is a town in the Upper Galilee region in the far north of Israel. It’s one of the few cities in Israel that has been continuously inhabited by a Jewish community for over 2,000 years. At an elevation of 3,000 feet, it’s the highest town in the country, with views out across the Galilee, the Golan Heights and Mt. Meron.
Safed is one of the 4 holy cities in Judaism (along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias). According to legend, the Messiah will come through Safed on the way to Jerusalem and the great Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria taught that the divine presence of the Lord will reside in Safed until the building of the 3rd Temple. Legend also tells that the sons of Noah settled in Safed and established a religious school, where Jacob later studied.
In the 16th century, after the Jews were expelled from Spain, Safed became a center of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) and Jewish learning. Yitzhak Luria, known as Ha ARI (the Lion) studied with renowned rabbis there and went on to develop his own interpretations of sacred texts and pass them on to his own students. His mostly oral teachings were written down by students and went on to have immense influence on the practice of Medieval Judaism and are the basis for the study and practice of most Kabbalah still today.
In Safed you’ll find a charming, labyrinthine old town to stroll about, Medieval synagogues, lots and lots of art galleries and artists’ workshops, and stellar views in all directions. In particular, look for the beautiful Abuhav Synagogue and the Sephardic Ha ARI Synagogue, where the Lion himself spent many hours studying and teaching.
The annual Safed Klezmer Festival is held in August. Performers from all over Israel and the world play venues around town, many open-air, galleries set up shop in the streets and the whole place parties for three days. Klezmer music is a genre of celebratory, secular music, which originated with Eastern European Jews. Check it out below.
Driving time from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to Safed is about 2-2.5 hours, from Tiberias it’s about 40 minutes.
See tours that include Safed here.
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