Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee
The “plan” for this trip was conceived of in three parts that break down as follows:
- The first week or so would be dedicated to meetings and visiting major cities to familiarize me with the country. This would serve as a kind of orientation tour, and it would help me formalize the “plan.”
- The second week or so would be dedicated to meeting my priority goals: visiting archaeological sites, museums, and a few personally relevant sites. From Tel Aviv I would head north to the Galilee, then make my way south to Arad stopping before the large Negev desert.
- The third week, or whatever remains, would be dedicated to a lengthy visit to Jerusalem and sites in the West Bank before making my way back to Tel Aviv in order to catch my flight.
I am now a couple days into the second phase of the trip. My body is holding up well, especially considering some of what I have put it through. I have been walking at least 12 miles a day, often in 90+ (F), have been sunburned, am covered in bug bites, and nearly twisted my ankle, but I am getting enough food and rest and my spirits remain high. No one said this would be easy.
I spent Thursday night in the mountain town of Sfat. Famous as the birthplace of mystical Judaism, it is a kind of bohemian retreat for religious Jews in the mountains above the Galilee, and after years of hearing about the place, I wanted to see what it was like. The place is literally packed with schools for various types of Jewish learning. I appreciated the openness and friendliness of the people quite a bit, but it is also clear that they assumed I was Jewish. On the other hand, the destruction wrought on the Arab quarter during Israel's War of Independence is still quite visible, and even if they are transforming it into an “Artists Quarter,” it does not quite eliminate the awfulness of the conflict that occurred there. Sfat is an interesting, even unique, place, but I do not think it is very accessible to non-Jews. Still, it is easy to see how the cool mountain breezes and the impressive views are a call to contemplation, and falling asleep with the sound of religious singing nearby was one of the better experiences of this trip.
Friday through Sunday morning have been spent in Tiberius, on the Sea of Galilee. This is the resort town on the Sea, and it has been one of the most popular destinations for Israelis the last twenty years. From this base, I have been exploring the local ruins and moving northward to visit several sites associated with the events of the New Testament, including Capernaum and the Mount of Beautitudes. I escaped the city yesterday during the Sabbath by renting a mountain bike and riding all the way to the north shore of the Sea. It was certainly one of the best experiences of this trip. Riding over the rolling hills give much better sense of the ancient landscape, and it afforded me the opportunity to dodge tour groups thus leaving me virtually alone with every site. Although I saw many places over there, the one that warrants mention is the ruins of Capernaum, the site where Jesus often lived an preached according to the Bible. The ruins are mostly cut from basalt and limestone, which is interesting to me for archaeological reasons, but what truly made the site exciting was the modern church and tranquility the pervades the site. There is a modern, stone and wooden church in the shape of a boat hovering over the ruins. The structure has a large interior of open air and is filled with plants that ruffle in the wind off the sea that blows through it. There is a glass floor in the center that allows one to look down at the ancient 1st century house that is thought to be Peter's house and the first church. The whole place is filled with tranquility and reverence for both nature and the past. It was instantly one of my favorite Christian sites in the world.
I now leave Tiberius for Nazereth and a variety of Bronze Age ruins in the surrounding valleys.