The rock, the temple, and a boat ride – 05 November

Ugh, it was an early morning, wake up call at 05h45, bus leaving at 07h30.  A weary bunch of twenty five travellers made it to the bus and off at that time.  Or at least, I was weary, and I guess I project that onto everyone else.

First, an aside about the room.  It is plain, simple, and functional.  And quite comfortable too.  The balcony is a nice touch – although it would be nice if the balcony door would latch closed!  At least we are on the third floor.  Well and the shower door on the bathtub is only a half door – and water leaks out onto the floor.  Oh well, it is very clean and it works fine otherwise.

OK, back from the aside.

Our first stop was a park for the Tel of Dan.  A tel is a trapezoidal mound that forms when a city is ruined, and builds up in layers.  So this tel is the mount over the ruins of the city of Dan.  Dan was the home of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  They had been on the coast of Mediterranean, sandwiched between the Philistines and the Samarians, but got squeezed out, and moved up to the north-east corner of modern day Israel and set up a new city.  This new city eventually ended up in ruins, hence the tel.

This tel also contains one of the three sources of the River Jordan.  It was a difficult path, about 200 ft of hopping from large rock to large rock while dodging low hanging branches, but it was worth it.  Very beautiful!  Then we saw successively older excavations of Dan, starting at about 2500 BC, and backwards to 18,000 BC.  Very cool.

Temple in Dan from 8th century BC

Main gate to City of Dan from 12 century BC

Ruins of exchange gate of City of Dan from 18th century BC

Then we went up onto the Golan Heights, which is actually Syrian territory but is today controlled by the Israelis.  As our guide said, there is no border between Israel & Syria, only an occupied territory and UN peace keeper oversight.

The Golan Heights is actually a plateau, very large plateau in fact.  We saw mine fields along the road with warning signs – yikes!  Land mines are a damned scourge on the planet, I’m glad they are more-or-less banned now, but wish all countries would sign on!

Anyway, our next stop was in Caesarea Philipi, where the Romans built a temple to their god Pan.  Now, the middle eastern people apparently cannot pronounce a “P”, so the site is called Banias.  I was asked to do a reading, Matthew 16:13 to 20, related to this site.  Here is where Jesus said to Simon son of Jonah, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” thereby changing his name to Peter, and, according to most sources, making him the first leader of the Christian church.

Roman temple to Pan at Bania
Dean at Roman temple to Pan at Bania.

Dayna at Roman temple to Pan at Bania.

This also happens to be one of the other of the three sources for the River of Jordan.  In front of the temple is a great spring water collection area, and it flows out to the river.

One of our folks pointed out that the word used in the Gospel for rock was pietre, which is feminine, while the name taken and used by Simon was Peter, which is of course masculine.  There was speculation as to why.  However, our guide Lazarus (hmm didn’t mention it before, but yes that’s his name) pointed out that Jesus, like all Holy Land Jews at that time, spoke Aramaic not Greek, and that in Aramaic such a distinction did not exist, so it’s an artificial construct because the Bible was distributed in Greek.

As a very interesting aside, Lazarus pointed out that in those days, the spoken, communicated language was always Aramaic.  Hebrew existed at that time, but was only used for spiritual matters, never spoken.  It was therefore only written in holy writings, and used for silent prayer.  Wow.  Modern Hebrew is apparently used for all purposes, this distinction has been lost.

We proceeded onward back to the “other” side of the Sea of Galilee (the east side was always referred to as the “other” side).

This took us along the Golan Heights, which is a tall plateau, a no-man’s land of sorts.  It’s actually Syrian territory which is occupied by Israeli forces.  As our guide put it, there really is no border between Israel and Syria, only two cease-fire withdrawal lines enforced by the United Nations, and this occupied territory in between.  We passed through a settlement village, very new, very modern, very nice.  But knowing that it was one of these settlement villages that we’ve heard about on the news, I somehow felt uncomfortable even just passing through.  Hey, I’m not passing judgment, just that I feel uncomfortable about it.

We then proceeded on through the Golan Heights.  We passed a Syrian military base, where the barracks had been hit by shells in the 1967 war.  Then we stopped at a beautiful lookout on the heights, from which we could see a U.N. base.

We stopped at Capernaum, where the remains of Peter’s mother-in-law’s home have been unearthed and preserved.  Wow, a bit of a lesson here too.  Houses in those days, in that hot climate, were constructed with inner and outer walls, to allow air to circulate in between.  A father and all his sons would occupy the house.  Each room was a family.  So, in the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, there were seven sons, so there were eight rooms, and the rooms were divided up into a hexagon.  The cooking & washing, etc., was done in the space between their room and the outer wall, so this space was also divided into eight.  This house had two or three successive churches built on top of it, so you can see the rooms, the outer wall, and the successive church walls as well.  These days there is a building overtop of it too, but that building is so impressive, sits about four feet above the top of the ruins.  So for reference to Peter’s mother-in-law, see Matthew 8:14-15.

Peter’s mother-in-law’s home in Capernaum

Many, many ruins have been unearthed at Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The ruins of the 4th century Jewish synagogue are most impressive.  Again something to be learned here.  There is a stone bench along the outer walls of the synagogue.  Now, in the south-east corner, the stones are different, kind of a seat.  I had been asked to read mention of Capernaum in the Bible, so they asked me to sit in this seat to do it – Matthew 4:12-17.  Now the part that makes me shudder.  This synagogue was built exactly on the ruins of the earlier temple, which is the one that Jesus would have preached from.  This is the exact location of the seat that he would have preached from.  Why do we know this?  Jews were not allowed to turn their back on Jerusalem while teaching or listening.  Having the seat on the side allowed the teacher to look east, and have Jerusalem to his right, so he can still look at it.  It also allowed the listeners to see the teacher to their right, yet  see Jerusalem straight ahead.  Why shudder?  Because although it’s not the exact seat, it’s the exact location Jesus would have sat and taught from.  <shudder>

Dean reads scripture from the teacher’s seat in the synagogue ruins in Capernaum

Here is where the scripture lesson gets very interesting, so he leans forward…

George says he is honoured to sit where Dean sat!

Oh, and this is a beautiful country.  We saw banana groves, vineyards, very very wonderful.  But hot!  Seemed to be about 35 deg C today.  I guess that’s what you get for coming down from about 3000 ft elevation (Caesarea Philipi) to 400 ft below sea level (Capernum/Ein-Gev/Sea of Galilee, and our hotel), huh?

There it is – the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberius.

Lots of fruit groves and vineyards along the trip down from the Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee.

Then onward to Ein-Gev Kibbutz on the eastern shore of Sea of Galilee where they have a big restaurant (wow so busy, probably 800 people there, coming and going!).  It’s a fish restaurant, so although we had a choice, I had the fish.  Well I got more than I bargained for!  I’m not a big fish eater, but I like it from time to time.  But it arrived pretty much all there (yikes).  Well, no internals, but all the externals intact.  Hmm.  Well Dayna is more adventurous than I, and she showed me how to deal with it, so, well, I did.  I’m still not crazy about the presentation, but it was very fresh fish, and a freshwater fish as well, so it was, uh, OK.  Lots of side dishes etc., so we didn’t leave hungry.

Next we trotted about 50 feet down the shoreline, where a boat was waiting to take us across the sea (well I keep saying sea but it’s actually a moderate sized lake).  Our bus would meet us on the other side.  This boat looked pretty rickety – someone made a comment that it was almost like the African Queen – well actually no, it looked worse than the African Queen!  Oh well, once aboard it was clear that it was quite seaworthy, so our 25 persons were well safe.

During the ride, we felt comfortable enough to smile at least once!

Our ride across the lake!  More sound than she looks…
Because here we are, safely on the other side of the lake.

Once underway, the crew surprised us by running the Canadian flag up the mast and playing ‘Oh Canada’, so we had to stand up and sing.  A little out of tune, I must say, but we did sing.

Dean and George, both trapped in thought, pensive in each their own way.
Oh Canada!

Halfway across the lake, they cut the engine, and while we drifted, George conducted a short worship service, we did some scripture readings, and a few hymns.  It was very nice.

Back underway, we came to the pier but had to approach 3 times before we could dock.  The pier was very busy with several other little boats, each time we approached another one took off, until we had no problem getting up to the pier and disembarking.

We had docked right next to a museum that holds the “Jesus Boat”, a 2,000 year old fishing boat that was discovered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986, extremely well preserved.  It’s amazing, see .  They gave us a brief presentation on the excavation and moving of the complete boat – they used expandable foam to “pack” the boat inside and out, then cut a channel to the sea and floated it out!  Then picked it up with a crane and bracing.  Quite spectacular really.  Now, this wasn’t necessarily a boat that Jesus would have used, but it is from that era, the only one ever found.  The entirety of the Jewish fishing fleet was destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish uprising in AD 66 to 70, so this is likely the only one we are ever going to find.  Very cool!

The “Jesus Boat”.

So it turned out that we were literally 100 feet from our hotel, so we gathered our stuff off of the bus, and getting back to our room, sigh.  Have a few glasses of wine, then off to dinner, more wine, then… time to sleep.  Tomorrow not quite as early, 06h00 wake up call, ugh.

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