February 14: Today was full of rain. We knew it would be, which is why we decided to go out on the water and hike through the wilderness yesterday. God’s timing was perfect though, and we never really got stuck out in the storm.
When we got on the bus, after devotion and breakfast, the rain was coming down hard. So we headed to a museum which held the remains of a typical Galilee fishing boat from about two thousand years ago. It was one of the first water bound ships that archaeologists had been able successfully recover and restore. (Many ancient people buried ships in dry ground, but recovering a water-logged ship from thousands of years prior had never been accomplished.) We’ll spare you the details of how they did it – suffice to say this: That boat was pretty small. It looked like it could hold about 12 apostles, but not a whole lot more. Which made it all the more understandable why it would be very frightening to get stuck in a massive storm.
After the museum, we went to visit the ruined city of Chorazin. It was right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and wound its way up the hillside. It looked not unlike Jesus’s home-base of Capernaum, in that it was right on the water and had a synagogue up the hill. Jesus did many great things in the town of Chorazin. He performed miracles and showed them mighty works such that the whole town should have repented. Matthew 11:21 – But Jesus cursed this place and said that if he had shown the Gentile towns up the coast these same miracles, even the Gentiles would have repented. (Huge insult back then – ‘even the Gentiles would have gotten this right…’) Jesus said that Chorazin’s ending would be worse than Sodom because of their lack of faith. And as we walked around the ruins – it felt like a fulfilled prophecy.
One cool thing though about Chorazin – we got to see a well preserved mikveh, which is a ritual bath in every Jewish household. These mikvehs are very helpful to archaeologists as they work to determine which culture inhabited certain ruined towns. We know that after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, many Jewish communities fled to the Golan Heights because of the mikvehs that were found in the ruins there. Mikvehs have to be filled with living water, that is, flowing water untouched by human hands. The mikveh was designed to have a door slide open and the ‘living water’ pour in from a natural source of water. These terms and concepts like ritual cleansing and living water actually meant something profound and holy to the ancient Jewish people. So when Jesus said things like ‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them" (John 7:38) and, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10), the double and triple layers of meaning would immediately be understood by his ancient listeners. And often missed by us, as we read and struggle to understand why people often had profound reactions to Jesus’s statements.
After Chorazin, we went to the top of the Mount of Beatitudes, and then to the bottom to get both perspectives on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus broke bread with his disciples down at the bottom, on the beach, and then gave his sermon as he looked up to the people sitting along the hillside. When you visit Israel, and begin to understand the landscape a bit more, you see why Jesus would preach from a boat in the summertime and preach from the hills in the cooler seasons. People can’t sit on the hillsides in the summer. The hills can be rocky, with scorpions and snakes waiting to strike when it’s hot, and cooler air blows off the bodies of water in the summer. In the cooler season, the water whips around and the wind off the water makes it hard to hear anything, but the hillsides can make a natural buffer to the elements and almost act as a natural acoustic amplifier. The landscape, the flora and the fauna, all contribute to the teaching and the symbolism that Jesus used – in the palm trees, in the almond trees, in the olive trees which make the oil used to anoint a king…everywhere.
After eating lunch at Saint Peter’s Restaurant and having some awesome fish (with the heads staring back at us), we went to Ancient Qasrin at the foot of the Golan heights. This site’s ruins are preserved well enough so that we got a real good glimpse of a typical Jewish household from Jesus’s time. Two stories and narrow rooms to help preserve the amount of wooden beams needed to support the thatched roofs, since wooden beams were hard to come by. Again, it provided another ‘real life’ example to help fill our imaginations of Luke 5:17-20. There were modern replicas of wine and olive presses in action here, and the workers allowed us to sample their wares. It was a wonderful end to another full day filled with thoughts of life in Jesus’s time.
One last thought: there was a Medusa carving on one of the Synagogue stones in Chorazin. Just an example of their ‘modern culture’ creeping into a holy place. Our guide told us that the Jews in Jerusalem viewed many of the people in the Galilee area as ‘luke-warm’ in their faith. Something that Jesus was no doubt trying to correct as he travelled around this land. We know he preached in most of the synagogues along the Galilee. What must he thought as he looked up and saw popular Greek and Roman icons inside his temples? (Rev. 3:16) It makes us wonder how we let today’s modern culture interfere with our faith?
Tomorrow we leave Galilee and the living water, and head south to the desert and the Dead Sea. Until then…