The Galilee–where most of Jesus’ ministry took place–is the region around the Sea of Galilee. It’s a lake, really, not a sea. But when there’s a Dead Sea, Red Sea, and a Mediterranean Sea—you can’t leave out the little feller.
We were so thankful for our air-conditioned car. Galilee was, if possible, hotter than Jerusalem. We scoffed when a mother and daughter at our Jerusalem hostel warned us of the heat. “How could it be?” we thought. We were going north, towards water, it must be cooler!
Wrong. We experienced “the exact sensations one would attribute to a beefsteak on a gridiron.” That is, being cooked.^
But everywhere were fully clothed (and clearly insane) couples with strollers, groups of teenagers, families out for leisurely strolls. The only, only reason anyone should have been outside is if they were submerged to their neck in the Sea of Galilee.
We navigated the region the old-fashioned way: a sorry excuse for a map (1 cm : 3.65 km, compliments of Hertz), asking directions (a truck driver at a gas station in Afula graciously led us out of that labyrinth of a city) and road signs (thankfully in Hebrew, Arabic, and English).
We used our phones only thrice, very briefly, and were rather proud of that. (We fiercely guarded our data, in case we needed it to extract ourselves from a wrong turn into Syria.)
Our first stop was Megiddo—Armageddon in the Bible.^^
It’s a raised plateau surrounded by farmland and a major highway. People have lived around Megiddo since the Canaanite period, so it’s an archaeologist’s paradise.
The poor archeologists in Jerusalem have to hunker down on the outskirts of the city waiting for a disaster, so they can scurry in like historically minded moles and burrow into layers of time. “The Jordanians destroyed the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in 1967,” our city tour guide told us cheerfully, “This allowed for many excavation projects that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible! I mean, you can’t dig up people’s houses.”
The guide at the City of David rubbed his hands gleefully as he told about a water main bursting which led to the discovery of this Roman pool!
At Megiddo, they dug freely, stripping the mound to the Assyrian stratum in several places. We walked through the 70 meter-long water way constructed during the time of the Israelite kings so water could be brought into the city without exiting the walls. Unlike Hezekiah’s Tunnel just outside the Old City in Jerusalem, this tunnel did not require sloshing through shin-deep water.
It did, however, require sloshing through a tour busload of sweet Sri Lankan ladies who were working as caregivers in Tel Aviv. They’d organized a weekend getaway and were delighted to photograph places from the Bible with a zeal that would put any Japanese tour group to shame. We visited with two of them and before their bus motored off, they kissed our cheeks and declared, “We will meet you again! In Heaven!”
The lady at the Megiddo jewelry shop peered around us into the parking lot, “Just you two? No bus?” she asked twice. Independent travels have become a rarity in Israel. Locals blame the media’s fear-mongering for the slow in tourism. Those who do come are mostly the massive tour bus variety.
“We retired here and opened our home as a B&B for people like you—who rent a car and come to the Sea,” said Ethel and Irwin, our hosts in Korazim, a tiny town overlooking the water. “Now our business is practically dead.”
Irwin’s parents fled Germany and settled in the U.S. when he was a child—they were fortunate enough to have escaped the Holocaust, though members of his extended family did not. He and Ethel emigrated to Israel in the 1960s with a wave of Zionists. He was a journalist in Jerusalem and she was a social worker. They retired to Galilee and began what was once a thriving bed and breakfast.
We were their only guests, if you don’t count their daughter’s dogs, so we had their luscious garden to ourselves. The land is naturally a barren desert, so their garden was super impressive. Much of Galilee and the Golan Heights has been painstakingly irrigated and cultivated and is now rich farmland.
We drove to Mt. Tabor, a possible location of the Transfiguration. We followed a carload of blue-clad nuns up the narrow, switchback road and were deeply thankful we didn’t meet any cars, filled with nuns or otherwise, coming from the opposite direction. Our other stops included the Church of the Multiplication (sure to fill any third grader with dread), Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and a museum that holds a 2000-year-old fishing boat pulled from the shores of the lake—very much like the one the disciples would have used.
We also dipped in the Sea of Galilee (warm), rubber rafted down the Jordan River, toured the Golan Heights winery, and stayed at another bed and breakfast with the unbelievable luxury of a swimming pool (also warm).
But my absolute favorite part of our time in Galilee was imagining Jesus and his disciples there. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh—God’s representation of himself to us. So the way Jesus lived his life and his personality perfectly reflect what God wants us to understand about himself. Jesus could have been some secluded, introverted mystic tucked away in a cave. He could have delivered solemn and unintelligible messages via emissaries. He could have holed up in some fortress like a prince and had all the luxuries of life delivered to him.
But he didn’t! He was full of life and joy! He was always going from one gathering to the next, exploring the whole region. In almost every story he’s climbing a mountain, sailing across the lake, up on another mountain, at supper at a friend’s house. He loved people and nature and adventure!
We did a fair amount of exploring in the Galilee and Jesus and his disciples had to have been the outdoorsy type. The lake is surrounded by decent-sized hills, and marks of Jesus’ ministry are scattered all over them. Six times in Matthew and eight in the other gospels, Jesus is up on a mountain or coming down from one!
And they hiked everywhere. No zippy little Chevy for them.
We had an extra day in our itinerary, so we spent it in the Golan Heights.
And almost going to Syria.
In Nazareth, the guy at the gift shop whose friend owned the BBQ place gave us a list of places to visit in the north. He ended with, “And you can drive up Mt. Bental and see the crazy Syrians.”
Ethel and Irwin suggested this destination, as did Gefan at the other B&B. Since we’d opted for full coverage on the Chevy, we decided to go.
Mt. Bental is right on the Syrian/Israeli border. You can see the ruins of a Syrian town that had been destroyed in an earlier war, and sometimes people on the overlook see smoke and explosions from the farther cities. 😦 We didn’t see or hear anything, but it was a sobering vista anyway.
Forty Jewish Americans on their birthright tour explored the bunkers and two unarmed U.N. soldiers hung out next to huge binoculars. “They disappear if any trouble starts,” said Irwin later, “Literally. They’ve got underground bunkers. It’s a pretty cushy job.”
I struck up a conversation with one of the birthright girls, a recent college graduate from New Orleans. “You’re from North Dakota?” she said incredulously, “I’ve never met anyone from North Dakota. Are you Jewish? I’ve never heard of any Jews in North Dakota.”**
I smiled and remembered a conversation we had with Gefan, our host at the swimming pool B&B. Liz had been diligently smiling at nearly every person we met on the street and was disheartened at their lack of response. “We are not smiley people,” said Gefan, “But we are happy on the inside. You–in America–you are lonely. You go home and watch TV by yourselves. But me, if I meet a Jew anywhere in the world, we are instant friends. We will talk and laugh and we’re family.”
It made me think of a few years ago when some Gallup poll listed North Dakota as the happiest state. For a week, I grinned like a maniac at every driver on my commute to work. At the end of the week, I thought, “Gosh, they sure don’t look very happy.”
So, who knows, maybe North Dakota is full of Jews! 🙂
^This apt line comes from King Solomon’s Mines.
^^“Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is Armageddon.” Revelation 16:16
*Any Jewish American can visit Israel on what’s called a birthright tour—an all expense paid visit to their motherland.
**We were a first for several people. At the Shabbat dinner, we met Naomi, a Jew of Middle Eastern descent who had been born and raised in Jerusalem. During our political discussion, she said to us, “You are the only American conservatives I’ve ever met.”
She glanced at our hosts who had just expressed their support of Obama, and said, “My impression of Obama is that he hates us. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I feel like he hates Israel.”