Monday 23rd June 2014
Today we began a four-day excursion to Galilee. We had an early start. Breakfast was at 5.30am! We boarded a bus and headed east, “along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho”. However, this time we did not turn to the city of Jericho which we visited last week, but headed north along another road which ran parallel to the River Jordan.
Our first stop was Beit She’an, an archaeological site of an ancient city in the North District of Israel which has played an important role historically due to its geographical location at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and Jezreel Valley. It has seen empires come and go, including Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Jewish and Muslim. King Saul, the first King of the ancient Israelites, and his sons died in a battle against the Philistines on nearby Mt Gilboa. The story is told in 1 Samuel 31:
1 Samuel 31
The Death of Saul and His Sons
1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell[a] on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6 So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together on the same day. 7 When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of Astarte;[b] and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
The site has been excavated, uncovering the ruins from the Roman era, including streets, bathhouse, covered shopping mall, theatre and amphitheatre where gladiators fought wild animals and each other. The city was dedicated to Dionysius.
For further information on the several levels of archaeology on the site of Beit She’an see:
The wifi internet here is excruciatingly slow! It takes many, many minutes to upload each photo. I do not have the time to wait for each upload, so have decided to postpone uploading photos till I return to Jerusalem [even there it takes a minute or two for each photo]. I can do text easily enough, but not images. I will continue with text only for the next few days, put the photos in later, let you know when I have done so, and you can check the website for the updated blogs with photos included. But in the meantime, you can find images on the websites to which I refer.
Photos uploaded in Jerusalem on 25/06/2014.
Our next stop was Nazareth, site of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel greeted the Virgin Mary and invited her to become the mother of The Lord. The encounter is told in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel:
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
As a result of her “Fiat” (let it be done), by the power of the Spirit, the Word of God became flesh in her. She conceived and gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem (which we visited a couple of weeks ago), as we recall each year in our celebration of Christmas.
By tradition, Nazareth is the place where Joseph and Mary and Jesus lived after they returned from Egypt, so it is the place where Jesus grew up, attended synagogue, and travelled with his parents for the pilgrimage festivals to Jerusalem. It is the place where he worked – traditionally he and his foster father Joseph were “carpenters”, but I have been told the Greek word is broader than one who works with wood and could include any skilled labourer.
After our visit to the Basilica (it was very “touristy”) we visited the nearby house of the Sisters of Nazareth. These were founded in France in the first half of the 19th century and established a house in Nazareth thirty years later.
They too have an archaeological site under their house. It includes the ruins of a Byzantine Church – this is significant, because it is early and therefore indicative of a place of devotion for the early Christian community – on top of which a Crusader Church was built, which in turn was buried and only came to light when the Sisters started excavating the site in the 19th century.
Uncovered in the excavations were three sets of stairways leading to a 1st century house. Near to that was a tomb, referred to as “the tomb of the just” (in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, the soon-to-be husband of Mary is called a ‘just man’), and below that was another double tomb with the round stone to be rolled over the entrance to the cave/grave. The Sister showing us around concluded that what we were looking at was the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus after their return from Egypt. Another site, also called “The Home of Joseph”, under the auspices of the Franciscans, she dismissed as being his home before he was married, that is, the home of his parents and brothers. I am sceptical of claims to particular places but cannot deny them either. What is certain, is that the New Testament is clear that Jesus and his earthly parents lived in Nazareth, that Jesus grew up there, and from there he set off on his public ministry which eventually led to his death and burial in Jerusalem, but that he was raised on the third day. Was this his home? Who knows!? But he lived somewhere hereabouts.
After our visits to the above sites, we had Eucharist in the grounds of the house of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of Catholic religious men who follow the example of Charles de Foucauld (for his biography see http://www.charlesdefoucauld.org/en/biographie.php). Their charism is to live simply among the people to whom they are sent – quite often among Muslims, since Brother Charles had lived and died amongst Muslims in Algeria – just as Jesus lived among the people of Nazareth. The brothers enter into the lives of the people among whom they live, to share their lives, there to give witness to the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ, but to do so not in public proclamation but by emulating the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth.
After lunch we visited the archaeological site of Sepphoris. This was another ancient city with layers of history. King Herod Antipas had settled on the site as his capital until he moved to Tiberias, so there was much construction work here in the first part of the first century. Since it is only an hour’s walk from Nazareth, it is speculated that it was quite probably in Sepphoris that Joseph and Jesus worked, even that the ready availability of employment here was the reason for their settling in nearby Nazareth.
After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD, Sepphoris became important as a centre of the newly emerging rabbinic form of Jerusalem. There was a large population of Jews who gathered in one or other of the many synagogues to debate and discuss religious matters.
Sepphoris shows a lot of Roman and Greek influence – the theatre, baths, mosaics. It seems that ancient Galilee must have been more ‘multicultural’ than had once been thought, with pagan Romans and pious Jews living side-by-side.
Finally, we headed further north again to our accommodation for the next three nights, the Pilgerhaus, a German-run pilgrim house on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (also called Gennesaret and Lake Tiberias).
On arrival, a few of us had a swim in the Sea of Galilee, reflecting that this is where Peter and James and John were fishing until the time they were called by Jesus to be fishers of men. In the coming days we look forward to exploring some of the places where Jesus walked and where he taught his disciples.
After a good meal, I wrote up the blog (I am sorry about the photo, but be patient, and you can see them in a few days!) and am now off to bed.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!