Tag Archives: Sea of Galilee

More Exploring – Day Eleven, Friday 24th May

Just along the road from our hotel, but unfortunately just too far to walk especially in this heat, is the Kibbutz/hotel/resort of Nof Ginosar.  This is the place where we embarked for our sail across Lake Gennesaret, and as we walked to the pier we passed a large building where, we were told, was a museum which included  a first-century CE boat that had been discovered locally.  Sadly we did not then have the oportunity for a visit so our little group, slightly augmented this time, decided that our second free day would be used to go and investigate.  Once again we ventured into Israeli taxis, but this time our drivers were more mature men, and although the mobile phone inevitably came into play at least hands were kept on the wheel!

We arrived at Nof Ginosar and as we walked from the car park to the museum we were greeted by a young egret, who seemed to be as interested in us as we were of him (or her – I told you I’m not a

Young egret at Nof Ginosar

Young egret at Nof Ginosar

birder!).  After this brief encounter it was on into the museum which is named after Yigal Alon  (1918-1980) who was a member of the Kibbutz, a military and political leader and a firm believer in, and promoter of,  peace and coexistence.

The reception hall of the museum is spacious and has one of the best shops that we encountered on our journey, coupled with a very helpful and friendly staff.  There were all sorts of souvenirs on display, including the ubiquitous t-shirts, to exquisite silverware and Dead Sea mud beauty products.  It was almost worth the trip just to  visit the shop!

But the thing we had come to see was the 2,000 year -old boat.  Was this the boat that Jesus sailed in, owned by Peter and Andrew?  Well I have to say probably not, but just possibly yes.  The historian in me says that it is the lack of provenance which causes the uncertainty.  What is undeniable, however, is that this is the sort of boat that Jesus would have known and used. (Matthew 13, 2; 14, 22-23, Luke 8, 22-25 etc).  The story of its discovery, reclamation and restoration is fascinating <http://tinyurl.com/kq99upp> <http://tinyurl.com/k8xv9wc> and the display alongside the boat is informative and helpful.  For example, no fewer than twelve species of wood were identified in its timbers, suggesting that it was patched numerous times by owners who were too poor to afford professional repairers. The archaeological remains found in and around the boat have also been important in showing light on life by the Sea of Galilee two millenia ago.

The remains of the Galilee or 'Jesus' boat

The remains of the Galilee or ‘Jesus’ boat

Although the boat has now been preserved (and that in itself is a fascinating story) it is kept in a temperature and light controlled hall, and admission is controlled by a sliding door operated by the staff at the reception desk.  Once inside, however, there is no limit on the time you can spend in there.  The display panels, supported by an

One of the display panels, detailing the woods used in the boat

One of the display panels, detailing the woods used in the boat

audio-visual presentation, do amply show the meticulous restoration and archaeological work that took place.  As one who has had previous responsibility for, and experience in, exhibitions and displays, I was very  impressed with the quality of the work done here.

On the first floor is an exhibition gallery for touring art projects.  The one on show when we were there was by Palestinian artist Mervat Issa, a multidisciplinary artist, many of whose works try to move people along the road to peace.  The project on show was constructed from recycled paper which made colourful figures in a dance to evoke joy and hope.

We had time before the taxis came to pick us up for refreshments and a chat about what we had seen, then it was back to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon, more rest, more reading, more swimming. And ice-cream!

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Home – but not yet! – Day Ten, Thursday 23rd May

OK, I don’t claim to be a birder!  I have been reliably informed that what I said yesterday were swifts at the Mensa Christi chapel were, in fact, swallows.  Apologies but they were winging about so fast I just had to guess!!

Yesterday was the last formal day of our tour, and some of our party are returning home owing to work or other committments.  The rest of us now have  three days of leisure to explore, revisit favourite sites or just sit by the pool and – well, you get the idea.

Early morning at the Sea of Galilee, towards Tiberias

Early morning at the Sea of Galilee, towards Tiberias

I think I mentioned earlier that our hotel is right on the Sea of Galilee and this morning it was a deep joy to get up just before dawn and watch the sun rise over the mountains on the other side of the lake.  It was also fascinating to see the birds, mainly swallows and egrets, swooping over the lake, some so low that they were skimming the water.  Just over to our right there was a rock sticking out of the water, and this was a favourite spot for a pair of egrets to come and preen before taking off and flying round the lake again.

An egret's favourite perch - he's just taken off again

An egret’s favourite perch – he’s just taken off again

The other fascinating thing was to watch the shoals of fish of varying sizes come swimming close in.  Mostly there seemed to be two sorts, the talapia which are plentiful in the lake and catfish, some of which were quite large, up to two feet long.  These mornings were very quiet and peaceful, ideal for reflection before the busyness of the day.  Usually there were never more than three or four others around, and with plenty of frontage to the lake we didn’t have to crowd each other.  Sometimes a couple of hardy souls would go and swim in the lake or in the pool.

Four of us decided that we would like to go back to Tabgha and spend more time in the gardens there and by the lakeside where we had celebrated the Eucharist, so we hired a taxi and off we went.  The taxi ride was, to say the least, interesting since the driver had two mobile phones which he juggled, and at times he managed to drive with no hands on the wheel.  Nevertheless we did get there safely, only to find that there was a special celebration on at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, and the gardens were closed.  Undaunted we walked a couple of hundred yards up the road back to the Mensa Christi chapel where there are also some fine gardens, but which visitors are not allowed into, so all we could do was look through

Chapel of the Mensa Christi - interior

Chapel of the Mensa Christi – interior

the fence!  When we were here yesterday our group was virtually alone: today people were arriving by the coach load.  Many of them had services at one of the open air chapels, and it was fascinating to sit and hear the familiar liturgy in different languages, Brazilian, Japanese, American.  Fascinating, too just to watch people as they stood by the lakeside.  Some looked out over the lake, some paddled, some filled little containers and all the while the guides were explaining the significance of the site to their various groups, and again the mixture of languages floated over the air.

The time passed quickly and, having gone our separate ways we got back together again, rendezvoused with the taxi and returned to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon.

By the waters … – Day Nine Wednesday22nd May

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Our tours today are all focussed around the Sea of Galilee, and the places where Jesus had the main part of his public ministry.  Our first stop is at Capernaum, which we learn from Sayeed our guide, is pronounced with three syllables, not four.  This is the place where Jesus lived after he left Nazareth, the place that was home to him.  On our way we pass a sign pointing to a place called Migdal, which seems unremarkable until we are told that it is the hometown of Mary Magdalene, otherwise Mary of Magdala.  There is visible from the road bypassing the village evidence of a major archaeological excavation in progress.

It started out in 2009 as a dig prior to the construction of a new hotel, but the exploratory dig uncovered the remains of an ancient synogogue, <http://tinyurl.com/oxxopfo> in the middle of which was a curious stone engraved with a menorah, and dated from the early Roman period, and thus the oldest find of its kind.

Church of the Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes

Our first visit today was to the Church of the Beatitudes which, apart from a stunning church and a spectacular view across the lake, has some beautifully kept gardens.  Although we arrived there shortly before nine o’clock there were several coaches there before us, and yet unlike many of the sites we had visited it did not seem too crowded, and we were able to wander around quietly for a short time.

Then it was on to the lakeside Chapel of Mensa Christi, the place where, traditionally, after his resurrection Christ prepared breakfast for Peter and the others.  It was the place of Peter’s rehabilitation after his denial of Christ.  The chapel is Franciscan, and it seemed fitting somehow that swifts were busily flying around inside the chapel and feeding young in their nests in the roof.  I did get a picture of the birds flying around but, sadly, it only makes sense in a large size, and would not reproduce well in this blog.  There should be a large beach here, but the waters in the lake were so high that about thirty feet of the beach was under water, and we saw trees covered almost halfway.

Arriving in Capernaum we had a short, dusty walk from the coach

5th century synagogue at Capernaum

5th century synagogue at Capernaum

park to the synagogue in the centre of the village.  This building is of the fifth (or, some say, fourth) century as it appears to have been built on the foundations of an older synagogue.  It is this older synagogue which, it is thought, was the one built by the God-fearing centurion whose servant Jesus healed (Luke 7, 1-5).   All the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus healing and preaching in and around Capernaum, and one story in particular, that of Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and healing a man with an unclean spirit, (Luke 4, 31-36, Mark 1, 21-27) is unusual in that it is the only story recorded by both Mark and Luke which is not in Matthew.

Insulae at Capernaum, probably before 1st Century CE

Insulae at Capernaum, probably before 1st Century CE

It was in Capernaum that, for me at least, there was a new insight into many of the Bible stories.  The large village is built on an axis of a broad(ish) north-south aligned road, with side streets, some connecting, some blind.  In these streets were houses built so that extended families could live together, gathered round a central courtyard where the cooking etc was done.  The group of dwellings was called an insula, and looking at the floorplan it was quite obvious why the householder in Jesus’ story was reluctant to get up and get some bread for his friend who had  an unexpected visitor, (Luke 11, 5-9).  To do so would mean disturbing the whole household, humans and animals, and yet Jesus told this story as an example of persistence in prayer!

From the materials used and method of construction, it is clear that these insulae were single story buildings, and archaeology has confirmed that their roofs were made of light timber beams and mud reinforced thatch.  It was, therefore, relatively easy for the four friends of the paralysed man to get him on the roof, make a hole in it and lower him down to Jesus to be healed (Mark 2, 1-9).  (As a youngster I was horrified by this act of vandalism, so I was greatly reassured to see that the householder would be easily able to repair his roof!).

The householder might, in fact, have been Peter himself, since we know that he offered hospitality to Jesus at least once, after Jesus had healed his mother-in-law, and in the 1968 excavations of the western part of Capernaum an exciting disovery was made.  It was of a house which had been richly embellished in the fourth century CE, but was based on a first century BCE insula.  From the archaeological evidence, and contemporary and near contemporary documentary evidence the archaeologists concluded that this was indeed St Peter’s house which had later been converted into a house church.  Fuller details are at http://tinyurl.com/krvzvf2.

I could easily have spent more time at Capernaum, where some new archaeological excavation is underway, as well as some restoration of ancient walls, but it was time to move on to our next destination, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha.

It was here that we gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist at a lakeside chapel which, I have to say, was a very moving occasion as our ‘chapel’ had no walls and the sound of the lake, the call of the birds and the scent of the flowers all combined to make it special.  One of our number, who sat at the front, actually saw a kingfisher come and perch on a branch in front of her!

Preparing for the Eucharist. Note how far the trees are covered by water!

Preparing for the Eucharist. Note how far the trees are covered by water!

We discovered, incidentally, that the other name for the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennesaret (or on modern maps Kinneseret) comes from the Hebrew for  harp or lyre, because it is that  shape.

Lunch today was, unsurprisingly, fish at St Peter’s Restaurant near Capernaum.  It was, in fact, St Peter’s fish (talapia) and we had the option of having it served whole or, for the nervous, boned.  The restaurant is huge, has long tables, is very popular and crowded and is very noisy!

Modern Galilee boat, loosely based on 1st century type.

Modern Galilee boat, loosely based on 1st century type.

After lunch we travelled to Nof Ginnosar, where we embarked on one of the wooden boats  to sail across the lake back to our hotel.  Some of our number were quite hoping for a storm on the way, but although the water was a little choppy all was well.  The boat hove-to in the lake and we had a short period of devotions before one of the crew demonstrated how the ancient fishermen used to cast their nets.  After this we had a demonstration of Jewish dancing in which

Casting the net

Casting the net

most of us were inveigled into participating.  Then, finally back to the hotel where the rest of the afternoon was free.  I had a swim in the Sea of Galilee and then the hotel pool, followed by a spot of sunbathing, but it was too hot to stay out too long, even in the shade of the awnings.