Two Days in Galilee

I’m writing this from home. There was a problem getting onto the Internet at our last hotel, in Tiberius, so I’m sorry that I haven’t been timely. It’s also the evening of the day I’ve gotten home. So, we’ll see how long I last and how coherent the writing is, with the jet lag and all …

Our “home base” for the last four nights was a hotel right at the side of the Sea of Galilee.  We spent two days in Galilee, which is where nearly all of Jesus’ ministry took place.

Throughout the trip, as Dr. Luker gave his lectures at different spots, I noticed that he had three labels: “bogus” (for instance, for the tourist trap location for Jesus’ baptism, about 50 miles north of where he would have been baptized in the Jordan river), “traditional” (for the many sites that have been venerated and could be accurate, such as Mount Sinai), and “authentic” (describing places where an event actually happened).

During the trip, of course, I was especially thrilled to be at “authentic” spots. Around the Sea of Galilee, for instance such locations included the excavated ancient villages of Capernaum (see Mark 1:21-32, 2:1-12, Matthew 4:12f, Matthew 8, etc., etc.) and Bethsaida, the town where Peter, Andrew and Philip lived. (I’m too lazy right now to look up the references.)

No weapons!

Capernaum Sign

Capernaum excavations

Capernaum excavations

I’ve written how, in Jerusalem, I was surprised by how compact everything was in Jesus’ day. So too, in the villages of Galilee.  For instance, check out the references above about Jesus’ activity in the village of of Capernaum.  What’s been excavated in the ancient town covers about a modern city block. To name two important locations in the story, the distance between what was probably Peter’s mother-in-law’s house to the synagogue was only as far as I walk from my front door to my next-door neighbor’s house!   The ancient houses were tiny, only a few small rooms built out of stone and above ground, but just a step removed from the caves in which earlier people had lived in the region.

View of Capernaum synagogue from Peter's Mother-in-Law's house.  Look how close it is!

View of Capernaum synagogue from Peter's Mother-in-Law's house. Look how close it is!

It’s easy to understand the gospel writers’ descriptions — that news of Jesus’ teachings and actions spread immediately in such a village.  It was so small!  When we read that the entire village crowded around, we’re talking 30 people or so.  (When Jesus was a child in Nazareth, there were only 15-20 extended families living there.  What a backwater!  Now, Nazareth is a very large town.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to Galilee.)

“Traditional” spots included the setting for the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and the extraordinary catch of fish and meal of fish on the beach (John 21). “The Sermon on the Mount” is most likely a collection of sayings from Jesus, that the editor/writer of Matthew grouped together.  The gospel of Luke also includes most of these teachings, but in altered form, and placed in entirely different contexts.  But there are many places where the grass slopes down to the Sea of Galilee, and it’s easy to envision listeners gathered around to hear Jesus’ teaching.  I would think that happened many times throughout Galilee.  I’ve always imagined that Jesus spoke his teachings any number of times, in different situations, with different variations. 

In the same way, who knows if we were at the actual seaside spot described in John 21? It is one of many sandy, rocky beaches around the sea.  But it served as an example for me, and I could easily envision a a bunch of guys building a fire and cooking fish on a grill set across two rocks.

Sea of Galilee beach.  I actually got a modern fishing boat on the horizon!

Sea of Galilee beach. I actually got a modern fishing boat on the horizon!

Because the rain caused us to be inactive an extra day at Ein Gedi, we missed the chance to hike in the Judean wilderness — the desert around Jericho, in which Jesus would have retreated after his baptism (see Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). I was able to spend a lot of time staring at the terrain through the windows of the bus, and envisioning how hostile it would be to human life, as we rode north on Highway 90 from the Dead Sea. (The terrain is arid and hilly; but not as rocky or mountainous as the region of the Sinai in Egypt.) And our bus route north to Galilee mimicked Jesus’ movement, as the gospel writers set the stories. The Galilee region would have been a three-day walk. (Again, the geography is compact. Israel is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey!)

As was true in Jerusalem, knowing the geography causes details to jump out at me as I re-read the stories, details I’ve never noticed before.  Here’s something: having been in the ruins of Capernaum and Bethsaida, and being thrilled by that, I am struck by how Jesus complains about how the people in those villages do not respond to the gospel! (See, for instance, Matthew 11:20-23, Luke 10:13-15.) I am struck how in Jesus’ frustration, he becomes judgmental, angry, condemning! Certainly not the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” that we learned about in Sunday School.

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll get to the Golan Heights tomorrow, maybe. I also want to take the time to go back to insert some pictures in the blog posts. We’ll see if and when I get to that!

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!