Galilee: Part 1

Oh boy, the thought of writing this blog has been looming the past few days because so much has happened over the past 2 weeks and I’m really not sure where to start. God has been showing up in huge ways, and I can’t even begin to describe how joyous I am to be seeing God in an entirely new light. Not only have I seen where my Savior grew up, but I have seen the place where He spent most of His adult ministry and did many of His miracles. Over those four days I spent in Galilee I really felt like I could feel and see Jesus, not only in a figurative sense but also in a literal sense, because I could sit on a rock in an area that He had been and try to imagine what it was like in His time. There were many moments where I sat there, pondering the enormity of the place that I was standing on, and somehow trying to wrap my head around what that means for me in my life. Let’s just say it’s been a reflective few weeks! 

I think I’m going to split this field study into two blogs, the first two days on the first blog and the second two days and my trip to Eilat on the second blog. That way I can tell you all more about what happened in detail, rather than just a brief overview. Well, here goes. 

The port is in the background.

Our first stop was to Caesarea, a port city located on the Mediterranean Sea (more specifically on the Sharon Plain) that was build up by Herod. As I’ve said before, Herod is a genius. There were already ports at Dor and Acco, but Herod wanted a port that was more Jerusalem oriented rather than Galilee oriented, and he also wanted land that he could make Caesar friendly, with no previous ties to other people groups. The issue with Caesarea is that it was a swampy wasteland, not fit for any port. But Herod, just being himself, tried to one – up the Creator by building there anyway. He took this wasteland and turned it into the most used port in the time of the New Testament, and also brought to it many archaeological innovations never seen before. Herod actually had men dive underneath the water with pillars and cement them underwater in order to keep the debris from the current from getting in. I mean, who would’ve thought they had underwater cement back then, or who would’ve thought that it was even possible? Good ol’ Herod did, that’s for sure! In relation to Biblical stories, Paul was held in Herod’s pretorium (located behind the palace) for 2 years by Felix. 

Aqueduct at Caesarea

Our second stop was to an overlook on top of Mt. Carmel. Here we had a fantastic view of the Jezreel Valley before us, with looks to Mt. Tabor, Mt. Gilboa, and Mt. Moreh, all which have Biblical stories attached to them. Up here we discussed when Elijah build an altar where we were standing (maybe not exactly, but general area) in order to prove the power of YHWH (God’s personal name) in direct contrast to the pagan worshipers who were expecting Baal to light their altar. God showed up in a big way that day, and it was amazing to know that this all happened right where we were standing, and that Elijah saw the same view we did, experiencing God’s blessings on the valley beneath and the mountains on the horizon line. 

After lunch, we headed to the Tel of Megiddo, a very important ancient city located at the neck of the Megiddo pass, which led into the Jezreel Valley. It is the only city that had a complete view of the Jezreel Valley, and it also was the shortest route into the Valley, giving it an advantage to the other Valley cities. Pharoah Thutmose III spoke of it, saying that taking it would be like taking a thousand cities, because having Megiddo is having control of the Valley. King Josiah had control of Megiddo after the Assyrian’s lost it, but he ended up dying at the hands of Pharoah Nicho there, his dying breath taken in Jerusalem. 

Our last stop of the first day was to Jezreel, another Valley city. This city serves as the backdoor into the valley, and was an important city to King Ahab, the son of King Omri. Ahab wanted access to all the people groups he had made treaties with (Phoenicia, Judah, etc.), and Jezreel served as the middle point of his kingdom. Ahab most likely felt at home in Jezreel, since it was very similar to his hometown. However, Jezreel became a site that symbolized the decay and corruption of Israel, complete with King Jehu killing King Jorim and Jezebel in this Valley. 

That night we stayed in Nazareth at the St. Gabriel Hotel, which was a great break from campus! A group of us watched MegaMind (great movie!) and got to relax and not worry about homework for a bit. The food was also pretty good, and the stay was a good one except for the power going out at one point after dinner. But I got to room with Amber for the night, and it was great to have the room to ourselves for the night, minus two roommates. 

Theatre at Sepphoris

The next morning we began our journey at Sepphoris, or Zippori in Hebrew. This is a city located right off the International Route, therefore was a home to many different groups of people. Here we saw a Roman theatre, a Jewish synagogue full of mosaics, a Crusader tower, and a Roman villa. At this place we talked a lot about whether or not we could tell if the place was more Greek or Jewish, a problem we have with many places in Galilee. It came down to a question that Dr. Wright asked: ‘Well how Jewish was Jesus? How Greek was Jesus?’ Do we really know the answer to that? Yes and no. We know that Jesus was a kosher – keeping rabbi, but He also spoke Greek, and He had many opportunities for interaction with Hellenists. Even in the synagogue, the middle mosaic was of a zodiac, surrounded by four corners of the Jewish agricultural calender. Does that mean that there was syncretism here? Or were the Jews there so hellenized that it didn’t even matter? The explanation Dr. Wright gave is that this could be Torah, because the images in the Zodiac are of moon and sun, with a man in the middle who could be Elijah. It was an interesting take on it because my first thought was to jump to conclusions and talk about how terrible these Jews were doing at keeping Torah. But then someone brought up how a lot of our churches have Christmas trees in there during Christmas, but do they really know that the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol? Or remember when guitars in church was considered secular? Things change, and we can’t just assume that the ancient culture was any different. This place definitely pushed my ideas and worldview a bit, which was great. It was also a cool place because it was most likely that Jesus worked with Joseph here, rebuilding the city after the Romans burned it down because of the Jewish nationalists. I couldn’t believe that Jesus might’ve helped build some of the ruins I was looking at…WOW! 

Nazareth Ridge

My favorite part of the day, and one of my favorite parts of the entire trip was our time on the Nazareth Ridge. This is where Jesus would have grown up, where He could’ve played as a kid with his friends or came out to pray. We sat on the top of the cliff and looked out into the valley, just like He would have. Jesus had this view of the Valley, where so many of the Old Testament stories had taken place. He could see the story of Barak and Deborah, the stories of Elijah and Elisha, the stories of Saul and Jonathan. This was a provincial area, content in its own customs and cultures and a bit of a backwater town. Jesus did not perform most of His ministry here for a reason, and Dr. Wright alluded that He needed to move out into a more international area that facilitated the spread of the gospel. However, this was where Jesus was brought up. I just couldn’t get over that fact. I stared out into the Valley, feeling the wind in my face, and just let myself be enveloped by the joy of the Lord. I could feel His love and mercy, His fondness of the land before me, and His grace that He washed over us. It was a powerful moment, to say the least. I have never felt so at ease, so peaceful. It’s like Jesus was reassuring me that He has my best interests at heart, and I just need to let go and let God. He has my future in His hand, and all I have to do is follow Him and He will lead me. What a great reassurance that I will treasure. 

Side note: When we were walking back to the bus, Hermana (one of the graduate students and a major role model for us young’uns) walked over to find out what this big balloon was that we had seen. Ian and I followed her, and we walked over to where these three men had their trunk open and a computer in the back. It turned out they were hired by the Israeli government to use their camera (attached to the string of the balloon) to keep everyone safe and keep an eye on what was going on due to the terrorist threats on the event. They were just using an off brand Xbox controller to move it around, and we could see the whole ridge! It was really cool. 

Communal potties!

Our last stop was to Beth – Shean (New Testament Scythopolis), an amazing site packed full of Roman ruins. There was the Tel, with an ancient temple on top. Then there were the Cardo, with Roman pillars lining the sides, an ampitheater, a hippodrome, Roman communal toilets (where everyone would poop and talk), and tons of pillars and intricate capitals strewn along the ground. I loved this place because there was so much to it and we really got a sense for what a Roman Decapolis city looked like. It was one of those times where I really felt like I was walking through history. 

Sunset over Sea of Galilee

That night we got to stay at Ein Gev, in these cute little ‘cottages’. Seriously, it felt like a vacation! I got to be with my best two girl friends, and we hungout and watched movies as a group and got to spend quality time together. It was awesome to be right on the beach and see the sunset over the Sea of Galilee, which was incredible! That night I felt like I was walking on air, just high on what I had seen/felt that day, and just the joy from being able to be on a little vacation break. 

I have really come to love the two verses in Psalm 26 that say, ‘Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.’ Isn’t that great?

That’s the first two days. More to come! 


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