DAY 7 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 20: YARDENIT/JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, MAGDALA, CHORIZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE
Today was our first day here in the north. We were greeted by sun and comfortable temperatures. The high would be about 65. Some in the group enjoyed getting up early for the sunrise on the Sea of Galilee!
Following breakfast and a later departure this morning (8 a.m.), we drove through Tiberias towards the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. On the way we read from Matthew 4 about Jesus calling His first disciples. We stopped at the Kinneret Cemetery. Some of the first Jewish immigrants to Israel in the early 20th century are buried here. It was established in 1911. This included a Ukrainian poetess known simply as Rachel. She was born in 1890. Many Israelis visit her grave our of respect for the poetry she wrote. She died in 1931. Just recently, her picture was put on the new 20 shekel Israeli currency bill.
Just south of the cemetery is where the water leaves the Sea of Galilee and forms the lower Jordan River. Here there is a place called Yardenit. Nine re-dedicated themselves through baptism. One also was baptized for the first time. Yes, the water was cold but hearts were warmed by this special time
Driving back north towards Tiberias, we made an extra stop at Hamat Tiberias. Here we saw a 4th century synagogue. The mosaic floor of the synagogue was quite impressive to see. Like at many other synagogues, these Jewish synagogues used various Jewish symbols (e.g. menorah). But even pagan symbols (e.g. zodiac) were also used, serving as decorations.
Our next stop was Magdala. Located north of Tiberias, Magdala is a “one-level” archaeological site. It was the home of the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels. Here we visited the 1st century synagogue, one of only seven others that date to this 2nd Temple period. Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible, this city must have been where Jesus visited and taught. The synagogue is small and modest, holding only 50-60 people. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the new retreat chapel built here a few years ago. The acoustics were amazing! The wall reliefs were special too, especially the one of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mark 5).
Following a traditional “fish lunch” we drove to Chorazin. Located on a hill off the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, we saw the basaltic ruins of the 3rd century AD city. It was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11). We read from Matthew 23 from inside the synagogue. A Moses’ Seat was found here. Among the other ruins we saw a miqveh (ritual bath) and other house structures.
Located nearby but down on the water’s edge is Capernaum (Kfar Nahum – the village of Nahum). Visiting this place mentioned so many times in the Bible was very special given that Jesus made Capernaum the “home-base” of his Galilean ministry. This was where Jesus also called His first disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew/Levi the port tax collector). Inside the 4-5th century synagogue we read the stories that took place here (Mark 1,2, 5, 9; Luke 7; and John 6). Among the other ruins we saw included the 1st century house structures and a 5th AD century octagonal church. We also spent some reflection time down on the water’s edge.
We ended the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection out towards the middle of the lake. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives. It is precious to know that Jesus cares for us too when we encounter the unexpected storms of life. The sunset was spectacular!
We walked back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. What a great day retracing the footsteps of Jesus!