DAY 7 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 19: KURSI, BETHSAIDA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, HAMAT TIBERIAS, KINNERET CEMETERY, YARDINIT – JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, MAGDALA
Today was our first rainy day of the trip. It rained off and on all day, with highs in the 60s. We changed around our program because of the weather. We actually added three extra stops to the itinerary.
Leaving our hotel at 7:30 following a wonderful full breakfast, we drove to the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee to Kursi. Here we saw the ruins of an early church from the Byzantine Period (4-6th century AD). This ancient church was built in memory of the Mark 5 story of the transformation of the Geresene demoniac. We read from Mark 5 about the encounter Jesus had with this man. The 2,000 pigs most likely entered the lake just to the north of this site where there is a cliff still today.
Our next stop was on the north side of the lake. It stopped raining at this site for us too! In the Old Testament, this was a site in the region of Geshur. Absalom fled here for three years after slaying Amnon. He apparently stayed with his grandparents (2 Samuel 3:3). We saw a very impressive 6-chamber gate here from the time of the Israelite period. Later, we saw 2nd century AD ruins. This has been a site identified though with Bethsaida (although there is now a new site closer to the water for this town), the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). We read from Mark 8 about the blind man being healed by Jesus. The Feeding of the 5,000 also took place in this area (John 6).
Our next visit was to Chorazim. This was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11). First we saw an impressive miqveh (ritual bath). We also saw a newly-excavated winepress. In the synagogue we read from Matthew 23 and saw a replica of the Moses’ Seat. These ruins date to the 3rd-4th century AD.
“While it rained off and on today (mostly on), it was still a great day. We literally followed in the footsteps of Jesus everywhere we went. We saw a few extra sites too.” -Tour Member-
Down on the shoreline of the lake is Capernaum. This city, a prominent one in the 1st century with a population of about 1,500, served as the “ministry-base” for Jesus. In the 5th century synagogue (built over top the 1st century one), we read from Mark 1, 2 and 9; Luke 7; and John 6. Jesus demonstrated His authority here (s’mekah in Hebrew), causing many to be amazing at both His teaching and miracles. We also saw the 5th century Byzantine Church built around a first century structure believed traditionally to be the home of Peter himself (this is most likely not the location). With the wind and rain picking up, we then returned to the bus.
Following our fish lunch, we added Hamat Tiberias to the program as well. One of the best preserved mosaics from the 3rd century AD is well displayed here. The details in the mosaic are incredible. A few of the hot springs of Tiberias are also here (up to about 105 degrees!).
Driving to the southern end of the lake we stopped in a historic cemetery called the Kinneret Cemetery. Here, many of the earliest Jewish pioneers are buried from the early 20th century. One is a lady named Rachel Bluwstein. She was a Ukrainian Jew who never married and who died at the age of 40 in 1931. It was interesting to hear some of her poems she wrote. As of last year, she appears on the new 20 shekel Israeli bill.
Yardinit – Jordan River Baptism
Yardenit is the baptismal location at the very southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Here where the southern Jordan River begins, 14 in the group renewed their faith as disciples of Christ. The waters were a bit chilly but it was a special time for all.
We drove back through Tiberias to get back to our hotel. We stopped for one more site, however, on the way. Magdala was a 1st century prominent Jewish city located on the western shoreline of the lake in the days of Jesus. It is mentioned once in the Gospels (Mt. 15). Jesus sails into this harbor following the Feeding of the 4,000. We saw a 1st century synagogue here, only one of seven found in the country. It was special to think that Jesus walked into this synagogue and taught here! It is a modest structure that could only fit perhaps 50-70 people. We also saw a few ritual baths (miqveh) here as well. These were unique, for they were equipped with a stone pipe that brought water in from the lake.
We returned back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. Despite the rain, we saw a lot of sites that connected us with Jesus!