One of the benefits of staying in one place and driving to other nearby towns for a day’s visit is that it gives you an understanding of how much traveling Jesus and his disciples had to do to get from town to town during his ministry. We never read about him traveling in a wagon or on a horse so it was constant walking. For instance, from Tiberias to the nearby town of Nazareth is about 21 miles. That’s a long way on foot. But that was just a short distance for them. They often walked three or four times that far to get to their next preaching and teaching location. Today our visit was to Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. Kathy had been reading about the Nazareth Village, where they give you a tour through places that Jesus would have experienced growing up. You might call it the “Nazareth Experience” because it was set up in such a way to make you feel you were walking the little lanes of a dusty old first century village. All the places we visited gave you that feeling you were back in the primitive town of Nazareth.
First, there was a visit to old Simon whose sheep and goats were in the pen, and our guide talked about how Jesus used the everyday experiences of people to communicate eternal truths. Sheep, the guide said, will follow you, but the goats have their own agenda and don’t follow anyone very well, and so Jesus said that in the end God will separate the sheep from the goats and those who followed him will have an eternal reward. The guide then took us to an area where they had discovered an old vineyard and he showed us how the people created level spaces on the many hillsides that cover that land and explained why Jesus told the Parable of the four soils—the hardened path, the stony ground, the weed infested ground, and the good ground that produced a harvest. He then took us into a small synagogue and told us about how and why Jesus selected the passage that he read to his home town folks when he preached his first sermon in Nazareth and why the people were so disturbed at his preaching. The whole tour was geared to Jesus’ teaching and showed us continually why Jesus’ teaching was so geared to the everyday life of the people he was talking to. The place was so authentic you felt like you were actually there in first century Nazareth as you moved through the place. It was a great experience.
After the Nazareth Village tour we found our way over to the Church of the Annunciation, an old Catholic Church built over what they believe is the house of Mary where she received the news from the angel about her becoming the mother of the Son of God. It’s a huge structure and is the fourth church that has been built on that site going all the way back to about the second or third century where Christians were worshiping there in memory of Mary’s experience. In fact, where the altar would be in a normal Catholic Church they have the room of Mary’s house where that angelic visitation took place. Right next to the large church is St. Joseph’s Church, with the ruins of Joseph’s house in the basement of that structure. As I said before, you really don’t know if these are the real places or not but the traditions evidently go back a long way, and that is what they base their beliefs on.
On our way back to Tiberias we passed through Cana, the town where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding feast. There are a couple of churches, we are told, that claim to have some of the original water pots Jesus used. Although we couldn’t find either of these churches I do remember the visit I made here a long time ago and saw one of the water pots they said he actually used in the miracle. At best it looked like it could contain a couple of gallons of liquid. But in the Gospel of John it says in the King James Version that each water pot was big enough to contain two or three firkins apiece. A “firkin” is defined as about nine gallons. So that means each pot was large enough to contain 18 to 27 gallons of water. That’s why I believe very few of the traditions they tell you here.
We completed our day by visiting Capernaum, the “headquarters” of Jesus in Galilee. He often visited here and selected many of his disciples from near here. They have unearthed the ruins of the town of Jesus’ day and even the Apostle Peter’s house, which they believed was converted into a meeting place for the early Christians. They have built a modern church over the ruins. Nearby they also have the reconstructed ruins of a synagogue which was built over the one in which Jesus taught and in which he healed a crippled man. What a wonderful location for a small town—right on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. All the views from the town are just amazing. It is very difficult to get a true idea of the places Jesus preached in and visited because the towns are mostly rubble—you definitely have to use your imagination. And perhaps God wanted it that way because we humans are so prone to worship relics instead of the unseen God who rules us all.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.