We will cover these locations in Israel in this post: Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias, the Precipice (mount of temptation), Mount of Beattitudes, Caesarea Phillipi & Tel Dan, and Druze Villages
The Sea of Galilee is in the City of Tiberias, this lake is actually lower than Death Valley and is 209 meters or 685 feet below Sea Level. The Fish within the lake actually include Tilapia, Sardines, and Catfish…. for this lake, I thought that was pretty impressive. The lake is only 7-8 miles wide but 13 miles long and 130-150 feet deep. Fishing in the time of Jesus is about the same way they do fishing today. In the 1st century, there were lots of little towns and villages around the lake, as fishing brought a lot of trade and livelihood for the people. Tiberias was one of these towns, and was actually the largest. Some of the other towns, of the time of Jesus, that also actually surrounded the Sea of Galilee (or Lake Tiberias) were Capernaum, Magda, Bethsaida, Chorizin, Ginosaur (Gennesaret), Gergesa (Kursi), Gadara (Jordan). A large Jewish population was actually on the western side of the lake in the towns of Tiberias, Capernaum, and Magdala. The Greco-Roman population was on the east side, in Jesus times, these were Hippos; Harnat Gadar (hot springs).
The Lake is gorgeous, but as I was here on a pilgrimage, this place moved me so much. One of my favorite scriptures is where Christ asks Peter to walk on water. The day that we were there, the Sea was calm and quite and sunny and beautiful. But with the low level of the Lake, and the surrounding mountains, I could see how the storms would sweep into the Jordan Valley Rift and suprise the fisherman in their small boats. The waves attempting to swallow them and their catch to its depths.
In Matthew 14:22-33 and another account in John 16:16-21 read the story, and imagine this place and the men in the fishing boats. Seeing what you think is a shadow begin to approach the boat in the chaos of the storm; I would feel it was the Devil himself come to drag me and my boat down to Hell. Then as the image becomes clearer, you realize that it is Jesus of Nazareth, walking across the water towards you like he was walking down the street. I wonder if I was in that same boat at the same hour, and same time, if I myself would have believed that he was a Savior for the World. But what an example Peter was to me in that moment…. he, without really thinking about what he is doing, jumps over the side and starts to walk, then I think realizes what he is actually doing and starts to lose faith. The most tender part of this whole story, is that Jesus IMMEDIATELY reaches out his hand and tenderly tells Peter he lacks faith. Now if I was to put myself in the shoes of Jesus (hypothetically) I may be a little bit disappointed in my friend Peter, not having enough faith in who I was and all I knew I was going to do, all he has seen me do and preach, and he lost faith. But then I think Jesus must have known his heart, and I do not think fear or doubt is something that plagued a man’s mind that was perfect and half God. This story made me think of different areas of my life, where I felt that there was no way that I could do something… and no matter how hard I tried, my spirit would not let me back away from doing it. The pull and tug, towards something that I would probably cry over, doubt myself over, convince myself I should stop for one reason or another…. and yet… he would ask me to believe in him, in a way, He would ask me to walk on water and trust that he would take care of me. How often in our lives do we limit ourselves, with this illusion that amidst the storms of life we think the greatest safety is in the man made boat/home/financial situation. Fear has become a huge part of our lives, with terrorists, uncertain financial situations, social situations. But I feel that even when writing this, that Fear is the enemy of Faith, and I need to constantly remember Peter and this story and this place. What would it take for me to be able to trust Jesus Christ enough to walk on the troubled waters of my own life, and know that he would save me should I stumble/fall/or sink. You don’t know until you try, and everything that is hard is worth doing as these are the things that shape the soul into something polished and beautiful in the end. Every experience, every hardship, and every thing that tests the mental and emotional limits of our frail bodies, can be and will be for our benefit in the end and will make us stronger. If you doubt it, what could it hurt to believe that its true? Everything that is good is worth accepting into your life. Something to think on as we continue on our journey to one of the beautiful spots looking over the Sea of Galilee… the Mount of Beattitudes.
Other Scriptures of note for Sea of Galilee: Matt 8; Mark 4:35-41 (calming the storm), Mark 7:31-37 (heals people in the cities along the sea); Luke 5:4-11, John 21:6-8 (the miracle haul of fish – was 2 separate events); Mark 16:9 (hometown of Mary of Magdalene- modern day Migdal, NW shore); Matt 15:39-16, Mark 8:11-12 (Jesus comes to Magdala after feeding 5000 delivers great discourse about signs and gives Pharisees the ‘sign of Jonah’; Matt 8:28-34 (casting evil spirits into herd of swine at Gergesa, on East shore); John 6:1-14 (feeding the 5000 on the plains of Bethsaida – NE shore- which was also the home town of James and John); Matt 14: 34-36, Mark 6:53-56 (Jesus heals many at Gennesaret (modern-day Ginnosaur) some people just come to touch the ‘hem’ of the garment just to be healed (Matt 9:20).
The Mount of Beattitudes:
I didn’t realize the Mount of Beattitudes actually is a hill that overlooks the sea of Galilee, and there is actually no archaeological evidence of where Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was given. There are traditional sites that are held up as the places where things in Christ’s life actually took place. The Sermon on the Plain was probably given on the plains of Besthsaida (Northeast). The Sermon on the Mount itself was actually a call to righteousness to the ‘true believers’. The meeting was intended for the Quorum of the 12 apostles, it was intended to push their spiritual walls and boundaries. If we look at the type of teachings the Savior was giving, he fed the 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Anyone who sees a miracle such as this, it is easy to believe, but here the symbolism of taking his Apostles to a ‘High Mountain’ is a symbol of rising to a higher level of spirituality. This Mount is located right by one of the lowest places in all of Israel, the Sea of Galilee, which is 700 feet below sea level; this….this is where he gives his Apostles a new and higher law…. the Beattitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit & the pure in heart who come unto me; blessed are those that morn for most of their life & its when they come to a higher place that they finally find peace. All of us have made mistakes in this life, there was only one that can claim perfection. Here in the sermon on the mount, I imagine him telling me, “your example is going to be made manifest, we can be a bad example by not being what I would have you be— being Neutral is not an option when you choose to lead a righteous life. Choosing a righteous life, means knowing who you are, what you stand for, and letting my light shine through you because you do”. Jesus is the light, he is the candlestick that we need to hold up. We want people to say ‘they are of the Lord, they are a disciple of Christ & love him’. The small gestures we make in our life by living a gospel centered life are manifested in our lives to others in great love. Its not about hearing someone say ‘your a good example’, its NOT ABOUT US, its about HIM & the light that other people see of us in him. It isn’t about the fact that ‘oh you are a good person because you don’t drink, you don’t do drugs, you don’t swear… that means you are a true disciple’ — look at the scriptures, look at what Jesus focused on… he focused on the Lepar, not on how many steps the Lepar was taking on a Sunday; he focused on the gentile woman at the well, not what everyone said about this woman being unclean. Who are the Lepar’s and gentiles of our day? Sometimes I ask myself this question when I meet people that I am afraid of, like a drug addict on the street, or a homeless person; but when I SERVE those people, when I sit down and ask them how they got there, what their dreams are, my heart swells and I realize that maybe….just maybe….. these are the people of our day who are like the Lepar and Gentile woman at the well. So may we ask ourselves, the famous saying, “What would Jesus do?” If you have ever seen the Disney movie, The Prince of Egypt, there is a scene in there that Moses meets his wifes father and they are all sitting around the fire, and his soon to be father in-law starts singing to him about his worth when Moses doubts himself, this one line has stuck with me forever, “How can you know what your life is worth, or where your value lies. You must look at your life through Heavens eyes” — I would change this to something different when you are out on your travels or where ever you may go when you come across people who are different or seemingly scary, ask yourself, “How do you know what their life is worth? Who are you to say where their value as a fellow human being lies? Try looking at their life, through Heavenly eyes”. I feel like this is a way, we as a Christian people (or even those who aren’t Christian) can improve this world, by asking ourselves these few questions about whoever we may meet.
Another thing to think about as a ‘higher law’, is that of being quick to anger. Under certain circumstances you may feel that you are justified in being angry, but it takes a REAL disciple to NOT be angry. But the natural man will want to remain angry. The Mosaic Law is walking along the Sea of Galilee, the Higher place or Higher law of being on a Mountain is the inner righteousness, that determines true discipleship, not the outward appearances.
We don’t need more evidences of what is true, we need more of what has been burned in our soul as being true. Like turning the other cheek in cases of abuse, we have to forgive them & not just in how we behave towards them. We know that they will be punished for how they treat others, but the higher law he is teaching is about whether or not we enjoy it or not that they ARE being punished.
After we were taught and had this amazing discussion about the Sermon on the Mount we were given time to reflect on it, and looking around at all these different people from all over the World, from all walks of life — it made me realize and solidified how true this really was. It made me love people so much more & so much more deeply. I don’t know what it was officially called, but there was a pole, with a bunch of Peace words on it, and in this setting I really felt like Israel was a place where people truly did long for peace and happiness and prosperity & I was so grateful I was able to come to this place to feel it.
Next we went to the Precipice or Mount of Temptation:
It is about 1300 feet above Sea Level, and is actually the ONLY steep cliff around the city of Nazareth. This is where the people tried to throw Jesus off the Precipice for declaring that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, when he was teaching in the Synagogue, and was given the scriptures and asked to read a chapter, and he decided to read Isiah 61– which also happened to be on the Sabbath day. And here is where he pretty much said he was the one the Jewish people were waiting for by saying ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon ME’ — declaring himself the Savior by reading this Messianic scripture after which he closed the book and sat down, which obviously didn’t go over very well to the people here. He then sat down and all their eyes turned to him and he said that ‘today this scripture is fulfilled’, which then made them so angry that they decided to throw him off the edge of a cliff. Which is strange because they had actually accepted him as a Prophet and a great teacher, but then when he said he was actually the Messiah, it didn’t meet their idea of what a Messiah SHOULD be. I can understand this point of view, if you think of your FAVORITE book, one that you have read several times and imagined the characters in it. Then all the sudden they make a movie and you are upset that the characters were not cast correctly, or they just didn’t have the acting skills like your imagination was able to provide. So you get angry, post that the movie was terrible all over Facebook, and then say that no one should see it. I can’t imagine how hard it was for them, the people of that time, to be able to truly BELIEVE that this is a man that your Holy Scriptures have taught of for decades, even thousands and thousands of years. I think it would be so difficult to be in the Jewish community at this time and hear this, it truly would be a test of faith for me I think; so lets not judge the people of that time too harshly, as we ourselves would likely have our own doubts as well.
Read: Luke Chapter 4, Isiah 11:1-4 & Isiah 61.
Caesarea Phillipi & Tel Dan, and Druze Villages
For a short period of time Caesarea Phillipi was a Roman City at the base of Mount Hermon.
Anciently, the site of Banias was a center for the cult worship of Baal (storm and fertility God); but as Greek culture began to manifest itself in the Holy Land, Banias became a center for the worship of Pan (God of shepards/forests/mountains/rivers), a Greek deity that had horns and goat legs. The worship of Pan continued through the Roman period in which Jesus lived. Carved representations of Pan were placed in rock niches in the cliffs of Caesarea Philippi, where the people came to worship.
This place had such a long history of idolotry, that “Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi” and “asked his disciples, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven,” (Matt 16:13-17)
Stopping for Lunch at the Druze Village:
This was a very interesting place for us to stop for lunch, it provided a place for quite a bit of reflection of all that I had learned and seen up until this point. It also gave me the opportunity to really LOOK at the people I was travelling with, have intimate and open conversations with them in ways that I normally wouldn’t do so at home. Some of them were so inspiring, and others their souls were just beautiful, despite all the travel, bus trips and overload of information about this beautiful country and its people, I really came to cherish this small moment to see those around me & to learn about this secretive people that were providing us lunch. The food was fresh and delicious, the little stream in the area soothed us all under the shade of the building. People were laughing, sharing stories, and really connecting on this significantly spiritual journey for all of us. Its always been fascinating to me to imagine what people’s lives are like inside their heads, what makes them passionate? What makes them think the way they do? Do they believe what they believe because that is how they were raised, or is it a belief system that truly makes them feel fulfilled and complete?
All these questions lead me to ask myself, who are the Druze people and why are they so secretive? The Druze are an Arabic-speaking esoteric ethno-religious group originating in the Middle East who self identify as unitarians. Jethro of Midian is considered an ancestor of all Druze and revered as their spiritual founder as well as chief prophet. As an ethnic and religious minority in every country in which they live, they have frequently experienced persecution, except in Israel where they serve in the highest echelons of society, including judges, parliamentarians, diplomats, doctors, etc. Even though the faith originally developed out of Ismaili Islam, Druze are not considered Muslims. The Druze’s social customs differ markedly from those of Muslims or Christians, and they are known to form a close-knit, cohesive community that does not allow anyone into or out of it, but also integrate fully in their adopted homelands. The Institute of Druze Studies estimates that forty to fifty percent of Druze live in Syria, thirty to forty percent in Lebanon, six to seven percent in Israel, and one or two percent in Jordan. This religion actually dates back to 1016 when ad-Darazi and his followers openly proclaimed their beliefs and called people to join them, causing riots in Cairo against the Unitarian movement including Hamza bin Ali and his followers. Before this time there were secretive meetings known as ‘Sessions of Wisdom’.
In Israel Druze people form a religious minority of more than 100,000, mostly residing in the north of the country. In 2014, the population of Israeli Druze citizens numbered around 140,000. Today, thousands of Israeli Druze belong to ‘Druze Zionist’ movements.
Their basic religious beliefs, according to what I researched consist of the fact that they believe that in God, there are no attributes distinct from his essence. He is wise, mighty, and just, not by wisdom, might and justice, but by his own essence. God is “the whole of existence”, rather than “above existence” or on his throne, which would make him “limited”. There is neither “how”, “when”, nor “where” about him; he is incomprehensible.
Incarnation is also a core spiritual belief in the Druze. In a mystical sense, it refers to the light of God experienced by certain mystics who have reached a high level of purity in their spiritual journey. Thus, God is perceived as the Lahut [the divine] who manifests His Light in the Station (Maqaam) of the Nasat [material realm] without the Nasut becoming Lahut. This is like your image in the mirror: you can look in the mirror, but you don’t actually become the mirror. The Druze manuscripts are emphatic and warn against the belief that the Nasut is God … Neglecting this warning, individual seekers, scholars, and other spectators have considered al-Hakim and other figures divine.
After researching and understanding all of this, it really made me appreciate these people we were spending time with in this small community. How old the religion actually was, I admired their sense of community and that they looked after each other. This is an outsider looking in to something I’m sure I don’t completely understand all the details to, but it made me understand that after all the persecution they have endured and I’m sure they will endure, it made sense that they were so secretive, if only to protect this ancient religion and its people.
Weather in the Sea of Galilee by month… to help you plan your trip or holiday.
Average Temperatures: 4-9 Centigrade = 40-49 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 52-82%
Average Temperatures: 4-10 Centigrade = 40-50 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 58-86%
Average Temperatures: 6-13 Centigrade = 43-56 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 52-80%
Average Temperatures: 11-20 Centigrade = 53-67 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 42-62%
Average Temperatures: 14-25 Centigrade = 58-75 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 31-63%
Average Temperatures: 17-28 Centigrade = 63-83 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 30-60%
Average Temperatures: 19-30 Centigrade = 66-86 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 33-65%
Average Temperatures: 19-30 Centigrade = 66-86 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 36-68%
Average Temperatures: 18-28 Centigrade = 64-83 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 38-73%
Average Temperatures: 15-24 Centigrade = 59-75 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 37-71%
Average Temperatures: 10-17 Centigrade = 50-62 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 48-75%
Average Temperatures: 6-11 Centigrade = 43-53 Fahrenheit
Average Humidity Level: 62-87%