Sunday was almost a rest day for pilgrims traveling in Israel and the West Bank with Baptists Today: we had only six destinations and all were in close proximity to the Sea of Galilee, known by its Hebrew name as Lake Kinneret because of it’s harp-like shape (the Hebrew word for “harp” is kinnor).
On a bright blue morning we drove to the small church atop what is popularly known as the “Mount of the Beatitudes.” There’s no evidence that Jesus actually preached the “Sermon on the Mount” at that spot, of course — but it’s the closest high hill to Capernaum, which Jesus more or less called home for three years, so it’s as good a guess as any. Add to that the beauty of the place: the Franciscans have sculpted a beautiful garden site where rainbow rows of bougainvillea and roses line pathways that wander in the shade of native trees.
The village of Korazim (or Chorazin) is little known other than by reputation as one of three cities upon which Jesus pronounced “woe” due to the lack of repentence among their citizens (the others were Capernaum and Bethsaida, Matt. 11:20-24). All were destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish rebellions of the first and second centuries. Korazim was rebuilt during the third century, thriving until a massive earthquake in 749 destroyed the town again, after which it was abandoned. The entire town was constructed from the area’s ubiquitous volcanic basalt, including the synagogue, which is unique in that the “seat of Moses” — a special chair reserved for guest rabbis or honored guests, was preserved.
The village of Kephar Nahum (the village of Nahum) — better known to Bible readers as Capernaum, also has a notable synagogue, where a beautiful and expensive limestone structure was built on the foundation of a first century synagogue that had been made of basalt. The new and expanded synagogue included a school and probably a second-floor balcony where women would have been seated.
To the west, but still on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, the first century town of Migdal also boasts a noteworthy synagogue. Excavations first began as a rescue project in 2009 after a Mexican businessman obtained permission to build a hotel and shopping center near the sea, not expecting that the planned foundations would have cut through an ancient town that had been hidden for 2,000 years. Migdal means “watchtower,” so named because fishermen would build tall lookouts to help them locate where fish were schooling. Previously, Migdal (alternately, Magdala) was best known as the home of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ strongest supporters.
The synagogue in Migdal is notable for because it is certain to have been in use during the first century and was square in the middle of the area in which Jesus was said to have taught and preached in all the synagogues. So, it’s most likely that Jesus would have taught in that synagogue, where a rare find came to light: an elaborately carved, tilted stone table upon which the Torah would have been unrolled and read to members of the congregation, who sat on stone benches around the perimeter. Carvings on the front of the table appear to depict the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem, with a menorah and two oil lamps or jugs flanked by large columns.
A lunch of St. Peter’s Fish, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a visit to the Ancient Boat Museum adjacent to our hotel in Ginosar rounded out a rather relaxing day of learning, worship, and pondering what it means to walk where Jesus walked — and to ask ourselves to what extent we walk as Jesus walked.