Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
For our last day in the Galilee, which happened to be a Sunday morning, we began by heading to one of the harbor areas of Tiberias to board a wooden boat and sail on the Sea of Galilee. As Pastor Randy always jokingly says, this is one place in the Holy Land where Jesus walked that isn’t covered over with gilt and marble. The experience has an authentic spiritual feel that is quite memorable, and most travelers vote it as their favorite highlight of the trip.
The mostly Israeli crews usually begin the voyage by showing their appreciation for American support of Israel by raising our national flag.
Once we’re out in the middle of the lake, they also give us a brief lesson on fishing. In the five times we’ve visited Israel we’ve never seen anyone catch anything. Either it’s the wrong time of day or the fish prefer other spots. Still, it gives us all a good picture of what fishing was like in Jesus’ day.
The lake (which is also called Lake of Tiberias, Lake of Gennesaret, or Kinneret, which means “harp” in Hebrew) is not very large — only about 8 miles across from east to west and 20 miles long from north to south. Growing up as a kid, my most usual experience of a lake was Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes where my folks would go for vacation. When I heard the stories of Jesus calming the storm or walking on water, I always envisioned a body of water that size — one that you could not see to the other side.
The actual Sea of Galilee seemed a bit “puny” on my first visit and it amazed me that God chose this spot for his Son’s ministry and the launch of the gospel message. But that was because I had forgotten my Holy Land geography lessons. An ancient trade route called the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) passed through at least two of the harbor towns along the lake — Migdal, which was the home of Mary Magdalene, and Capernaum, which was Jesus’ headquarters in the Galilee. It was used by merchants and other travelers to get from Egypt to Damascus and beyond into Syria and the area of modern Turkey. It was perfectly situated to spread the word outside “backwater” Galilee.
I also learned on that first visit about how the winds could rush in unexpectedly — either down from the Golan Heights on the east side or funneled through a natural declivity on the west side called the “Valley of Doves” — causing violent storms. In 1992 one such storm sent 10′ waves crashing into Tiberias and causing significant damage.
But our boat ride was very, very peaceful. When the captain cut the engine and we drifted on the lake, it encouraged a time of reflection about everything we had learned so far. Then guide Foteh taught and Pastor Randy preached and led worship. Though the music was recorded, that didn’t stop us from having a “lively” time praising God.
Even Fat Stanley thought it was an unforgettable experience!
Our boat docked at Kibbutz Ginosar where we toured the Yigal Allon Museum and learned how an ancient boat — possibly from the time of Jesus — was rescued from the mud during a drought season in 1986. Discovered by two seasoned fishermen, the boat was encased in foam, raised by a crane from the water and broken from its shell after it was immersed in a special solution to preserve what was left of the wood. On our first visit in 1994 the boat was still contained in its fluid-filled tank; now it is displayed so you can see it “up close and personal.”
Saying “good bye” to the lake area, we headed west again uphill and toward Mount Tabor. Tabor is a large, volcano shaped hill that is the most prominent feature of the Jezreel Valley.
In the Druze village at the foot of the hill we climbed into shuttles that hurtled us up the hairpin turns to the top of the Mount. Christians since the fourth century have honored this area as the site of Jesus’ transfiguration. During Ottoman rule the Franciscans were given permission to live atop Tabor, and they have taken care of the holy ground ever since the early 1600s. In 1924 they built the present church on the foundation of Crusader era remains.
The church grounds are delightful, and the view from the overlook extends across the mountains of Samaria.
Some of the Crusader and Byzantine excavations near the walkway on the way to the church are a perfect place to draw away from the crowds and share in Bible study. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration mirrors the story of his baptism in such a profound way: in both God speaks from heaven confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son, authorizing Jesus’ mission and giving Jesus encouragement for what would follow in the days ahead. In the case of his baptism, that was the temptation in the wilderness; in the case of his transfiguration that was the suffering and death he would soon endure. It was sobering to consider the sacrifice Jesus was preparing to make, and it was a personal invitation for me to get spiritually ready for “walking in his footsteps” in Jerusalem. We had never visited Tabor before, so this was also a very moving experience.
The church building was beautiful outside and in. Designed by the renowned architect Antonio Barluzzi, its central sanctuary area represents Jesus while the two side columns represent Moses and Elijah, who appeared before Jesus and the disciples during the miracle. (We had also seen two other Barluzzi designs earlier in the trip: Shepherd’s Field Church outside Bethlehem and Church of the Beatitudes. You can find out more about Barluzzi, who was often called “the architect of the Holy Land,” and his work in this pdf booklet.)
The interior includes a sunken high altar, which is situated in a grotto that contains breath-taking mosaics that depict different phases of Jesus’ life: birth, suffering, death and resurrection.
A mosaic depicting the transfiguration story is at the top of the sanctuary above the high altar and worship area.
Finally, there are small chapels in each wing that honor Moses and Elijah.
We had hoped to tour Samaria during the afternoon, but riots in Jenin prevented us from doing so. It was a very concrete reminder of the fragile nature of the cooperation between Israel and Palestine. And a call to prayer.
Click here for more pictures of Ginosar and Mount Tabor.