Tuesday, October 26, 2010

From Lake Kinneret to Jerusalem

Note: This series of posts is based on my 1999 trip to Turkey and Israel. I have introduced a new character (Ariel) to help me introduce some topics of discussion that I think are pertinent to the purpose of this blog.
As we headed north from Tiberius I could see that the lake levels were substantially below normal; there were wide stretches along the shore that were rocky and obviously should have been underwater. The raised channels alongside the road were sending precious water to the drier places down south; I would later learn that it was part of Israel’s National Water Carrier project, and that there was grave concern they were draining the lake too much.  A decades long drought and an ever increasing depletion from its sources helped to expose the artifact that was on display at the first stop: the so-called “Jesus boat” at the Ginosar Kibbutz. After seeing its wooden remains in a building, I was heading back to the bus when I saw a uniformed Israeli soldier sitting at a bench with her rifle next to her. Vigilance is always needed in such a small country surrounded by hostile neighbors. 
Our next stop was a boat tour on the lake. The single masted boat had an open deck with a canvas roof over the stern; there were at least 25 aboard as we made our way to the middle of the lake. The captain cut the engines and we all took in the surroundings as we drifted in the quiet blue sea. Lake Kinneret is one of the most famous places in the world; it is surrounded by hills, towns, and historic events which have become household words in Christendom. The hills of Galilee on the west reach 1400 feet above sea level, the Golan Heights on the east rise to 2500 feet above sea level, while the lake itself is almost 700 feet below sea level, making it the lowest body of fresh water in the world. 
The hazy blue hills nearly blended with the sky while the calm waters belied their stormy potential. Off our starboard bow were two fishing vessels; their nets stretched out seemingly in salute to Peter, the fisher of men. As our boat’s PA system began to play HaTikva, a group of circle dancers stepped to the song. I sat in the back with Ariel, taking it all in. Ariel spoke, “The rabbis say, ‘The Lord has created seven seas, but the Sea of Galilee is his delight.’ As we looked north, he pointed out a panorama of Biblical sites saying, “Migdal, Ginnesar, Kfar Nahum, and Bethsaida. This is where Yeshua began His ministry after he left Nazareth.  At Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) he chose his first four Talmidim (disciples); Ya’acov, Yochanon, Simon, and Andrew as well as the tax collector Mattithyahu.”
I said, “As nice as it all is, the towns seem small and ordinary. Somehow I expected these places to appear on a more grand scale.” Ariel looked at me with understanding, and responded, “That is the wonder isn’t it; that the Creator of the Universe would stoop down to our level just to be with us. It was and is a stumbling block to the world. He had humble beginnings in Bethlehem, and had to make a quick trip to Egypt to escape the killing of Rachel’s children. When the paranoid Herod finally died, many people with the Davidic bloodline in Bethlehem, including Yeshua and his parents who recently returned from Egypt, moved to Nazareth in hopes that they could avoid the political turmoil in Yerushalyim. The name "Nazareth" comes from the Hebrew word Netzer, which means Branch, as in the Messianic Branch prophesied in Zechariah 3. They perhaps saw themselves as birthing that Branch. But when Yeshua announced his ministry at his hometown synagogue, they did not accept it. So, he went to Capernaum. Even there, He aroused all sorts of emotions and attention; their seasonal trips to Jerusalem only heightened the danger. The leaders and authorities soon had spies roaming the land, attempting to catch this troublemaker off guard.”
“Yes”, I said, “But the time was not yet, and His destiny led Him to Jerusalem, which is where we will be tonight.”
The tour would continue on a fast pace. We saw the Church of the Beatitudes with its beautiful rose gardens, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, and the synagogue at Capernaum. After a quick lunch stop at the Ein Gev Kibbutz on the eastern shore of the lake, we made a lengthy stop where the Jordan river exits the lake.
It seemed that nearly everyone wanted to get baptized in the river except me; I waded in the water and collected 12 stones from its bottom for souvenirs. Ariel sat rather impatiently on a bench under a palm tree. I think he knew that every minute spent here had a corresponding omission on the other end of our improbable itinerary. I sat on the left side of the bus as we headed south and saw the poorer Jordanian side of the river. I finally got to speak to Ariel about his background and why he was on the tour; but I'll have to wait until later to explain that. As expected, our lengthy Jordan river stop cancelled the planned stop at Beth Shean and rendered the Jericho stop as non-eventful because it was dark when we got there. We were all tired anyway; the ascent up highway 1 tired the bus too as we headed to the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem. 

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