Day 4 - June 27 2006 - Sea of Galilee, Capernaum and Caesarea Philippi
There were lots of breakfast choices, fish, cheeses, salads, fruit, yogurt, pancakes, eggs. I have been sticking to grain cereals and fruit - pretty much American fare. Others have been more daring. We were on the bus by 8:30 (the group has been great about being in place on time). It was about a 20 minute bus ride to a dock where we boarded a boat for our ride across the Sea of Galilee. These are pretty large boats, and though they are steel hulled, they have wood paneling on the exterior to give them some look of antiquity. As we were pulling away from the dock, music began to blare from the sound system. It was the Star Spangled Banner. The crew hoisted and American flag. Ikey announced that while Americans were on board it would be an American boat. I would have preferred them not to do that as I felt it distracted us from the setting. Others in the group, however, liked it. When the boat captain began to play "Praise Music" over the sound system, however, I asked it to be turned off. The serenity and peace of the Sea of Galilee needs to be experienced for its own sake. It is one of the few places where one truly can come close to a pristine experience of Jesus. Although were going straight across the Sea of Galilee toward the city of Tiberias which is a good size city with large buildings, most of the hills of the surrounding the lake are dotted by small villages. I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ saying, "a city set on a hill cannot be hidden." At night, their lights shine. Fishermen continue to make their living on the Sea of Galilee, primarily catching "St. Pater’s fish" which we call "Tilapia." Last time we were here, we saw fishermen mending their nets on shore. I couldn’t help thinking of Andrew, Simon, James and John.
When we got half way across the lake, our boat captain shut the engines and I celebrated the Eucharist. I used Jesus’ calming of the sea as the Gospel reading. It is my understanding that because the mountains cause sharp passes, the wind can come through very quickly and cause sudden storms to emerge. There are some scholars who argue that Jesus calming of the sea is a metaphor for Jesus’ role to a Marcan church experiencing persecution. Jesus appears asleep to the persecuted church, but the text is an assurance that Jesus is not asleep at all, but present and filled with authority to calm any storm, even those which come up suddenly in our lives. It is one of my favorite texts. At the end of the Eucharist we sang the first verse of "Eternal Father, strong to save." Many were moved by this and would later say that this Eucharist was one of the highlights of the trip. I knew it would be. The Sea of Galilee was a major highlight of my first trip here. It didn’t lose its attraction this time.
The engines revved back up and we plied our way toward the shore and the Museum of the Ancient Boat. This is the wooden frame of a 1st century fishing boat that was discovered in the mud of the Sea of Galilee. There had been a drought that severely lowered the level of the lake. Someone in a kibbutz discovered the artifact in the mud and with that discovery began a very impressive archaeological dig to remove the boat before the rainy season came and the wter level buried it. When Susan and I were here in 1998, the boat was still kept in a treatment tank of water. Now it is safe to be out of the tank and on view. The museum tells the story very well and the boat provides a sharp picture of what it would have been like to be a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee at the time of Jesus.
Dallal had driven the bus around the lake and met us at the museum. We boarded and headed for Capernaum. This is the city which Jesus considered home. He made have had his own place in which to live, or, perhaps more likely, stayed with Peter and Peter’s mother-in-law. There is an ancient synagogue, but it dates back to Byzantine times., nit the time of Jesus. It may sit on a site where its predecessor synagogue had been. A church was built to honor the site of Peter’s home and the this is very likely the place where Peter did live. According to Ikey, the Byzantine synagogue may have been built to keep up with the Christians. No matter, the ruins are very interesting. Overall the ruins have been reorganized since my last trip. We did not spend a great deal of time examining them. I would like more time here on a future trip. The Roman Catholics have built a monstrously ugly church over the site of Peter’s house. It looks like a large flying saucer and it covers the whole site. Still, the site is very much worth visiting.
From Capernaum, we went to the Church of the Beatitudes, traditionally held to be the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I find this unlikely, but as with many of the sites, the shrine provides us an opportunity to reflect on the event and the teaching and this is certainly true in this instance. The church is modern and octagonal . IN the cupola, the words of the Beatitudes are inscribed in Latin. Outside there are beautiful gardens and the whole sits on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It is quite beautiful. I had our group sit and I read to them the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.
From here, we went to a seaside restaurant where most of us lunched on St. Pater’s fish. This was great fun and the fish was terrific. After lunch, we drove to Caesarea Philippi. I had not seen this site before. It is about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and at the foot of Mount Tabor, which is the traditional site of the Transfiguration. It was on the road to Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asked what I think is the most important question in the Bible, "But who do you say that I am?"
There is a large and beautiful spring here which made it an attractive site for fertility cults. In about the 3rd century B.C.E. it became a site dedicated to the Greek god Pan and the place was called Panias, later altered to Banias in Arabic. According to Ikey, as a site dedicated to Pan and to fertility, rather licentious goings on took place here. He would assert that when Jesus spoke of the "gates of hell" in Matthew, he was referring to this place. I am not sure he is on solid ground with this. The Temple is carved into a cave and there are niches in the rocks for statues. It is very beautiful. The Banias springs are one of the sources of the Jordan and some in our group collected water to bring home. We then set off to return to the Kibbutz Maagan for dinner.
At 2:30 AM my cell phone rang. It was Louie Crew, Co-Chair of the Nominating Committee for the 10th Bishop of Newark informing me that I was one of four nominees chosen by the Committee for the official slate. He asked if I was still willing to allow my name to be considered and I told him I was. He congratulated me and told me that there would be a conference call the next day with Kim Byham, President of the Standing Committee of Newark along with the other nominees. He did not tell me the names of the others as they were still being notified and the Committee had to be sure they were willing to remain in consideration. After a brief and cordial chat, we hung up. Needless to say, Susan and I were excited, but also overwhelmed. We were both aware that this nomination represents an enormous honor and grace. Up to this point, we had felt all of this was something of a "long shot" and it has had an aspect of unreality and the hypothetical about it. Clearly, to be one of four nominees raises the level of seriousness and confronts us with the very real possibility that we might be called to leave St. Paul’s. Susan gave me a hug. As it was only 7:45 PM Eastern Time in the United States, we called our children at home and let them know as well as staff people who had wanted to know right away. We also called John and Ann Said, since John (former Bishop Suffragan of Southeast Florida) had been the person who had submitted my name to Newark and got all this started. At about 3:30 AM, Israel time, Susan and I went back to bed. It took me a little while, but I was able to get to sleep. It occurred to me that it was pretty special to receive this news while I was in Galilee and I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for that. Quite a day.