Day 8 / The Galilee and Golan Heights


When one thinks of a sea, it is usually of a fairly large body of water. As with all things in this land you must think so much smaller than we do from our expansive plains at home. The Sea of Galilee is more like a lake, and when you stand on the north shores and look south – you can take in the whole area at once: Tiberius, Magdela, Capernum, the Mount of Beatitudes, etc. It’s very serene. I do love it here. I couldn’t get an overview picture that works because the heat makes the air hazy and the distance photos just wash out.


This is the hometown of Peter. They’ve identified his house but unfortunately (in my opinion) they built a glass bottomed church right over top of it. It kind-of looks like a space ship has descended on top. Sigh… although it is lovely on the inside.

Inside the Church

What looks like a pool here is a glass floor that looks down on Peter’s home. What is clear by the remains are several concentric additions to the house which give evidence that this became a church that kept expanding in size.

Capernum was a small village – likely only 12-15 families in total as were all the villages of the region. So when the NT records thousands of people gathering to hear Jesus speak, these would be significant gatherings – significant enough to get the attention of leaders jealous of anything that would undermine their authority, and nervous of anything that might look like opposition to Roman rule. The pictures below are the remains of a later period Synagogue built on top of the one Jesus would have known.

One of the earliest known pictoral representations of the Arc of the Covenant

From here we traveled up road a few minutes to the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the most developed of all the sites in terms of it’s idyllic beauty. The gardens are lush and the veiw stunning. Again, too hazy to get a good picture of the sea.

It’s important to remember, with many of these sites, the locations are traditionally remembered. There is no archeological evidence for the Mount of Beatitudes but from the story in the Bible, the lie of the land, proximity to Capernum etc, it is reasonable to assume this could be the spot.

My favorite spot in the whole region is this spot (below). It is a small beach from which you can clearly see Tiberius spill down the mountain to the sea. Just behind is the location where the feeding of the 5000 is remembered. And on this quiet beach it is said Jesus restored Peter to his status as dear friend of Christ.

At a critical moment in the drama of Jesus’ capture and torment by the occupying Roman army, Peter lost courage and denied his association with Christ – three times. After the crucifixion, I imagine Peter’s grief and shame to be insoluble. And coming back to Galilee to fish, after all the drama of hopes built and dashed, Jesus appears here and quietly asks Peter (three times) “do you love me?” It strikes me as such a profoundly kind thing to do. Of course Jesus knows… but he lets Peter say it anyway. Peter gets to hear himself say it. And I can imagine a lot of tears, some deeply tender and knowing looks, and an emotionally charged, trembling, long hug.

From Galilee we traveled north east to the Golan Heights. This area once belonged to Syria and was a strategic military post for the Sryian army from where they relentlessly shelled Jewish Kibbuts in the valley below for 19 years before the hills were stormed and taken by the Israeli defense forces in 1967.

The valley itelf was once a swampland until the late 1891 when the first Jewish pioneers began to settle here at Rosh Pina (meaning Cornerstone) draining the valley and and reclaiming it for rich, arable farmland.

At first there was little tension between the Jews and the local Arabs. But after Israeli Statehood in 1947, meaning (among other things) the displacement of 300,000 Palestinian Arabs to the West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, the relationship turned toxic and has remained so to this day with both sides having legitimate claims to victim status, and both sides committing well documented and grim crimes against the other.

Israeli trench leading to a bunker overlooking both Lebanon and Syria (respectively below)

Syrian military outpost overlooking Israeli Settlements. This was the scene of a dramatic battle in 1967 when the Israelies took the Golan Heights.

Underground Syrian bunker.
Not sure what these are. Air vents to the bunkers below I assume.

Syrian trenches
Israeli (I think)

Mount Hermon

We visited the Tel Dan nature reserve at the base of Mount Hermon where it is as lush and green as any mountain base in the Rockies. Rain falls on the mountain, soaks through the soils and fissures until it hits a bedrock that forces the waters to peculate out of hundreds of tiny springs here at the base.
The many springs create small streams that find each other as they wind down to the valley eventually forming the Dan river which is one of the 3 sources of the Jordan River.

You can see why this would be a pretty important area to control if you were a country that is mostly desert. As much as the perennial conflicts of this region are reported as having religious/ethnic roots (and that is certainly partially true), access to water has always been common to most conflicts. Read through the old testament and notice how often water conflicts come up. Coming from a country where water is clean and plentiful, it’s hard to appreciate how powerfully water shortage can stress relationships between communities. Many are saying this will not be an abstract reality for us in the west much longer.

At the base of Mt Hermon is the ancient ruins of the city of Dan, one of the lost tribes of Israel.

And the King arose and sat in the gate… and all the people came before the King.
(11 Samuel 19:8)

Following the division of the kingdom of Solomon in 930BCE, Jeroboam established a cult at Dan as an alternative to the one at the Temple in Jerusalem. “And the King made two calves of gold… and he set one in Beth-el and the other he put in Dan.” (1 Kings 12:28-29)

Above is Jeroboam’s temple at Dan. The structure to the left is the altar where he offered sacrifices to the Golden Calf. The raised platform to the right would have been an observation platform for the city’s elite, a sort-of Molson’s box 🙂

The northern kingdom’s revival of the Golden Calf cult marked the beginning of the end for them. Shortly afterward they were invaded by the Assyrians (I think it was the Assyrians anyway – I’ll check). The ten tribes of the northern Kingdom were absorbed into the Assyrian empire assimilated by the culture and forever lost as a distinct people.

Rikk explained to me the significance of the northern Kingdom’s sin. The social experiment begun by Moses in the Sinai was inspired by a radically different notion of God and creation than what came out of Pharoah’s Egypt. Pharonic power was one of brute force, legitimized by capricious self-serving Gods. Moses intuited a different God and therefore a different model of leadership/authority – characterized by goodness, constancy and servanthood.

Egyptian worship consisted of static man-made temples in which an image of the god, fashioned by human hands, was placed. The idol was the physical representative of the god – and what you did to the idol, you did to the God.

The Hebrew understanding is astonishing in contrast. They understood all of creation to be a temple created by Yahweh. And the “image of the god” is the human person – fashioned by God – in the image of God. Along with the understanding that “what you do to the image, you do to the God,” is the foundation for the radical understanding of the fundamental dignity of all persons, and I might add, a proper theology behind creation care. Therefore, the Hebrew temple never had a man-made idol. The northern Kingdom’s retrogressive practices under Jeroboam where a profound rejection of the “new thing” Yahweh was doing. And, in the end they got what they wanted – inhuman empire.

I’m sure Rikk is going to die when he reads my distillation of a much longer conversation – honestly, the best part of this trip has been listening to Rikk describe and connect the dots in a way I’ve never been able to do before.

Anyway, I ramble. We drove back through the Golan Heights and boarded a boat on the Galilee to make our last few miles back to the hotel on the lake. Awesome!

Boating on the Sea of Galilee

5 thoughts on “Day 8 / The Galilee and Golan Heights

  1. Thank you so much Steve. It is very unlikely that I shall see these places with my own eyes and while there are many resources for “armchair” traveling, being acquainted with you and the personal perspective you’ve shared made this little journey very accessible for me.

  2. I too want to thank you for sharing your journey, you are such a blessing and I look forward to the creativeness that will come out of this reflective journey you’ve been on!

  3. I too want to thank you for sharing your journey, you are such a blessing and I look forward to the creativeness that will come out of this reflective journey you’ve been on!

  4. I’ve just heard about your tour. You’re probably back home by now. If you run across anyone interested in a tour (since yours next year may be full), check out my tour, Ancient Stones, Living Stones: The Holy Land in Perspective

  5. I want to go back. Such an amazing and life changing journey. You made me laugh though when you talked about Rikk dying about your distillation of all his facts. I tried to get him to send me the presentations etc and it wouldn’t go through. So I am left fact less…

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