Last week was pretty crazy because all of us had three papers to write for just two classes, and we took our last midterm (for New Testament). Two of the papers were for our history class, and they were both due on Sunday night. I helped lots of people edit their papers, and they paid me in snacks from the Shekel Shack. It was a pretty sweet deal, and I enjoyed it. Also on Sunday, I went to the YMCA building in Jerusalem and played the carillon bells with some friends. They have a bell tower there with a carillon set. It was really fun. We all took turns playing. We mostly played primary songs. On all of the songs, we had someone play the bass part and someone playing the melody. I got to play “Follow the Prophet” and “Beautiful Savior.” We also got to do the chime on the hour for noon when we were there. It made me realize what is actually going on in the bell tower at BYU whenever I hear something being played.
On Monday we headed up to Galilee for our last major trip of the semester. We hit some sites on our way up there. First we stopped at Beth-She’an (pronounced Bait-Shawn). Beth-She’an is one of the largest tells of the Middle East. There are twenty layers of stratum on the tell that date from the Early Bronze Age until the Byzantine era! (3200 BC–600 AD) It has many features of a Roman city, including a columned cardo, a theater, latrines, a bathhouse, and a nymphaeum. It was a lot like visiting Jerash in Jordan. It was the capital city of the Decapolis (a league of ten independent cities that were outside the rule of the Roman Empire. It was also known as Scythopolis during the rule of the Roman Empire. It’s very possible that Christ visited there because it is close to Nazareth, and it says in the New Testament that he had followers from the Decapolis. After visiting Beth-She’an, we went over to Nazareth. The first thing we visited was the church of the Annunciation. It is the largest Christian church in the Middle East. It is really interesting because it was only redone in the 1960s. But inside there are ruins of a Byzantine church built over a grotto where it is thought that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. On top of those ruins are more ruins from a crusader church built on top of the Byzantine ruins. This new church has kept those ruins and preserved them. One of the other interesting things about the church is that it has all of these depictions in the courtyard from all over the world of the Madonna and Child. It was really cool to see what all of the different countries’ depictions are of Mary and Jesus. It just goes to show how universal the message is of Christ’s birth and what He came to do. After the Church of the Annunciation, we walked to a church that is right next door to it called the church of St. Joseph that is built on top of the traditional spot where it is thought that Joseph’s carpentry shop was. I liked this church a lot because it was small and simple and had some neat depictions of Joseph inside, which you really don’t see a lot of.
After visiting these awesome churches, we walked over to another church called the “Synagogue Church.” This is where it is thought that Christ announced himself as the Messiah in Nazareth. We saw the part that is the synagogue part and then the chapel that is hooked on next to it. We had a nice devotional in there and talked about what it might have been like to be there when Christ tells the people that He had come to redeem them. After that, we went to the cliffs of Arbel and got our first really good look at the Sea of Galilee. It’s really just a good lookout point where we could see most of the Sea of Galilee, so we just had fun taking pictures up there. After we left, we got to our hotel that we’re staying at for the next ten days.
The place we’re staying is called the Ein-Gev Holiday Resort. It’s really nice. Technically it’s a guest house at a Kibbutz. We eat all of our meals at the restaurant here, and we even have class in a room a floor below the restaurant. The restaurant is kosher, so we’re eating kosher for the next week or so. The only thing that I can tell that means so far is that there’s no pork served (which is no different than at the JC) and that meat and milk are never served at the same meal. We’re right on the Sea of Galilee on the southeastern side of it. There’s a nice beach here where we can swim and there are plenty of shady trees to sit under. It is really humid up here in the Galilee, but luckily there aren’t many bugs. It’s pretty hot, but it hasn’t been too terrible. The Sea of Galilee is pretty interesting. The locals call it the Kinneret, which means harp in Hebrew (named so for its shape). Only Christian tourists call it the Sea of Galilee. It’s just a giant lake, and you can see the other side of it off in the distance. In the morning, the water is nice and calm and seems more like a lake, but in the afternoon, it starts to have waves that crash on the shore just like a real beach. The Jordan River flows in and out of it. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever heard of or seen. The water is nice and warm, and it is a lot like being at a freshwater beach.
On Tuesday, we went to Capernaum. There we saw the synagogue where Christ preached, and we saw Peter’s house. I never realized it, but Capernaum was really important because that was where Christ had his headquarters during his ministry since it’s where Peter lived. A lot of miracles took place in Capernaum, so it was neat to be there. There’s a cool statue there of Peter holding keys. After that, we went to the Mount of Beatitudes where it is thought that the Sermon on the Mount was preached. That church was built in the 1930s, and interestingly enough Benito Mussolini donated a lot of the money for that church to be built there. The church is cool because the dome on top is an octagon with each beatitude written on each one side of the octagon in Latin. We had a lot of time to just sit and think or read the scriptures at both Capernaum and at the Mount of Beatitudes. That was really nice instead of being rushed from place to place like we normally are. After that, we went to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. How’s that for rolling off the tongue? Haha. That church was built over Byzantine ruins sometime in the 1900s and preserves a famous mosaic of two fishes and five loaves on the floor in front of the altar. There was a fish pond outside with a bunch of exotic fish in it, so that was kind of fun and different. Then we went to the Church of Peter’s Primacy. It’s where Peter was told by Christ three times to feed His sheep and where they think Christ served the apostles breakfast in John 21. There was a big rock inside the church called the “Mensa Christi,” which means the table of Christ (the rock they think he served them breakfast on). There we had a really awesome devotional about letting the Savior change us. After Christ left, Peter said, “I go a fishing.” And Christ came back to let him know that he needed to do something different after knowing Christ and becoming His head apostle. After that, we went and saw an ancient boat that was unearthed in the 1980s that dates to the first century AD. It’s called the Ginosar boat (for the Kibbutz it was found near) or the “Jesus boat.” It was cool, and there are all of these speculative theories about who the boat belonged to. After that, we went on our own boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and traveled back to Ein-Gev. On the boat, we had some fun and sang “Date Plums Floating on the Sea of Galilee” instead of “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” Also about halfway through the boat ride, we stopped and talked about the story when Christ stilled the tempest. We sang “Master the Tempest is Raging,” and that was really neat. It was a really spiritual experience to be in the place where that happened. After that we returned to our hotel and just relaxed and did our reading for the next day’s New Testament class.
On Wednesday, we had class for two hours in the morning, and then we had a whole day to do whatever we wanted. I went swimming and just relaxed. It was really nice. It almost felt like a real vacation (except that I still had to do homework for the next day’s field trip. Haha!) It was really fun to just hang out with people and have a good time.
Thursday we took another field trip to the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. We went to the ancient site of the city of Gamla. Gamla is the Hebrew word for camel, and that’s actually where the English word of camel originates from. The city sits on a lone mountain that rises up out of a valley. We hiked down into the valley and then up the mountain to see where Gamla once stood. It was sieged by the Romans in the First Jewish Revolt in 67 AD. Many of the Jewish people that lived there jumped off of the sides of the mountain and committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans. It was a really fun hike, and it was really nice because we had some cloud cover while we were hiking, so it wasn’t too hot. Gamla is also thought to be the city that Christ refers to when he said, “A city set on a hill cannot be hid” because you can see the Mount of Beatitudes from the top of Gamla and vice versa. After visiting Gamla, we went to Kursi, the traditional spot where Christ cast devils out of two men and sent the devils into a herd of swine, which then jumped off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee. There was a huge monastery there with a church there from the Byzantine era to commemorate this miracle. We didn’t spend too long there, and we came back in time to eat lunch at our hotel. After lunch, we did something really fun and went canoeing on the Jordan River! This was SO fun! It was an extra activity that we had to pay for, but it was totally worth it! We had a lot of fun being on the river and swimming and splashing each other. It was definitely an afternoon well spent. After that we went to dinner at a fish restaurant in Tiberias. (The only major town next to the Sea of Galilee. There is a branch of members of the church that meets there, and that’s where we went to church today.) We got to eat a St. Peter’s fish, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I actually ate another fish! After dinner we just walked on the boardwalk there in Tiberius and got ice cream.
Friday was a lot like Wednesday. We had class for a couple of hours in the morning, and then we spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach and just doing whatever. Two of our professors’ kids were having a birthday, so they had a little birthday party on the beach. A few of us students went and played games with them at the birthday party, so that was really fun. It’s fun to be around our professors’ families and interact with them a lot. Their kids are really fun most of the time. The three LDS professors that we have and all of their families that live at the Center came on this trip with us since they are all on summer break now. There are thirteen kids, so sometimes things can be a little crazy when you mix that with seventy-six college students. Haha! I spent most of Friday just doing things outside, so I have a pretty good tan going. Mostly it’s a farmer tan, but it’s evened out a bit with all the swimming we’ve gotten to do here in Galilee. It’s been really neat to be here in Galilee. I have really loved it so far. I’m glad we get to spend almost another week here and see many more things before we leave here next Thursday.
Me on top of Gamla with the camera facing north.