Thursday, June 14th, 2001
Jericho, Nazareth, Cana, Caesarea Philippi,
Capernaum, Chorazin,Tiberias, Sea of Galilee

It was some ungodly hour of the morning when Father Severino and I left the monastery and began our trek through the Holy Land. I was tired, yet extremely excited to be going on the tour. We left Bethlehem through the checkpoint, and headed to Jerusalem. We traversed past the Old City and went over the Mount of Olives into the largely Palestinian-populated East Jerusalem section. It is hear that the Palestinians hope to establish their capital if they ever get a homeland. As we traveled down the other end of the Mount of Olives, we travel through the region known as Bethany, where Jesus and His disciples would often go to spend his evenings. Of course, this is a very dangerous area and one that the tour bus advised independent travelers (like us) to avoid due to safety concerns. Father Severino was undeterred.

After departing the area, we made a b-line for the Judean Desert via the Jericho Road, which travels deep into the West Bank. It was on this leg of the trip that I saw one of the most beautiful sites of my journey. I had the opportunity to see the sun rise over the desert. If you have never seen it in person, there is little I can do to help you understand it. I snapped a photo or two, but I sensed it would be fruitless . . . you'll just have to take my word for it.

The Judean Desert at first light

Excerpts from an e-mail sent on 6/14/01
We started by driving deep into the West bank to the Dead Sea and past Jerico. Father S. wanted to take me in to the city, but the Israelis have closed off the city and no one can enter or leave. The gates are shut and only the streets around the city are passable. We drove on the very streets where rock attacks had killed tourists several months ago, but it was early in the morning and usually pretty safe [these Friars are FEARLESS!] Father S. wanted to eat breakfast with me there, despite that a monk was viscously murdered there yesterday [he was mistook for an Israeli.] The sunrise over the Judean desert was PRICELESS!

Anyway, we continued deeper into the West Bank, arriving at Beth Shean around 7:30 or so and in Nazareth around 8:00.

Journal Excerpt
The desert has been a new experience for me as I have been enjoying it now since Egypt. However, the morning desert remains a site unparalleled; the blazing colors, the brightest shades of orange and gold, the hauntingly beautiful shapes and shadows, carved over the centuries by the hands of God. And coming down out of the final set of mountain dunes, a panoramic view of the Judean valley that I have dreamed about in fantasies. On my right, the vast Dead Sea, still shrouded in a morning mist while a calming blue aura subtly glows from beneath her covers. On my left, the sprawling city of Jericho, perhaps the oldest continually inhabited city on the planet. Before me, a gorgeous valley containing lush tropical fruit trees and beautiful green plants supported by the nearby Jordan River. It is as if the Bible is alive before my eyes.

The rich Judean Valley just before sunrise

The ancient city of Jericho

Father Severino and I would blaze a path through the heart of the deepest sections of the West Bank. While a very dangerous portion of Palestine, we would essentially stay away from the comparatively more dangerous population centers where we would encounter certain resistance. Father Severino would follow the Jordan River up to Beth Shean, bypassing the troublesome cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

During Biblical times, Beth Shean, which means "house of rest" or "quiet," was a city of great military strength. The Philistines controlled the city and in 10006 B.C. Saul and the Israelites attempted to take the city. Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in the process and the Philistines decapitated their bodies and hung them on the walls of the city (I Sam 31:9-12). David eventually conquered the city and it was inherited by Solomon after David's death. The Romans would conquer it as well and add a prominent hippodrome around the 2nd century.

From Beth Shean, we traveled to Mount Tabor, which is believed by the Catholic faith to be the location of the Transfiguration. Traveling up the mountain is a long and arduous journey along a very whiny road that literally hugs the mountainside. At the top is a wonderfully cute Franciscan chapel and monastery. Pilgrims are offered a free room, which would be a reasonable reward given the arduous journey one would have to take to arrive there.

Father Severino and I walked into the small chapel during a tourist mass and it was a beautiful sight. The chapel has a Roman appearance, which Father Severino explained was a result of the architecture of the times. It was built by the Crusaders. Neil May regards the church as "one of the most beautiful in the Holy Land." The songs of the small choir had such an angelic sound as they echoed softly throughout the edifice. We lingered for a while before departing.

Priceless view of the Valley

a quick photo on the windy hillside

the chapel

closeup view of the alter dome

Coming down the mountain was quite an experience. The views from the mountainside are among the most beautiful I have ever witnessed. It was from Mount Tabor that the only female judge that ruled Israel (Deborah) and Barak, launched their assault on the Canaanite kings in the valley below (Judges 4:1-22, 5:19-31). My photos from the slopes were beautiful and peaceful. From the slopes, one can see the "hills on the northern boundary of Samaria. . ;. Megiddo, Carmel, the higher houses of Nazareth. . . the Jordan Valley. . . and the Sea of Galilee." It was a truly breathtaking experience.

From Tabor, we went to Nazareth. I was surprised to see that Nazareth was such a large city and one with a large and thriving Muslim populace. When we arrived in Nazareth, it was amidst bustling, "rush-hour" style traffic. Nazareth was emotional for me as I considered that this is where Christ literally spent much of His life. It used to be a very small and remote village, boasting nothing special and certainly nothing divine! (John 1:46).

The Franciscans have erected a church (the Church of the Annunciation) over the site where they believe Mary lived. The inner church is a beautiful and modern creation with a gorgeous and impressive dome. How I would love to attend a worship service in such a church. The outer courts have a museum to the excavations that were done there and more remnants of what is known to be the actual village of Nazareth.

Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth

inner view of the dome

an altar painting

beneath the church

sections of ancient Nazareth

possible home of Jesus and Mary

Father Severino explains it all

From the church we traveled to Mary's Well, which is about a ten-minute walk from the church. The well is in the back of a beautiful and ornately decorated chapel operated by the Greek Orthodox church. To get there we had to walk through Nazareth. This was very emotional as well.

Journal Excerpt
Here I am in the city of Christ. As I take a step and then another, perhaps I walk in the very footprints of God. There is no refuting the possibility for Christ was indeed here. He was born in Bethlehem and lived for a time in Capernaum, but He was certainly Jesus OF NAZARETH and He was most definitely here. This is why I came to the Holy Land. . . to walk where my Savior walked."

In fact, I probably stood EXACTLY where Christ spent much of His time. You see, Nazareth never became a large city like Tiberias or Capernaum, due to its remote location and its sole source of water. Nazareth only had one spring and everyone in the city who needed water (and everyone needed water - even Jesus) had to at some point come to the one well in town. That means that Jesus at some point probably came to this one well. . . and I was standing at it! Again, this is why I came.

the well of Jesus - "Mary's well"

Greek Orthodox church lobby

After Nazareth, we continued down to Cana of Galilee and checked out the city there. Cana was the city where Christ performed His first miracle, turning the water into wine. However, the modern city of Cana may or may not be in the same location as the ancient city of Kana. Archeologists disagree and Father Severino seemed to believe that it might not be the same. Perhaps the disagreements spoiled some of mystique, I don't know, but Cana for some reason didn't grip me like other places we visited. Cana was also the home of Nathaniel, who was one of Jesus' twelve disciples.

The modern city of Cana

chapel to commemorate Jesus' miracle

From there we traveled several hours to Caesarea Philippi. I had been reading for some time about Caesarea Philippi, but thought it was too far north to visit (especially since none of the major tour groups go that far north). However, Father Severino said, "NO PROBLEM, WE WILL DO IT!!" Philippi ended up being a real highlight of my day and my entire trip.

The trip was long and Father Severino encouraged me to take a nap while he drived. I slept for about two hours on the way up there and he woke me up when we arrived. The ruins at Philippi consist mainly of an ancient pagan cave and alter that was once a place of worship to the Canaanite deity Baal, the Greek god pan and later to the Nymph Echo and Diopan. In Hellenistic times, it was believed that the cave passageway led directly to Hades.

This site would have been the perfect backdrop for Christ's questioning of His disciples, which occurred in the region.

  • Matthew 16:13 -18 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

Whether Christ questioned His disciples on this site or not, it is matter of conjecture, but it would certainly make sense from the narrative. Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised.

the Temple of Pan

mountains that surround Philippi

It was in the early afternoon when we arrived in Philippi and it was extremely hot. However, Father Severino was content to wear his full habit and garments in the hot sun. This is something I will never understand. While up in the region, we also visited the Banias springs and waterfalls. The Banias Waterfall comes out of a spring in the rocks and is one of the three sources of the River Jordan. The Philippi region is one of the lushes in Israel and the Banias portion is its crown jewel. Father Severino and I encountered a small snake on the way down the valley, which started to book up the hill as we approached.

When we approached the waterfall, such an invigorating and relaxing feeling came over me. What an incredible and pleasant area in the midst of the miles of desert-like wasteland.

Sevy boldly leads the way

"he leads me beside the still waters"

enjoying the cool breezes

small rapids and flowers in bloom

an oasis in the desert

one of the sources of the Jordan River

During the long trip back, we visited the possible site of the Mt. of Beatitudes, where Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount. There are two locations that are thought to be the place where Christ preached. At this prospective location, the Franciscan sisters have built a cute little chapel and convent. The chapel serves as a beautiful place for a photo or two with the powerful Sea of Galilee dominating the valley below.

Chapel at the Mount of Beatitudes

The Sea of Galilee from the Mount

From the Mount of Beatitudes, we next traveled to Capernaum. Capernaum was a neat place. Considered the "headquarters" of Jesus' greater public ministry, it was also the only place where Jesus was said to be, "at home."

  • Mark 2:1-2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.

Capernaum was the home of three of Jesus' disciples - Peter, Andrew, and Matthew, and Christ performed many of His miracles in Capernaum:

  • Mat 12:9-13 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
  • Luke 4:31-36 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, "Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!" "Be quiet!" Jesus said sternly. "Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!"
  • Mat 9:20-22 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment.
  • Mat 9:23-26 When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, "Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.
  • Luke 4:38-39 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
  • Luke 5:19-20, 25-26 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."

Two sites here were of particular interest to me. The first was the home of Peter. There is no way of knowing for certain which home was actually Peter's, but one home in the village was coincidentally converted into a church in the early 1st century. This house is presumed to be Peter's and it is also ironically less than 50 yards from the synagogue and near the shoreline, both of which would make sense.

If what is believed to be Peter's house was indeed his house, than it was the site of one of my favorite Biblical stories:

  • Mat 17:24-27 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

The second place of interest to me was the nearby synagogue, which would have been the site that Jesus frequently taught in and a location of several of his miracles. The original synagogue was built over several times and what stands today are the "improvements" that have been added over the centuries.

Sevy pointing down to Peter's house

downtown Capernaum

The new synagogue built above the older

Jesus probably taught here

We visited Chorazin and Bethsaida next, which were cities that were listed by Jesus along with Capernaum as cities that would be judged.

Luke 10:13-15 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.

As Christ had predicted, Chorazin and Bethsaida (like Capernaum) had indeed been judged and destroyed. In fact, the actual location of Bethsaida is still a matter of debate among archaeologists and all that's left of Chorazin is a group of toppled columns and arches. Unfortunately, we had a great deal of difficulty finding Chorazin and by the time we reached the excavations, they had been closed down (they close at 4PM). There was little to see though, and one could get a very good glimpse without going inside. Father Severino and I were content to stay outside.

Ruins at Chorazin

Our final stop of the day would be in nearby Tiberias. Tiberias is a very important city in Northern Israel. A "gentile city" in Biblical times, this may explain in part why it is not recorded that Christ ever visited the city. The city became a great center of Jewish learning and it was in Tiberias that the Talmud was pieced together. Today, Tiberias is a resort community that attracts visitors year-round. Tiberias lies on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias in the Bible by John, who was writing to the gentiles) and it is by far the best city to visit if you would like a close-up view of the Sea.

Driving into Tiberias, I felt as if I was driving into Ocean City, Maryland. Beach shops, and a "boardwalk strip" dominate the seashore and people walk about with a crowded frequency that mirrors the US. The ruins to the city lie off of the sea a bit and bare witness to the aggressive, energetic, and ambitious nature of Herod's building projects.

Father Severino and I made our way down to the Franciscan church and monastery, Terra Sancta. Originally built by the Crusaders, it was overrun by the Moslems and years later retaken and rebuilt. What is seen today has been there since 1948. The beautiful little church is hidden between a slew of shoreside restaurants. Father Severino and I ate at one of these restaurants, which overlooked the Sea of Galilee.

It was here that father Severino introduced me to Saint Peter fish. He highly recommended them, and since I had never had them before, I agreed to try one. Well, I discovered that they give you what you ask for in the Holy Land. If you order a fish, they bring you a fish - bones, fins, scales, and even a head and huge eyeballs looking up at you from the plate. It was an interesting meal to say the least - and quite an enjoyable one!

ships from the time of Jesus

"throw your nets on the other side"

decent view for dinner?

order fish. . . they bring you a fish

Journal Excerpt
As I sit here eating Saint Peter fish by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I am overwhelmed a feeling of awe and undeniable peace. The calm waters of the Sea lightly lap against the rocks just several feet from my table and the ancient replica ships of Biblical times sail frozen in time from the docks to the far shore. The far shore is aglow now as the sun is making its final push towards the earth and the heat of the day has long since been vanquished. Calmness and peace has come over me now, and the raw beauty and spiritual significance starts to sink in. Looking out over the Sea, I realize that it was on these waters that Jesus Christ walked. I can almost see him doing it - right there, out to that boat from the shore. What it must have looked like! I marvel over this place, it is so magical.

After dinner, I found a nice spot and went for a little swim in the Sea of Galilee. The entire Galilee region is EXTREMELY beautiful, as the dark blue waters cascade off the bright gold sandy mountains that surround the shore. Rich, dark green palms and shrubbery enhance the coloric explosion, which makes for some beautiful photos of which I have taken many. I think I will never forget this place.

After Tiberias in the southern Galilee, we began the 2.5 hour trek back to Bethlehem. We didn't travel the same way home as we did there. The Palestinians are usually asleep in the morning, but we would be in much more danger in the evening. We went home via Haifa on the coast and down to Tel Aviv. Going this route from Tiberias, we drove past the Megiddo plain, which according to Scripture will be the site of Armageddon. I felt an eerie feeling during this leg of the journey considering the carnage that will one day be experienced here. I hope I'm not around to see it happen.

Sunset over the vast Megiddo plain

On a lighter note, Tel Aviv is a neat city by night. It kind of reminds me of Atlanta. Tel Aviv is very exciting, clean, and modern. There are a few large advertisements plastered on the sides of office buildings (like the kind I have frequently seen on my trips to Los Angeles) and very modern offices are not uncommon. Tel Aviv has a neat energy and a nightlife that is unparalleled for the region.


Tel Aviv - modern and energetic

Tel Aviv - powerful and majestic
And then, the day was over.

We left Bethlehem at 5:15AM and finally got back home to Bethlehem shortly after 10:00PM at night. We put over 650Km on the car and had a truly incredible time. I know for a fact that I will never forget this day; it will be with me for the rest of my life.

You may download my Israel 2001 screensavers at Webshots


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