So, I started the day with a really fabulous run along the Sea of Galilee at sunrise: I saw people camping, fishing, and even a couple of Jewish men praying. It reminded me how much I value running when I travel--it allows me to see things I wouldn't normally see [like a bevy of quail startled out of the brush--I was reminded of Arizona, where I always see them at dad & Priscilla's house], closer and slower than I see them from a bus; and it allows me time to reflect and gather my thoughts for the day. I'll give an example in a moment.
Then after a quick breakfast [again, any place that offer a full array of salads at a breakfast buffet wins a two-thumbs-up from me!], we were back on the bus, heading north. It was an absolutely gorgeous day all day, which meant that almost everywhere we were, we had wonderful views of Mt. Hermon, which admittedly is high [9,000 feet], but not Colorado high [I can't help it--I'm a mountain snob!]. Nonetheless, it is absolutely gorgerous--snowcapped & magnificent. The mountains always touch my soul in a way the sea never can--even the Sea of Galilee! Anyway, Mt. Hermon straddles the border between Lebanon & [Israel-occupied] Syria, and it is the highest permanent manned UN position in the world. We could even see the station, it was so clear. I took pictures of it all day!
As we were driving, we left Tiberias [on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee] and passed through what our guide calls the "evangelical triangle"--the area between Karzim, Tabgha, and Beit Saida, all of which are at the northwest end of the Sea of Galilee. It is called that because that is where most of Jesus' ministry took place. We'll see it up close and personal tomorrow. [I wonder what the Jews think about the name....]
So our first stop of the morning was Tel Hatzor, just north of the modern city of Hatzor--we made great time because it was the sabbath today & there was no traffic! [A good day for Christians & Muslims to be on the road!] Anyway, Tel Hatzor is the most important archeological site in Israel. A "tel" is an artificial mound with different layers of occupation--this one has either 21 or 28 [I can't remember]. Either way, that's a bunch! There is evidence of both Canaanite & Israelite occupation; and honestly, what I came away with, from all of that amazing history, is that I SO do not have the temperament to be an archeologist! It all looks like rock to me--I can't tell one thing from another, and I lack with a passion [is that possible?] the patience to gently tap, scrape, and brush artifacts out of the surrounding soil/rock. I'm so grateful an aptitude for archeology is not a requirement for a good theologian. I'm sure it helps, but I simply must make up the lack in some other way. Here's an idea: we did see a sign noting an Egyptian description from the 13th Century BCE identifying the "director of all clothing." I would be willing to take on that extra service at the seminary, if our president so desires.
Stop number two: The Tel Dan nature reserve. We had a wonderful nature walk here for about 90 minutes; and we saw the Dan River, which is one of the three sources [the "largest & most important"] of the Jordan River. This reminds me--all day today, when we were so far up north, you can't help but notice that the country is very lush--you really couldn't tell you were in a desert. When you think about how much of Israel IS desert [especially the south], you realize how important water/water sources are to the whole region. We shouldn't be surprised that countries will fight so fiercely over such a critical source of life. More archeology here [see above], but the most interesting thing here was the Canaanite gate, from the 18th century BCE, completely intact, with an arched entry that is one of the oldest complete arches in the world. Even I enjoyed seeing that! Juxtaposed with the old was the new--an Israeli command post lookout from the Six Days War in 1967.
That contrast affords me the opportunity to say that one of the things I am struggling with is not feeling like I am honoring the current situation here enough on this trip. I feel like in many ways we have sort of cordoned off biblical times & set it apart from the contemporary tensions in this country, and are focusing our attention exclusively on the former, as if the latter don't exist, or simply don't concern us. I just kept thinking over and over today, what does it mean for us as Christians to be coming over here to these places that are so meaningful in our tradition, but seeing them in context fraught with war, mistrust, and hatred. How do we acknowledge the Jews who live here now, and the Muslims--and particularly the Palestinians [Christian and Muslim] who are now exiles themselves, or ghettoized? I don't really have an answer for that, but it is something I am wrestling with, and trying to work out in my own mind. I just know that I don't want to come to Israel as though I came in a time machine--seeing the sites of the Hebrew people & Jesus, and then tranporting myself back home without ever giving the current "sites" & their people proper respect and attention.
Then we had lunch at a place chosen by our driver, Walid [who has been very kind and gracious]--perhaps I will grow tired of hummus & pitas before the trip is over, but it is hard to imagine at this point, because it's all so good! Our Lebanese restaurant was right around the corner from Banias nature reserve, which gets its name from the Greek god Pan ["Ban" is a corruption of "Pan"], but which is Jesus' time was called Caesarea Philipi. That's where we went next. We saw the ruins of the "Panaeon," a temple constructed to Pan built sometime in the 3rd century BCE. Of course, important for Christians is the fact that the tradition holds that somewhere near here was where Peter made his confession that Jesus was the Messiah, in response to the question: "Who do you say I am?" We had a little devotional service outside--and, again, I couldn't help wondering: "What does it mean for us to be having this devotional service, singing a hymn, just about a stone's throw away from a minefield, which separates Israel from Lebanon?" Does it make a difference? Should it make a difference? I must admit, it felt weird to me, and disrespectful somehow. [That's what happens when you take a theologian along....] Oh, one more thing about this site. Apparently, the early church also held that this was the site where Jesus healed the hemorrhaging woman--we passed the remains of a 6th century Byzantine Church that was dedicated to that miracle. Now, honestly, I don't care whether it "really" happened here or not--what I love is that the miracle was important enough for the church to remember and lift up. That miracle always has been very powerful for me, as it points to the holistic nature of Jesus' healing, and of salvation. Can you imagine what it would have meant for that woman to be perpetually unclean & ostracized for so many years? Can you imagine what it must have meant for her to be healed? I wish that church still existed.
OK--then we came to the absolute coolest part of the day: we went up to Nimrod Fortress--built by the Muslim ruler Al-Moatis, to defend Damascus against the Crusaders in 1227/1230. It is really spectacular--built at roughly 2700 feet [do I need to say "not high by Colorado standards" again?], with the most amazing views. We wandered around for an hour, up and down the many staircases, and into the different towers--it seemed pretty impregnable to us! That was the best part of the day for me--lots of walking/climbing up high!
Finally, we drove back to Tiberias through the Golan Heights, stopping briefly at Merom Golan, an Israeli bunker that was last used in 1973, but continues to be ready for use: it is on the border with Syria. Another reminder of the LACK of peace that still exists, and the sense that we who are called to be peacemakers are not doing enough somehow.