My parents fell thankfully toward the feel-good stories of Jesus the gentle carpenter. Of course, that strain of religious mishmash and random Sunday school left me a poor guide for Victor as we decided on which sites we’d see in the Galilee. The Galilee is Jesus-central. He healed lepers, turned water to wine, and gave his most lasting sermons there. It’s filled with tour buses of pilgrims and a healthy trade in all trinkets Jesus. I just had a hard time remembering which happened where and what exactly was involved.
It also happens to be a beautiful, surprisingly small lake in an essentially a very dry country, though you’d not guess that by the deluge we’d had when we arrived and the green lushness of the winter countryside. We stayed at a place just outside of Tiberius recommended by friends that seemed a bit overwhelmed and unprepared in the off-season (a recurring theme we find during January in Israel) right above the lake. This afforded us hazy sunrises and gentle cool sunsets. Tiberius is the natural base of exploring the sites of the Galilee as it is filled with large hotels along the waterfront. Seeing the sites can easily be accomplished in a day. We had three.
And we did not go to all of them. Instead, we spent our time at the smelly Tiberius Hot Springs taking the cure. And in sleeping in. And looking at Tiberius (Roman baths, Maimonides grave, and a very steep rather dreary town).
Here’s a not-so-secret about the pilgrimage sites: unlike Jerusalem, where often only four or five hundred years separate the EVENT from the founding of the churches, in Galilee, the sites are all quite new. It was a bit strange to go to the Mount of the Beatitudes “Blessed are the poor; for they shall inherit the earth” to find that our house in Seattle is um, 50 years older than the church there.
I actually found both our stops going and coming from Tiberius more interesting.
On our way, we stopped at Tel Megiddo. An ancient fortress and kingdom guarding the routes from the Mesopotamia to Eygpt, the city was destroyed repeatedly and shows up in Bibilical literature most importantly for Christians as the site of Armageddon, something I certainly had my 5-year old head anti-Commie head stuffed with.
Leaving we stopped in the primarily an Arabic town of Nazareth to visit the shuk (markets) and the Basilica of the Annunciation built over the “grotto,” ahem, cave, in which Virgin Mary got the word she was having a baby! The largest church in the Middle East is actually an interesting modern concrete edifice filled with “feel good” sixties Jesus from the Second Vatican. Or as feel good Jesus as the Catholics can muster. Driving in and out of Nazareth: not so feel good, but an interesting stop for a few hours.
In our tour of Israel, we decided to head both north and south. In hindsight, it would likely have been more consistent and smarter to do one or the other during our two week stay. We did not have time to go further north to explore the Golan and the highly recommended town of Safed, nor did we try the baths at the bottom of the lake which sounded great.
Still, three days of being based in Tiberius is more than enough, even for the most devoted pilgrim.