Today was especially exciting for me because I really enjoy archeology, history, and the Bible, and this day was packed full of all three. We stared out this morning by departing Nazareth to the north-east through the Turan Valley. In the valley we saw many farms that are suppose to have some of the most fertile fields in all of Israel. We continued on until we reached Tiberius. This is an extremely large city on the Sea of Galilee and along with the view of the city we caught our first glimpse of the lake. We drove through the winding streets of Tiberius until we reached Magdala.

Turan Valley

Turan Valley

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Tiberias

Tiberius

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Magdala is named after Mary Magdalene and confirmed to have lived here. This site was only discovered five years ago and the excavation has been going on ever since. It was an amazing site. At the center of the dig is a small but significant synagogue. This 1st century structure would have certainly been present during Jesus’ ministry. Due to His habit of worshiping in the synagogue and His strong connection to this town through Mary it is highly likely that Jesus was here. From this spot you can also look across the lake and see Capernaum where Peter lived and Jesus based most of His ministry from during His time around the sea of Galilee. Again more evidence that Jesus was here. As a believer I worship Christ, not the ground He walked on, but it is a cool feeling to think you are standing in the place your savior likely walked and worshiped.

Inside this small synagogue you can see the four pillars along with three rows of seating. There were several very intricate mosaics that would have lined the floor. This points to the wealth that this city is believed to have possessed as a result of their proximity to the sea of Galilee. There was also a large intricately carved stone in a case near the entrance of the synagogue that would have been used to unroll the Torah on for the readings during worship. The presenter told us many interesting facts about this particular stone concerning its decorations, and over all design.

View from the end of the small synagogue, you can see 2 of the pillars and all three rows of seating.

View from the end of the small synagogue, you can see 2 of the pillars and all three rows of seating.

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

Magdala Synagogue

Magdala Synagogue

Pastor Pete standing near the entrance to the Synagogue

Pastor Pete standing near the entrance to the Synagogue

View from one corner of the synagogue

View from one corner of the synagogue

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

Mosaic floor in the Magdala Synagogue

The Torah would have been rolled out and read on this stone

The Torah would have been rolled out and read on this stone

Just outside the small synagogue there was a market place. Lots of different kinds of artifacts were found in these shops. Lots of pottery, jewelry, coins, and of course fish bones were found around the market.

Just a bit further from the synagogue was a large house. The presenter said this house would have certainly belonged to someone very wealthy and of great importance. The house was large, and had many rooms. It actually had three rooms dedicated to ritual bathing with water piped in from the mountains. When the archeologist cleaned out the pipes the water started naturally flowing again as can be seen in the pictures. The water flows into one bathroom then on to the next two and finally drains out into the Sea of Galilee. This would have taken lots of effort and money to produce so whoever lived here was really rich.

Large house in Magdala

Large house in Magdala

One of the three ritual bathrooms near the Magdala Synagogue

One of the three ritual bathrooms near the Magdala Synagogue

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The next place we visited was Capernaum where the Apostle Peter’s house is located. This is also the town that Jesus Christ called home base while doing ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is one of the places most frequently mentioned in the Gospels. Many significant things happened in this town. It was here that Jesus found “his first disciples, Peter, Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4:18–22). He taught there in the synagogue (John 6:24–59) and directed Peter to find a coin in the mouth of a fish with which to pay the tax-gatherers (Matt. 17:24–7). He also lodged there in Peter’s house, healing the sick and teaching (Mark 1:29–34; 2:1–12; Luke 4:38–44). Leaving Capernaum He condemned it along with other cities that had not heeded His calls to repentance (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15).”

As you walk though this ancient city you can’t miss the very large synagogue. This synagogue is the most elaborate of the synagogues in  Galilee. The one that stands today would not have been there when Peter and Jesus called Capernaum home because it only dates back to the 4th century. However it is built on top of the foundation from what was the 1st century synagogue.

Sign leading into the town

Sign leading into the town

Large 4th Century Synagogue

Large 4th Century Synagogue

Large 4th Century Synagogue

Large 4th Century Synagogue

Houses and shops just east of the synagogue.

Houses and shops just east of the synagogue.

The white layer is 4th century. The black below is the 1st century foundation which was there when Jesus and Peter lived in Capernaum

The white layer is 4th century. The black below is the 1st century foundation which was there when Jesus and Peter lived in Capernaum

Peter’s house is the reason most visit this site. There is very good evidence to believe that this is indeed the house of Peter the Apostle of Jesus. Several things stuck out to me as I looked at the house and the town. First Peter was not just an ordinary fisherman if this is his house. The house was large for the day and is located in a prime area of town. It sits only 10-15 yards from the water’s edge and only about 30 yards from the entrance to the synagogue. The exact size of the structure is hard to determine due to the walls of a church that was built later that are now intertwined with the 1st century walls. However a map on the large sign shows what his house would have looked like and it was big compared to the other houses located east of the synagogue. Peter must have been a very important man in this community in my estimation. This makes it all that much more significant that he choose to drop his nets and follow Christ in my mind.

Peters house

Peters house

Peter's House

Peter’s House

Sea of Galilee From Peters House

Sea of Galilee From Peters House

Pastor Pete by the Sea of Galilee in front of Peter's house

Pastor Pete by the Sea of Galilee in front of Peter’s house

Statue of Peter

Statue of Peter

After Capernaum we departed for two more quick visits to sites that are not easily verifiable. The first is located near the water just down the road from Capernaum and is supposed to be the place Jesus fed the 5,000. There is a monastery on this spot with a rock and nice mosaic floor. It’s nice to look at but this is probably not the place where this event happened.

Rock marking the feeding of 5,000

Rock marking the feeding of 5,000

Rock marking the feeding of 5,000

Rock marking the feeding of 5,000

Within walking distance is the church called Peter’s Primacy. Inside this church is another much larger rock that tradition says is where Jesus made breakfast for the disciples after His resurrection. This is supposed to be the place where Jesus asked Peter three times if he really loved Him. Again we only have tradition pointing to this as being the place the event happened. However due to its proximity to Peter’s house and the town of Capernaum it’s likely that the hard conversation did take place somewhere here on this beach.

Peters Primacy

Peters Primacy

Rock where Jesus may have fixed breakfast for the disciples and asked Peter if he really loved him three times

Rock where Jesus may have fixed breakfast for the disciples and asked Peter if he really loved him three times

Before we left I decided to take off my shoes and step into the water that my Savior walked on. The water was cool, fresh, and very clear. I wanted to go for a swim but we did not have time. It was time to leave and catch our boat, that would take us across the lake from Tabgha to En-Gev. When we arrived we sat down to have a very nice lunch of Tilapia (from the sea of Galilee) and French fries.

Pastor Pete tried to walk on water it did not work, but the cool water felt great!

Pastor Pete tried to walk on water it did not work, but the cool water felt great!

Our boat

Our boat

Sea of Galilee Boat Ride

Sea of Galilee Boat Ride

Sea of Galilee Boat Ride

Sea of Galilee Boat Ride

Lunch fresh fish from the Sea of Galilee

Lunch fresh fish from the Sea of Galilee

Bethsaida was the final site we explored and another one where only the ruins remain. However it is a very important biblical place. It has ties to both the Old and New Testaments. There are three gates that you would have had to pass to enter the ancient city. It was well fortified on top of a large hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The city also had both an outer and inner wall surrounding it. To enter you would go through the 1st gate and continue up a little further and then turn 90 degrees to the right and go through the second gate. In between the second and third gates were four large rooms. These would be used to hold carts, or cargo as they were inspected before being let into the city. In case of an attack troops could be packed into these rooms to ambush any enemy that might make it through the second gate and hopefully stop them before they reached the third and final gate.

Bethsaida

Outer and inner wall surrounding the city

Outer and inner wall surrounding the city

Sign

Sign

One of the four large rooms between the 2nd and 3rd gates.

One of the four large rooms between the 2nd and 3rd gates.

View from the 2nd to 3rd gate

View from the 2nd to 3rd gate

Looking down into the city from the gates

Looking down into the city from the gates

Bethsaida was the home of Philip, Andrew and Peter (all born here) (John 1:44; 12:21). Jesus healed the blind there (Mark 8:22) and it was one of the cities which he reproached (Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13). The site also has several other structures that archeologist have uncovered including a fisherman’s hut and wine maker’s hut. It was an interesting and rewarding adventure to tour this site. We followed one trail all the way down the hill to near sea level in search of the fisherman and wine maker’s hut only to find a modern-day park. However even in this I found myself amazed as I surveyed the terrain and considered the possibilities of different routes Jesus might have taken as he walked up to this important city.

As we boarded the bus and headed back to Nazareth I was struck once again by how small of an area the sea of Galilee really is. To be sure it is not a small lake but it is not as large as I had pictured in my mind. It’s easy to see how most of the disciples would have likely known of each other as children growing up in the area long before Jesus ever called them to be disciples. It is easy to picture Jesus walking from town to town, or darting across the lake from village to village. While Nazareth is some distance away it’s not an unreasonable walk, making it once again easier to see how all of the pieces of the puzzle of Jesus’ ministry fit together.

Sea of Galilee Heading Home

Sea of Galilee Heading Home

I ended the day by walking down the road from our hotel and eating some vegetarian pizza. They won’t put cheese and meat on anything in Israel so your choices are limited when it comes to pizza but this pizza still hit the spot. It was nice to relax and enjoy a pizza and a coke away form the group as I thought about everything I had observed today. I can’t wait to see what I learn tomorrow.