Friday, May 25, 2012

Holy Land Day 13: Steep climb - May 22

Disclaimer: this is my blog, with my personal observations. The guides and tour leaders know their stuff. I don't know the region, so mistakes in spelling and content are mine. :-)

Arbel has an ancient synagogue, but it's not the Matti one of 132 BC but C5AD. We meditate in prayer after saying the Lord's Prayer and Ilan reads the Hebrew text to us. Worry disrespects and dishonors God our Father, our tour leader Marc tells us.

We learn about abbreviated prayers. Rabbis would summarize the morning prayers for laborers; the first lines or summary would suffice instead of a complete 5-7 minute recitation. When Jesus' disciples ask how to pray, they may have been asking for his abbreviation on the ritual prayers. God as Father, (with the corresponding sanctifying of his name, acceptance of his reign, and obedience to his will) were common themes in Jewish prayer. The manna or daily bread of Jewish history came from God.

My wooden bench is high. My feet swing, relaxed and not touching the ground. The half hour of meditation is a wonderful reminder of God's care. I sketch Amy, the leader's wife, standing over us as we pray.

We're ready to clamber down a cliff face at Arbel, which luckily has metal handles inserted into the rock at the steepest places. "You cannot come if you are not physically able or don't have sturdy hiking shoes," we are warned. Several stay behind but W - who hates heights - and I - who love a challenge - join the younger, fitter students. It's a long way down. In places, the cliff drops hundred of feet and the rocks are worn and slippery.

Herod lowered his soldiers off the cliff tops with pulleys and crates to smoke, hook, and otherwise kill rebels hiding in the caves. He was horrified to see a father kill his family and hurl himself to death below.

The coastal highway is nearby. To avoid Gentile cities, Jews would have detoured through the hills. Perhaps Jesus did the same. The "Jesus Road" marked as likely travel places in Israel crosses here. Tiberias where we have stayed a week was built over a graveyard site, so it was unclean for Jews to enter.

My knee muscles almost buckle as we reach the final gate. Five years of academics are poor preparation for fitness and I am grateful for freshly prepared food, fresh vegetables and fruit, and strenuous exercise nearly every day. I look back up the hill and think my life would have to be in danger for me to make it back up.

Mosque at Wadi Hamam
The Bedouin village of Wadi Hamam (Kfar Hittim) lies at the base of the cliff. Their cattle and horses wander the hillsides. I paint the mosque from the bus window. We drive back to the hotel for "wet clothes" for those wanting to be rebaptized in the Jordan.

We stop near Capernaum for "St. Peter's fish," a fried white tilapia. I have to rip the head and spine out of the fish for my neighbor, who feels squeamish at the head, tail and fins on her plate. She covers the head with the napkin so it can't look at her.

I get motion sickness if my only view is out the side, so we've been sitting up front with a block of professors and guides. A few girls race to the bus, throw their gear onto our seat, and refuse to move back when W asks them to. I lean far into the aisle to see out the front.

When one of the professors stays back at the hotel with the virus that is sweeping the group, I move to the front row: Shimon wants me to make a larger sketch of him driving. I finish the pencil sketch before evening.

Marc and Ilan explain that ritual self-immersion was common and frequent in Jesus' day. It is unlikely that John would have immersed Jesus: touching someone during "baptism" would have interrupted the purification. Earliest depictions of Jesus' baptism show John helping him out of the water.

Jeeps (real jeeps driven by friends who've gone off-roading for the past 20 years) race through wheat fields, grind through streams, and bump past mango and grapefruit plantations. Our driver farmed at a kibbutz as part of his career. He stops to explain plants and clips a twig of Abraham's bush for us. "The five leaves in a group remind us of the angel who came to Abraham," he says.

Abraham's Bush
Our first stop is Avner (?), whose buildings belonged to the Ottomans. We're on what used to be an island. 250 meters below sea level, the lake has dropped significantly with irrigation and drought. When desalinization happens, the hope is that the level will rise again. Ottoman Turks joined the German alliance during WWI, so England and France parceled off their holdings in the Middle East after defeating them. In 1923, the Brits completed the division of the border, 10 meters from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the water level changed, so did the fluid borders! Syrians used to shoot civilians and fishermen who ventured near the eastern shoreline in their boats.

Bethsaida, Nain, and Capernaum on the western and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee were the focus of Jesus' ministry. The traditional site for Bethsaida is too far from the shore to work, either archaeologically or physically. Army helicopters and jets buzz overhead. The leaders speculate that Avner or somewhere still unfound may be a better site for Bethsaida.

Where did John the Baptist have his ministry? "The Midbar (pronounced meed-bar) where he would have been is an uninhabited pastureland or wilderness." Jesus fed the 5000 in the Bethsaida wilderness nearby. He went into wild places. Also, Jesus came to John in the Jordan. South of the Yarmouk fork, which is south of the lake, Jews consider the waters ritually unclean. Most likely, Jesus was baptized in the north where the Jordan feeds into the Sea of Galilee. Jesus also met Andrew coming from Bethsaida the day after his baptism, which would have been impossible had he been baptized in southern Israel.

Ritual immersion involved dipping the self three times and was done often - sometimes several times a week. We stay for the baptism and swimming (bummer - I didn't realize we'd be swimming!)

Primitive stone anchor and mooring rock
We head across the highway to climb a few foothills of the Golan in the jeeps. By 5:30pm, we're at the House of Anchors, a Sea of Galilee fishing museum. Curator Yoel tells us about the anchors, nets, and fish in the lake today as well as historically. He was part of the kibbutz at En Gev on the eastern shores of the Galilee. The Kibbutz was attacked in the 1948 war; they fought for three and survived, causing the withdrawal of Syrian troops back to their borders. In the 1967 war, Israel pushed Syrians 22 km. away.

Every 11 years the lake gains 4 meters before it begins to recede over years.

It's nice to get back to the hotel, though many are getting sick.

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