Golan Heights and Capernaum
After spending the night in Galilee, we journeyed north to Tel Dan nature reserve and archaeological site, located by the Dan River in the Golan Heights.
The Dan waterway is the largest and most important source of the Jordan River. It is fed by rain and snow that trickles down through the rocks of Mount Hermon and emerges at its foot in hundreds of springs, creating the most plentiful spring in the Middle East with an annual flow rate of 240 million cubic meters of water.
We continued past the springs into the ruins of the Canaanite city of Laish, which
was captured by the tribe of Dan during the period of the Judges.
Among the special finds here is the "High Place", attributed to the time of King Jeroboam. The king established an alternate worship place outside of Jerusalem for the people of the Kingdom with a golden bull calf. Tel Dan is the only surviving monumental temple complex from biblical kingdom of Israel and it was referred to as the 'sin of Jeroboam".
" And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. Kings 12:30
"Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel--slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone. 1 Kings 14:10
As we walked along the grounds, we noticed many paths like the one above.
When we discovered the extension of the same pathway covered with dirt and
grasses, our guide explained that we were very close to the border of Lebanon and
these tunnels were used to avoid gunfire.
Golan Heights is a plateau bordered by the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the
west and Mount Hermon in the north. Golan Heights is the area captured and
occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War. The western two-thirds of the region
are currently occupied by Israel, and the eastern third is controlled by Syria.
The fence above is set as a warning that the border of Lebanon is close by.
The community in the distance is in Lebanon.
Continuing on with the ruins, we found that the Canaanite gate has been restored,
with perhaps the earliest constructed arch ever discovered.
On the opposite side, we found the Israelite City Gate, which was the entrance where
everyone had to pass through and greet the king. This city gate was
mentioned in the Bible in the books of II Kings, Ruth and Samuel.
Not far from Tel Dan was the Banias, a pagan city dedicated to the god, Pan, and built by Phillip - Herod's son. This area is also known in the Bible as Caesarea-Philippi.
Caesarea-Philippi is located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon and
mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is best known for the
general location where Paul confessed that Jesus is the Messiah.
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples,
‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood
has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall
be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ ”
The springs around Banias are one of three sources that feed into the Jordan River.
We passed incredible views of the countryside. As we stopped at this lookout point, we were able to see Syria in the distance. We are standing close to the border, which contains a buffer zone with the UN camp in the middle due to the animosity between the two countries. The United Nations camp is seen to protect both countries (Israel and Syria) and to monitor the activities around them. The UN representatives in camp need to be neutral parties, so this group is Austrian. Not far from this point, we stopped to see flags in a field which were marking land mines. There were so many mines, that they stopped putting flags and just baricaded the area. As our guide told us, Israel resides in a TOUGH neighborhood!
We ventured on to Katzrin, which is the administrative capital of Golan Heights.
There we visited an ancient Talmudic village and synagogue, which includes
both ruins and reconstructed examples of typical homes.
On the door frame of one of the homes, we saw an ancient mezuzah, which is commonly found on a Jewish home. It is a piece of parchment (contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah. These verses comprise the Jewish prayer "Shema Yisrael" to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema on the doorposts of your house (Deut. 6:9).
These are the ruins of an actual village containing the small buidings
and homes close together in the community.
A highlight was the visit to the remains of the Talmudic synagogue,
where modern-day Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and weddings are often arranged.
Even though it was not on our original itiniery, we were able to stop at the Church of the Beatitudes. This Roman Catholic church overlooks the Sea of Galilee and was built on the traditional site of Jesus' delivery of the Sermon on the Mount.
There are beautiful gardens, a monestary and a large guest house on site.
The church inside was simple, small and charming.
It is octagonal in shape in order to represent the eight beatitudes.
Each of the beatitudes had a stained glass panel with the words written in Hebrew.
Our group stood in the eaves of the church and read the beatitudes together out loud. It was peaceful and so moving with our voices echoing the words of Christ.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Many of the miracles were also recognized, such as the small boy with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. This was one of our favorite stops of the day!
As we rode from town to town, we were amazed at the vast amounts of bananas, all covered in mesh. We were surprised to learn that bananas are a large part of the imports coming from Israel.
Our last stop of the day was at Capernaum, which played a pivotal role in the life of Jesus. After his baptism, he chose to live there and make it his headquarters of ministry. In Capernaum, Jesus called disciples, befriended tax collectors, healed the sick and preached to the multitudes. The greatest miracle Jesus performed in Capernaum was the raising of Jairus' daugter (Mark 5:38-42).
The statue is commemorating Jesus' approval of Paul as his 'rock" where he would build his church. This is the spot where it is said to be the home of Simon Peter.
St Peter's Catholic church has been built right OVER the home of Peter.
They put in a glass floor in the church for us to view the ruins of Peter's home below.
The Capernaum Synagogue was built on an elevated area in the center of the settlement, next to Peter's home. It was constructed in the Byzantine period over the remains of an earlier first century building.
The large limestone blocks brought in from afar along with
the local basalt rocks would have been an impressive building.
We arrived back at our Kibbutz hotel in Galilee for the second night. The view from our room was spectacular with the Sea of Galilee and the mountains behind it. The Kibbutz Ma'agan is based on communal principles with common ownership of lands and houses and with equal salaries to each family. There offer full support for the elderly and disabled members as well as work within a direct democracy where all members are involved in decision making. There are 120 members of the kibbutz with children, familiy members and veterans totaling 300 in all. The kibbutz also has various orchards, egg-laying chickens and over 300 head of milking cows.
Our room was comfortable and a nice place to rest after a wonderful and exhausting day of exploring. .