Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Flag of Israel  ,
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

For three days, I hiked from Nazareth to Capernaum, about forty miles, following trails through fields, down rocky ridges, next to the Sea of Galilee, and across highways.  This trail joined places from the New Testament where Jesus preached, performed miracles, or lived.  In between these places, the trail perhaps followed the same trails that Jesus took, and the landscape contours would have been undoubtedly similar.

The landscape environment, however, would have been remarkably different.  Instead of major highways and vast fields and plantations to feed millions of people, the landscape would have been smaller towns and cities surrounded by farmland, pastureland, and forests.

The trip began in Nazareth, where I stayed at the Fauzi Azar Inn.  There I met David, one of the co-founders of the hiking route.  He showed me some details of the trek on the topo map and was very helpful.  The Inn was nestled amongst narrow alleys in the old town, just above the Basilica of the Anunciation, where Mary recieved news that she would give birth to Jesus.

On one sunny morning, I walked out of Nazareth, taking a ridge down through a pine forest, where I met a turtle and a snake on the way.  Wildflowers were everywhere and slowly the trash blowing from the city dwindled a bit.  Crossing a highway, I headed on a dirt road through wheat fields to Zippori, the capital of Galilee when Jesus lived.  Old olive groves were in full bloom with yellow flowers as clouds swirled above.

Zippori is known for its mosaics of Dionysus and on the synagogue floor.  Two thousand years ago, the city would have been an administrative center, but also a place of religious teachings; it is likely that Jesus would have set foot here at some point, perhaps in one of the many synagogues.  Only one synagogue has been uncovered, however.  The mosaics on the floor portrayed symbols important at the time: menorahs, the ark, the Tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, a scene with Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and the Zodiac, with the sun in the center and the four seasons personified in each corner.  The Zodiac motif is found in synagogues and, later, churches, showing a blending of Greek and Roman beliefs and art with Jewish and Christian iconography. Clearly, the seasons and stars and sun and the meanings behind the zodiac were important to culture at that time...and still are.

Leaving Zippori behind, I walked to Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding, his first miracle.  A few churches in town symbolized this event.  Most of this leg of the hike was through urban areas, with paved road as the trail.  But soon, the trail turned to dirt as I took a right turn out of Cana and into a woodland.

A few miles outside of town, I found a good stand of trees, took off my backpack, and ate dinner, as night fell.  The dates were fresh and sweet.  The oranges just picked from the tree.  Pita bread, freshly baked, and nuts rounded out the meal.  I heard the call to prayer at sunset from a town across the highway and prepared my bed using pine needles, falling asleep quickly after a long day.

In the morning, I awoke before dawn and sensed rain.  My bag was already packed, so I grabbed my bag and headed into the great wide open, stopping under a large tree during a short deluge before dawn broke.  The hike took me through olive groves and fields.  The trail was difficult because of the rain, as the moist mud caked onto the bottom of my boots and the moist grasses wet my clothes and seeped into my boots, soaking them.

The trail followed a busy highway for a while, but stayed in the nearby fields and forests, finally crossing it at a gas station, where I met the attendant and talked with him.  He was curious as to what I was doing and filled my water bottle.

After the highway, the trail meandered through wheat fields, past stables and a school, and up to the Horns of Hattin, where the Crusaders lost the decisive battle to Saladin, ending their control over the Holy Land.  The "horns" were pointed rock formations surrounding a bowl-like battleground.  Above, the constant noise from Israeli army helicopters signaled a present battle, with the Golan Heights and Syria nearby.

Walking down the horns was slippery, but soon I was resting and drying my socks at the bottom.  Following dirt roads through olive groves, I passed a kibbutz and walked up the Arbel Cliffs, where busloads of pilgrims were speaking of Jesus, thinking this may have been one of the hills where he reappeared as Christ.  The Sea of Galilee appeared behind the cliffs.

Down the steep section of the Arbel Cliffs, I passed many caves.  These caves were inhabited more recently by Druze settlers, but earlier were isolated Jewish Hasmonean rebel caves before the Romans defeated them.  During the time of Jesus, the trail between the cleft Arbel Cliffs would have been a suitable trail from Cana to Capernaum, which Jesus undertook after the Marriage of Cana.  It would have also been a good place to spend the night amongst hermits and rebels who were perhaps still living there.

I found a large cave and dropped my backpack, as night fell, putting my jackets on top of me as blankets and sleeping with the stars above and the street lights from towns below.

In the morning, I walked down to the Sea of Galilee and walked through the reeds on the dry shoreline until I reached Gennesaret, where a 2000 year-old wooden boat was displayed in a kibbutz museum.  The boat was amazingly restored, considering they found it buried in sediments along the banks of the freshwater sea.  Many species of trees were used to build or repair the boat over time.  The main wood species, however, were evergreen oak and Lebanon cedar, both of which would have grown in the Mediterranean climate surrounding the Sea of Galilee.  Today these species are rare; natural climax forests where these trees are found are uncommon, replaced by fields, pastures, groves, and human settlements.

I continued through banana plantations in the warm below sea level air and reached the Sermon of the Beatitudes location a few hours later.  Here Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount above Capernaum, where he was living.  After reading from Genesis to the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount was a revolutionary change in the tone of the Bible.  I'm giving a little interpretational latitude here, as the actual location and more are debatable--was it on a plain or a mount?  Likely, Jesus preached the same message to people over and over in different locations as he met them, like a good campaign speech, only better.

The evolution of the Bible here changes the relationship of people to each other, taking the ten commandments, which focus on actions and looking at the roots of these actions: in the mind and thoughts and words.  Turn the other cheek if hit or abused, don't react with anger when provoked, return that anger with love.  Remove your pride, seek to be meek and merciful and pure and loving and compassionate.  These words mirror those of Buddha hundreds of years ago and also strongly influenced Tolstoy who then influenced Gandhi and many, many millions of others.  But I really doubt that our society as a whole has taken these teachings to heart, as Tolstoy says:

"That this social order with its pauperism, famines, prisons, gallows, armies, and wars is necessary to society; that still greater disaster would ensue if this organization were destroyed; all this is said only by those who profit by this organization, while those who suffer from it - and they are ten times as numerous - think and say quite the contrary."
~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is within You

Descending back to the Sea of Galilee, I visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter and the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, where Jesus fed the multitudes with only two fish and five loaves and twelve basketfuls were collected afterwards.  The number twelve is significant as the number of apostles as well as the tribes of Israel.  The grass was green during this event, so it likely took place during the spring.

A breeze blew across the sea as I reached my final destination, Capernaum, where Jesus preached in the synagogue and lived, as he wasn't welcomed in Nazareth, his hometown.  The ruins of Capernaum include a church over the excavations of John's house and the synagogue where Jesus taught, with a newer synagogue of white marble built over the older basaltic one.

From here, a German immigrant of 17 years gave me a ride, as he was heading from the Golan Heights vineyard where he worked back to his home in Magdala, where Mary of Magdala (Magdalene) was born.  From here, I took a bus to Tiberias where I ate hot food and slept in a bed, luxury items.

Walking in the footsteps of Jesus was a humbling experience full of wet boots, sore feet, and bug bits, with modern roads and noises changing the landscape considerably along the way.  I look at our world today and really wonder how we went so far astray, not just from Jesus' and Buddha's teachings and other teachings, but just general common sense and respect for our world.  I am including myself in this whole thing, as I am to a part of the problem.  Luckily, I can also be part of the solution, as there's always a silver lining.
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