Today started out with the hottest most strenuous activity of the entire trip- a hike on Mount Arbel National Park. The trail started at the top of the mountain, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, then we had to take a number of metal footholds down the cliff face of the mountain. This trail is definitely not for the faint of heart. We maneuvered our way down the cliff face making sure not to look down but take it one foothold at a time. When we reached the bottom we hiked along the rocky trail going past a number of caves cut into the mountain where long ago zealots would hide out and live within the protective rock of the mountain. A little further down the trail we came to the Cave Fortress where the zealots had begun to build a fortress right in the rock. This hike was a challenge but the views that it offered are absolutely unmatched.
While on the bus towards our next destination we covered up in modest attire because we would be visiting a holy site. We made our way to the area where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. They do not know the exact location of the site, but the general area, and have created a building to mark the event. The building and the surrounding garden is a beautiful tribute to the sermon and to what are called the ‘Be Attitudes’. People from all over the world visit these holy sites and because of that, the sermon is posted around the garden in multiple languages.
But that was not the only holy site we were to visit. Our next stop was to the ancient city of Capernaum, where the bible states that Jesus lived and ministered to the people. At the center is the church, but excavations discovered a another layer underneath the church showing that there was once an older church on that site that was constructed over. This is considered ‘the first church in the world’. Surrounding the church is a layer of residential structures. In 1990 a modern church was built over the remains of the ancient temple with a glass floor showing the remains to all those who make the pilgrimage here to see it.
After that we visited the city called Magdala where an incredible discovery was found when a hotel broke ground for their new building. They discovered a complete engraved tablet from the ancient city of Magdala, which was the home town of Mary Magdalene. With further excavations they discovered the remains of the entire main area of a church including mosaics on the floor and seating area around the outside of the room. Where so many sites that are now considered holy sites are an estimation of where the event took place, this discovery was the first that could identify a specific place that Jesus came to. The site is a relatively new discovery and so they are still working on uncovering all of its secrets.
After a quick lunch we made a quick stop at the River Jordan where hundreds of people come to be baptized in the same river that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in. For some it is a life long dream in their religious path to be baptized or rebaptized here. Visitors who wish to enter the water in such a manner are given a white robe to wear into the water. Usually there are enough visitors that there is a pastor or minister who can perform the baptism, otherwise you will have to find one on your own. Afterwards you can purchase a certificate saying that you were baptized in the Jordan River. But for those that the river holds no religious significance, they are welcome to enjoy the water as well.
Our last venture for the day was taking an incredible boat ride around the Sea of Galilee. What an incredible experience this day has been! I’ve learned so much already about this country and it just makes me want to learn more and more.