Today we had a very full last day in the Galilee. Our first stop was a church commemorating the Sermon on the Mount. The location was gorgeous, on a largish hill with a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee. The site has no archeology or particular historical connection with Jesus, although it is the nearest hill to Capernaum. The church there was built in 1938 and the site has no history before that. I was glad that Rodney pointed out that while Matthew’s gospel refers to a “mount”, Luke’s gospel doesn’t refer to a “plain” (i.e. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is often called the Sermon on the Plain). Luke just says Jesus preached from “a level place”. Tops of hills are fairly level in the Galilee area (they’re gentle and rolling), so who knows. But it was a pretty spot to read that Gospel passage together and pray about the Beatitudes.
Our next stop was the ancient city of Caesarae Phillipi, the capital of the region of Herod Phillip (Herod Antipas’s brother and Herod the Great’s son). It’s possible Jesus came here to escape harm from Herod Antipas whose region included Capernaum. This is where Peter said “You are the Messiah”. It’s now a pretty neat national park called Banias with lots and lots of archeology. We saw the ruins of a temple of Pan and a temple of Zeus (built by Herod Philip) and reflected on the fact that Peter might have said “You are the Messiah” in the shadow of these two very popular pagan temples. Connie and I were pretty tickled to learn about the liturgies at the Temple of Pan. Apparently the temple kept trained sacred goats who would dance during their rites. When these goats died, they had a special sacred goat columbarium, with a niche for each deceased goat. Really. I’ve got photos to prove it.
The scripture says that 6 days after Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, they went up on a high mountain where the Transfiguration happened. Our next stop was Mount Tabor, one of two likely spots for this (the other is Mount Hermon). I had somehow always imagined the Transfiguration happening on a fairly small mountain, maybe like Blue Hill south of Boston. It turns out Mount Tabor is more of a Mount Washington-sized mountain (Mount Hermon is even bigger). Driving up to it is like driving the Mt. Washington Auto Road — a bit hair-raising. Even Abed our fantastic bus driver could not get the tour bus up that road, so we had to transfer to taxis. It was worth the trip. The church on top (the last of a series that goes back to about 350 CE) is quite beautiful. Although Jesus specifically told Peter not to build booths to commemorate seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, the early church went ahead and did so anyway. There are small chapels to Moses and Elijah on either side of the larger Church of the Transfiguration. The view was amazing. We read the scripture passage together and prayed about how Jesus might be transforming our lives.
After Mount Tabor, we headed towards Jerusalem, as Jesus did right after the Transfiguration. From now on we’ll be retracing the events of his last few weeks. The scripture says Jesus “turned his face towards Jerusalem.” We did the same, wondering if we’d ever see the green hills of Galilee again. It occurred to me that Jesus might have wondered the same thing. As he started his long trek to Jerusalem, though the Judean desert, did Jesus know he would not be coming back to the Galilee, this side of Good Friday? On the long bus ride back, Connie and I speculated on what Jesus’ state of mind might have been. He must have known that confronting the authorities in Jerusalem would lead to some kind of showdown. Hmm, I wonder…