March 26, 2019

Excursion to Egypt and Israel (4)

by Mike Willis

Sea of Galilee

That morning we awakened to look out our window and see the beautiful Sea of Galilee. Later in the morning we sailed from Tabgha to Capernaum. The Israelis call this Lake Gennesaret (Kinneret) (because its shape is that of a ginnar, a harp) and Sea of Tiberias (see John 6:1; because of the village on its shore). More than anywhere else, this is the land of Jesus. He lived on the lake shores, His disciples were its fishermen, many of His miraculous works were performed around its banks, and He walked on its waters. The River Jordan flows in one end and out the other end of the Sea of Galilee.

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The body of water is more nearly a lake than a sea; it is approximately thirteen miles long (from north to south) and eight miles wide (east to west). Its shores are dotted with little villages where Jesus visited. Important events that happened at the Sea of Galilee are:

  • The call of Peter, Andrew, James and John (Matt. 4:18f; Luke 5:1-11). Jesus preached in a boat belonging to Peter and then commanded these disciples to put out to sea where they had a miraculous draught of fish.
  • Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:26-29).
  • Jesus stilled the tempest on the Sea (Mark 4:39).
  • When Jesus cast demons out of the Gadarene demoniac, they went into pigs that ran into the sea (Matt. 8:32).
  • Jesus taught many parables by the sea (Matt. 13:1).
  • Peter caught a fish from this sea in which he found a coin that he used to pay their Temple tax (Matt. 17:27).
  • Jesus appeared to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee after he was raised (John 21).

After Jerusalem was taken over by the Romans and its name changed to Aelia Capitolina, Jews were forbidden to enter the city. As a result the area around Tiberias became the center of Jewish life.


We traveled by bus to the Yigal Alon Museum to see the first century boat (dated 40 B.C. to A.D. 40) which was found in 1986. The remains of the boat are 27 feet (8.27 meters) long and 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide and with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet (1.3 meters). Though not much has changed in how boats are built since the first century, this boat gives one the visual image of what fishing boats of the first century on the Sea of Galilee were like. No doubt the disciples were in a boat such as this when Jesus performed the miracles of the miraculous draught of fishes, calmed the Sea of Galilee, and walked on water.

From Ginnosar we crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat. As we paused on the Sea of Galilee we remembered several of the important incidences that happened around the sea and sang "Peace Be Still."


Upon landing at Capernaum, we viewed the marvelous remains of this village which became Jesus' home after his rejection from Nazareth. We saw the remains of the fourth century synagogue which are thought to be built on top of the first century synagogue where Jesus would have worshipped each Sabbath. We also saw the housing around the synagogue. In one of the houses surrounding the synagogue, Jesus healed the man who was let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12). Remains of an ancient church are also preserved at Capernaum and some scholars believe that this church was associated in some way with Peter's house, inasmuch as it was a domicile that was used for religious purposes. Capernaum is a site one will not quickly forget.


Leaving Capernaum, we went to see the excavations at Bethsaida, located about 1.2 miles from the Sea of Galilee. Excavations at Bethsaida have been ongoing for twenty years under the oversight of Dr. Rami Arav. Herod Philip rebuilt Bethsaida and called it Julius in honor of Livia-Julia, Augustus' wife and Tiberius' mother. Bethsaida is thought to have been the capital of the kingdom of Geshur in ancient times, but it is better known to us as the home of Philip, Andrew and Peter (John 1:44). Here Jesus healed a blind man with his saliva (Mark 8:22) and it was near this city that He fed the 5000 (Luke 9:10). Despite the miracles they witnessed, the people of Bethsaida are remembered for not believing on Jesus (Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13).


After seeing Bethsaida, we traveled to Chorazin. The village of Chorazin is only mentioned twice in the New Testament-in Matthew 11:21 and the parallel text in Luke 10:13. In these passages Jesus pronounces a "woe" unto the village because they witnessed so many mighty works that he had done but had not repented of their sins and turned in obedience to him. The passage is positive proof that Jesus frequented Chorazin and did many might works there. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matt. 11:21).

Chorazin is located two or three miles north of Capernaum. Excavations at Chorazin are very interesting. "From 1905 to 1907 H. Kohl and C. Watzinger (who also explored the Capernaum synagogue) excavated the synagogue there on behalf of the German Oriental Society. J. Ory for the Palestine Department of Antiquities (1926) and Z. Yeivin for the Israel Department of Antiquities (1962-1963) completed work on the synagogue, the latter also excavating a few nearby houses" (Howard F. Vos, Archaeology in Bible Lands 159). A synagogue of black basalt measuring fifty feet by seventy feet has been excavated and restored dating from the second-third centuries. Though not the same synagogue as is now restored, no doubt Jesus visited the synagogue at Chorazin that existed in his day.

One of the things found in the synagogue at Chorazin is a "seat of Moses." In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." The "seat of Moses" reminds me of the formal chairs that are sometimes placed in the pulpit areas of some church buildings, more for decoration now than any practical use. However, in Jesus' time, the "seat of Moses" was a prominent seat in the synagogue that was occupied by the presiding rabbi whose pronouncements were almost equivalent with the words of God himself. Having witnessed the practice of these first-century rabbis, Jesus condemned it as hypocritical.

I have more to relate about this day of our trip, but I will have to continue it until next time.

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