Capernaum, Jesus’ Adult Home November 9, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Beatitudes, Capernaum, Israel, Jesus, Peter, Sea of Galilee, Sodom, The Bible
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After lunch, we back around to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee to visit Capernaum. One of the things I have definitely been finding disturbing is that every place Jesus did anything significant in Israel now has a church, gift shop, and parking lot built on top of or next to it. Their version of being respectful and keeping the site holy is to require everyone to cover their shoulders and knees when we visit the site, but I’d much rather they forewent building something on top of the site and selling Coke for $3 a can. But when it really turns my crank is when they offer little urns of dirt or bottles of water that’s supposedly blessed because it came from that site. Ugh. I don’t see Jesus being happy about all that.
But anyway… We visited the site of Capernaum. There’s nothing there now, but in Jesus’ day it was a thriving fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Peter lived there before he was called to be an apostle, and it is probable that Jesus stayed in Peter’s home often, using it as a home base for his ministry in the Galilean region.
There is of course a church there, along with the ruins of ancient Canaanite temple, covered over by Jewish synagogues and pagan temples (read 1 and 2 Kings), covered over by a church (the Constantine era), covered by a masque (the Byzantine era), etc. So lots of layers and ruins and fun for archeologists. By the way, evidently Jesus did quite a few miracles in the synagogue that existed on this site in His day. Remember how Jesus condemned Capernaum in Matthew 11:23-24? “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
One thing I found interesting was that the new church built over the site of what was thought to be Peter’s home looked like the flying saucer from the movie Chicken Little. It has legs which suspend an octagonal spaceship-looking building over the archeological dig site. Weird. We later learned that the eight sides are significant because they represent the eight beatitudes with which Jesus opens the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.
Fish Heads at Ein Gev November 9, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Food, Travel.
Tags: Ein Gev, humus, Israel, Peter, Sea of Galilee, The Bible
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After our detour in the Golan Heights, we headed south along the east side of the Sea of Galilee to a little port village of Ein Gev, maybe 2/3 of the way down the lake. This was a place that served “Peter’s fish”, we were told. We were also warned that it would be served the way Peter would have eaten it to. So, when I got there, I discovered what this meant… The default order at this restaurant was a whole tilapia. Head. Tail. Bones. The whole deal. Plus a bunch of sides and salads served family style. Of course, that included pita and humus. (What doesn’t in Israel?!) However, if you felt you couldn’t handle the “Peter Special”, then you could get the head and/or tail removed in the kitchen, or just get fillets (which would be frozen not fresh), or even order a burger or pizza if you really couldn’t take it.
My philosophy… When in Israel, do like Peter did. Plus, the Philippines had numbed my senses. So I’m the only person I know of that ordered the default. And it came out whole, starring at me, and soaked in oil. Normally I like Tilapia, but I’m used to eating it grilled with mango chutney (long live Bone Fish Grill). But if pita and humus comes with every meal in Israel, then oil comes with every dish served at every meal. Sometimes I’m surprised I don’t see people walking around drinking the olive oil out of a glass.
So, I was once again the party guy. Everyone wanted pictures of my whole fish. A guy at my table, pretended to bite the head off his already-decapitated fish for a classic picture pose. I couldn’t be left totally out in the cold without a clever picture, so even though it was a distant second, I posed for cameras kissing mine. Yes, the fish. We made a cute couple. Here’s a picture…
After doing my traditionally poor job of cleaning the bones of my dinner and supplementing it with 3 massive pieces of pita slathered with humus, we were back on the road heading for Capernaum.
Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads……..
Caesarea Philippi November 9, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Military, News, Politics and Culture, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Herod the Great, Israel, James MacDonald, Jesus, Lindsay McCaul, paganism, Peter, The Bible
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From Tel Dan, we headed east just a few miles to Caesarea Philippi – founded by Philip, one of the three sons of Herod the Great during the time Jesus walked the earth. Since then, it has been renamed Banius (after the Greek god “Pan”, but there was no “P” in the (I think it was) Arabic language, so they changed it to “B”).
Just outside Caesarea Philippi is the site of the second fountainhead of the Jordan river. A large rock face exists halfway up Mount Hermon, in the northern region of the Golan Heights. There, out of a large cave/opening in the rock face, flows a fresh water stream which feeds the Jordan. Beneath this cave is the largest underground fresh water reservoir in all of Israel. Yet again a good reason to not want to surrender this strategic territory.
Philip, being a fan of multitheism and Pan in particular (can’t remember what he’s a god of), also wanted to create a multi-cultural temple of sorts with a place for all manner of foreign gods. So, even today, if you visit the base of the rock face near Caesarea Philippi, you can see indentations in the rock wall. In Jesus’ day, each would have been home to a bust or figurine or other statue representing a false god. At one point during his ministry, Jesus took his disciples on a 30+ mile trip from Capernaum (home base to him for much of his ministry life) to Caesarea Philippi to teach them at the base of this cliff.
You can read about it in Matthew 16. Jesus walked boldly into one of the very centers of paganism at the time, and boldly asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter answered correctly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
While we were there, James taught on this passage in a powerful way, calling us to make the decision who Jesus is in our lives and then live like it. It was his first time he was with us as a group, having arrived late the night before from speaking at a marriage conference in California. Lindsay McCaul was also there leading worship, which I greatly enjoyed. I felt like I was one of the few in the audience who was also a musical leader, so I was helping to guide the group from within the audience. Especially since Lindsay didn’t have a mic.
The experience at Caesarea Philippi really was a powerful and interesting one. In fact it was James’ description of this setting and the impact it had on him when he came to Israel the first time last year that first got me thinking about wanting to go to Israel myself. If only Faith were with me.
Caesarea by the Sea November 8, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Caesarea, Cornelius, Israel, Paul, Peter, Philip, Roman aqueduct, Roman architecture, Saul, The Bible
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During his reign as a governor in the Roman empire, Herod the Great turned Caesarea from a simple fishing village into a large, prosperous sea port. He was called “the Great Builder” by some, because he undertook amazing construction projects in this Mediterranean port city. Strategically positioned on the Via Mares (the way of the sea) — the major commerce highway of the ancient world connecting Africa, Europe and Asia; an intercontinental bridge — Caesarea became a booming center of commerce.
Herod built a palace there — where Paul was imprisoned after standing before Felix and Aggripa in Acts 24 and 25. We toured the ruins of this palace, which jutted out into the sea, seeing among other things the in-ground stone swimming pool he’d built in the residence area of the palace. We sat in the theater where Paul likely presented his testimony before Roman officials. We saw the Hippodrome, where horse races and gladiator matches took place. We saw where Herod built a temple using the latest in Roman technology in arch building (this was right after they invented the keystone, which was the secret of the strength of the Roman arch). And we saw the site of the roman bath houses built by Herod. And we saw the site of the great water break and harbor Herod built, using cement for the first time in history.
And of course we saw the ruins of a great aqueduct that stretched 10-15 miles from a fresh water source north of Caesarea down to the city. I’ve always heard that the aqueduct is one of the wonders of the ancient world, but seeing it up-close really confirmed that for me. Amazing!
After Jerusalem was destroyed in the 1st century AD, Caesarea became the capital of Israel. When Constantine “christianized” the roman empire in the 4th century, the Christians put an end to the theater and the games (races, gladiator battles, etc), and built churches in or on top of the amphitheaters. When the Muslims invaded in the 7th century, it was more of a cultural takeover, so (at least in Caesarea) there wasn’t much destruction of the existing buildings / architecture. And the crusades in the 12th and 13th century didn’t really change enough to worry about.
However, when Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948, Caesarea was covered in sand. Most of the ruins we saw today were uncovered and carefully excavated by the Jews after their nation was restored to them.
Another interesting note: the second largest library in the ancient world was in Caesarea. While the museum in Alexandria, Egypt was destroyed, the one in Israel survived and thrived during the Constantine era, helping to support Christianity as it spread throughout the known world. Very interesting!
But the most interesting thing about Caesarea for me was the rest of the story of Peter and Cornelius…
As a Roman centurion, Cornelius was the commander of 100 Roman soldiers (from the Latin, 100 = century). This was a very prestigious position. When Peter got to his home, he found that Cornelius had “called together his relatives and close friends”. According to our guide, this likely meant that he had gathered his family, friends, the 100 men who served under him, and their families. They would almost all have been gentiles.
When Peter entered the room, he immediately realized that these were not people with whom he should be socializing. But when Cornelius shared the vision he had had from God, Peter realized that his vision about unclean foods had really been about the gentiles. God had said, “Do not call unclean what the Lord has called clean.” So, Peter shared the gospel with them, and hundreds (ostensibly) came to a saving faith in Christ. And the movement to take the gospel to the entire world was born.
The most amazing aspect of this story is the global significance of this event. This was the last of 3 events that changed the world forever in terms of the spread of the gospel. First, Philip was sent by God to share the gospel with the Ethiopian Eunuch on the Gaza road in Acts 8. The Eunuch, a descendent of Noah’s first son Dan, believes in Christ and is saved.
In Acts 9, Saul is confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Ananias faithfully preaches the gospel to him, the scales fall from his eyes (both literally and figuratively), and Saul becomes the mighty apostle Paul. Saul was a descendant of Shem, Noah’s second son.
And lastly we have Cornelius, who is a descendant of Noah’s third and last son, Japhath. In Acts 10, he too receives Christ as a result of Peter’s faithfulness. So, in three chapters of Acts we see the gospel spread to every tribe of the whole world. Amazing!
Every gentile Christian can trace his roots to one of these three events.
In addition to learning a lot of history about Israel and this place, as well as connecting it to the Bible, Gary Frazier, the Director of Discovery Ministries, our tour company, spoke to us to welcome us to Israel and orient us about the trip. He talked about how Paul – an impressively scholarly man – could have spoken on anything before Felix and Aggripa, but instead he chose simply to share his testimony, and bear witness to what God had done in his life. Read the story yourself in Acts to see. Gary emphasized how this is true of us as Christians in the 21st century as well. His point was basically that we shouldn’t try to be impressive or smart, but rather should simply share with others the love of Christ – both in our actions and in the words of our testimony, when we point others to what God has done for us. He then shared his story with us, prayed over us, and sent us out into our tour with the admonition to be focused less on buildings, history and architecture, and more on what God is doing in our lives.
Tel Aviv November 8, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Cornelius, Israel, Jesus, Jonah, Joppa, Peter, Tel Aviv, The Bible
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The bus left a few minutes after 8, despite the (I’d have to call them) threats from the Discovery Ministry folks that if we weren’t on the bus 10 minutes early we’d be left behind. Clearly they’re really softies.
We drove through the streets of Tel Aviv, north of our hotel, heading for Caesarea. Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel, its largest city (by population), and the governmental and social and cultural center of the city. Our guide put it this way: the social rhythm of Israel is best represented there. Shopping, night life, food, etc. Jerusalem, on the other hand is the spiritual center of the nation. We’ll visit there at the end of the week.
An old section of Tel Aviv (just south of our hotel) is Jaffa (called Joppa in Biblical times). As we drove, we recanted the story of Peter’s staying with Simon the Tanner in Joppa in Acts 9-10. There, he saw a vision of unclean animals being lowered from heaven in a sheet, and an angel told him to take and eat. As a Jew, that was a serious violation of the law, so of course Peter was repulsed. However, God was orchestrating the spread of the gospel to the entire world, including the gentiles. Moments after his vision, three men showed up at Simon’s house – mess angers sent from a Roman centurion living in Caesarea named Cornelius. The men said to go with them, and the angel reinforced that he should, so Peter undertook the day long journey (it is about 35-40 miles) from Joppa to Caesarea.
Joppa, by the way, was also a center of commerce in ancient times. Among other things, this was the site where the cedars of Lebanon where received as they were shipped down the east coast of the Mediterranean sea to be transported to Jerusalem for the construction of Solomon’s temple.
Joppa is also the city from which Jonah set sail for Tarshish to rebel against God’s call to preach the gospel to Nineveh.
On the way to Caesarea, driving through Tel Aviv, our guide pointed out how people are constantly driving into the city. He made a point of being aghast at the horrible traffic driving south as we headed north out of town. Of course, I’m from Chicago, so it was nothing in my eyes, but for them, I guess it was a parking lot. The city seemed poorer than I expected. It looked like the kind of area in Chicago you wouldn’t want to go alone. I didn’t see any McDonald’s either. Both these things surprised me. It was fairly clean, though. It just looked run down and there were lots of vacant storefronts, etc. It was clear a lot of people lived in a small area, because everything was high rises. We also saw a lot of balcony gardens, and every room had a solar heating and power system on it. There wasn’t much in the way of modern architecture in Tel Aviv, but a little ways north we drove through “the Silicon Valley of Israel”, where I saw offices for Microsoft and a number of other high-tech companies. This was definitely a valley of glass and steel, but there wasn’t much of that in Tel Aviv.