It’s been a whirlwind few days – so much to see, do, and reflect upon, which means we’ve been grabbing extra shut-eye instead of writing so much. But I want to get you all caught up on what’s been going on!
Wednesday morning we arrived at the empty Yardenit site – a place just south of the Galilee on the Jordan specifically set up for church groups to remember Jesus baptism and celebrate their own. We were the only group down at the river for a little while so the amphibious, large rodents called nutria were quite interested in what we were doing. Bishop Huie even had to shoo one away with her Bible! Another white-robed church group moved in next to us, which at first irritated me–I wanted a calm, quiet atmosphere! But this boisterous group (of South Koreans, maybe) quickly reminded me that baptism is what connects us to each other across oceans and continents. We exited the site through the smoothly-operated gift shop (they had even videoed us so we could buy DVDs!) and headed to Bet She’an.
This little town is a border crossing with Jordan, but we were there to spend time with the Romans. Scythopolis was a thriving Roman city built on an ancient site until it was devastated by an earthquake. Since no one invaded and razed the city, it is remarkably well-preserved, with column-lined streets and a fully intact bathhouse. Until the late 80s, only the ancient city on the hill (the Tel) and the Roman theater were uncovered. Since then, a bustling archaeological excavation is working to expose all of the mysteries hidden by fields for 1500 years. I can’t believe we could see and touch so much of a site – truly remarkable.
Nazareth was an experience of a different sort. We encountered traffic on the edge of town and slowly snaked our way in to the city center. Our excellent guide, Mishi (a nickname for Moses) warned us to stay together, keep connected to our radios the whole time. We bypassed the main tourist attraction of the Church of the Annunciation and instead cut through the Arab market to the Synagogue Church, a crusader-era building built on what is supposedly the site of Jesus’ proclamation of the year of jubilee in himself. There’s a lot of conflict between the large Arab Muslim population and the Jewish community in Nazareth, and the Arab Christians living there get caught in the middle. We were thankful to the Maronites who maintain this church. We got back on the bus, and after a shwarma (gyro) lunch in nearby Kefer Kana (Cana), we visited the nearby site of Sepphoris (Zipori). This was the big city in Nazareth’s area, and a center of rabbinical scholarship and learning. Since it was under construction around the time Jesus was a boy, it is not beyond Michi’s imagination (nor our own) that Jesus could have tagged along with Joseph on the hour walk to the building site, and after getting bored, went and learned at the feet of one of the famous rabbis teaching there. Both the uncovered Roman Villa and the Synagogue had beautiful, rich mosaic floors that were painstakingly assembled, and then restored 2000 years later.
That evening, a few of us went into downtown TIberias to talk and Michi joined us. As he shared with us about life in Israel, he became quite energetic when talking about the relationship Israel had with the BIble and the land. “You cannot understand the Bible without the land,” he said. “It is the key.”
I’ll write more about our travel day and our first day in Jerusalem soon. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments here on the blog!