Holy Land – Three Seas and one Lake

An aerial shot of Capernaum

Holy Land – Three Seas and one Lake

There are three Seas (salt water) in the Holy the Land often referred to in jest as the Red, Med (Mediterranean) and the Dead. As a nation, one third of Israel’s land mass is nothing more than a desert. To such a land God provided a fresh water river, fed by three springs in the North which empties into the Lake of Galilee. The river Jordan flows first into the Lake of Galilee (the water is fresh, so technically it’s not a Sea as it has often come to be called) which then flows into the dead Sea in the South.

The Lake of Galilee also called the Lake Tiberius (named after the city that was built by Herod Antipas after his patron the Roman Emperor) is twenty one kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide.  To its East rises the Golan Heights which could funnel strong winds through the mountains that touch a height of 9232 feet causing a perfect storm in minutes. Don’t be fooled by this idyllically looking mass of water body. The Bible records some nasty storms here.

Our hotel was situated on the Western banks of the Lake of Galilee in the city Tiberius. Just imagine your self-waking up and gazing at the Lake where four miracles of Jesus were performed; two on shore and two on the lake. I imagined my self being tossed in the middle of the night on the boat in pitch darkness, fear of death encompassing me, crying out for help while I battled the storm like Peter and the disciples.

Where was the Lord in my suffering? Mathew 14:22 onwards tells us that while the disciples were battling the waves that were against them, Jesus was watching over them from the very mountains that surround the lake; He was praying for them.  The Lord may not be in our boat always while we are in the storm but He is certainly watching and praying for us.

Around Lake Galilee are the cities of Capernaum (which Jesus made His de facto headquarters) and also the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin. We visited the ruins of the city of Capernaum which means Village of Nahum (the prophet) or also known as the ‘brown hill’ because it is built from black volcanic basalt rock.

The home of Peter’s mother in law before the modern boat shaped Church was built over

Ironically all the villages now stand in ruins. It was the Lord no less, who had cursed these villages for they did not repent after seeing the miracles worked in them ( Matthew 10:13) During the conquest of the Muslims in the 8th century these villages were partly destroyed and in the 749  a devastating earthquake took out what remained of the cities. Since then, unto now, no one lives in these three villages.

Of the three important ruins in Capernaum, the most important would be the house of Peter’s mother in law. Peter also known as Simon Bar-Yonah. Peter was from Bethsaida but his in-laws lived here. It is here that Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law and later made this home his de facto headquarters (Matthew 8:14–16).

The glass case from which you can view the details of the house

From here he travelled to several places always returning to Capernaum till his final journey to Jerusalem. It was here during the infancy of early Christianity that He began his ministry in the town synagogue (Mark 1:21), recruited his first disciples (Mark 1:16–20) and became renowned for his power to heal the sick and infirm (Mark 3:1–5).

Although slightly larger than most, the house of Peter’s mother in law was simple; coarse walls and a roof of earth and straw. Like most early Roman-period houses, it consisted of a few small rooms clustered around two open courtyards. Over this original home where early Christians came to honour Peter, the Byzantines built an octagonal Church in the 5th century (walls are seen around the inner ruins of the house). Such a shape was typical of early churches and structures (such as Kathisma south of Jerusalem, and even the Dome of the Rock) .Today over this stands a modern octagonal Church with a transparent glass floor giving the pilgrim a direct view of the house of Peter’s mother in law

Fathers Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda were the archaeologist responsible for this find. Building on the experience he had acquired at the Herodion fortress, Father Corbo directed the investigations beneath the Byzantine era octagonal church that had been brought to light in 1921 by Father Gaudenzio Orfali; the apse from the church had been discovered four years later by Father Antonio Gassi.

The mosaics were removed in order to better preserve them, thus allowing deeper excavations beneath the Byzantine structures.Within a week after works had been initiated by Father Corbo, along with Fathers Stanislao Loffreda, Bellarmino Bagatti and Godfrey Kloetzly, the Fathers already had in hand a large quantity of fragments of painted plaster, belonging to the earlier domus ecclesiae, on which numerous graffiti were preserved. Some of the graffiti contained Christian symbols and invocations to Christ carved by faithful and pilgrims, a sign of the ancient veneration of the site

From 1968 to 1986 Father Corbo directed nineteen archaeological campaigns, which yielded four principal results; A retracing of the history of Capernaum from the Middle Bronze Age to the Arab period.  A more precise dating of the monumental synagogue from the 4th-5th centuries (recent studies have further moved the date forward to the late 5th century). The discovery beneath this synagogue of traces of an earlier synagogue from the time of Jesus and the bringing to light the remains of Peter’s house, transformed into a place of domestic worship.

The synagogue built in limestone over the original one which was built in basalt

In the vicinity you also see the ruins of the village of Capernaum and the synagogue of the village. It was in this synagogue that Jesus declared that He is the bread of life the present ruins of the synagogue (in lime stone) was built over the original synagogue which was built of black basalt.

The wall between the main synagogue and the eastern courtyard around which are the ruins of several homes

I will soon write about the sites visited yesterday ( it’s been  a hectic day so far and each article takes about an hour and a half to write). I will cover the Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, the Church of the Primacy of Peter , the Church of the Transfiguration in subsequent articles; all of which have great Biblical and historical narrative.

Pope Paul VI visited the ruins of the holy place in Capernaum on January 05, 1964 during his visit in Israel and the Holy Land. It is the first visit ever of a pope to the Holy Land 

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