I was so tired last night I could not keep my eyes open. I fell asleep with the computer in my lap a little after 10. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 a.m., wide awake and could not get back to sleep. At least this afforded us the opportunity to go down and watch a breathtaking sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. How great a start to another day in the Holy Land!
After breakfast, we loaded onto the bus for a short trip to an important ancient city called Sepphoris, or Zippori. This was a largely populated Roman town just three miles from Nazareth. It is highly likely that Jesus walked the streets of this city with his father, Joseph, as they practiced their trade. Zippori is also reported to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. A church sits on the site believed to be the home Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary.
We walked the ancient Roman roads of the town of Sepphoris, some of which contained the impressions of the chariot wheels which ran along the stones. We were walking on the same road on which Mary and her parents walked. We made our way down the Decumanus Maximus (the main east-west road in an ancient Roman town) and turned left on the Cardo (the main north-south road in an ancient Roman town), arriving at the Nile House which contained mosaics depicting scenes from the Nile River in Egypt.
From there we ambulated to the top of the hill where we entered the Crusader fortress from which they launched an ill-fated attack against the Muslim leader, Saladin. From the high point of the city, we could see the church on the site of the home of Joachim and Anne, as well as the ancient Roman theater.
After stopping to view a magnificent fresco in a wealthy Roman villa, we finally proceeded down the hill toward the ancient Jewish synagogue which has only recently been discovered. The floor of the synagogue is covered with beautiful mosaics. In the center the sun god rides his chariot through the skies, surrounded by a circle containing the 12 signs of the zodiac.
From Sepphoris, we made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home, of course, of Jesus. The traffic in Nazareth is horrible, with the drivers of vehicles taking whatever driving rules that do exist as simply suggestions. After being dropped off on the roadside we made our way to a restaurant in town, where I had a delicious Shawarma and Cindy had the Falafel. When we finally arrived at the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, which was built over the site believed to be the childhood home of Mary. The modern church was built in 1969 over the site of a previously existing Crusader Church. This church is the largest church in the Middle East.
We then walked next door to visit the Church of Joseph, a much smaller edifice which is said to be built on the site of the house of Joseph. It was amazing to walk on these holy places, making the Christian story palpable!
When finished with our visit to Nazareth, we drove a few miles down the road to the village of Cana, birthplace of Nathaniel Bartholomew (one of Christ’s disciples). Cana, of course, is primarily known as the place in which Jesus performed his first miracle, at a wedding at which he turned the water into wine. Upon first entering the Wedding Church in Cana, we all entered a side chapel in which the married couples present (including, of course, me and my lovely bride) renewed their vows. What an awesome place to renew one’s wedding vows!
From Cana, we descended into the Jordan Valley for an unforgettable experience. Cindy and I, along with several others, were “baptized” in the Jordan river. We were overcome with emotion to think that we were being baptized in the same river in which John the Baptist baptized our Lord, Jesus Christ. The water was on the cold side, but, for once, I really didn’t mind. We emerged from the river with a renewed spirit in Christ. On the way back to Tiberias, to our hotel, we stopped at a farm with lots of local products, especially dates. Lots of shopping was done before we left.
About 5:30 or so, we arrived back at the Caesar Hotel, on the waterfront of the Sea of Galilee. We met for dinner at 7:30, after which Cindy I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood surrounding our hotel. We were glad we did! We really felt immersed in the Israeli/Palestinian culture as we walked along a street market with vendors selling their wares and young people playing games and singing middle-eastern songs over their loud speakers. What another full day! Zippori! Nazareth! Cana! The Jordan River! Tomorrow… even more excitement!