BET SHEAN, NAZARETH & SEPPHORIS

Saturday, March 6 Reported by Laura Taylor

After removing a car blocking the driveway of the YMCA we broke into song and set out east towards Jericho past lots of bedouin tents and shepherds. Eventually we turned off onto a very narrow winding road leading into the Wadi Qelt. We stopped near a monument topped by a cross and looked down into the valley where we saw St. Georges Monastery.

Back on the road we drove past Kypros, another mountaintop palace of Herod where archaeologists found a very large bath tub. Tradition says it may also be the spot where Abraham and Lot surveyed the land. As we drove north along the Jordan River valley we saw banana and date groves. Bananas were green on the trees with blue bags covering them to protect them from birds.

We observed that mustard grows wild in Israel, reminding us of the parable of the mustard seed. Tom told us that parables should be shocking, have only one point, and contain many items familiar to the people hearing it. They are meant to be told and retold.

Our next stop was Betshean, a Roman city with Greek style, the only Decapolis city east of the Jordan River. It's prominent theater was a place for people to learn Greek and Roman culture. The theater here seated 10,000, three stories tall, one of the largest in the world.

The streets here had covered sewer systems. Marble tile floors are seen in the remains of buildings, covering Byzantine mosaic floors underneath. All the shops in a round shopping mall had mosaic floors. It's believed the governor sat in the middle and collected taxes.

One temple here had pillars 9.6 meters tall, the Temple itself was 60 feet tall, 30 feet deep, built to impress. Around the corner are the remains of a great basilica which was used as a central forum, gathering place and judgement area. On one side was a reflecting pool, on the other side a bathhouse.

Tom says half of the Roman Army was stationed in Israel because they were so worried about possible unrest. They didn't want them to get bored so they had them work on roads and buildings. There are more Roman roads and buildings in Israel than in Rome? The acropolis/citadel has 18 levels of occupation. On the way out of Betshean we looked at an ancient 3-level bridge from the Turkish, Crusader and Roman eras.

After lunch at a convenient kibbutz restaurant in the Jezreel valley we drove up the hill into Nazareth. Here also there's a lot of construction in preparation for the year 2000 so we weren't able to stop. We drove by the large Church of the Annunciation which covers the authentic site of the home of Jesus' family. In Jesus' time the entire population of Nazareth was probably about 200. A short drive away we came to Cana. We visited St. George's Greek Orthodox church, the Cana wedding church. The Franciscan church also claims to be the wedding church.

On our way to Sepphoris we pass by the tomb of Zachariah. We also see many prickly pear cacti in the area. We are told there were planted by Arabs as borders for their villages. The fruit of the cactus is edible and is called the sabra. Prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside, sabra is also used to describe native born Israelis.

Herod Antipas was the tetrarch at the time of Jesus. Sepphoris, just over the hill from Nazareth, was rebuilt to impress his superiors so he could become a king. It's speculated Jesus' father, and maybe young Jesus himself, worked in construction at Sepphoris.

In a reconstructed Roman villa we see a beautiful mosaic floor. The border contains depictions of the life of the god Dionysus, plus the portrait known as "The Mona Lisa of the Galilee." He had an indoor bathroom next to his dining room with running water too.

Then we quickly walked over to the Nile mosaic in what was believed to be a public building. Next to it is a bathhouse with a mosaic as detailed and beautiful as the Holyland Map mosaic in Madaba. The mosaics in this ancient city were stunning and as archaeologists continue to work here they are bound to uncover more.

From there we drove on, by the Eshcol pool, through which passes much of the drinking water of Israel, on its way from the Sea of Galilee.

Driving through Tiberias we find the town greener, cleaner and warmer than Jerusalem and Nazareth, and finally see the Sea of Galilee.

We drive on to the north side of the Sea to the Amnon Holiday Village, our home for the next three days. It's located right in the middle of what they call "The evangelical triangle," bounded by the New Testament cities of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazim. Upon arrival we received the usual orange juice welcome drink. It always hits the spot.

After dark and after dinner some of us walk down to the shore to look at the lights twinkling all over the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Tiberias, across the Sea, glistens like a field of diamonds.

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