Today we continued exploring the towns around the Sea of Galilee where Jesus carried out his mission to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to all people. We started by visiting Bethsaida, the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip where Jesus healed the blind man with the use of his own saliva.
As we walked on the actual first-century streets of Bethsaida we had one of those moments where we knew historically and archaeologically that we were literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples! We saw the remains of the home of an extended family (oikos) whose family business was fishing. It was amazing to know that this is exactly the kind of home where Jesus built a new kind of family on mission. After reading the account of Jesus healing the blind man in this village, we prayed with greater faith for those in our group who are suffering from various ailments. It is wonderful how quickly we have become an extended family of Americans and Australians following Jesus together ...
From Bethsaida we headed to the nearby first-century village of Chorazin. Although Jesus is reported to have visited and ministered in all the towns of Galilee only three are named specifically: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. Here we saw an amazing third-century synagogue which was probably built over the synagogue where Jesus would have taught. Of special interest for us is the unusually large extended family home that has nineteen rooms which all connect to the same huge courtyard--a mega-oikos!
We enjoyed another delcious picnic lunch in the shade under the trees in Chorazin and then had a time of worship, teaching, and prayer together. We reflected on Jesus promise form John 14 that our Father's house (oikos) is so big that there is a room there for each of us ... what a gift to be a part of the family of God!
Two days earlier on our boat trip we met a wonderful guide named Joe Safir who is originally from Perth, Australia (like half of our group) and immigrated to Israel forty years ago. He lives on a kibbutz on the eastern shore of the lake and offered to meet us for our visit to the ruins of a great city of the Decapolis named Hippos (or Susita). Joe's kibbutz is minutes from this site and he has been part of the archaeological dig going on there each summer.
Hippos is situated on the top of ridge that extends out from the slope on the eastern shore of the lake, flanked by steep valleys on each side, making it a highly defensible city. It was one of the ten large Gentile city-states that were scattered across eastern Galilee at the time of Jesus and had formed an alliance with one another. It was in this area that Jesus healed the Gerasene Demoniac and showed mercy to Gentiles even when he and the disciples were on a retreat for rest and abiding.
In addition to walking the well-constructed streets we saw giant temples, a huge central square, an amazing water system, a wine-making facility, and massive Byzantine churches, all ruined by a devastating earthquake in AD 749. It was a special treat to visit Hippos with Joe who was so familiar with its history and passionate about the significance of every stone!
Tomorrow we will reluctantly leave the shores of this beautiful lake and head north to Caesarea Philippi before turning south and making the journey back to Jerusalem ....