Today we said good by to the beautiful Sea of Galilee and headed north as we explored some of the territory where Jesus used to take his disciples away on times of retreat. Our first stop was the dramatic first-century town of Gamla.
Built on a rocky promontory with steep valleys on both sides, Gamla was designed as a town that could be defended like a fortress. Perhaps the strongly nationalistic residents remembered what the Romans had done to populations that did not submit to their rule and they were determined to resist the might of Rome.
When the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66 AD, Gamla quickly became a stronghold of the Zealot rebels, so it is no surprise that Vespasian's Roman army attacked the city within the first year of the revolt. They undermined a tower, breached the city wall and slaughtered the inhabitants or drove them to suicide. After a strenuous hike down the saddle of the hill, we climbed to the top of the main defensive tower of the city wall for an overview of this dramatic site.
Of greatest interest to those who follow in the Footsteps of Jesus, Gamla boasts ruins of the oldest and largest first-century synagogue uncovered so far in the Holy Land. It was amazing to sit on the stepped seats and wonder if Jesus' preached in this very place as part of his travels which the Gospel writers tell us included every town in Galilee!
From Gamla we headed further north to the ancient site of Banias which was called Caesarea Philippi in Jesus' time. This was a major site of pagan worship which Herod's son Phillip had made the capital of his territory. From a large cave dedicated to the god Pan, flowed a powerful spring that is still the source of the Jordan River. It was here that Jesus took his disciples on a retreat and asked them that all important question, "Who do you say that I am?" By virtue of divine revelation Peter exclaimed, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
When we hiked down to the nearby waterfall, the largest and most beautiful in this part of the middle east, it was easy to imagine why Jesus would bring the disciples here for a time of refreshment. It was a reminder that we need intentional times of abiding where we can be refreshed and be more receptive to God's revelation.