We took a bus from the end of our third day on the Jesus Trail into Tiberius, a totally Jewish city on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, population 44,000 making it the largest city on the tiny sea (really just a lake). It was named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius who succeeded Augustus Caesar in AD14, just as Christianity was starting to grow.
Since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and persecuted the Jews you would think the city name would be changed. I guess either the Israelis have more respect for history or less interest in political correctness.
The bus app that got us to Tiberius was truly amazing. It told you how to walk to the bus stop, which bus to get on and when it would arrive, created your ticket as a QR code, tracked your process to the next stop, told you when to get off and how to walk to the next bus stop and then charted your path to your destination, in our case, a rather dingy hotel right on the main drag on the Sea of Galilee.
On my list of things to do is to compare the Israeli bus system with its amazing app with the JTRAN system by trying to navigate around Jackson by bus.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world at 700 feet below sea level. The Jordan River enters at the north and exits at the south. It’s 13 miles long and eight miles wide. The water is fairly clear.
The main walking street along the bank was fairly quiet the night we arrived. It was Saturday Passover night and most families were celebrating their religious holiday at home. We sat right on the water at an outdoor cafe and had a delicious whole native Tilapia, called locally “St. Peter’s Fish.”
The next morning was Easter and Jeff Weill and I woke up before dawn so we could see the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee on Easter morning. Nobody was up or out. Israelis are not morning people. They get up late, eat late and go to bed late.
Watching the Easter sun rise over the Sea of Galilee, right where Jesus recruited his fishermen disciples, was something spiritual. Being actually where it all happened gave me a certain physical concreteness to it all that was a missing piece of my spiritual puzzle.
The sun rose over the cliffs on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the very cliffs where huge drove of pigs jumped from into the sea after Jesus drove the demons out of the local people.
After sunrise, we found a small Presbyterian church right on the water. Only 12 people attended the Easter service, but those 12 represented five of the six continents in the world (all but Australia.) What a great testament to the power of the Holy Spirit that the message of a humble carpenter had spread throughout the world 2,000 years later. And we were right where it all started.
That day we hiked along the northwestern border of Lake Galilee. The 2,000-foot drop in altitude plus a mini heatwave shot temps up to the mid nineties.
We were soon dying of thirst and sweating like pigs. The Jesus Trail was used by the local tourists as a four-wheeler trail. Groups of smiling and waving four-wheeling tourists sped by again and again, coating us with a fresh layer of dust and dirt each time. The Jesus Trail is not a big deal in this country of Jews and Muslims. As Christians, we were tourist oddities.
We hiked past almond groves, orange orchards and huge banana plantations. We got lost multiple times, ran low on water and had to rely on Google Maps to find a gas station where the AC and drink coolers quenched our enormous thirst. I downed two bottles of orange juice and two bottles of water in about two minutes.
More hiking and a bus got us to the top of the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. The beautiful monastery closed just as we arrived, so we decided to go off-trail and walk down the side of the 2,000-foot hill on our own. Jeff was fearful a nun would come flying at us on a four wheeler for trespassing. I was appalled to find an illegal trash dump. It was the steepest descent of our hike and the view of the Sea of Galilee was gorgeous in the setting sun.
We found a trail here and a trail there and made our way back to the shore Tabgha, where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Four thousand hungry people had come to hear Jesus and he fed them with just five loaves and two fish.
There is a beautiful monastery there with quiet praying areas right on the water. The gardens were immense and beautiful. It was a very spiritual moment and I prayed at length.
That night Tiberius was hopping. Thousands of Israelis were out along the main lake walking street celebrating Passover. The family unit seems very intact in the Jewish culture. Almost everybody was part of a big family and they were wearing their celebratory Passover Jewish clothes. Very interesting.
Our dingy hotel has come alive with families and extended families. The hotel had a huge kitchen where you could cook your own meals. Families had come to Tiberius for the holidays and they saved money by cooking in the hotel kitchens. It looked like a huge do-it-yourself dining hall.
The next morning we took a bus to the Jordan River where it flows out of the Sea of Galilee. We walked past the big touristy baptism site, impressed by hundreds of huge stone tablets each with the Bible’s John the Baptist passage engraved in a hundred different languages.
Past that we came to the Jordan River public water park, designed around an American Indian theme, complete with totem poles. We think of the Jordan River as a holy spot but to the Israeli natives, it’s a great place to have a big family picnic, swim and rent an Indian-theme canoe. The place was packed.
We stripped down to our bathing suits. Even though it was still morning, it was hot enough to thoroughly enjoy the clear, cool water. Beautiful cypress trees hung over the banks and their roots created great underwater swimming steps. Youngsters were swinging from ropes and jumping into the river. Laughing abounded. I dived down as deep as I could, swimming underwater with my eyes closed. It felt special. It felt spiritual.
Jeff wanted to take a bus along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee before heading to Jerusalem. Everywhere along the banks of the Sea of Galilee people were tailgating. It was a massive Passover holiday party.
We got off at Ein Gev and walked through a stinky stockyard to get to a great fish restaurant whose specialty was, of course, St. Peter’s Fish. On the walk back to the bus, the path was lined with huge gorgeous flowers, ancient artifacts like a 2,000-year-old wine press and little shops and booths.
We got out our bus app, walked to the nearest bus stop and were soon on our way to Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world.