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The Sites

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Tiberias

Israel

The thriving resort of Tiberias, with its balmy climate, lakeside hotels and fish restaurants, is a popular base for Christian pilgrims exploring the Galilee that Jesus knew.

Tiberias

Modern Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Its location on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias in John’s Gospel) is within easy reach of the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Tabgha, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Magdala, Kursi, Cana, Mount Tabor, Nain and Nazareth.

Tiberias was a new city when Jesus began his public ministry. Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, founded it around AD 20 to replace Sepphoris as his capital.

Antipas — who would later behead Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist — chose a site just south of the present resort, taking advantage of 17 hot springs renowned since ancient times for their healing qualities. He named his new city after his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar.

Tiberias

Hot springs at Tiberias (David Q. Hall)

Because the site lay over ancient burial grounds, observant Jews refused to incur ritual impurity by living there. Antipas had to resort to compulsion and financial inducements to populate his city.

Though Jesus spent much of his ministry on and around the Sea of Tiberias, its inappropriate siting may explain why there is no record that he ever visited Tiberias.

 

Powerhouse of Jewish scholarship

Ritual purification of the city was carried out in the middle of the second century AD. The timing was opportune. The Second Jewish Revolt had failed, and the Romans had responded by banning Jews from Jerusalem.

Jews flocked to Tiberias, which became the major centre of Jewish culture and learning, with 13 synagogues. Even the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) moved from Sepphoris. “Preachers, poets, scholars and rabbis abounded,” wrote historian G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville.

Over the following centuries, it was this powerhouse of Jewish scholarship that compiled almost all of the Jerusalem Talmud — one of the two central texts of Jewish religious teaching and commentary that had previously been transmitted orally — and the fixed Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Tiberias

Tomb of Maimonides (Bukvoed)

A Christian community was established in the 4th century, when Tiberias became a major destination for pilgrims visiting the Christian sites of the Galilee region.

In 1033 an earthquake destroyed Tiberias. The Crusaders rebuilt it about two kilometres further north, where the present city stands.

 

Rabbi’s body was carried from Egypt

Tiberias

St Peter in his boat, at St Peter’s Church, Tiberias (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Thanks to successive conquests, modern Tiberias has fewer monuments or ancient ruins than other localities in the Holy Land.

Historic sites include the graves of several distinguished rabbis. These include the celebrated philosopher Maimonides, leader of the Jewish community in Cairo in the 12th century. In accordance with his will, his body was carried overland on the route believed to have been taken by Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, for burial in Tiberias (his grave is on Ben Zakkai Street).

One of the few remaining Crusader buildings is the Church of St Peter, hidden down an alley from the lakeside promenade. Erected around 1100, this Catholic church was a mosque, a caravanserai and a stable for animals before being rebuilt in 1870 by the Franciscans.

Remains of an older church, from the 6th century, have been discovered in a commanding position on Mount Berenice, west of the city. It is called the Anchor Church, because a huge stone with a hole in its centre was found under the base of the altar.

 

Coins found with likeness of Jesus

South of the modern city, where steam from hot springs rises above the ground, are a national park and an archaeological park.

The highlight of the national park is a 4th-century synagogue with a spectacular mosaic floor. It was discovered in 1921 during the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in Israel.

Tiberias

Ark of the Torah flanked by menorah, in synagogue mosaic at Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In a curious mix of Jewish and pagan symbols, the Ark of the Torah is flanked by a pair of menorah, but immediately below is a Zodiac circle revolving around the figure of the pagan sun god Helios riding his celestial chariot.

The archaeological park contains the remains of the old city of Tiberias.

Excavations have uncovered part of the cardo (main street), a bathhouse, an unidentified colonnaded building, a reservoir, a tower and the south gate complex.

Tiberias

Bronze coin with likeness of Jesus discovered at Tiberias

A treasure trove of bronze coins was discovered in 1998, hidden in pottery jars under the floor of a building. They included 58 bearing the likeness of Jesus, with Greek inscriptions such as “Jesus the Messiah, the King of Kings”, minted in Constantinople in the 11th century.

 

Hammat Tiberias National Park

Tel.: 972-4-6725287

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-5pm; Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (last entry one hour before closing time)

 

St Peter’s Church

Tel.: 972-4-6721059

Open: 8am-12.30pm, 2.30-5.30pm


References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Heinsch, James: “Tiberias Church of St Peter”, Holy Land, Autumn 1999.
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)

 

External links

Hammat Tiberias (BibleWalks)
Tiberias (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Tiberias — The Anchor Church (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Tabgha

Israel

Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

Church of the Primacy of St Peter

Tabgha

Church of the Primacy of St Peter at Tabgha (Seetheholyland.net)

Tranquil Tabgha, on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee, is best known for Christ’s miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish to feed a multitude.

But it is also remembered for Jesus’ third appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection, when he tested and commissioned St Peter as leader of his Church.

Two churches commemorate these events, and pilgrims find the place a serene location for meditation, prayer and study.

Tabgha is at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes, about 3km south-west of Capernaum. The name is an Arab mispronunciation of the Greek Heptapegon (meaning “seven springs”). Several warm sulphurous springs enter the lake here, attracting fish especially in winter.

This was a favourite spot for fishermen from nearby Capernaum, and its beach was familiar to Jesus and his disciples. It is easy to imagine Jesus speaking from a boat in one of the little bays, with crowds sitting around on the shore.

 

Feeding followed beheading

According to chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, the miraculous feeding came after Jesus learnt that Herod Antipas had beheaded his cousin, John the Baptist.

Jesus “withdrew in a boat . . . to a deserted place by himself”. Crowds followed and he had compassion on them, curing their sick.

In the evening he told the multitude — 5000 men, plus women and children — to sit on the grass. Then he took five loaves and two fish, “looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves . . . and the disciples gave them to the crowds”. After they had eaten, the leftovers filled 12 baskets.

 

Elegant mosaics from 4th century

Tabgha

Loaves and fishes mosaic in Church of the Multiplication (James Emery)

The modern Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha stands on the site of a 4th-century church, displaying Byzantine mosaic decorations that are among the most elegantly executed in the Holy Land.

The whole floor depicts flora and fauna of the area in vibrant colours — peacocks, cranes, cormorants, herons, doves, geese, ducks, a flamingo and a swan, as well as snakes, lotus flowers and oleanders.

But the best-known mosaic, on the floor near the altar, refers to the miracle the church commemorates. It shows a basket of loaves flanked by two Galilee mullet.

Beneath the altar is the rock on which it is believed Jesus placed the loaves and fish when he blessed them.

In June 2015 fire destroyed much of the Benedictine monastery attached to the church. Two youths from Jewish settler outposts were charged with arson.

Jesus cooked breakfast

Nearby, on the Tabgha beach, stands the Church of the Primacy of St Peter. This squat building of black basalt, built in 1934, is where Jesus is believed to have made his third appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection.

As the event is described in the 21st chapter of St John, Peter and six other disciples had been fishing all night without catching anything. Just after daybreak Jesus stood on the beach, though they did not recognise him.

Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat and the net filled with 153 fish. When the disciples dragged the net ashore, they found that Jesus had cooked them breakfast on a charcoal fire.

The rock incorporated in the church floor is traditionally believed to be the place where Jesus prepared breakfast. It was known to medieval pilgrims as Mensa Christ (the table of Christ).

 

Peter was challenged three times

Tabgha

“Feed my sheep” statue at Tabgha (Seetheholyland.net)

After breakfast, Jesus challenged Peter three times with the question: “Do you love me?” Peter’s positive response to this three-fold challenge cancelled out his three-fold denial of Jesus the night before his crucifixion.

Then Jesus gave Peter a three-fold commission: “Feed my lambs . . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep.” And he also indicated that Peter would die by martyrdom.

After this event Peter’s primacy as head of the apostles was recognised.

Beside the church, in a garden setting, is an area designed for group worship. Between this and the lake stands a modern bronze statue of Jesus symbolically commissioning Peter with his shepherd’s crook.

Related sites:

Mount of Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee

In Scripture

Miraculous feeding of 5000: Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Jesus commissions Peter: John 21: 1-19

 

Administered by:

Church of the Multiplication: Benedictine monks (972-4-6678100); open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 8am-3pm, Sun closed

Church of the Primacy of Peter: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (972-4-6724767); open 8am-5pm

 

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Shpigel, Noa: “Israel Must Compensate Historic Galilee Church for Arson, Attorney General Says”, Haaretz, September 22, 2015
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Tabgha and Magdala (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Tabgha Priory on the Sea of Gennesaret (Benedictines)
Tabgha (BiblePlaces)
Tabgha — Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Mount of Beatitudes

Israel

Mount of Beatitudes

Cloister of Beatitudes church overlooking Sea of Galilee (Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Beatitudes, believed to be the setting for Jesus’ most famous discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, is one of the most beautifully serene places in the Holy Land.

Overlooking the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, it offers an enchanting vista of the northern part of the lake and across to the cliffs of the Golan Heights on the other side.

Within sight are the scenes of many of the events of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, including the town of Capernaum 3km away, where he made his home. Just below is Sower’s Cove, where it is believed Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) from a boat moored in the bay.

The exact site of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:28) is unknown. Pilgrims commemorate the event at the eight-sided Church of the Beatitudes, built on the slope of the mount and accessible by a side road branching off the Tiberias-Rosh Pina highway.

The Mount of Beatitudes is also understood to be the place where Jesus met his apostles after his Resurrection and commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).

 

Plenty of space for a crowd

Mount of Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee from the cave of Eremos (© Don Schwager)

The spacious slope of the Mount of Beatitudes (also known as Mount Eremos, a Greek word meaning solitary or uninhabited) would have provided ample space for a large crowd to gather to hear Jesus.

The 4th-century pilgrim Egeria records a tradition that may go back to the Jewish-Christians of Capernaum. She tells of a cave in the hillside at the Seven Springs, near Tabgha, “upon which the Lord ascended when he taught the Beatitudes”.

Archaeologist Bargil Pixner says: “The terrace above this still existing cave, called Mughara Ayub, must be considered the traditional place of the Sermon on the Mount. The hillcrest of Eremos indeed offers a magnificent view over the entire lake and the surrounding villages. The cragginess of this hill meant it was left uncultivated and enabled Jesus to gather large crowds around him without causing damage to the farmers.”

A Byzantine church was erected nearby in the 4th century, and it was used until the 7th century. Its ruins have been discovered downhill from the present church.

 

Eight sides for eight beatitudes

Mount of Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Beatitudes, an elegant octagonal building with colonnaded cloisters, blends into the slope rather than dominating it. It was built in 1938 for a Franciscan order of nuns, to a design by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi — and partly financed by the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The eight sides of the light and airy church represent the eight beatitudes, and these are also shown in Latin in the upper windows.

The centrally placed altar is surmounted by a slender arch of alabaster and onyx. Around it, the seven virtues (justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance) are depicted by symbols in the mosaic floor.

In the landscaped garden, three altars are provided for group worship.

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Sermon was radical and countercultural

The Sermon on the Mount, a powerful summary of the fundamental teachings of Jesus, opens with his proclamation of the eight beatitudes, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . .” (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus taught orally, rather than by writing. Matthew notes that he sat down before speaking, a typical Jewish position for teaching.

Scholars suggest that Matthew’s account is not a report of one, uninterrupted sermon given on one occasion. Rather, it is believed, Matthew took a core sermon and added various teachings given at different times.

The sermon indicated how Jesus’ followers, described as “the salt of the earth”, should live so that they would be in right relationship with God and with others. “For I tell you,” he said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

Biblical scholar Peter Walker comments: “The serenity of this beautiful place, however, may be slightly unhelpful here, suggesting that Jesus’ words were calm and soothing when in fact they were radical, demanding, authoritative, revolutionary and countercultural. Jesus was calling Israel to a new way of life . . . .”

 

Christian centre on the peak

On the peak of the Mount of Beatitudes is a Christian centre for meetings, studies and retreats called Domus Galilaeae (House of Galilee), opened in 2000. It is situated just over 1km from the ruins of ancient Chorazin.

The centre and adjacent monastery belongs to the Neo-Catechumenal Way, a Catholic movement for Christian formation. Its striking architecture was designed by the movement’s founder, Kiko Argüello, and a team of architects.

The library specialises in books about the Sermon on the Mount. The chapel has a large painting by Argüello, combining Eastern and Western Christian symbols and paying homage to the Church’s Jewish roots.

Related site:

Sea of Galilee

 

In Scripture:

The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-7:28

The parable of the sower: Mark 4:1-9

Jesus commissions the disciples: Matthew 28:16-20

 

Administered by: Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Tel.: 972-4-6790978

Open: 8-11.45am, 2.30-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Mount of Beatitudes (BibleWalks)
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