Special Travel Section: The Holy Land

by | May 2, 2011 | Old Magazine Articles

Galilee: Walking in His FootstepsGalilee: Walking in His Footsteps

When retracing the primary region of Jesus’ ministry, don’t skip these sites

Israel’s Galilee
region is often a Holy Land pilgrim’s favorite, especially for those
who want to walk where Jesus lived and taught. This is where the bulk of
Christ’s ministry occurred, where He gathered most of His followers and
where He performed more than 20 miracles. 

The absence of modern development makes
it easy to visualize first-century life. Solitude and meditation come
easily, especially if you read Gospel accounts as you enjoy the mountain
and water views around the Sea of Galilee, an inland lake known as
Kinneret in Hebrew.Tiberias on the western shore is lodging central
with modern hotels and restaurants near the water. And after visiting
the following sites, don’t forget the most popular edible is tilapia,
known as St. Peter’s fish—a great meal finale to a contemplative lake

Galilee Cruise

Consider a boat launch from Kibbutz
Ginosar as a meaningful beginning or finale to your Galilee tour. But
stop first at Yigal Allon Museum and observe the remains of the ancient
fishing vessel that was revealed to some local fishermen in 1986 during a
draught, then dated and preserved with modern methods. Though nobody
knows who rode in this 2,000-year-old boat made of 12 different woods,
it has become known as the “Jesus boat” and sits above a glistening
blue-green faux sea.

Board your vessel for a leisurely water
glide and contemplate the history that courses through these waters.
Operators often slow boat engines so cruisers can listen to their
spiritual leader’s teaching and devotional time as they float past the
many historical and spiritual sites along the Galilee shores. Some
cruisers take a basket for lunch or dinner onboard. Sunrise and sunset
cruises are especially memorable.


This ancient fishing village was Jesus’
ministry hub (see Matt. 4:13; John 6:24), and its ruins now include
Israel’s best-preserved third- and fourth-century marble synagogue.
Capernaum was active from the second century B.C. to the seventh century
and was home for up to 1,500 residents. Ruins of the white synagogue
are from the fourth century, but the first-century synagogue that formed
the foundation for the later edifice was built of black basalt and
dates to Jesus’ time. Luke indicates the early building was built by the
centurion’s slave whom Jesus healed (see Luke 7:5). Jesus also raised
from the dead the daughter of the synagogue’s leader (see Luke 8:49-53).

The village was obscured after the 11th
century and rediscovered in the 19th century. Major excavations occurred
in the latter 20th century. Today visitors see stone foundations of
early homes and other buildings, inscriptions by early pilgrims,
decorated stone carvings and the synagogue. Early Christians built a
fourth-century house church over the House of Peter, then a large
octagonal Byzantine church in the fifth century. After excavators
discovered fish hooks, it was declared the actual house of Simon Peter. A
contemporary Catholic church now sits astride the house ruins.

Mount of BeatitudesMount of Beatitudes

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” With these words Jesus began His
Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5) on a stunning hillside location
overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Christians have visited this traditional
site since the fourth century, when even the Spanish pilgrim Egeria (c.
318) wrote about it and the Church of the Loaves and Fishes in her
travel narratives.

Franciscans manage the enclave today that
includes gardens and the black-domed Church of the Beatitudes, built in
1937 by the Italian government to replace the Byzantine original whose
ruins are in the vicinity. The hill forms a natural amphitheater that
slopes to the lake side and amplifies the speaker’s voice. It’s possible
Jesus stood at the bottom of the hill and spoke to the crowd who sat
above Him. The setting has lake views and is a wonderful place to
contemplate biblical teachings.



The Gospels tell of Jesus healing a
madman after sailing across the Sea of Galilee and landing in the
southeast corner of the lake (see Luke 8:26-33). He drove the man’s
demons into a herd of swine that “ran violently down the steep place
into the lake.” The Talmud text lists towns with pagan worship and
includes Kursi as a gentile town during Jesus’ times—which explains why
pigs were in the vicinity (because pork is forbidden for practicing
Jews). Located on the east shore of the Galilee, Kursi sits at the
foothills of the Golan Heights. Ruins of a sixth-century Byzantine
church and monastery mark the spot, which is now a national park.


Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, asked
Jesus: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small
fish, but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9). In Jesus’ hands, the
repast turned into a blessing for no fewer than 5,000 people (not
counting women and children). At Tabgha, the traditional location of
this miraculous feeding, visitors see a commemorating mosaic on the
floor of the modern Church of the Multiplication that was built in 1935
over ruins of a Byzantine church. The mosaic floor from that church
shows a basket and fish and is one of the most beautiful art pieces in
the Holy Land, dating to the fourth and fifth centuries.


Where Is Jesus’ Tomb?

Where Is Jesus’ Tomb? 

Two Jerusalem locations claim to be Jesus’ burial site. You make the call.

Some say
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is for Catholics and the Garden Tomb
for Protestants. Both are in Jerusalem, and each site is where pilgrims
contemplate Christ’s death and resurrection. Yet they offer different

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has
drawn pilgrims since the fourth century, when Constantine declared
Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. He built the
original church on this site. Many believe it is the site of Jesus’
empty tomb and His crucifixion.

Today’s church retains some of the
elements of that first church, but many additions and changes have been
made through the centuries as it was assaulted by conquering rulers and
then rebuilt. Crusaders added a facade in the 12th century that stands
today. Inside are multiple altars, icons, chapels and other elements
placed by the various governing communities—mostly ethnic Orthodox
including Armenian, Syrian and Coptic. 

The Garden Tomb
(pictured), believed to be the one that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea
(see John 19:38), is a 19th century addition to the pilgrimage circuit.
European theologians disputed the traditional tomb site inside the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, declaring “Skull Hill” (or Golgotha) the
authentic place. British Anglicans organized monetary and administrative
resources to acquire and develop the site, and a U.K. group remains
overseer today. Visitors may enter the tomb and meditate and worship in
the gardens. 

Pilgrims have visited both sites for
centuries, and each affords spiritual connections. A complete tour of
Christian sites in Jerusalem would include both.



IsraeI’s Pray-and-PIay CitiesIsrael’s Pray-and-Play Cities

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are polar opposite cities yet perfectly reflect Israel today

Israel’s major cities could not be more
different, guides tell visitors. “People go to Jerusalem to pray, to Tel
Aviv to party,” they say.

There’s more than just praying and
partying to do in these metropolises, however. Unfortunately, many
Christian travelers miss much of Israel’s sophisticated arts and culture
scene. Yet there are many rewards in active play and cultural
satisfaction for those who venture off the well-trodden pilgrim track.


With its important holy sites such as the
Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, Garden
of Gethsemane and numerous churches that have been added over the
centuries, Jerusalem remains the centerpiece of a believer’s journey to
Israel. The rhythm of daily life turns on prayer, usually channeled
through the city’s Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. Jerusalem
is also the seat of government for the state and an important academic
center. This Golden City, Eternal City and City of David also offers a
rich array of leisure activities, including museums, international art
festivals, concerts and shopping.

It’s really several cities in one: West
Jerusalem is the modern city, and has been a Jewish enclave since the
early 19th century. East Jerusalem is primarily Arab in population and
culture. In the center of these contrasting sides is the Old City, where
pilgrims spend much of their time.

Take a walk along the Ramparts Walk above
the 16th century city walls and contemplate the seven gates—including
the Dung Gate, Zion Gate, Jaffa Gate and the commanding Damascus Gate.
Facing the Mount of Olives, the Golden Gate has been sealed since 1530
and is said to be the one through which the Messiah will one day enter

Wander the stalls of the Mahaneh Yehuda
market, the Old City bazaar or the ancient Cardo for some local color
and souvenirs. Shops along cobblestone streets and lanes, cafes and
pedestrian malls are all good places to find crafts and fine art, along
with a local snack to replenish your shopping energy.

Tel AvivTel Aviv

Less than an hour west of Jerusalem, the
“new city” of Tel Aviv cuts a very different profile. Along its nearly
nine miles of turquoise Mediterranean coastline, people lounge next to
palm-lined boulevards that stretch to the sea while boogie-boarding
beach bums enjoy their second home three seasons of the year. Modern
hotels and outdoor cafes service the beachgoers. Think Miami in the
Middle East.

Only 100 years ago, Jewish immigrants
staked out Tel Aviv as a sort of suburb to ancient Jaffa, the port city
mentioned several times in the Bible and faith pilgrims’ arrival point
for centuries. Downtown Tel Aviv looks like a miniature New York City,
with tall buildings and real estate prices to match. Hip oozes from its
skyline and ’hoods. This is Israel’s engine of commerce and center of
contemporary art and culture. 

Tel Aviv’s modern districts include its
White City of Bauhaus architecture brought in the 1930s by German Jewish
architects who arrived in Palestine to escape the Nazi regime. The area
has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site to promote preservation
and restoration of the approximately 4,000 buildings from that period.

Tel Aviv is Israel’s center of
entertainment and culture, with nearly three dozen centers for
performing arts. In fact, the official Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center
is home to the Israeli Opera, where Placido Domingo was former house
tenor. The city is also home to the Israel Ballet and many other



Where Was Jesus Baptized?Where Was Jesus Baptized?

Exploring the sites along the Jordan River

While there is scholarly agreement that
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, there is
continuing discussion about the exact site. Some believe it was on what
is now the Israeli side, just south of the Allenby Bridge near Qasir
al-Yahud, a military district and location of an Eastern Orthodox

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have
visited another site on the eastern bank in Jordan called Bethany Beyond
the Jordan, which the Vatican now has on its approved list of pilgrim

Bethany Beyond the Jordan emerged in 1996
as excavators discovered Byzantine church ruins while clearing
minefields as a result of the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and
Israel. A gilded memorial Greek Orthodox church now stands on the site,
and other worship traditions—including Russian Orthodox, Baptist and
Roman Catholic—are adding churches. Visitors may worship beneath an
outdoor structure at riverside and baptize from a font of filtered river

Advocates for both baptismal sites point
to the historic mosaic map in Madaba, Jordan, as reference. As the
oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of Jerusalem and the
Holy Land, it may have been used by early pilgrims and shows both
baptism locations: western bank as Bethabara (House of the Ford, or of
the Crossing); eastern bank as Aenon or Sapsaphas (Place of the
Willows). Also, many scholars say the Jordan River has changed course
many times over the centuries, so the precise spot where Jesus was
baptized is difficult to identify. 

For modern pilgrims less concerned about
historical accuracy than experiencing surroundings similar to Jesus’
time, Yardenit (“little Jordan”), at the south end of the Sea of
Galilee, is a serene and popular baptismal site. Some visitors
experience baptism for the first time here; others experience a renewal
baptism. Located on a leafy and serene bend in the Jordan River near
major Galilee holy sites, Yardenit offers clothing and changing rooms
for baptismal ceremonies, snacks and even souvenir video baptismal



No Passport? No Worries!

If you can’t go overseas, visit these U.S. hotspots dedicated to entertaining, educating and inspiring believers

Creation Museum1) Creation Museum (Petersburg, Ky.)

Biblical characters and animals bring
millennia of history alive in this “walk through history” museum that
counters evolution promotion by natural history museums. Enjoy giant
animatronic dinosaurs, computer-generated visual effects, a planetarium
and lots more on this 49-acre, multimillion-dollar site that advocates
Scripture as the source of “true history of the universe.” Among the
Creation Museum’s newest features is an interactive “Knee-High Museum”
of children’s exhibits where kids can explore Critter Canyon, touch a
dinosaur bone and have questions answered by an animatronic Noah in the
“Voyage of the Ark” room.

Holy Land Experience2) Holy Land Experience (Orlando, Fla.)

Taking visitors back 2,000 years and
7,000 miles to the land of the Bible, the Holy Land Experience uses
sights, sounds and tastes to stimulate the senses for a memorable
journey. Encounter live shows that bring the gospel message to life; a
Jerusalem street market that resembles an ancient Middle Eastern
marketplace; the Dead Sea Caves, replicas of those at Qumran; the Garden
Tomb; and the Temple of the Great King, called the Herodian Temple in
its day. Students of the Word won’t want to miss the Scriptorium, a
unique collection of biblical artifacts and antiquities such as scrolls,
manuscripts and Bibles, many of which are rare or the only known copy
in existence.

Branson, Mo.3) Branson, Mo.

Despite a population of only 6,000, this
small town in the Ozarks houses a staggering 36 theaters and more than
80 live shows. Pick a type of museum—from cars to toys to dinosaurs to
Titanic memorabilia—and the “wholesome family entertainment capital”
probably has it. Don’t miss faith-centric attractions such as the Living
Word National Bible Museum or Broadway-style shows such as Two From Galilee and The Promise. Plus, only 50 miles away in Eureka Springs, Ark., is The New Great Passion Play and the New Holy Land Tour.



Jerusalem’s 5 Must-See Museums

Among the historical sites in this religious epicenter,
here are five you shouldn’t miss

1. Bible Lands Museum In
its collection of artifacts depicting cultures and civilizations
through the early Christian era, this museum presents ancient Egypt,
Sumer, Assyria and Babylon, as well as the civilizations of Greece and

Israel Museum2. Israel Museum The
largest, most important cultural institution includes the Shrine of the
Book, a repository for the Dead Sea Scrolls. A recent $100 million
renovation expanded the exhibits of Judaica and international art to
include 500,000 objects. Of special interest to Christians: a scale
model of first-century Jerusalem; the Pontius Pilate stone discovered in
1963; and the Ossuary of Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Jesus
to death.

Yad Vashem3. Yad Vashem Jerusalem’s
memorial to the 6 million victims of the Holocaust not only documents
the politics and events that led to the mid-20th century atrocity, it
also poignantly captures victims’ stories through interactive exhibits
and literally millions of documents, photographs, films and other
memorabilia stored both onsite and online. The memorial to the 1.5
million Jewish children who perished in the genocide is particularly

Tower of David Museum4. Tower of David Museum A
dramatic setting in the ancient citadel first constructed by Herod the
Great, this museum is about Jerusalem’s long, eventful history.
Utilizing advanced technologies, the museum presents history of the
Canaanites and Hebrews, Greeks and Romans, Crusaders, Muslims, Turks,
British and Israelites. Walk along the citadel towers for breathtaking

5. Temple Institute This
Old City museum provides insight into the Holy Temple of Jerusalem and
the dream held by some of a temple rebuild. The “Treasures of the
Temple” exhibition displays reconstructed, authentic and functional
sacred gold, copper and silver vessels that have been created for use in
the priestly service of the rebuilt temple. Original works of art that
depict life in temple times are also on exhibit.

Ruth A. Hill has been writing about
the pleasures and industry of global travel for 25 years. She also
analyzes industry trends for hotel owners and managers, meeting
planners, tour operators and travel agents. Visit her website at christianworldtraveler.com.


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