Galilee

The boat schedules and they can not be ignored on the Palestine coast —compelled us to reserve Galilee for the conclusion of ,our tour, and it was an inappropriate ending, for while Jerusalem was the scene of the crucifixion and ascension, the greater part of Christ’s life was spent in Galilee, and it was there that “most of His mighty works were done.” Nor is its history confined to the New Testament, for it has its Carmel associated with the life of Elijah, and Mount Tabor where Deborah’s victory was won. Haifa, the seaport of Galilee, is built along the front of Carmel on the edge of a bay which the mountain helps to form, for Carmel, instead of being a peak, is really a long ridge but a few hundred feet in height, jutting out into the sea at this point and extending several miles to the southeast. A Roman Catholic monastery is erected over a cave overlooking the Mediterranean, where Elijah is said to have lived.

To the north of Carmel lies the plain of Esdraelon through which the Kishon river flows. The road to Nazareth follows the south side of this valley to a point some seven miles from the shore where the hills of Galilee approach se near to Carmel as to leave but a narrow pass for the river. Here the road crosses over to the north side of the valley, and for the remainder of the distance winds upward over the hills, giving a commanding view of Esdraelon. The upper part of the plain is as beautiful a country as can be imagined—well watered, fertile and thoroughly cultivated. The land is not held in severalty, as in America, but by communities. The cultivators live in villages, built at intervals around the edge of the valley, and the land is apportioned each year by the village chief, no one receiving the same tract two years in succession. As we looked down upon the valley we could distinguish the different allotments as they lay in long strips of equal width. Wheat is the chief product of the valley, although there are a few olive orchards, and the mulberry tree is being planted. Oxen are the animals usually employed in cultivation, but we occasionally saw a horse and an ox yoked together or a camel and an ox, and once a camel and a donkey.

Jezreel is on this plain, at the foot of Mount Gilboa, where the middle plain connects with the plain leading down to the Jordan between Gilboa and Little Hermon. This is historic ground, for it was here at a great spring which flows out from under Gilboa that Gideon selected his gallant band.

The village of Nazareth, nestling among the hills of Galilee, must always be a place of supreme interest to the Christian. Its location was probably determined by the presence here of an unfailing spring, now known as Mary’s fountain. Dr. George Adam Smith, in his “Historical Geography of the Holy Land,” points out the relation between the springs and the routes of travel and emphasizes the ‘prominence of Nazareth in the Bible times. Christ’s boyhood and young manhood were spent near a great highway, for the old Roman road from Damascus to Egypt ran through the town. ‘Caravans passed to and fro laden with the riches of the Euphrates and the Nile; princes passed that way on their royal journeys, and in time of war it was on the route of armies. From a high hill just outside the town Christ could look to the west and see the surf line on the shore of the Mediterranean, to the east He could survey the walls of the chasm in which lay the sea of Galilee, while to the northeast rose Hermon, the pride of the mountains. Several of His parables fit quite naturally into the scenes upon which He looked, and those parables were the more effective because they were taken from the everyday life of the people. The stony ground, the rocky roadways and the narrow strips of fertile soil were woven into the Parable of the Sower, and some acquaintance of His youth, following the merchantmen into Egypt or Mesopotamia, may have been the original of the Prodigal Son.

Rev. Selah Merrill, our consul at Jerusalem, has refuted the statement so frequently made that the Nazarenes were held in contempt. He shows ‘that there is no just foundation for the aspersions cast on this section of Galilee. Mr. Merrill’s book, “Galilee in the Time of Christ,” is, I may add, a very useful preparation for ‘a trip ‘through this part of Palestine.

Chapels have been erected to mark the home of Joseph and Mary, the carpenter shop and the rock where Christ met His disciples after the resurrection, but one never feels certain about the identification of places selected so long after the death of Christ and having no permanent physical marks.

A few miles to the east of Nazareth is a village called Cana which claims to be the “Cana of Galilee” where the first miracle was performed, and a church has been erected over a well from which, it is argued, the water was taken that was turned into wine, but two other villages with similar names contest the honor with this Cana.

The Sea of Galilee has a double claim to distinction. To its natural beauty, which is unsurpassed, is added the glory of having furnished the fishermen who were to become “fishers of men.” Nearly seven hundred feet below the level of the ocean ^and walled by high hills, it has a character all its own, and its shores were the familiar haunts of Him who by precept and example taught the nobleness of service. The sea is some twelve miles in length by six or eight in breadth. The Jordan pours into it the waters of Hermon and Lake Merom and carries away its overflow to the Dead Sea. The Plain of Gennesaret includes nearly all the level land adjacent to it, save the Jordan valleys above and below, and is so prominent a feature of the landscape that its name is sometimes applied to the sea. The village of Magdala, home of one of the Marys, is situated on the edge of this plain, but is now only a collection of mud huts, each one bearing a booth of boughs upon its flat roof. The house top is an important part of the house in the Orient and furnishes a sleeping place for the occupants during the warm summer nights. The village of Magdala, with the land belonging to it, has recently been sold to a syndicate which pro-poses to very much improve its cultivation.

A little farther south on the west side of the sea, is the city of Tiberias, the only city still remaining of the ten or more that, two thousand years ago, stretched along the shores. The city’s name gives evidence of its Roman origin, and it was once so important a place that its name was a rival for Galilee in the designation of the sea. Tiberias was one of the sacred cities of the Jews and today the descendants ,of the Hebrew race constitute three-fourths of its population. A Jewish society, of which Baron Rothschild is the patron, has several schools here, and a number of the residents devote themselves entirely to the study of the law. Near Tiberias are the hot springs spoken of by Josephus, ^and their ‘healing waters still have a great reputation.

The bath houses are not kept as they would be in Europe or America, but the mineral properties of the water make it very invigorating.

A Jewish synagogue has been erected near the hot springs and the ‘annual feast in honor of Rabbi Meyer was celebrated there during our stay in Tiberias. As it was the only feast of the kind we had ever attended, we found it exceedingly interesting. The devout Jews were gathered in l a r g e numbers, some coming several days’ journey; many of the men wore a long curl in front of each ear, a custom which we first noticed in Jerusalem. The feast is an occasion of rejoicing and there are dancing, music and merriment. A part of the ceremony is the burning of garments contributed by those in attendance, and the right to light the fire is made a matter of auction. We went into the room where the bidding was in progress and were informed that more than ten dollars had already been offered for the honor. The feast has many of the characteristics of a fair, the vendors of candles, cakes, drinks and merchandise plying their trade ,and different delegations marching with banners.

There is at Tiberias ,a splendidly equipped hospital established by the United Free Church of Scotland, and conducted by a skilful surgeon, Dr. Torrance, and a corps of assistants ; more than one hundred and fifty persons were treated the day we visited the hospital. Surely this institution is a fitting memorial, and what more appropriate place for a hospital than these shores where the lame were made whole, the deaf were healed and the blind received their sight!

The site of Chorazin, the city which Christ denounced for unbelief in connection with Capernaum and Bethsaida, is still a matter of dispute, but Capernaum, where Christ dwelt during the greater part of His ministry, has probably been identified. It is situated on the northeast corner of Gennesaret, close by the shore of the sea. There is no town there now and no house save a Catholic monastery, but recent excavations have unearthed the foundations of a building believed to have been the Jewish synagogue in which Christ spoke. On one of the stones of this synagogue is a representation of David’s seal and a pot of manna; if this is in reality the synagogue in which Christ referred to the bread of life, it may be true, as someone has suggested, that He found His text, “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness,” in this carving upon the stone.

There has been ‘a great deal ‘of discussion over the site of Bethsaida, and some have ^argued that there were two towns of the same name, one at the north end of the lake east of the mouth of the Jordan, and the other on the west side not far from Capernaum. But both towns have so completely disappeared that they can not be located with any certainty.

Safed, another of the sacred cities of the Jews, lies some distance west ,of the sea ,of Galilee but within sight of it, perched on a high hill. It is so conspicuous a landmark and so often seen by the Great Teacher that it may have suggested to His mind the illustration, “A city that is set on a hill can not be hid.”

The sea of Galilee, beautiful as it is with its clear water and its picturesque environment, is treacherous. Its surface is swept by sudden gusts of wind and tempests often lash it until its waves beat high upon the shore. A resident of Tiberias told us that he had seen it when it might be mistaken for an ocean, so violently was it agitated, and he bore testimony also to the unexpected squalls that visit it. We spent two days on the sea, and in crossing it found the wind so variable that probably half a dozen times. the sail became useless and it was necessary to resort to the oars. There was no great tempest while we were there, and the waves did not “beat into the ship” but the wind was at times contrary. The uncertainty of the weather has been attributed to the numerous ravines or canyons which run down from the mountains round about the sea, and as these are the same now that they were two thousand years ago, travel upon the lake is attended with the same risk that it was then.

In the time of Christ the sea of Galilee was the scene of busy life. The population of the country described as Galilee has been estimated to have been at that time about two and a half millions. The sea was covered with boats, built for fishing, for traffic, for war or for pleasure. Josephus collected two hundred and thirty ships for one of his expeditions upon the sea, and in a sea fight that took place there the number killed on one side alone was given at from four to six thousand.

The sea was full of fish, and the Gospels furnish abundant proof of the importance of fishing as an industry, a fact also established by out-side evidence. Dr. Merrill, in the book above referred to, says that fish taken were not only sufficient to satisfy the local demands but were packed ,and shipped to Jerusalem and even to cities along the Mediterranean. The supply of fish has not yet been exhausted. Salim Moussa, of Jaffa, the very efficient Arab dragoman furnished us by Cook, supplied us with a net when we visited the sites of Capernaum and Bethsaida and our son caught enough fish for our lunch. It was a delightful outing that we had that day, gathering water-worn pebbles from the beach, picking up shells, of which there are many varieties, and feasting on fish fresh from the sea and on a lamb bought from a Bedouin who was tending his flock near by.

The visit to the Horns of Hattin was reserved for the return trip, the road from Nazareth to Tiberias passing near the hill which bears this name. It was in 1157 the scene of a celebrated battle in which Saladin won a victory over the Crusaders. This hill, by a tradition which has come down from the time of the Crusaders, is styled the Mount of Beatitudes. There is nothing to determine just where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered, but because the Horns of Hattin have been associated with that wonderful discourse, I was ,anxious to visit the place. There is no road leading to this eminence and the bridle paths can scarcely be followed. The ground is covered by boulders and broken stones, half concealed by grass ,and thistles and flowers. The guide stepped over .a large snake before we had gone far, and as it was of (a very poisonous variety, he felt that he had had a narrow escape. From a distance the top of the hill is saddle-shaped, and the two horns have given it its name, but on the top there is a large circular basin, probably two hundred yards in diameter, and the rim of this basin was once walled ‘and la citadel built there.

The view from this mount is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. To the north, Hermon rises in grandeur, his summit covered with snow; the intervening space is filled with hills except in the immediate foreground where the sea of Galilee sparkles in the sun. At the foot of the mount stretches a verdant valley, and from the valley a defile runs down to the sea. This opening gives a view of the shore where Capernaum and Bethsaida are supposed to have stood, and one of the roads from the sea to Nazareth follows the stream which flows through this defile. On the opposite side of the Mount, Tabor can be seen, and beyond, the hills of Samaria. There is inspiration in this commingling of hill and vale and sea and sky.

Whether, as a matter of fact, Christ, “seeing the multitude,” ascended to this place I know not, but it furnishes an environment fit for the sublime code of morality presented in the Sermon on the Mount. No other philosophy has ever touched so high a point or presented so noble a conception of human life. In it purity of heart is made the test, mercy is enjoined, humility emphasized, forgiveness commanded and love made the law of ,action. In that Sermon He pointed out the beginnings ,of evil, rebuked those who allow them-selves to be engrossed by the care of the body and gave to the world ,a brief, simple and incomparable prayer which the Christian world repeats in unison.

If in other places He relieved those whose sufferings came through the infirmities of the flesh, He here offered a balm for the healing of the nations.