Tiberias

Our tents are pitched tonight by the Sea of Galilee, in the ruins of the old castle of Tiberias. We spent this forenoon in continuing our survey of Nazareth. First, we went to see the place of the Annunciation. We entered the church of the Franciscan monastery while service was going on. After it was over, a monk took us down under the altar into a cave, fitted up richly for a chapel, under the altar of which is a black marble cross, to mark the place where Mary stood. Opposite it are two stone pillars, between which the angel came. One of them is broken through, so that a piece hangs from the ceiling, and a piece stands up from the floor. They say the Moslems tried to break the cave down, and couldn’t. From this cave a stairway leads up into another, a second room of the house. Over the altar of the Annunciation is a good picture of the scene, and around the cross are ever-burning silver lamps. It is a pretty and impressive spot, and there is no impossibility about its being the place.

We went then to the carpenter’s shop of Joseph, and the synagogue where Christ preached. Both are modern churches, and there is nothing interesting about either. Then to the church where the Greeks celebrate the Annunciation. They place it at a fountain under a tawdry old church, and take you down into a cave, where they have their lamps around their cross, and a well from which a monk draws up water and gives you to drink out of a silver cup. The old church was very prettily full of birds flying about. These are the sights of Nazareth, but its old streets and the view from the hill are its true interest, and those I shall never forget. We said good-by to it, and left it lying among the hills, where Jesus must have looked back upon it the last time He went out.

A quick ride of five hours brought us here. We lunched at Cana of Galilee, at least at a little village which one legend calls so. There is another claimant to the name which we saw in the distance ; either may be the place. Both are so situated that you can picture Jesus and His mother going out from Nazareth to a near town to attend the marriage to which they had been invited. Ours was a forlorn little town, in which we stopped at a wretched church, where a cross-legged master was teaching twenty cross-legged boys to read their Arabic. Against the wall were built in what looked like two fonts, about the size of that in my church. This is said to be the house of the marriage. Then we rode on through a rolling country which Jesus must have often walked, on His way back and forth between Nazareth and the lake. The whole country, every hill and valley, seemed marked with His foot-prints. At last we came to a broad plain with one round hill rising out of it. Here the last great battle of the Crusades was fought, and Saladin finally conquered the Christians. Legend calls the hill The Hill of the Beatitudes,” and says it is where the Sermon on the Mount was preached. Perhaps it is. Opposite is another hill, where they say Christ fed the multitude, but that must have been on the other side of the lake. Another ridge climbed, and there was the ” Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.” There it lay in the soft afternoon light, blue among the purple hills. There were the waves He walked, the shores where He taught, the mountains where He prayed. With Hermon’s white head to the north, with the steep Moab hills coming to its brink on the east, with its low western shore where the old city stood, with Safed ” the city set on a hill ” off to the northwest, it was a sight not to be forgotten. I have hardly ever enjoyed an hour more than the one we spent in winding down the ridge into Tiberias. The town lies on the lake shore ; it is miserable and dirty. It has a population of wretched Jews, who are rascally-looking creatures in black felt hats, and long elf locks. The women are horribly tattooed with ink. ” Every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.” So ends a most interesting day. By the way, looking into a house-door at Nazareth, this morning, I saw ” two women grinding together at the mill ” sitting together on the floor, and working the upper mill-stone round upon the lower by a handle, which they both grasped.

Our weather is still splendid, and tonight is soft and warm as June. Good-night.

TIBERIAS, Friday, December 15, 1865.

To-day has been a perfect day, cloudless and warm, and we have spent it in seeing this wonderful lake. We were ready early, and our horses were brought out because there was a fresh wind blowing and the timid fishermen would not venture the one boat, which is now the only craft of the lake, upon the water. So we must ride. We left the old walls of Tiberias behind us, and rode northward along the western shore. Tiberias itself is a miserable town, but its walls show that it was once fine, and it was new and at its best in Jesus’ day. After crossing one or two ridges, with their intervening valleys, we came out on a plain three miles long and extending back a mile or two, flat and fertile, from the beach. This is the ” land of Gennesaret.” Just as we entered it from the hills, we came to a little group of twenty or thirty dirty huts with a ruined tower near them. This is Magdala, the native town of Mary Magdalene. The Arabs still call it Medjel. We rode across the plain, through the oleander bushes that skirt the shore, and at its other end came to an old ruined khan, a fountain gushing out under an old fig-tree, and an acre or more covered with old foundations and heaps of stones. Right in the midst was a wretched burial ground, and three poor Bedouins were digging, as we passed, a grave for a body that lay wrapped in its blankets on the ground beside them. This is Capernaum, the home of Christ after Nazareth rejected Him. ” And thou Capernaum.” Passing this, we climbed a cliff, and, keeping a narrow road cut in the rock, came by and by to another beach, and beyond it to a snug little cove, just the place for fishing-boats to be drawn up, with nothing on the shore but some old ruined aqueducts, and some reservoirs, one of them now used for a mill. Not a living soul was there. This is Bethsaida, the city of John and James, Peter and Andrew. We kept along then a mile or so farther, and came to another heap of ruins interspersed with miserable huts, and the black tents of Bedouins, who are in temporary occupation. This is Chorazin. There are ruins of some fine buildings here, columns, capitals, etc., but this is probably later than Jesus’ time. Here we lunched, sitting in the shadow of one of the huts, with the Bedouins gathered on its roof, staring at us. They seemed harm-less, but would be bad enough if they had the chance. There were some good faces among them. I noticed especially one sweet – looking little girl, whom it seemed hard to leave in such keeping. These are the cities ” wherein many of His mighty works were done,” — all ruined and gone. We turned back here ; our dragoman would not let us go farther, for fear of Bedouins. We saw in the distance where the Jordan enters into the lake, and then riding back to Tiberias, made the fisherman take us out to row on the lake. It was strange to see him, as we reached the middle, and the hour of prayer arrived, leave his rudder, and spreading his cloak on the floor of the boat, kneel towards Mecca and with many gestures say his evening prayers. All this on the lake of Gennesaret. But religions are all mixed up here. We had the Tiberias fish for breakfast this morning, but they were so bad we could only taste them. Tomorrow we leave the lake, but I shall never forget how it has looked today.