This morning we drove up to the Golan Heights, bordering Syria and Lebanon, for a view of the abandoned city of Kuneitra and a nearby UN outpost. Our guide talked about the Yom Kippur war of 1973 and the debate within Israeli society since then over whether or not to keep the Golan Heights, e.g. for strategic reasons. We then drove to the hills overlooking the Hula Valley where, from the perspective of former Syrian fortifications, we discussed the security challenges before the Six-Day War.
From there we continued to Banias, better known among readers of the New Testament as Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” We learned much from our tour guide about the role the location played in the Roman empire in Jesus’ day.
We returned to Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, for lunch at St. Peter’s Restaurant, and then drove to Capernaum to visit the remains of a synagogue from the 2nd century C.E. (under the ruins of a synagogue from the 5th century) and the layered remains of several churches just about across the street, churches that were built, as many archeologists believe, over the site of Peter’s house. This is a real possibility since synagogues and churches frequently were built on the location of former synagogues and churches. This is why archeologists wonder if perhaps there might be remains of a 1st century synagogue under those from the 2nd century one.
Our next stop was the Mount of Beatitudes, a beautiful hill with a spectacular view across the lake. We heard again Jesus’ words of blessing from Matthew 5, and I know that I will return in my mind to this view of the lake every time I hear those words again in the future. The landscape, the hot desert sun in Judea, the lush green around the lake, the view from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – those are all impressions I will take with me and that will continue to shape my imagination and my thinking about Scripture.
We ended the day with a group conversation to continue to process our experiences; we had had several of these during this week, but this one was memorable because we met in the bomb shelter of our hotel. It was a stark reminder of the long road to peace for God’s children on all sides of the many borders in this region. Conflict management is not enough.