Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.
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ERUSALEM, Israel – It might be helpful, friend reader, to note that Israel is about the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey. Thus, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground in a single day, especially when you add in an early start and a fair amount of driving.
Our day began, appropriately, on the Mount of Beatitudes, also known as the Mount of Blessing. As with many Christian sites in Israel, this one is operated by a part of the Roman Catholic Church, but it is open to all who wish to see it. I even noted a Muslim couple visiting. While no one can be certain that this location is the exact spot where Jesus spoke, it’s certainly high enough to be a very possible location. The view (see photo) is inspiring.
(Of course, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing
, Ellen G. White’s exposition of the sermon Jesus delivered as recorded in Matthew 5, comes to mind when contemplating this beautiful scene.)
From there, we went to Capernaum, which is the Roman (Latin) name for K’far Nahum, or the Village of Nahum. Capernaum was home to Simon Peter and his family, and a place in which Jesus performed several miracles and from which He and His disciples went throughout the Galilee region. Now, “Nahum” was a common name in Israel, so there’s no known connection between K’far Nahum and the prophet Nahum whose book is in the Old Testament. But it is helpful to remember the Hebrew name of this village, and the fact that, by the fifth century A.D. (and earlier) it was a Jewish town, despite the Roman name by which it is widely known.
Why is that important? Because it helps us understand why the fifth century synagogue in Capernaum was so large a structure. A few columns, walls and rows of seats (along the wall areas and not arranged as modern pews) remain, and the site draws thousands and thousands of visitors annually. The fifth-century structure sits atop ruins of older, similar buildings, which leads many to believe this was also the site of the first-century “house of meeting,” or “beit Knesset,” where Jesus worshipped. Before its destruction in 70 A.D., there was only one place where Jews worshipped – the Temple in Jerusalem. Local assemblies were houses of meeting and/or houses of study, known as “beit midrash.”
Other stops today included Bet She’an, which is known from the Bible as the place where, after a battle at Mount Gilboa, not far away, the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons on the city’s ramparts.
From there, we went to Kursi, which the Israel Nature and Parks Authority claims is the site of Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed man, as recorded in Luke 8:26-39. My friends in Jordan say these events really took place near Um Qais, Jordan, formerly known as Gadara, so visitors will have to decide for themselves.
There are arguments for and against the spot on the Jordan River known as Yardenit, as being the actual baptismal site of Jesus. Our group went to Yardenit, a beautiful, accessible and highly popular place. For a modest fee, pilgrims can rent a baptismal robe (and towel), and the ability to use a changing room before entering the water. It’s estimated that 400,000 people come there each year either to be baptized for the first time or to reaffirm their baptisms. Certificates are provided, and with or without a piece of paper, I’m sure those who engage in the ceremony here go home with a memorable experience.
After Yardenit, our sights were set on Jerusalem. Arriving at the end of the day, our little company took in the view of the Jaffa Gate, the only “break” in the wall surrounding the Old City. Our lodgings, the Mamilla Hotel, are near the Jaffa Gate and have the distinction of bearing an old façade on the front, and ultra-modern conveniences inside. Tomorrow promises a visit to the Mount of Olives, and other fascinating sites in a city the world calls holy.