Middle East Travel Seminar: Entering the stomping grounds of Jesus

  1. Our Middle East Travel Seminar has landed!
  2. Middle East Travel Seminar: A great day in Amman
  3. Middle East Travel Seminar: Surprising spiritual moments
  4. Middle East Travel Seminar: Petra and an epic storm
  5. Middle East Travel Seminar: Little Petra and glamping(?)
  6. Middle East Travel Seminar: Our trek from desert to sea
  7. Middle East Travel Seminar: Sacred ground above the Dead Sea
  8. Middle East Travel Seminar: Scrolls, mud, salt and temptation
  9. Middle East Travel Seminar: Entering the stomping grounds of Jesus
  10. Middle East Travel Seminar: Following Jesus around the Sea of Galilee
  11. Middle East Travel Seminar: Our incredible journey in Galilee continues
  12. Middle East Travel Seminar: Turning toward Jerusalem 
  13. Middle East Travel Seminar: Diverse cultural perspectives in Roman-era Zippori
  14. Middle East Travel Seminar: A day of memory, history, hope… and sweets!
  15. Middle East Travel Seminar: The Western Wall, Temple Mount, and Dome of the Rock


It’s a peculiar and wonderful aspect of traveling — when one of the days you anticipate being uneventful or humdrum unfolds into one of the favorites of the trip. Today was one such day for me. On the schedule, it looked like a day dominated by the bus seat — picking up camp in Jericho and driving north along the Jordan River to set up camp in Tiberias in the region of Galilee.

The first group activity of the day was exploring the ancient city ruins of Beit She’an National Park (top photo), an area containing foundations of buildings dating from the Canaanite period to the Byzantine. While it is not to the sheer scale of a site like Jerash in Jordan, the park exhibits a breathtaking and remarkably well-preserved major city of the Roman Decapolis.

Migdal Synagogue

From Beit She’an, we drove 40-minutes north to Tiberias where we ate lunch, with many of our group eating fish from the Sea of Galilee. Then, almost on a whim, we visited the first-century Galilean town of Magdala, the likely home of Mary Magdalene from the Gospel narratives. At the site, we explored the Migdal Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Galilee and one of the six known and excavated synagogues dating back to the first century CE.  While there is no explicit mention of Magdala in the New Testament Gospel or Epistolary literature, there is frequent mention of Jesus visiting synagogues around the region of Galilee, and it is likely that the Jesus of history walked upon the stones we have walked, and sat, prayed, taught, read, and learned in the synagogue we have just seen.

A few feet from the archeological excavation (which has only been active since 2006!) there is a Roman Catholic Duc in Altum which commemorates the public life of Jesus and celebrates the role of women in Jesus ministry. The entire chapel is held up by eight pillars, seven of which are inscribed with the names of women mentioned in the four Gospels, the eighth, we were told, has been left blank to honor the women who continue the work of the gospel today.


Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee

After checking into the Royal Hotel in Tiberias, Douglas (Hippe) and I took advantage of the bikes the hotel lent out. We peddled to the downtown along the coast of the Sea of Galilee, enjoying the new means of autonomous locomotion. The town was a sort of resort town, and we walked along the boardwalk and around the shops of downtown, getting a bearing on the town which will serve as our home for four days.

Nathan Paul-Bonham is a Master of Divinity student at Union.