Middle East Travel Seminar: Our incredible journey in Galilee continues

  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


As we begin the third and final week of our adventure we are continually amazed at this experience. Today was spent in Galilee visiting more sites and trying to hold in tension the “archeological remains, church traditions, and the embellishments of tour guides” as Max Miller puts it, along with theological reflection and current political realities. It is sensory overload for most of us as we share this trip in the community we have formed with one another. At the same time, this is immensely personal for each of us. We still chatter non stop through parts of the day and evenings at leisure but we are also quieter for periods of time as we experience this holy land on its own terms. The closer we get to Jerusalem the more the crowds increase. The temperature has also risen to around 100 degrees, topping 104 yesterday, so we are careful to stay hydrated and take breaks when we need them. We were thankful for overcast skies today! Here are just a few highlights:

We started our day celebrating the birthday of our bus driver, Kareem, who moves us from place to place safely no matter how tight a spot he encounters! Then it was on to our first stop at Mt. Carmel overlooking the Jezreel Valley (top photo) where student Nathan Paul-Bonham did a wonderful presentation on the Druze, an Abrahamic religion with elements of the Islamic, Judaic, and Christian traditions.

The ancient city of Megiddo.

It was a short ride to Megiddo, an incredible place where excavations show us much of what ancient civilizations were like. Professor Sam Adams did a masterful job helping us to appreciate how archeology informs present-day understandings of cultural, political, and religious life. And he reminded us that archeology is not an exact science, especially when multiple communities are built on top of each other through the centuries when one dies out and another emerges, as is the case of Megiddo. A highlight for many of us was walking through the underground water system,  a marvel of ingenuity and construction. The interpretation of what occurred here directly informs the current political situation and Megiddo holds special significance for some contemporary Christians who believe in an interpretation of Revelation that says the end of time will occur there: Armageddon.

Stairs taking us to the underground water system at Megiddo.

We had a hearty lunch in Nazareth, a bustling city rather than the small village it would have been when Jesus lived there with his family. At the Church of the Annunciation, we found a beautiful church built over a first-century house like one where tradition says Jesus’ mother lived. The church has magnificent mosaic renderings of scenes of Mary and her son from countries around the world. Just across the way were other ruins where tradition also says Joseph’s carpenter shop could have been.

Altar at the Church of the Annunciation built into Mary’s house.

Today was filled with examples of the confluence of archeology, biblical narrative, and traditions that believers adhere to, much of which cannot be reconciled. What we know for sure is that Jesus lived here and it was from here that his followers began their journeys that spread his message of peace across the globe. Perhaps what is most important about these sites is that they are sacred to believers from around the world who do not interpret things the same way, yet all stand upon the same holy ground when they are here.

Debbie Kirk is an alumna of Union and Associate Pastor for Spiritual Growth and Nurture at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.