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Year of Youth 2018

Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee: 4 Days

Nazareth is the town in Lower Galilee, where Mary and Joseph lived, and Jesus grew up. It is now called en-Nasira. The town was small and not important at the time of Jesus. Hence the exclamation by Nathanael in John 1:46, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Excavations under existing buildings show dwellings dug into bedrock and around caves. The population in the 1st century is calculated at being well under 500 people.

Nazareth did not become an important place for Christian pilgrims until the late Byzantine period, when Christian building projects began. The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is a modern Catholic church built over the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary received the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus. An existing Franciscan church was demolished in 1955 for the construction of the present church, which was consecrated in 1969.

The Jordan River is the most important river in the region. It flows south from the slopes of Mount Hermon, eventually emptying into the Sea of Galilee. The body of water north of the Sea of Galilee is called the 'Upper Jordan'; and the portion south of the Sea of Galilee is called the 'Lower Jordan'. It is the world's lowest river, reaching a depth of almost 213 meters below sea level.

The site of the Baptism of Jesus on the Jordan River is one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations only began here in 1996, following Jordan's peace treaty with Israel in 1994. More than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods have been uncovered since this date.

Although the identification is not absolutely certain, archaeology has shown that the area known as Wadi Kharrar has long been believed to be the biblical Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, where John the Baptist lived and Jesus was baptized. This area is also associated with the ascension of the Prophet Elijah into heaven, which is commemorated at a hill called Tell Mar Elias.

The Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in the region. It is about 14.5 kilometres long and 8 kilometres wide. It is famous for its abundant supply of fish and four of the disciples - Andrew, Simon, James, John - were fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. In the Bible, this sea is referred to in a variety of ways: Luke uses the name "Lake of Gennesaret", Mark and Matthew use the name "Lake of Galilee", and John calls it the "Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius." (Jn 6:1) The name Tiberious came from the town at the southwest shore named after the Roman emperor.

The southeast portion of the lake adjoined the Decapolis, an administrative district in the province of Syria. The north-eastern portion, including Bethsaida, was included within the territory of the Herodian client king, Philip. The area to the west of the lake was predominantly Jewish; that to its east was mostly Gentile.

Much of Christ's public life was spent near the Sea of Galilee and several miracles took place there, including when Jesus walked on water (Mt.14: 21-33), the calming of the storm (Mt. 5:23-7), the casting of demons into swine that leap into the lake (Mt.8: 28-34), and the massive catch of fish (Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 21:4-14). Many of the Gospel stories use images taken from fishing. Jesus promised Simon and Andrew that he would make them "Fishers of Men" (Mt. 4:19) and he compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a dragnet that captures fish that must be sorted (Mt.13: 47-50).

In 1986, an ancient boat was pulled from the mud along the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. It gives us an idea of the sort of boat used during the time of Jesus. The boat has been dated to the 1st century AD based on pottery and nails found in association with the boat, radiocarbon dating, and hull construction techniques. It is on display at the Jesus Boat Museum.

Mt. Tabor is an isolated mountain with distinctive steep slopes, rising to a height of 562 meters in the northeast portion of the plain of Esdraelon. In the past these slopes were densely forested. The eastern slope is a watershed for the Jordan River. The three tribal lands of Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali meet at Mt. Tabor. This mountain is where Barak was instructed to assemble a force of 10,000 men.

Even though it is not very high in absolute terms, its prominence in the plain led the psalmist (Ps. 89: 2) and the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.46: 18) to compare it with Mt. Carmel and Mt. Hermon, two lofty peaks which can be seen from its summit. It is regarded as the site of the transfiguration of Jesus, described as having taken place on a "high mountain" (Mt. 17:1).

Cana is referred to in the Gospel of John (2:1; 4:46; 21:2). It was there that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning the water into wine at a wedding feast. The exact location of Cana is uncertain. There are two churches in the modern village of Kafr Kana, 6 kilometres north of Nazareth, that commemorate this miracle. Some consider it more likely, however, that Cana is Khirbet Qana, a Galilean town about 8 kilometres northeast of Nazareth.

Christian pilgrims have revered this site as the place of Jesus' first miracle from an early date. Ancient graffiti can be seen on one of the grottoes.

A church was built in Cana by Empress Helena (mother of Constantine) in the 4th century, and this was identified with the remains of a large building found by travellers to Kafr Kanna in the 17th century.