Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In which we speak of boats, beatitudes and Banyas

Early starts are becoming the order of the day as we race other groups to be first in line at the next site.  By 9.15am today we had visited the kibbutz where an ancient fishing boat from the time of Jesus (unearthed in 1986) is carefully displayed under controlled conditions, and we were out on the Sea of Galilee on a replica of a 1st century fishing boat.  Daphne sketched as we sailed 1 Aboard the boat IMG_6087

The Aussie flag was hoisted to our somewhat scratchy verbal accompaniment (well it was early in the morning!), IMG_6095 the driver cut the motor and all was peaceful.

Boak read us the story of Jesus calming the storm.IMG_6109While we listened we could see the hills of Galilee where Jesus taught the crowds (the Mount of the Beatitudes), fed the 5000 with his miracle of loaves and fishes (Tabgha) and gave Peter his special commission.

We spent the rest of the morning on shore visiting these very sites. IMG_6154 IMG_6136IMG_6176IMG_6173 Whether or not these are the exact sites we have no idea – but thousands of pilgrims are happy to believe they are, and the livelihood of these churches depends on it.

After a lunch of “Peter’s Fish” IMG_6198 we went for an afternoon drive up to the Golan Heights (as you do), through rain and low cloud, with the outside temperature taking quite a dive.  We saw numerous Israeli Army installations, the border with Syria, and the UN peacekeeping force headquarters. 

In stark contrast to some of the bare, rocky countryside we’ve seen over the last few days, this region has fruit trees, cotton, corn and other produce – even the olive trees here look bushier than their Galileean cousins.

On our arrival at Banyas we were greeted with bad news and good news.   The park ranger had closed the gates an hour earlier than usual because the weather by now was very dark and wet.  However she agreed to open just for us, and for a short time we enjoyed the seductive spell of this place once dedicated to the god Pan (Banyas=Paneas).  IMG_6206 IMG_6209 This is the only place in Israel where you’ll see naturally running water, and it’s beautiful.   Why did we go there? 

This poem, written by a late master wordsmith and friend, Bruce Smith, says it all.

Banyas was green,

luxuriant green and


In that forested scene

only the waters moved,

appearing mysteriously beneath the cliffs and flowing silently

in the cool shade

of the overhanging trees.


To tourists familiar

with parched, stony

landscapes Banyas

was a shock; 

a sudden forest luxury

for which nothing

had prepared us. 

It was a place of magic

inviting us to feel

and fantasise. 

Ornate marble capitals,

bases, strewn columns

and fretting remains

of cultic shrines

added to its power. 

Others had fantasised

in this place. 

‘Banyas’, ‘Paneas’ –

hallowed sanctuary of Pan. 

Why not?  How else? 

Everything combined

to weave the spell.


Yet here at Banyas,

Caesarea Philippi,

in these very parts,

a fisherman had stood,

spoken and broken the

power of that spell.

With daring directness

he’d said to Jesus:

“You are the Christ,

the Son of God.”

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