The Rev Know-it-all’s guide to the Holy Land part 6...
We make our way down the northernmost part of the Jordan valley (remember that we are making our pilgrimage sometime around the end of the 2nd century, perhaps 180 AD). The river Jordan has a valley between the Golan Heights to the east and the mountains to the west within a few miles we come to a wetland (a dignified name for a malarial swamp) called Lake Merom. In the 1950’s AD the swamps will be drained and that part of the Jordan valley, only about 10 or 15 miles long, will be called the Hula valley and the lake, Hula. A little farther and we come to Galilee proper and the town of Bethsaida, on the Sea/Lake of Galilee. Bethsaida means house hunting, or perhaps fishing. It could be a place for both. It sits on the northern edge of the Lake of Galilee and to this day the swampy Hula valley is a bird sanctuary and one of the few places in the Holy Land where a little wildlife hunting goes on in the 21st century.
At one point it seems to have been the home of Peter and some of the twelve disciples. It was a nice place to live, if you didn’t catch malaria. Now we are in Galilee proper, not a large place but a very well-populated one. The Lake of Galilee was tropical and fertile. The lake teemed with fish and the towns huddled around the lake. The lake which is below sea level was home to a million people according to some estimates, perhaps more. Forget the Bible movies abbot Jesus preaching in some barren desert. Didn’t happen. If you go up the hills and out of the tropical valley, you will find some dry and empty places, but that’s not where the Lord did most of his work. When Jesus wanted to be alone and pray, He went into the hills which were certainly drier than the valley of the Jordan in Galilee.
Galilee means the circle. It was actually called Galil Hagoyim, Galilee of the gentiles. The region had been part of the territory of the half tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph. When the kingdom of David and Solomon split into the two kingdoms of Judah in the south and of Samaria in the north also called Israel, Galilee became home to one of the golden calves set up by Jeroboam, founder of the northern kingdom in about 910 BC. Things were never the same after that. Remember that the united kingdom of Israel was tiny to begin with, about 75 miles by about 30 miles. The two new kingdoms were tinier still, Israel/Samaria being about twice the size of Judah (Judea). This northern kingdom of which Galilee was part was founded in 930 BC and after just about 500 years it was destroyed by the Assyrians, the ancestors of my barber. Much of the population of the Northern kingdom was dragged off into exile in Mesopotamia (Iraq/Iran) and replaced with deportees from other conquered kingdoms who brought their gods and their non-kosher recipes for noodle kugele. (Just kidding about the noodle kugele.)
The population of Galilee and Samaria, just to its south became ethnically and theologically mixed, the newcomers intermarrying with the Israelites who had managed to remain. The Samaritans of the north had never been that concerned with keeping kosher and worshipping one God anyway. The exiles of the north never returned from Assyria. They blended into the Assyrian population and become what most call the ten lost tribes of Israel. They don’t seem very lost to me. Many of them now live in Skokie and come to my Bible study.
When the Judean exiles were allowed to return to the Holy Land after their exile in Babylon, they were greeted by the remaining mixed population of Samaria. One imagines the scene. “Welcome home cousins!” To which the returning Jews responded with, “Who, pray tell, are you?” There was enmity between north and south and the Samaritans were entrenched just north of Jerusalem and there they stayed.
A few years later in 300BC, Alexander the Great invaded and settled Greek speakers on the east and south sides of Lake Galilee. They built temples to their interesting and fun-loving gods to whom they sacrificed pigs and whose rather randy behavior they imitated. In the northwest of Galilee were the remnants of the Canaanites with their child sacrifices, we know them today as the Lebanese. They are still with us and a number of them also come to my Bible study. Lovely people, very Christian and very good to their children these days. Far more child-friendly than America with its abortion industry but, as always, I have slipped off the track again.
Back to the guide. With all these foreign and frankly non-kosher neighbors, the region accurately called Galil Hagoyim was surrounded by the gentiles. Any religious movements or prophets or messiahs coming from Galilee were quite suspect. Galilee had been annexed by Judah Aristobulos, the first of the Maccabee rulers claiming the title king. Judeans resettled the area, and this was how the family of David, including Joseph and Mary would end up in Galilee. And I suppose this is how you and I and our time machine have wound up there, as we make our way to Jerusalem, I mean Aelia Capitolina, as we continue our 2nd century AD pilgrimage.
More to come…