Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Galilee, Part 2

Mona Lisa of Galilee (from Wikipedia)
We made two other stops in the region of Galilee, Sepphoris and Mount Tabor.

Sepphoris isn't mentioned in the gospels, but was the main Roman city in the area around Nazareth. When Nathanial says, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" he expresses a reasonable attitude toward a small town where people live in caves.  Sepphoris, on the other hand, was a larger city being built up on a Roman model, and ruins have been excavated both from around the time of Jesus and from later centuries when it was a significant center of Jewish learning after Jerusalem was destroyed.  The Jewish Mishna, which is a compilation of Jewish law, was written in Sepphoris in the third century.

Part of why this city is important is that Jesus is referred in Mark 6:3 as a tekton, and it is assumed his father Joseph would have been, as well.  Traditionally, this word has been translated into English as "carpenter", but, as our guide repeatedly said to us, "How many trees do you see around here?"  A better translation is probably "master builder" or "stone mason."  During Jesus life, the city of Sepphoris was being built up, and master builders from the region would probably have been employed there.  Some of the remains we saw could have been the handiwork of Jesus and Joseph. 

A number of beautiful mosaics dating to the third and fourth century have been found there.  One depicts levels of the Nile River, many show Greek or Egyptian mythological themes, and one is of a beautiful woman, sometimes referred to as "The Mona Lisa of Galilee."

Church of the Transfiguration (Jane photo)
We also went to Mount Tabor, one of two likely sites for the Transfiguration.  The church and the gardens are beautiful.  Besides the main sanctuary, the church had small chapels to Moses and Elijah (which does seem somehow not the point).  The Elijah chapel pictured Elijah standing between two altars on Mount Caramel.  One was on fire, representing God taking his offering, as opposed to the altar to Baal.  On the altars were the sacrifices, depicted as you might find pieces of meat in a butcher shop in a Looney Tunes episode. (Unfortunately, I don't know that anyone has a photo of it.) 

Most memorable, however, was the ride to the top of the Mount where the church was.  We got off the bus and into small vans carrying about 8 people each.  The drivers rode quickly up numerous switchbacks.  At least some of the vans had handles on the steering wheel, so that the sharp curves could be navigated with one hand.  This feature allowed a cell phone to be held in the other as the van avoided traffic from the other direction while careening down the side of a mountain.  Our guide was correct when he told us we would appreciate our bus driver more after our ride.


Roman Soldiers' Game (Jane photo)
In an earlier post, I mentioned a game carved by Roman soldiers into the floor of their watchtower.  Here is the photo of it.  If anyone knows how to play, please share!

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