Capernaum and the Golan Heights
On the northwestern corner of the Sea of Galilee are the remains of the village of Capernaum. This was Jesus’ home base for his ministry in Galilee, and there are many wonderful moments recorded in the gospels of His activity in and around this town. The White Synagogue was built on the foundation of what may have been the Synagogue in which Jesus taught (John 6). The ancient Christians indicated the remains of a house which is believed to be Peter’s – where Jesus taught and healed many. We spent some time exploring this important site.
Leaving Capernaum, we headed east up into the Golan heights. In Jesus’ day this was the region of the Decapolis, a grouping of ten cities on the eastern border of the Roman Empire. [Jesus did not enter this region except on the occasion when he delivered the Gadarene demoniac.] We found the Gamla Nature Reserve, deep into the Golan and only about ten miles from the border of Syria. That morning we heard a series of explosions which we understand were an exchange of mortar fire between Israel and Syria. There was much evidence of military activity in the Golan Heights including blown up tanks, military installations on the high points and signs warning of “Tank Crossing.”
Gamla holds the memory of another battle that took place about thirty years after Jesus death and resurrection. The Jews thought the city was impregnable for it hung precariously upon the top of a steep ridge. First century historian Josephus in his book “The War Of The Jews” described it in this way:
“Gamla did not surrender to the Romans but relied upon the difficulty of the place to conquer, for it was situated upon a rough ridge of a high mountain, where it begins to ascend and declines as much downward before as behind, so that it is like a camel for which it is named….[The city also hangs so strangely that it looks like it might fall down upon itself]… There was also a spring of water within the wall, at the upper limits of the city. This city was awkward to be taken, and Josephus made it even stronger by building a wall about it, and ditches and mines underground. Thus they had been able to resist those whom Agrippa sent to besiege it for seven months.”
Those Jewish defenders were incredibly brave and repulsed the Roman siege on three occasions. In the end they could not resist the tenacious grinding machine that was the Roman Army and Gamla fell. The ruins are testimony to that terrific battle. In those ruins they found more Roman catapult darts than in any other Roman siege location.
They also found in those ruins six bronze coins which had been minted in Gamla, bearing the slogan: “Lige’ulas Yerushalayim hakedosha,” “To the redemption of holy Yerushalayim.”
The nature reserve is very special. It has the highest waterfall in Israel. The trail to it runs through an ancient burial ground. These nomadic people were buried inside natural flat stone slabs which resembled a small stone age house and there thousands of them some as old as ten thousand years from the time of Abraham.
Gamla holds the remains of a Byzantine Church and is the nesting site for the Griffon Vulture, a bird whose wing span can reach nine feet!! We spoke to a fellow who had been there ahead of us and not seen a sign of them for three hours. As we walked to the edge of the cliff, low and behold – a vulture rose up just below me! What a picture of the wind rising beneath outstretched wings.
David once wrote a song about God coming to his rescue on the “wings of the wind” in 2 Samuel 22:11.
Click the photos below to view them full-size…