Along the Shore of the Sea of Galilee:
Tabgha and the Mount of the Beatitudes
Commemorates the Sermon on the Mount (Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-36)
and the Feeding of the 5,000, Summer 31 AD

 

"They all ate and were satisfied." (Mark 6:42).

Our next stops come in quick succession:

Continuing north on Road 90 from Kibbutz Ginnosar, after 1.8 miles is a junction with Road 8077 to Kibbutz Huquq; then a further 550 yards on is Sapir. Adjacent to Sapir, on a low natural hill sloping down to the shore of the lake, is Tell Kinneret (or Kinnereth), a small mound whose paltry remains belie its former importance. In Old Testament times it was a strategic city that gave its name to the lake, as in Numbers 34:


"The boundary* will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Kinnereth." (Numbers 34:11)

*The boundary of the land allotted to the Israelites as their inheritance, as designated by God speaking through Moses.


...also, Joshua 9:


"The boundary* ran west through Aznoth Tabor and came out at Hukkok. It touched Zebulun on the south, Asher on the west and the Jordan on the east. The fortified cities were Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Kinnereth." (Joshua 19:34-45)

*The border of the land given to the tribe of Naphtali at the time of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites.


Kinneret, from the Hebrew kinnowr, meaning "harp" or "lyre," is derived or so the story goes from the shape of the lake when viewed from high on the surrounding hills. Another tradition says it comes from the harp-like sounds of its waves. Kinneret was populated starting in the Early Bronze period (3150 BC-2200 BC) and in 1468 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III, captured Kinneret and 118 other cities.

(Above left) Tell Kinnert at the northern end of the Plain of Gennesaret, on the northwest shore of the Sea
of Galilee, between Magdala and Capernaum; (Above right) Sea of Galilee and Tell Kinneret.

Soon after Tell Kinnereth we come to Kfar Nahum junction. Here, Road 90 heads north away from the lake; we continue east on Road 87; about one mile later we come to Tabgha, the traditional site of Jesus' feeding of the 5,000.


Tabgha


Not a village, but a small, fertile valley on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, the word Tabgha is an Arab corruption of the Greek heptapagon (from "hepta" plus "pege"), meaning 'seven springs' (although "seven" is a symbolic number). The shallow springs themselves can be seen down on the lake's shore, flowing across the rocky beach. The warmth and high salt content of the springs are said to sustain a suitable environment for the so-called St. Peter's Fish that live in the lake. Here, tradition says, Jesus stood by the lake teaching before a large crowd. As the afternoon waned into evening, his disciples came to him and requested that he "send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat..."


"...But Jesus answered, 'You give them something to eat.' They said to him, 'That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?' 'How many loaves do you have?' he asked. 'Go and see.' When they found out, they said, 'Five and two fish.' Jesus asked the multitude to sit down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand" (Mark 6:35-44).


Bread was regarded by Jews as a gift of God, and it was required that all scraps that fell on the ground during a meal be picked up. The fragments were collected in baskets (Greek kophinos), a large basket used for carrying items on the head.


In the footsteps of Jesus...


The first Christian church in Galilee was built at Tabgha in 350 AD to commemorate the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. In the 5th century AD it was replaced by a basilica and convent. Following a visit by Pope Paul VI in 1964, a new church was built on the old foundations the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

(Above left exterior, above right) The architects used a flesh-colored stone to create a simple, dignified design

Below the church's freestanding altar is a block of undressed limestone (above left) believed by historians to have been a sacred place since prehistoric times. In Christian tradition, it is the place where Jesus placed the bread and fish before serving the disciples. In the floor before the altar is a mosaic of a basket flanked by two fish (above right). The basket contains four (not five) loaves; the story is told that the artist saw the bread of the Eucharist on the altar as the fifth loaf.

A real treat for visitors: the architects retained the mosaics of the original church (above left), which lay hidden for 1,300 years. It is the earliest known example of a figured pavement in Palestinian church art and it shows an animated scene of exotic birds and plants, including a peacock, lotus flower (not native to the area) and many plants found along the lakeside; Just outside the church, at the entrance, is the original cross-shaped baptistery (above right).

As we leave the chapel, our stomachs remind us it is that it is nearly time for lunch. Our guide, Doran, asks the group to sit down on the grass while a couple of us accompany him back to the bus, where he produces box lunches packed by the staff of our Tiberias hotel. Fittingly, they include bread and smoked fish, which allows us to place ourselves back in time among the multitude of 5,000 being served by Jesus' disciples. Our stomachs satisfied, we move on to our next pilgrim site.


Mount of the Beatitudes


High on a gentle slope across the road from Tabgha is the place where tradition says Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the eight "Beatitudes" recorded in Matthew 5:


"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Matthew 5:3-11).


(Above left) looking southwest from the Mount of the Beatitudes toward Plain of Gennesaret and the sites Kinnereth, Gennesaret and Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene; in the distance is the Valley of the Doves, a V-shaped rift through which the major trade route, known to the Romans as "Via Maris," ran from the Jezreel Valley to Capernaum and beyond to Damascus. Somewhere along this same road, a young Pharisee named Saul (later Paul) experienced his life-changing conversion; (Above right) Church of the Beatitudes atop the Mount of the Beatitudes built in 1937 by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi on a hill, the Mount of the Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee from the north. An odd fact: the building was commissioned by Benito Mussolini!

The octagonal shape of the church is symbolic of the eight beatitudes, and a mosaic pavement around the altar contains symbolic representations of the Seven Virtues: Charity, Justice, Prudence, Hope, Faith, Fortitude and Temperance.

While strolling the grounds surrounding the Church of the Beatitudes, admiring the well-tended gardens and spreading fichus trees, you get the sense that Jesus loved this area. Palm trees and blazing fuchsia bougainvillea frame views of the lake, that on this day can only be described as a beautiful blue jewel set in a pastoral valley. One ancient scribe wrote, "God created the seven seas, but the Kinneret (the Hebrew name for the lake) is his pride and joy."

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, contrasts the law of Moses with the new interpretation of the law by Jesus. Opinions differ as to whether it is a summary of what Jesus taught on a single occasion or a compilation of teachings on several occasions. Possibly Matthew took one sermon and expanded it with other teachings. The eight beatitudes, represent the heart of Jesus' teaching, and when he spoke these now familiar words he was telling his audience to view the world from a whole different, reversed, perspective, in which the poor get everything, the hungry get fed, the weepers laugh. And they received those things precisely because they are poor, hungry, crying..

The word "blessed" comes from the Greek makarios, which is better translated as "happy." So the familiar eight beatitudes should read, "Happy are the poor in spirit..." or "Happy are those who morn..." or "Happy are the meek..." and so forth..


"Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3) - The "poor in spirit" are those who are spiritually down and out; they've reached the bottom of the spiritual pit and there are no options available. The circumstances of life have sucked them dry, with absolutely no answers. They might know that that God loves them but somehow it doesn't seem to matter any more. Their reservoir has gone dry and they are wide open for God's intervention in their lives. Jesus is really saying, "Happy" are they who have given up any hopes of doing it themselves.


"Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4) - Those who mourn? You've got to be kidding! The Galileans in Jesus' audience had seen more than their share of death and oppression

"Happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10) - Those who mourn? You've got to be kidding! The Galileans in Jesus' audience had seen more than their share of death and oppression.


"Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) - The "meek?" In Greek, the word is praus (prah-ooce), meaning mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit. The meek are not wimps or cowards who allow themselves to become doormats for everyone to step on. Rather, they are the ones who know how to control their emotions. Meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. The "meek" don't let their emotions control them; they are "happy" because they rely on God rather than their own strength to gain control over given situations.


"Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6) - "Righteousness" comes from the Greek dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo-nay), "acceptable to God" The righteous are those who live with the absolute knowledge that they will some day be with God in heaven. As a man literally on his deathbed in a hospice said to his son who promised to visit him the following day, "If I don't see you tomorrow, I'll see you in heaven!"


"Happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7) - Merciful, from the Greek eleemon (el-eh-ay'-mone), derived from, eleeo (el-eh-eh-o) meaning, "to have compassion" Being "merciful" is more than just being nice to others, like helping old ladies across the street, or becoming a "Meals on Wheels" volunteer. Though noble, that's not necessarily what Jesus meant by "merciful" Rather, "happy" are those who put themselves in another's place, who can understand what it is like to be in pain, stripped of security. You are "happy," Jesus says, when you can bear the pain of another.


"Happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8) - Being "pure in heart" has to do with values and motives. The Greek word is kathros meaning, "clean, pure," like a vine cleansed by pruning and so ready to bear fruit.


"Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9) - Peacemakers are not conflict-avoiders who turn away from arguments and hope they go away. "Peace-MAKERS are those who are willing to put themselves between two warring factions, those who leave the security of the side-lines to calm the aggression of others. " Happy" are they who aggressively seek peace.


At the base of the "blessed" hill, a small cove is a reminder of the time when "the crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge." (Mark 4:1)


Cove of the Sower / Bay of Parables


Just east of Tabgha, roughly halfway to Capernaum, is a shallow bay known alternately as the "Cove of the Sower" or "Bay of Parables" (below) lying at the foot of the "Mount of the Beatitudes, the land slopes like a Greek theater and it has been noted for its exceptional acoustics. A Roman road, following one of the branches of the Via Maris, passed just above the cove, just as the modern road does today.

Standing here it is easy to visualize Jesus sitting in a boat teaching the people about the nature of the kingdom of God, as in the "Parable of the Sower":


"Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 'Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.'" (Mark 4:1-8)


Can a speaker strand at water's edge and be heard at the top of the hill? On a non-windy day, with no cars passing by on the road, the answer is yes. The slope of the hill rising from the edge of the lake forms a natural amphitheater. Research has demonstrated that 8,000 to 10,000 people could be accommodated within hearing distance of a speaker standing in a boat offshore.

This cove is located in one of the most beautiful places along the shoreline of the lake. From it, Jesus' followers could have looked westward and seen the steep cliff of Mount Arbel jutting into the sky above the Valley of the Doves. To the northwest, the hills of northern Galilee rose behind the Plain of Gennesaret and the tortuous Wadi Amud. The whole length of the lake would have been visible, with the Decapolis ridge to the southeast and the recently-built Hellenistic city of Tiberias on the western shore, some five miles away. Fishing boats could have been pulled up on the shore nearby, where their owners, probably known to Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee brothers, mended their nets and prepared for their next night's work.

Jesus' Life Home n Continue following Jesus' Galilee ministry: on to Capernaum