Spring Returns to the Jesus Trail

It is winter in the Galilee. This morning as I looked out my window I smiled to see the gray sky showering rain down on all the dusty land around. Green pops up so soon after the rains begin. Swaths of grass roll themselves out on the hills around Nazareth. And in only a day or two of sun after rain, wild flowers of all kinds burst into bloom in all the corners of the land that used to house only dust.

From January and into the later spring months, flowers of all description, color and property begin blessing the land with their beauty and health. Particularly as February brings spring temperatures, the hills and fields of the Galilee burst with sun’s eye tulips, red buttercups, groundel, orchids, purple iris of all kinds, wild hyacinth, stunning blue lupin, and sweet-smelling narcissus.

Around the country, one of the first flowers to be spotted is the vivid yellow Spring Groundsel (Senecio vernalis). The bright petals remind us that the hot desert suns will come to stay with us for most of the year. For now, however, we enjoy this delicate bright green and yellow flower waving in the cool winter breezes and lapping up the winter rains.

Another yellow flower blooming in the winter and early spring months delights not only the eyes but also the tongues of many curious children. The Nodding Wood-sorrel (Oxalis pescaprae), although introduced from South Africa, is a dainty looking but hardy plant now common in the Galilee, Upper Jordan valley and as far south as Carmel. With a stem full of sour oxalic acid, the flowers may be detrimental to hungry livestock, but as a treat along the trail nothing beats the sour springtime flavor of wood-sorrel or the beauty of the willowy, yellow flowers blowing in the breeze.

With the winter and spring flowers come the renewal of hundreds of plants used in cooking. Rosemary’s light glow in winter, chamomile’s tiny blossoms, lavender’s bright purple blooms, and the pungent smells and dusty purple of sage excite the explorer and the chef alike. These herbs can be enjoyed throughout the year in a dried form, but as spring comes with the rain, flowers burst from the plants, turning heads and shouting the herb’s whereabouts.

As you hike through the hills of the Galilee this winter and spring keep your eyes out for the many colors nodding and bowing in the long green grass. Ask about the flowers and herbs from those who have grown up in these lands. They, like the plants they speak of, will probably have many stories to tell.

Mission: Hike the Jesus Trail with 1st-Century Clothing, Food & Shelter

We, Philip & Betsy, are planning a 3-day hike, February 14-16, 2011 to better understand the life, teachings, and world of Jesus of Nazareth by traveling his route from Nazareth to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13) while recreating, as authentically as we can, 1st-century life and travel in the Galilee. Before beginning, we will spend an afternoon and night at Nazareth Village (farm and village based on 1st-century archaeology and research); wearing clothing of the period; cooking using methods of the period and eating only foods available in 1st-century Galilee; and sleeping in a 1st-century replica house. All hiking days will include the same as above wherever possible with camping as a replacement for housing along the way.

Our personal goals for the trip are:

  • to grow closer to God; to better understand Jesus’ life and teachings
  • to integrate into our hike Nazareth Village’s research, expertise, and resources on 1st-century life in the Galilee
  • to highlight the connections between the visions of Nazareth Village and Jesus Trail
  • to develop Jesus Trail’s relationships with friends along the trail and to offer and receive hospitality to those we meet
  • to emphasize the pilgrimage, peace-making, and eco-friendly initiatives of the Jesus Trail

We also want others to get involved. First, we invite those who are interested in the purposes and practices of the hike to come along with us!  Second, we have set destinations for a send off and for each night along the trail if friends would like to join us at these times.  Each evening, we will prepare a 1st-century meal, debrief from the day’s hike, and discuss a theme that is relevant to such a hike.  If you can, join us at these times and locations:

Finally, we plan to journal and blog daily for the websites www,jesustrail.com/blog and www.nazarethvillage.com, so you may also follow the journey virtually by checking these sites.  Documentation will also include video footage (including pre-trip and post-trip interviews) and photos.

A few of the challenges:

  • 21st-century surroundings
  • bad eyesight (we both wear contacts/glasses)
  • nothing suitable for carrying enough water in a 1st-century manner
  • possibility of cold and rainy conditions in February
  • difficulty carrying end-of-the-day (food and cooking) supplies
  • procuring enough water for cooking, washing, drinking
  • feet unaccustomed to 1st-century sandals
  • lack of 1st-century toileting options

Topics of research in preparation

  • Water (availability, purification, ways of carrying over long distances)
  • Food (availability, types, frequency, preparation, ways of carrying and preserving)
  • Clothing (types, keeping dry, keeping warm)
  • Shelter (types, materials for sleeping on, keeping warm)
  • Transporting Items (resources, materials)
  • Hygiene (teeth, washing, toileting)
  • Vision (instead of glasses/contacts, what?)
  • People (socio-ethno-linguistic groups in the region and their inter-relationships)
  • Hospitality (expectations and practices of hosts/guests)

Interview Excerpts
And lastly, we’ll share with you a bit of the pre-trip interview we did yesterday:

1.  What are you doing?  Explain the project.

Philip: We are going to hike the Jesus Trail, wearing first-century costumes from Nazareth Village….  The first day we are going to spend at Nazareth Village. We are going to get in the mode of first-century thought. We are going to get set up in one of their houses. We are going to eat and bake bread the same way they did. We are going to sleep on a floor like they would have, in a stone house. It is probably going to be cold, but that’s ok. So then the next morning, we’re going to get up really feeling like we are in the first-century, probably. We will head off towards Cana and then to Ilaniya. The first day we are going to try to get all the way there, a long day. The second day will be from Ilaniya to the cliffs of Arbel, to Wadi Hamam, where we are tent camping that night. And then from there to the Sea of Galilee. We’re hoping to camp on the beach; we think that would be fun.

2. In two sentences, what is your goal?

Betsy: We hope to learn more what it would have been like for a person at the time of Jesus to travel, what it would have been like for them to live daily. We also hope to learn more what it would have been like to contemplate spiritual truths, Jesus’ teachings, along this trail, and how people were responding to his message.

3.  Whose idea was it to hike the Jesus Trail in costume?

Philip: I’ve heard that people had thought about doing it before, but soon after we got here I was working at Nazareth Village and I was thinking, “You know, we should just hike it like this, hike the Jesus Trail because we were already working with Jesus Trail and to bring the two things together made a lot of sense. I just started picturing it, especially the part between Nazareth and Cana….  It kind of developed from the simple idea of wearing what we do at Nazareth Village to the idea of making everything as authentic as possible. What if we would try to eat the same food as the first-century? Where would we sleep? What exactly would we wear? How would we keep warm because it is feeling cold at this point, in January? The hike is coming up in February.

Betsy: How do first-century people actually live and accept hospitality? How do they carry water and food? Do they carry firewood? Do they build fires?

Philip: So, it has really developed. And then, of course, we have to think how that fits with modern life now. Will people think we are strange as we go through towns? Will it be hard to find some of the things we’ll need to be as authentic as possible?

4.  What will you eat?

Betsy: As we walk along the trail, we plan to eat foods that would have been typical for first-century citizens. We think we’ll probably eat lentils, if we can cook them along the trail or before we go. They would have probably eaten a lot of fruit, nuts, and bread, which we’ll buy from the local baker or make some ourselves before we go. Fairly simple foods, and not a lot of cooked foods because we’ll be hiking and won’t have time to cook a very big meal, so it will have to be very simple and will probably seem to us like we’re eating a lot of snacks.

5. What are some of your fears?

Betsy: I’m afraid that we’ll be cold. Probably my biggest fear is that we will be unequipped at night, that we won’t have what we’re used to at night, that we won’t have the same kind of sleeping bags and mats and tents and fires that we are accustomed to.

Philip: I think a lot about the first day. We are planning to do the hike in three instead of four days, so the first day is really long, so I’m hoping we won’t be sore. That we will have enough time, so we don’t get there late at night. Pretty simple, I guess. I don’t fear very much.

6. You’re starting from Nazareth Village; explain what it is.

Philip: Nazareth Village is an open-air museum of what life was like in the time of Jesus. People come and they want to know about Jesus, this is his hometown. To know any person you have to know their political and geographical and sociological background. That is what we do at Nazareth Village; we explain to people what life was like in Nazareth at that time, comparing it a little with how it is now and then we take them outside to a village that we’ve recreated, that looks like a village from Jesus’ time. We have stone houses, a big synagogue, all based on well-researched material. We have an olive press, that we have recreated, and a wine press that is actually genuine. It becomes exciting. The Bible comes to life in new ways for people and they understand the teachings of Jesus better because they are seeing the surroundings he was drawing from for his parables and teachings.

6. What do you think Jesus thought about before beginning this hike?

Betsy: I’m sure he wondered who he would meet. He probably walked enough to know a lot of the people in the vicinity. He might have thought about where he would stay. I’m sure he knew the physical surroundings, so I’m sure he would know the stories he would be telling people related to what they were seeing as they went along. It probably produced a lot of excitement in him as he thought about the stories he wanted to tell people. It was probably a relaxing and positive trip for him.

Philip: Why do you say relaxing?

Betsy: Just to be able to hike in the wilderness-ish is relaxing, especially when you are with people. To be able to walk and talk, or walk in nature, and not to always be surrounded by a city or town or crowds of people.

Philip: I think a lot about the passage where Jesus says not to take a lot with you when you travel, so he might not have had to do a lot of the background work we are doing. We’re thinking about what we have to carry and what won’t be available as we are traveling. He probably knew the area well.

Introducing the Galilee Hiking Club

The Jesus Trail team is excited to announce the launching of the Galilee Hiking Club, a chance for virtually anyone to get a taste of trekking through northern Israel’s back country. Starting every Thursday and Sunday (and probably some Saturdays), groups will meet up at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth and head out on a day hike.

The hikes are led by a volunteer who knows the route, so even those without experience in navigation can join in the adventure. If you’re a visitor to the region, there’s no better way to get a feel for the land than to hike it. If you’re a pilgrim, hiking recalls ancient times when everyone from Abraham to Jesus got around on their feet. If you’re a local, you may learn about a new route, valley or mountaintop you never knew about. We hope the experience will foster friendships between local people and internationals.

Whoever you are, you’re welcome to join us on a hike – don’t worry about getting lost or figuring out logistics, and the only costs are for transportation to and from the hike (public bus and occasional taxi). The routes we’ll be hiking are some of the Jesus Trail team’s favorites, including many that aren’t in the Jesus Trail Guidebook – or in any guidebook.

A schedule is posted on http://hikingclub.jesustrail.com with the dates and meeting times for each hike and details about what to bring – keep checking the schedule for updates or changes.

If you want to join us on a hike, feel free to show up the day of, but it helps us plan if you RSVP to hikingclub@jesustrail.com (if you’ve got questions, use the same address). We hope we’ll see you soon for one of our upcoming hikes!

Specifics will be posted for each hike, but generally you’ll need to bring:

  • Adequate footwear (sneakers, hiking boots or sturdy hiking sandals).
  • At least 2 liters of water (some routes may require more).
  • A packed lunch and any snacks you would like.
  • Weather appropriate and modest clothing.
  • Enough money for transportation plus a little extra.

The Journey of the Magi

Most of us grew up singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  The archaic gifts in the story played with our childish imaginations, but most of us probably had only a vague idea of it’s meaning.  Although the song is English (or perhaps French) in origin, the song’s rich gifting harks back to the first Christmas gifts given to the infant Jesus.

Epiphany, celebrated on January 6 (or 19 January on some calenders), is the feast day when Christians celebrate the end of the twelve days following Christmas and the coming of  the Magi to worship the baby Jesus.  In some countries, children receive their Christmas gifts on the evening of January 5 in celebration of the gifts of the Magi.

The Bible says Magi (or Wise Men) from the East came bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Although there are many theories about the meanings associated with the gifts, all three are fairly common gifts to give a king.  Gold was one of the highest valuables one could give, frankincense was often used as a perfume, and myrrh was used as an anointing oil.  Additionally, the three gifts held spiritual meaning: gold symbolized kingship, frankincense, priesthood and myrrh, death.  All three were traded for thousands of years in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Epiphany reminds us of several gifts and several journeys.  Not only do we remember the gifts of the Magi, but we remember that Jesus came as a gift to people.  Epiphany means “appearing.”  Christians believe that God appeared to humans in a human form, as a gift of peace with God.  Likewise, we are reminded that the journey of peaceful giving is now passed on to us.  “The 12 Days of Christmas” sings of many elaborate gifts.  The Magi brought gifts fit for a king.  As we journey through many cultures and experiences, may we find creativity to give as extravagantly, especially of the gifts of peace and goodwill to all people.