Galilee vs. Jerusalem

I have only been here less than 24 hours, but I already feel that Galilee makes a different sort of impression, at least on a modern Christian of the liberal and/or Protestant variety.

Jerusalem exemplifies the overlay of subsequent history in the very layer upon layer of city, stone, and soil. Its churches cover over any historical traces with edifices and icons that symbolize the obscuring of history by subsequent dogma, piety and theology. It testifies clearly to the need to dig beneath the surface to get at the past, to find what you are looking for.


Galilee, on the other hand, has the sea and the Jordan River. It is not the same water, but since you never step in the same river twice, this was something that has always been true. But we can still speak of it as the same lake and the same river.

Both regions have places where he could have walked, spoken, and interacted with people. And I think it is important to try to imagine Jesus walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, being addressed by hawkers, and not merely standing in large open squares preaching.

Still, in the Galilee more seems to lie in plain sight, near the surface, just like the sarcophagi that one can see in plain view at the side of one road I drove on – neither buried by the ages and hidden from view, nor carried off to a museum.

Nevertheless, everywhere you walk in the Holy Land, you are stepping on history – sometimes more literally and more directly than others. And so are the different impressions made by Galilee and by Jerusalem about history, about aesthetics, about different sorts of piety, or are all three inseparable when it comes to how a human being responds to a particular location?

  • Pat & Jim Barton

    When my submarine traveled to Israel in 1997 I visited these sites with my shipmates.   I had the exact same impression re: Jerusalem and Galilee.

  • Brian

    Although I have never stepped foot on the ‘holy’ land, I think I would have the same impression as you regaurding the feel of the different areas that make it up. I on one hand can appreciate the grassy feilds of Galilee for it’s undisturbed quality. There is a different feel to it than the kind you would get in Judea. And despite it being different from what I’m usually used to, I guess I can warm up to it. As for Jerusalem and it’s surrounding areas, I like how every single step you take in it is literal history. But against you James, I for one sort of like the churches and the icons. They’re my culture. And although I have a growing appreciation for cultures diffent than my own [like in Galilee] it’s still admirable. I mean how can one not be impressed by the Holu Sepulchre? Or the remains of the wall that once enclosed the Holies of Holies?  

  • Anonymous

    I guess the difference between Jerusalem and Galilee is a little like, academic investigation (reason) and simplistic “faith”….I can’t imagine a “second nativete”, as I don’t choose it. I choose a revelation that is reasonable, not unreasonable.

    History isn’t for those that want simplicity. These want “community”, identity, and belonging. History is about how others in their own way saw and experienced reality. But, how they saw and experineced reality is not reality itself….This is why “truth” is relative and “beauty” is in the eyes of the beholder.

    The “Outsider Test of Faith” is not embraced for the simple, but for those that want to be as close to fair as possible, it is. Man’s attempt to seek after and grasp things he does not understand. These are the things that make for discovery in the real world of anthropology, political science, psychology, sociology, natural sciences, archeology, history of traditions ancient history, and every other discipline in the Academy….

  • Geoff Hudson

    Incidentally, I had a long, and frank discussion with an Eldad Keynan in 2009/2010 here http://asorblog.org/?s=masada  I knew he lived in Israel because he told me.  Otherwise, I had no idea who he was, and now it turns out that he is your friend. My thoughts have changed only a little from then.  Shortly after, the ASOR changed the blog software and slightly messed-up the discussion. Do you think you could facilitate me getting in touch with Eldad?  

  • Gary

    I also find it interesting to contrast South and North. Judah vs Israel, Jerusalem vs Shiloh tabernacle, Aaron vs Moses priests, King with professional army vs tribal system (where tribe leaders muster their own tribes troops and maintain control), Solomon taxing North but not south, and spending all the money on fortifications in the south (and probably responsible for Judah surviving Assyria and Israel not), “officers of missim” being taskmasters of slaves in Egypt, but also referred to Solomon’s forced labor policy on the north, which was supposed to be the reason for the northern tribes secession. No wonder Jesus would want to be identified with the north, to unify both. Landscape, peaceful vs hectic, fertile vs barren, fresh water sea vs saltwater dead sea.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Geoff, Eldad saw your comments here, and so I will leave it up to him to get in touch with you if he is so inclined.

  • Brian

    Gary I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, your comemment reminded me of a book by William Herzog. Who painted a very vivid portrait of life in the first century and how differnt the worlds were between Galilee and Judea. Most peasants like Jesus would have been suspicious of the south, and that [in my opinion] is where the conflicts come from. Though I would caution against simplistic readings of north vs. south. Not all of Galilee followed Jesus, and the church was centered in Jerusalem.

    • Gary

      Brian…forgot to mention, Solomon gave away a portion of the nothern tribes territory to get cedars to build the temple. Northerners were oppressed, even by our standards.

  • Anonymous

    Are there places where you go that you aren’t stepping on history both literally and directly?

  • Brian

    Probably not, every where you go in the holy land is likely some place where Jesus taught or performed one of his miracles, or the site of some battle whether ancient or modern.

  • Brian

    Well, I’m sorry I forgot to mention that but if I were to list every abuse the south did to the north, I’d have to write a whole book. But yes Galilee was oppressed.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Evan, I suppose that everything is history, once it has come into existence, but certainly there are places and things that are purely modern history, event history, not ancient.

  • Gary

    Brian, per my comment, “Brian…forgot to mention”….I meant ”I” forgot to mention. But whatever….

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, my understanding is that the bulk of the earth has had human habitation for at least 10000 years, so I don’t understand where you would be talking about that had no ancient history, except perhaps Antarctica.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Evan, human history is not just where people have been and things happen, so much as where there is evidence that people have been and things have happened. But I don’t see any point in splitting hairs if you are thinking about history more broadly.

  • Natmrrtt

    The question was asked as to what Christianity cannot do without, what it needs to survive. The answer is obvious, especally if one has or had been a Christian for a couple of decades, such as myself. Christianity does not revolve around the teachings of Jesus. It revolves around the person of Jesus. His teachings really don’t matter since Christendom has ignored the teachings of Jesus and embraced Paul the false apostle.

    Christianity is not going to survive as a system of ethics and morals only. Without a historical Christ it will die. The documentary evidence for Jesus is very thin and oblique. The Talpiot tomb is the only concrete proof that Jesus is an historical person.

    A Jesus who rose in Spirit from the dead is much preferred by me over a Jesus who is a re-animated corpse.

  • http://profiles.google.com/matthewlloydkelley Matthew Kelley

    My most profound experiences there were in places where there were no churches, long lines, or people hawking merchandise, where one could get a sense of what Jesus actually saw.


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