Finding Our Way – The Jesus Trail – Day 2

Checking my Twitter feed after dinner yesterday I was reminded that Rush kicked off their 40th anniversary-pretty-much-last tour last night in Tulsa. I’ll be seeing them in July when they make their final stop in Denver, and while I don’t know what the set list looks like, one of the songs that came to mind as we set out on our hike today was “Finding My Way:”

I’ve been gone too long,

I’ve lost count of the years.

Well I sang some sad songs,

and I cried some bad tears.

Feels like forever since I’ve been home even though it’s not been two weeks yet, and while we haven’t been singing bad songs or crying bad tears, we did spend the day trying to figure out how to find our way in the midst of an often-confusing, somewhat taxing, and thoroughly interesting hike.

Some of the hike out of Nazareth.

Some of the hike out of Nazareth.

We left Nazareth at about 8:00 in the morning with the first part of the hike consisting of a serious climb to the top of the city before descending down into a valley. The “trail” at this point is actually more like an exercise in “find the blazes”–those orange and white painted marks on telephone poles, rocks, and the occasional bus stop that show the way of the Jesus trail. We had a guide with us on the first part of the hike, which was helpful since some of those blazes were creatively placed.

As the trail exits the city proper it winds through an area where a lot of construction is going on and it’s here that one struggles the most with the scenery. What I mean is that there is garbage–a lot of it–piled by the road side, strewn about on the hillsides, tossed to an fro nearly everywhere you look. Indeed, we’ve witnessed some of the tossing, like a guy throwing a bag of garbage off the bus and into a ditch at a bus stop and people randomly dropping drink cans out of car windows. It’s a question that I’ve pondered every time I’ve traveled in the cities of the region. Let me be clear that it isn’t universal–there are people of all persuasions who indeed care about appearances and the environment here, for sure–but it is puzzling when compared to our American obsession with cleanliness.

imageLet’s just say it’s a little jarring to see all this at the beginning of a hike, despite the warnings of guidebooks and reviews. We came across this random decrepit couch that seemed like it was set intentionally to look out over the hills–kind of like Nazareth’s version of a Cialis commercial (check out the picture and see if you don’t agree). Coming down the hill I saw mass quantities of construction material, plastic bags, and even a large dead snake in the middle of the trail. It’s not exactly like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or, basically, any trail you might encounter in Colorado.

imageAt the bottom of the hill, however, things seemed to open up and we found ourselves traversing some beautifully bucolic farmland. Some of the farmers were harvesting crops and gave us a friendly wave. But then we saw another random old couch by the trail looking up at the hill ahead. Cialis strikes again.

imageWe hiked through the fields to Zippori National Park where Chris and I left the rest of the group to go and look at the archaeological site. Zippori, also known as Sepphoris, was an important site in the history of the region and was built and destroyed several times. During the time of Jesus, a Jewish revolt was staged there in 4 BC to protest Roman taxes and the Romans responded by leveling the place. By 6 AD it was being rebuilt and some scholars have suggested that Joseph and Jesus actually did much of their contractor work in Sepphoris, with some suggesting that it was close enough to Nazareth for them to commute. We most often think of Jesus as a carpenter, but that’s a medieval European assumption. The Greek word is “tekton” which simply means builder, so it’s equally likely that Jesus worked with stone or at least used the carpenter business to manufacture tools for stone working. At any rate, I wonder if the scholars who suggest this have actually walked from Nazareth to Sepphoris–about seven kilometers one way. Yes, people in the ancient world were used to hiking long distances, but doing that every day, especially given the hills that needed to be climbed, seems like a stretch.

The tel at Sepphoris (Zippori National Park)

The tel at Sepphoris (Zippori National Park)

Sepphoris is a great site to visit and despite having been here five times I had never entered the park. Ruins there date from the city’s founding all the way into the Byzantine period and later and included some beautiful mosaic floors that speak to the wealth of the place in its heyday. Sepphoris was also the place that the Crusaders launched their assault against Saladin and his Muslim army in the year 1187, leaving the springs of Sepphoris behind. Saladin would surround and crush the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. More about that anon.

imageLeaving Sepphoris, we climbed up a long hill through a wooded area to enter the village of Mash’ad which challenged our route finding skills. The trail twists and turns on a steep downhill through the streets, which means mistakes in navigation are rewarded with a steep climb back up to find the route again. At one point the trail seemed to end at a dead end in a pile of construction waste, but Chris spotted a blaze further down with his binoculars and we picked our way down a very poorly maintained trail (with more garbage!) toward Cana, at one point dodging a group of young men careening down the dirt road in a car. They asked us for directions in Arabic and, since we neither knew Arabic nor exactly where we were, we weren’t much help.

In Cana we were to find Marwa’s Inn, a three-month old entreprenuerial venture by a young Muslim woman who hopes to attract hikers and travelers like us who want to stay where there’s a little local flavor. Cana is another busy Arab town and is usually only a brief stop for tourists who want to view the Cana Wedding Church which is supposed to mark the place where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine (and, guess what, you can buy it here!). We had some trouble finding the place given that the signs are as new as the business, but we arrived in good order and were greeted warmly. We are scheduled to have dinner with a local family this evening, which should be both a culture and culinary treat.

The first long day on the trail is really more about giving you a sense of the land more than it is about marking the exact routes Jesus walked. We don’t know what those were, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t need to look for orange blazes. He knew this place well, just like the people who live here. We were greeted with waves nearly everywhere we went today and the faces look very little like the Jesus we see portrayed in Western art. We looked and felt very much out of place but were nonetheless welcomed here. There is much to learn from being immersed in the culture and getting off the tour bus, even if it means you have to find your way!

 

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