Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune’s senior religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is on assignment in the Middle East. Besides her deeper reporting, she is sharing shorter daily dispatches. This one is from the Sea of Galilee.
Tiberias, Israel • As you drive a couple of hours north of Jerusalem, you will notice the landscape growing greener with verdant farmland and lush slopes.
This is where an itinerant Jewish preacher in ancient time was said to attract throngs of followers with his subtle sermons, unconventional parables and penchant for healing, a man who chose fishermen for his proselytizers and a hillside for his pulpit.
At the center of much of this action was the Sea of Galilee, or the lake of Jesus, about half the size of Utah Lake.
It was here where the New Testament says Jesus walked on water, calmed a raging storm, and fed 5,000 hungry devotees with just a few loaves of bread and some fish.
Nearby towns, including Capernaum, Magdala and Tiberias, featured in some of the stories as well.
No one knows the exact location of Jesus’ celebrated Sermon on the Mount, but there is a site known as the Mount of the Beatitudes on the lake’s northwestern shore that includes a Franciscan monastery, chapel and the eight famous sayings etched in stone.
It is a place of stunning natural beauty, where eager disciples might go to pray and meditate on their lives. But I must admit I had pictured, frankly, a less-manicured stage for one of Jesus’ most riveting messages.
On Monday, the sea was calm but windy enough for a ripple of whitecapped waves. The occasional angler could be seen casting a line into the freshwater, while children played on the shore.
If I closed my eyes, I could block out the modern sights of city life — high-rise hotels, camper vans and giant tour buses — and conjure up my own imaginings of the biblical scene and the legendary lecture.