Tourist Tip #137 / The Evangelical Triangle

Important New Testament sites that were pilgrimage stops long ago have been rediscovered and are now back on the Galilee itinerary.

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In the Holy Land, sacred sites have historically had a tendency to play "hide and seek": they were visited or bypassed on ancient pilgrim itineraries depending on how secure travelers felt plying the roads of the Holy Land at the time. When they felt safe on the roads, for example in the fourth-seventh century Byzantine times, they ventured further afield to visit more sites. But other times, pilgrims stayed closer to the beaten track, sometimes “moving” the scene of certain events to safer locales, even if the new location was far removed from the real site.

That, in a nutshell, can explain how the three sites known as the Evangelical Triangle got “lost” over the years. They are the cities of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Korazim near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus mentions them all together (Matt. 11:20) – and not in a good way –  because their inhabitants were not receptive to his teachings.

The first of the three cities to come back on line was Capernaum, rediscovered by the American Bible scholar and explorer Edward Robinson in 1838. Capernaum, which now belongs to the Roman Catholic Custody of the Holy Land, features impressive remnants of an octagonal Byzantine church built over the traditional house of Peter and an ancient synagogue built over an even older one where the New Testament says Jesus preached. There are also first-century houses, the perfect backdrop for the retelling of New Testament stories about Jesus in the town. 

Next to be rediscovered, in the early 1900s, was Korazim, north of the Sea of Galilee, now an Israel Nature and Parks Authority site. Restoration in recent years has brought back to life its beautiful black basalt synagogue, complete with intricate carvings and the replica of the original “Moses seat” (preacher’s seat; Matt. 23:2) dwellings, a ritual bath and a village square.

Last to emerge from its mantle of ruins is Bethsaida, an impressive archaeological mound that is still coming to light thanks to excavation by Dr. Rami Arav of the University of Omaha, Nebraska. According to the New Testament, Jesus healed a blind man near here (Mark 8:22-26). The multiplication of loaves and fishes also happened nearby (Luke 9:10-17), although this is apparently one of the events that “migrated” elsewhere; it is now commonly commemorated on the northwest side of the lake at Tabgha. At Tel Bethsaida, located within the Jewish National Fund’s Jordan Park north of the Sea of Galilee, visitors can see houses and a street from Jesus’ time and a biblical gateway a millennium older. A beautiful seating area overlooking the view is a popular gathering place for devotional time as are, in fact, all the sites from the Evangelical Triangle.

Capernaum – Hours: 8 AM–4 PM / Tel: 04-6721059

Korazim National Park – Hours: April-September 8 A.M.-5 P.M.; October-March 8 A.M.- 4 P.M., Fridays and holiday eves: 8 A.M.-3 P.M.; Last entry to site one hour before closing / Tel: 04-693-4982

Tel Bethsaida, Jordan Park – Hours: 8 A.M.–4 P.M. (Winter), 24 hours a day (Summer) / 04-6923422

The two Jesus Trails both end at the Capernaum Orthodox church on the western bank of Lake Kinneret. Credit: De Agostini/Getty Images
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Twelve Apostles, Capernaum, the Galilee. Finished only after the Six-Day War, with the interior paintings executed in the 1990s. Credit: From the book 'Israel's Beautiful Churches.'

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