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Rick Steves in the Middle East

Christian tourists flock to the sea of Galilee

Rick Steves

8:30 PM EDT, May 2, 2013

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Tourism is a big part of Israel’s economy. And much of that is Christian tourism: mostly bus tours of Americans visiting sights from Jesus’ three-year ministry — places they’ve imagined since their childhood Sunday school classes.

While Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to the south near Jerusalem, he grew up in the north in Nazareth, near the Sea of Galilee. Since the Jordan River dumps into the north end of the lake, that’s where there’s the most oxygen in the water and consequently the most fish. In that area, around Capernaum, is where the major population centers were and, of course, the most fishermen. This is where Jesus assembled his band of disciples, turning fishers of fish into fishers of men.

On the shore of Galilee, at Kibbutz Ginosar, there’s an impressive little lakeside museum containing the recently excavated scant remains of “the Jesus Boat” — a typical fisherman’s boat from the first century A.D.

The Sea of Galilee — 700 feet below sea level, fed and drained by the Jordan River, and 13 miles long by 8 miles wide — is Israel’s top source of water. It’s also a popular tourist destination for Israelis and Christian tourists, and home to lots of fish.