"Twelve Square Miles of Clay"

With just a 12 mile piece of clay.

Gene McDaniel’s has a catchy little song about what God can do for man, ”with just 100 lbs of clay.” It reminds me of what God could do for us all through the life of Jesus “with just 12 square miles of clay” – to be exact - the area of Jesus’ ministry on the plains of Gennesaret on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  In this very small piece of land, the majority of Jesus’ ministry unfolded.  Some estimates are 85%.  This without social media, news coverage, tablets or texting and with very limited communication available (walking and word of mouth), and yet, what unfolded on this piece of land, nonetheless, forever changed the world.

Sea of Galilee.jpg

The number of events and places in these few square miles is remarkable and includes part of the route from Nazareth through the valley of the winds (or doves) passing below the cliffs of Mount Arbel on the way to Capernaum; Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene; Bethsaida, home of the fishermen James and John; Tabgha, the site of the feeding of the multitude with the five loaves and two fish; the town of Korazim; the Mount of Beatitudes; the resurrection breakfast beach and many other significant places.  It is in this relatively small geographic area that the disciples were called, many healings took place, troubling spirits cast out, memorable parables taught, the revered law correctly interpreted, hypocrisy and shallow religiosity exposed, and where the Lord sought strength and solace from the calm of the Galilean hills above.


Magdala, meaning a watch tower, is a fishing village that was the home of Mary Magdalene and has an outstanding excavation of a synagogue where it seems certain that Jesus attended and taught.  Our EO visitors often return claiming this to be the highlight of their touring day in the Galilee, rivaling even the “Jesus boat” ride.

Capernaum, known as the “town of Jesus”, is where the Lord set up his headquarters at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law. The site of yet another ancient synagogue and a clear example of kataluma = how families added rooms around a common courtyard giving insight into Jesus’ words, “In my Fathers house many kataluma - rooms” (sometimes translated with the misleading word mansions).

The Chapel on the hill of the Mount of Beatitudes is octagonal – one side for each of the eight Beatitudes.  The prescription for happiness is set in large tablets leading to the Chapel and the Beatitudes themselves are followed by well known leaders, like Elias Chacour, as a trustworthy daily guide leading to a blessed and rewarding spiritual life.

Mount Arbel, though below sea level, still towers over the plains of Gennesaret with a magnificent view of the area of Jesus’ ministry and the northern vista of the Sea of Galilee.  Another highlight of our EO Guests is to walk part of the pathway below glancing up at the caves so filled with history, the path Jesus used on his way from Nazareth to Capernaum.

So much to see and so much inspiration abounds in just “12 square miles of clay.”  Truly amazing.


Dr. Lee van Rensburg

EO Hospitality Staff

Tiberius, Sea of Galilee.

Below Sea Level

Visitors to the Holy Land following one of the many different EO itineraries will always be intrigued by the Sea Level signs. These signs are set for sea level at the Mediterranean Sea.
Several times the tour bus will pass a Sea Level sign either on its way down to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, or on its way down to Jericho, the Dead Sea, Qumran and Masada. And then, of course, on the way up again.


Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee are about 650ft below Sea Level and farther south the Dead Sea is the lowest place on the face of the earth, some 1,280 ft. below sea level. Actually it is a little healthier down below sea level as there is more oxygen in the air - so more oxygen for breathing, the heart, the brain and for better sleeping. Hence many health spas abound around the shores of the Dead Sea. It is also one of the few places in the world where an altimeter (in a plane) actually points downwards! Directions are interesting, too, as normally down is for south and up is for north but going north from Jerusalem one is actually going down to the Sea of Galilee.


Local folk have an inside joke about folk who, as we say, “don’t play with a full deck,” they point to a dumb act and smiling remark, “They are from below sea level.”


Some interesting spiritual truths and lessons come from below sea level. Jesus chooses to be baptized and begin his ministry while below sea level. The Jordan, where John baptized near Jericho, is pretty much the lowest place you can be on earth. Is this part of the divine humiliation (Phil. 2:8)? Consider the stark contrast to the plethora of gods that all sought the highest places, the hills and mountain tops for their status. Such as the home of the gods on Mount Olympus in Greece, or, in Israel, Baal and all the other gods also sought out the high places. Psalm 121 can be read in this way, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills” – where the psalmist sees the pagan idols and immediately asks the question, “From whence cometh my help?” His answer is - not from this crowd but, raising his eyes above them continues with his answer, “My help comes from the Lord who made the heavens. . . “ Jesus rejects this kind of vanity. On the bus from Jerusalem to Jericho one passes a sea level sign and suddenly a new understanding of Jesus’ parable lights up, “A certain man *went down* to Jericho... “. Aha! 11 miles all downhill.


Below sea level swerves to reminds us of the Lord’s teachings about humility, seeking the lower place at the table, the servant being greater than the master, the paradox of being last in order to be first, and that of continually serving each other in love.

Being below sea level for a few days on an EO Holy Land tour is both a healthy and spiritually uplifting experience.

*Dr. Lee van Rensburg*

*EO Hospitality *

*Sea of Galilee, Tiberias.*