“The Land of Jesus, Part 1,” Ensign, Dec. 1986, 35
The mortal ministry of Jesus Christ affected all mankind, yet it occurred in a narrow strip of land between 40 and 90 miles wide and less than 150 miles long.
Even though the gospel Jesus taught is universal, his teachings and earthly experiences are tied closely to the land in which he lived. Fishing nets, millstones, and temple walls were objects of his life and his teachings. Sychar, Mount Tabor, and the Sea of Galilee were places where he taught the plan of salvation. Tax collectors, fishermen, and noblemen were among those who heard his words and believed.
What was the land of the Messiah like? In this issue, we feature photographs of places Jesus knew, to help fix more firmly in our minds the setting for the scriptural passages that center around the Savior’s life.
Photographs are from the pictorial archive of Dr. Richard Cleave of Jerusalem and from David H. Garner’s personal collection.
“It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. … And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee … unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, … she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1, 3–7.)
Thus, even though they had not been living in the city of Bethlehem at the time, the birth of the baby Jesus in the ancient city of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 1:2; Ruth 2:4) fulfilled the prophetic word of God: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2.) Significantly, he who was called “the bread of God” and “the bread of life” (John 6:31–35) was born in Bethlehem, a Hebrew term meaning the house of bread.
Modern-day Bethlehem is many times larger than the town of Jesus’ birth—the ancient city of Bethlehem takes up only the upper right-hand corner of the photograph. The terraced area in the foreground is part of the Shepherds’ Field.
A chorus of angels announced to humble shepherds the news of Jesus’ birth; righteous witnesses in the temple bore testimony of his divine mission; and learned noblemen from the east came to his house to worship him. Amid these glorious events that fulfilled divine prophecy, the paranoia of King Herod, who sought to kill the Christ child, brought down destruction upon numerous innocent children, for he “slew all … from two years old and under.” (Matt. 2:16.)
But an angel of the Lord [appeared] to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt.” (Matt. 2:13.)
We don’t know where Jesus lived while in the land of the Nile. This scene along the Nile River, with its palm trees and walled buildings, is typical of the land to which Joseph and his family fled. Neither do we know how long the family remained in Egypt, but when Herod died, “an angel of the Lord [appeared] in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, … and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.” (Matt. 2:19–20.)
The stay in Egypt, as Matthew points out, clearly fulfilled the prophecy in Hosea 11:1 that God would call his “son out of Egypt.” (Matt. 2:15.) “All to the end that whenever Israel remembers how God had delivered them with a mighty hand from the bondage of Egypt, they will think also that the Son of God was called out of Egypt to deliver them from the bondage of sin.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, Book I, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979, p. 364.)
When Joseph brought his family from Egypt, he apparently had decided to return to Bethlehem, where they had lived prior to their flight into Egypt. However, when Joseph “heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:22–23.)
Nearly six hundred years earlier, Nephi recorded, “I beheld … in the city of Nazareth … a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair. … And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God.” (1 Ne. 11:13, 20–21.)
Although the city is much larger today than it was when Jesus lived there, in many respects the original character of the village remains. The streets are small, the old shops stand side by side where people gather to conduct business and exchange the news of the day, and the protecting hills still surround the ancient marketplace and well, which date to the time of Christ.
The hills of upper Galilee in the foreground (north) stand in contrast to the hills of lower Galilee, in the background (south). This is the land in which Jesus grew to adulthood. The lofty hills are but a few miles north of Nazareth and Cana, and the road running left to right in the valley below is the main route that connects the city of Acco on the Mediterranean Sea (off the picture to the right) with the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee (in the distant haze on the left).
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1–2.)
“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28.)
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” (Matt. 3:13.)
The Savior of the world came to John the Baptist somewhere along the Jordan River, which is the distant blue line that runs left to right in the upper left of the picture, before it empties into the Dead Sea, which is seen at the top.
After Jesus was baptized, John witnessed that He was given the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 3:13–16.) “Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God.” (JST, Matt. 4:1.) He would have ascended from the valley floor of the Jordan, which is nearly 1300 feet below sea level, into the Wilderness of Judaea, the abrupt hill country on the right side of the photograph. The greenery in the center is the oasis of Jericho.
“Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And after forty days, the devil came unto him, to tempt him. And in those days, he did eat nothing; and when they were ended, he afterwards hungered.” (JST, Luke 4:1–2.)
“When the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:3–4.)
This photograph is a view to the north of the Wilderness of Judaea between Jerusalem and Jericho, where Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. This vast wasteland between the two cities has been a place of refuge for such as the men of Benjamin (Judg. 20:44–47), David (1 Sam. 26:3; 2 Sam. 15:23), and perhaps the sons of Lehi (1 Ne. 3:26–27).
A small, rounded hill is visible in the center of the picture at the top of the patchwork of farmland and at the base of the larger hills. Atop this mound was the ancient city of Cana.
After calling Andrew, Peter, John, Philip, and Nathanael, Jesus took them with him to “a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. … And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.” (John 2:1–3.) Mary’s prominence in the marriage feast has led many to suggest that the wedding involved one of Mary’s children.
“Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: … the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; … but thou has kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:7–10.)
This was the first recorded miracle of the Lord, which occurred about seven miles north of the city of Nazareth. Not only did it demonstrate Jesus’ power over nature, but may also have been significant because the vineyard, winepress, and wine were central to prophecies of Israel and the Messiah, as Isaiah’s figurative dialogue with the Savior illustrates: “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?
“I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me.” (Isa. 63:2–3.)
This west view of the Temple Mount at Jerusalem features the Dome of the Rock in the center. The site of the western temple courtyard of Herod is to the left and beyond the Dome of the Rock; the temple itself was on the site of the Dome of the Rock or near it to the right.
This area is known as the Temple Mount.
“The Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. …
“Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:13–16, 18–21.)
Shechem, an important city of the Old Testament and capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, lies between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. This is the same city as Sychar (Sychem), near where Jacob built his well.
This is a Southwest view of Mount Gerizim from the site of Sychar. The mountain, site of the Samaritan temple, which was destroyed about 160 B.C., was a sacred site to the Samaritans of Jesus’ day, as indicated in the following conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman:
“[Jesus] left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. … There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water. …
“Jesus … said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. …
“The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain [Gerizim]; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. …
“The woman saith unto him, I know that the Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. …
“The woman then … went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:3–7, 13–15, 19–23, 25–26, 28–29.)
A remnant of Capernaum is visible in the trees near the white church with a red roof. In the upper center of the picture, across the sea, was the site of Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. The River Jordan empties into the sea to the left of center.
“Jesus … departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim.” (Matt. 4:12–13.)
“Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. … He went unto [Jesus], and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. … Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. … As he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth.” (John 4:46–53.)
Following Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his teachings in the regions round about, the Lord “entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant … was sick, and ready to die. And when [the centurion] heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. …
“Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: … but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh. … When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.” (Luke 7:1–10.)
This aerial view shows the excavation of a portion of the ancient city of Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee. Many ruins that have yet to be excavated are visible in the right of the picture.
These ruins in upper Galilee, dating from the second century A.D., are of one of the best-preserved ancient synagogues. It was in synagogues similar to this that the Savior taught during his ministry.
“Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. …
“For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. …
“These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.” (John 6:35, 55–56, 59.)
As is evident from this photograph, the coastal land around the Sea of Galilee is quite fertile. Nearly seven hundred feet below sea level, the area often becomes very hot. Since the temperature in the hills is cooler, the cold air sometimes rushes from the higher elevations, causing sudden turbulence over the lake.
Crowded with workers of many trades, the land around the Sea of Galilee boasted nine cities, three with populations over 15,000 in Jesus’ time. On the sea itself, the Savior performed a number of miracles, including stilling the storm and walking on water. In the adjacent hills, he often retired to pray or sometimes teach the multitudes. The Sermon on the Mount—probably his most famous recorded sermon—was delivered in the hills near the sea. Along the shore, Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, taught in the open plain and in the local synagogues, and chose his twelve Apostles.
Even today, the Sea of Galilee is famous for its fishing. Here two fishermen draw in their net much the same as did their ancient counterparts. Two sets of fishermen—brothers who became Apostles—were Peter and Andrew, and James and John.
“Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
“And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” (Matt. 4:18–22.)
The farm land in the left center is the Plain of Gennesaret, where the Lord often taught. It was from the seashore nearby that Peter, Andrew, James, and John plied their fishing trade, and where Jesus told Simon, after Simon had miraculously netted so many fish that his net broke: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. (Luke 5:4–10.) The body of water is the Sea of Galilee, which was also called the lake of Gennesaret.
“As the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake. … And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.” (Luke 5:1–3.)
Following the feeding of the five thousand, “Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side. …
“But the ship was … tossed with waves. … And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. …
“And Peter … said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? …
“And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” (Matt. 14:22, 24–25, 28–31, 34–36.)