The Land of Israel is the holiest place in Judaism. There are four cities that are specifically holy for Jews: Tiberius, Tzfat, Hebron, and Jerusalem. The TaNaKh, the Talmud, and other holy Jewish text mention the Land of Israel. But it is a land that is holy to Christians as well. In fact, it is the holiest land in Christianity, and there are many holy cities in the Holy Land. It is the land that Jesus Christ was born in, lived in, and died in. The Holy Land is where the apostles and disciples lived and created the foundations of Christianity were built. It is the center of the religion, so there are many holy cities in the Holy Land . But where specifically did it all happen?
Bethlehem: the birthplace of Jesus
The first of the holy cities in the Holy Land is Bethlehem. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she and Joseph went to Bethlehem because of a Roman census. When they got there, the only place for them to sleep was in a farm. They traveled to Bethlehem for the census because Roman law dictated that families register in the hometown of the man of the family. Joseph, the Virgin Mary’s finance and later husband, was from Bethlehem. But Mary was VERY pregnant, and gave birth to baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Bethlehem became Jesus’ birthplace because of the Roman census.
It was also in Bethlehem where the shepherds and the three kings came to recognize the son of God was born. After his birth, shepherds from a local town heard the news, and came to recognize Jesus as God’s son. The same thing happened with three important kings from the east. These two visits represent the common, or simple, people, and the royal classes accepting Jesus.
Today, we commemorate the birth of Jesus by the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Church is visited throughout the year, but more commonly during the Christmas season in December.
Nazareth: the hometown of Jesus
Before the census took place Mary was living in Nazareth in the community established there. One day, when Mary went to the spring to collect water. At the spring, the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she was pregnant with the Son of God. It took Gabriel telling her twice for Mary to believe him. Today, Christians commemorate the event by two churches—the Basilica of Annunciation, and by the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation.
After the census was over and Jesus was born, his parents presented him at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Family does leave for a short period for Egypt because of King Herod’s threat to kill baby Jesus. But they will return to Nazareth after the threat is over. It was there he grew up.
Jesus preached in a synagogue in Nazareth, and the congregation kicked him out for blasphemy. The congregation took him to the edge of a cliff to throw him off, but Jesus managed to escape without the crowd noticing. The modern Synagogue Church remembers the event today.
Galilee: the center of Jesus’ primacy
Throughout the Galilee, Jesus preached, performed miracles, and helped the people of the area. It is the center of Jesus’ primacy. In Kafar Kanna, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. In Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus multiplied a small amount of fish and bread into many. It is also where he appeared to Peter and appointed him as shepherd of Jesus’ followers. Capernaum was a center for Jesus’ work and preaching. The Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount. Mount Tabor is the location where Jesus transcended.
There are many other sites as well. And most of these sites have churches commemorates the events that happened there.
Qasr al- Yehud: where Jesus was baptized
John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. John the Baptist predicted that the Son of God was on his way, and the “Kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mathew 3). Later Jesus came to John the Baptist, and insisted to baptized. While Jesus was coming out of the water, he heard the Father announcing that Jesus was the Son, and saw the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove.
Today, we commemorate the event with a center of churches of different denominations, and a baptismal site.
Jerusalem: where Jesus was crucified on the Cross, and buried.
Jerusalem is the holiest site in Christianity. Jesus learned and taught at the Temple in Jerusalem. And the Romans crucified and killed Jesus in Jerusalem. After Jesus was born, Mary presented him at the Temple. It was there that Simon the Righteous holds baby Jesus, and then passes away happily knowing that he has held the Messiah.
Many years later, when Jesus and his family came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, Jesus stayed behind to study at the Temple. When Mary came back to come home, he answered that he was already in his father’s home. Jerusalem is mentioned many times throughout the New Testament.
The Holy Week, Jesus’ last week alive, took place in Jerusalem. He knew that the Romans were going to capture and kill him. He came to Jerusalem with his closest disciples. They arrived from the Mount of Olives, and every night they would stay on the Mount of Olives after returning from the holy city of Jerusalem. When the Romans convicted Jesus, they made him walk through the city carrying the cross. At the modern site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he was nailed to the cross, killed, and buried.
We can find churches of many denominations commemorating many of these sites in the holy city of Jerusalem today.
Jaffa: where Peter had a dream changing Christian theology.
One of the holy cities in the Holy Land is the city of Jaffa. After the Romans crucified Jesus, and his followers buried him, his disciples went out through the land to spread Jesus’ teachings. One of Peter’s stop was the city of Jaffa. While in Jaffa, Peter did two very important things. One is that he raised Tabitha from the dead. This showed other believers that Jesus’ disciples could lead them in Jesus’ absence.
The second thing Peter did was have a dream on top of Simon the Tanner’s house. In the dream, Peter saw all different kinds of animals in front of him. Then he heard a voice telling him to eat them. He said that he could not eat the animals that were not kosher. But the voice asked Peter who he was to say God’s creatures were unworthy or unholy. This event, or dream, changes the doctrine that will later become the Christian faith. You can still find the house of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa today.
Caesarea: where Pontius Pilate lived during the time of Jesus Christ.
Yet another one of the holy cities in the Holy Land is Caesarea. Caesarea was where Pontius Pilate lived during the time of Jesus. Pilate was the governor of Judea during the life of Jesus. Pontius Pilate was the governor who officially decided that Jesus would be crucified on the cross. Archeologists found evidence at Caesarea prove not only that Pontius Pilate really did exist, but show what kind of home and lifestyle he lived as the governor of Judah.
Holy cities in the Holy Land is INCREDIBLY important to Christianity. If we are going to understand the religion, we have to know about these holy cities. When we understand the relevance of these cities, we can better understand our Christian neighbors, friends, and families. Furthermore, when we understand the Christian sites in Israel, we understand the diversity of Israel. Israel is full of different people, belief systems, and colors. We can only fully understand the Land of Israel when we understand fully understand those different colors that exist within in the land.