Breaking Rocks, Gnashing Teeth

I drop over the al-Nabi Sa’in Ridge and hit dirt. Up until this moment, my experience of the Jesus Trail has been urban. The apartment buildings step downslope toward the Suffuriyyah drainage basin and exhaust themselves. The ground goes rural.

View NW from high above Galilee. Note the new road (whitish color) being cut from Nazareth (at about 10 o’clock on the yellow circle) to the main road. Salute to Google Earth once again.

I scamper over a barricade at the end of the street into a construction zone. A new road is being pushed through. I lose the trail in the earthmoving, but this is not a real concern. I see the only two landmarks I need. The first is a Sonol Gas Station where fresh coffee is brewing. The second is the archaeological remains of Sepphoris. The choice is a no-brainer; this Americano makes for the java.

View to the area of Suffuriyyah (center horizon) and the gas station (left, along road). The wall of Upper Galilee rises faintly in the distance.

I walk the unfinished roadbed. Limestone crunches underfoot. Larger boulders, pushed away by machines, litter the berms. These rocks are a part of a brittle veneer, the residue of an ancient seafloor. It is difficult to imagine the Galilee underwater, but the science on this is clear. Warm shallow seas once covered this land and coated it with layers of chalky goo. Geologists try to teach us how (1) the Tethys Sea dried up; (2) the Cretaceous Era blew up; (3) the mountains grew up, and (4) the lifeforms souped up. I’ve mused over this narrative of catastrophe since childhood, mostly because of a sick fascination with red-eyed, flesh-ripping dinosaurs. (Yes, there was such a generation before “Jurassic Park.”) Since I achieved adulthood only recently (and even then, just barely), I am still not quite over the wonder of it all,to wit, I spent part of a summer not so long ago chiseling the remains of these “terrible lizards” out of Wyoming’s badlands.

I realize that prehistoric Wyoming is entirely off topic, but indulge me, please. I am quite proud of this excellent Hadrosaur fragment (from the Late Cretaceous period). The Hadrosaurs functioned as chicken in deep antiquity.  Everybody ate them! And no, this is not a wishbone, it is a part of the tail structure called a chevron.

Something growls. I freeze. The hair on my neck rises. I make out a creature standing on a gravel pile. A companion rises beside him, stiff legged. Two more (or is it three now?) reveal themselves. It is a pack of shaggy rovers, some of Nazareth’s marginalized population.

Bending down slowly, I fill my hands with chunks of primordial seafloor. I keep my eyes on the beasts and inch backwards. They stand their ground and show me their flesh-ripping ivories. The barker signals. It is the challenge of savage antiquity, the chilling call of the wild: Homo sapiens sapiens vs. Canidae. Biped vs. quadrapeds. Tools vs. teeth.

Some say that an asteroid buried itself in Old Mexico 65 million years ago. The effect of that rock took down a whole crew of bone-gnawers. I suppose it is possible.

I prepare to launch a meteorite storm of my own. I can only pray for similar results.

A path of retreat appears to the left and I edge that way. Keeping the unfinished road between me and the pack, I skirt their position. They do not move. Maybe I just woke them up before they were ready. They are still grumbling as I slip over the hill.

I hurry a short distance, my head on a swivel.  A few minutes of this, and I feel sure that the danger is passed. I drop the rocks. They bounce and rattle. I breathe again.

The limestone that characterizes this southwest corner of Lower Galilee is crummy stuff. It is too weak to be used for building material and it decays to a relatively infertile topsoil. Dig a cistern here and it will probably leak. Deposited in the Eocene period (on the near side of the dinosaur wipeout, the “K-Pg Boundary”), this material is chalky and laced with bands of chert. It may be what Isaiah refers to when he describes “chalkstones (‘avne-gir) crushed to pieces” (Isa 27:9).

Geological map of southwestern Galilee. Detail of online map from Geological Survey of Israel. See

A map from the Geological Survey of Israel reveals how the surface of southwest Galilee is fractured in a network of fault lines running northwest to southeast. The Jesus Trail between Nazareth and Sepphoris follows these trends to the northwest. Primary deposits here include Mount Scopus chalks and marls (shown in olive green) and Eocene limestones (shown in light orange and peach). While poor for some applications, a chunk of the stuff might keep White Fang at bay!

Tremendous force folded this seafloor like an accordion. The process, it is believed, culminated in the Pliocene, the last chapter in the story of ancient geological periods and the period immediately prior to our own (Quaternary). Only after this folding did the Galilee reach its present form of hills and valleys. The brittle veneer has been cracking up ever since.

“Satellite” view to an Eocene earth. Note how the area of the modern Middle East is completely submerged. Sediments deposited in hoary antiquity continue to shape the contours of life today. Image from Ron Blakey, NAU Geology at

I reach the blacktop road and hop the guardrail. It is still early enough that cars are not a problem. I scoot across to the gas station for my second cup of coffee for the morning. The Cretaceous period would have been a lively time to be around, but the conveniences of the Quaternary are tough to beat.