Guest / Limited Access /
Is Skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee Sacrilegious?
Courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism
Is Skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee Sacrilegious?

A pack of lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides, including a nude congressman, took a booze-fueled, late-night swim in Israel's Sea of Galilee last summer, Politico reported on Sunday. Which raises at least one question: Is skinny-dipping at the biblical site sacrilegious?

Not really, Christian leaders and Holy Land experts said.

"Conservative Christians, obviously, aren't for getting naked in public or drunk anywhere," said Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"The location of the Sea of Galilee, however, doesn't make the story any more offensive to Christians than it is to the general public."

Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, the skinny-dipper, apologized for his "spontaneous and very brief dive," which occurred during a congressional junket. The freshman GOP lawmaker is a Methodist, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Pundits pounced, saying that the incident could cost the GOP in this fall's elections. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said the story of Republicans "messing all over this holy site" will reverberate "from pew to pew, family to family, preacher to preacher," especially within the GOP's conservative Christian base.

Even Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, denounced the denuded dip in Galilee. "I think it's reprehensible," Romney told New Hampshire's WMUR-TV.

Still, most Christians likely see Yoder's actions as immature—and a waste of taxpayer dollars—"but not as some intentional act of religious desecration," Moore said.

When Christians travel to Israel, they often insist on visiting two places, said Todd Bolen, a co-author of the blog Bible Places and a veteran Holy Land tour guide: Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee.

The pilgrims want to see and touch the water where Jesus performed some of his most memorable miracles. Christ recruited four of his apostles, walked on water, calmed a raging storm, and fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish on or near the Sea of Galilee, according to the New Testament.

A sign at a Catholic church at Tabgha, the purported site of the miracle of multiplication, declares that "this is holy ground," said Bolen, who has taught biblical archaeology, history and geography in Israel.

But the Sea of Galilee, which is really a lake, holds no religious significance for Israelis, most of whom are Jewish. In fact, it's a source of drinking water and the site of watersports like sailing and jet skiing for tourists staying at the resorts that line the coast. Even Christian tour groups often swim and take boat rides on Galilee. "I've water-skied on it," Bolen said.

So, while the Sea of Galilee remains a significant site for Christians, it doesn't demand the same reverence as Calvary, where Christ was crucified, or the Via Dolorosa.

Now, if congressmen start skinny-dipping in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, they might have a blasphemy problem, Bolen said.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueManga Mania
Subscriber Access Only
Manga Mania
The Japanese Bible series has sold more than the Jesus Storybook Bible. So why is it not taking off in Japan?
RecommendedSho Baraka: Why I Can't Vote for Either Trump or Clinton
Subscriber Access Only Sho Baraka: Why I Can't Vote for Either Trump or Clinton
Both candidates fail to address the heart concerns of black evangelicals like me.
TrendingResearch Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Editor's PickThe Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
The Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
'Culture of Death' sounds the alarm on pending medical bioethics legislation and other troubling trends.
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
Is Skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee Sacrilegious?