We left at 730AM for a drive north and west to Caesarea. Everyone was on time, but due to an extremely large group in the hotel and the complication of Sabbath elevators, a few were just a bit late. Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. We had a little stomach sickness today, hopefully that works itself out with a good night’s sleep.
Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod the Great’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco-Roman city.We spent a little time talking in the theater about the death of Herod in Acts 12 and Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea later in the book of Acts. This was likely a house arrest, Paul was likely in a similar situation to his house arrest at the end of Acts.
This was my first visit to Caesarea since the new visitor’s center was finished. It has a small museum with a few artifacts, but the main feature is a film about Herod’s life and his need to impress Rome by building the city. It is a bit too influenced by Game of Thrones, but it fairly accurate and gives first time visitors an insight into why the city is so intentionally Roman.
As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caesarea with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial while Felix was the governor. Later, when Festus was governor, Paul made his famous appeal to Caesar in Caesarea.
From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel to Megiddo. I visited Megiddo on my 2019 trip, and the visitor’s center has been significantly improved during the COVID shutdown.The short video has been updated with flashy edits, drone shots and interviews with Israel Finklestein. Overall, it tells the story f the site as well as the history of excavations in less that ten minutes. The old model of the site has been upgraded with some video overlays, but that was not particularly effective.
Why is Megiddo important for biblical Studies? According to 1 Kings 9:15 Solomon fortified Megiddo along with Hazor and Gezer. Jehu assassinated Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and Josiah was killed in battle by the Egyptian army led by Necho II (2 Kings 23:29). Aside from the spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, there is a 3000 BC Canaanite cult center and a major granary and other storage buildings. But the main thing to see at Megiddo is the water system, a passage carved through the rock to a hidden spring. (Megiddo is the inspiration for James Michner’s The Source).
We continued across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth, although we did not do much in this very crowded and busy city (which looks nothing like it did in Jesus’s day). We drove up to a view point some 1290 feet above sea level. Although it is highly unlikely, some Christians this this is the place where the people Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff in Luke 4:29. The precipice is outside of town and clearly very high, but it is so far from the original Nazareth village of the first century to be an authentic location.
From Nazareth we made our way through Cana to the Sea of Galilee. Since we had time this afternoon, we visited Migdal. Like Megiddo, there has been a great deal of work in the three years since I visited. The hotel is now finished (and it is beautiful) and the grounds have been improved. This was the first time we went into the church, there are some interesting modern mosaics there and a stunning mural of the woman who touched Jesus’s tassels in a small chapel in the lower level. I appreciated the attention to detail: the entry to the church used the same mosaic motif as the synagogue found on the property and the lower chapel was designed to look like the building.
Although this village was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. Some scholars have suggested the stone was carved to look like the Second Temple, although this is not particularly conclusive. What is important is this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth.
The group ended up walking all the way to the Sea of Galilee to put their feet in the lake and take pictures knee-deep in the water.We checked into the Nof Ginosar Hotel and had an excellent dinner. Since we are a student group we are saying in the Village rooms, which are small, comfortable bungalow style rooms with a camp-like atmosphere. The walls are thin, as I type this I can hear the man in the next room taking face-timing someone (fortunately I do not speak enough Hebrew to follow the conversation).
Tomorrow we will visit sites related to the life of Jesus, beginning with a hike up Mount Arbel to view the Sea of Galilee.