Caesarea, Megiddo, and The Sea of Galilee

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. Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod’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.

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 will Felix was the governor. It is what it was it Caesarea that Paul made his famous appeal to Caesar. There is a cistern in Herod’s palace at Caesarea which claims to be the prison of the apostle Paul, but I think this has about a zero percent chance of being accurate. Since Paul was a Roman citizen it is highly unlikely he he would have been held in a cistern for two years (or at all for that matter).

From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel to Megiddo. I have not visited this site in many years, and although not much has changed, what is there to see is quite important. 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 to the Sea of Galilee, stopping at Yardenet, the location for baptisms in the Jordan River in Galilee. Like the precipice, this is not  the place Jesus was baptized (that was near the Dead Sea). But this is the place many Christians come to remember Jesus’s baptism and participate in the ritual. We spent some time reading the baptism story in Matthew 4 and discussed  the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit.

We arrive at Ma’agan Holiday Village on the Sea of Galilee about 5:00, allowing the students plenty of time in the pool. Ma’agan is one of my favorite places to stay in Israel. And one of my favorite things to do with a group is to gather down by the shore after dinner and talk about the trip so far. Since we were near the half-way point, this is a good chance for students to share their experiences and thoughts about our travel in Jerusalem. This was one of the best times I have had, most of the students shared and were thoughtful as they reflected on their spiritual and cultural experiences.

Tomorrow we will visit quite a few sites related to the life of Jesus.

Israel 2012, Day 7 – Appealing Caeserea

Today was a long travel day.  Starting out early from Tamar we traveled west and north past Tel Aviv to Caesarea.  This is an extensive site which the Israeli Parks authority has developed into a very nice walking tour.  Starting out from the Theater, we had a nice view of the Mediterranean Sea.  The theater is used for modern performances, so I have seen the stage crowded with modern scaffolding and equipment.  This time there was nothing on the stage so the view was beautiful.

We walked through an area of collected pillars and sarcophagi to the Palace / Pratorium.  Once again this is a breathtaking view of the sea.  Fisherman usually gather on the rocks for some deep sea fishing  I have always seen them there, so I assume the fishing must be good.  We saw one guy jump the fence into the park with his fishing gear to save the 38 shekels.  Most of our group stopped to step into the Sea, marking the Red-Med-Dead trifecta in three consecutive days.  That is a first for my tours, although unintentional.  (There are a few people out by the Sea of Galilee this evening, so they may add that water to the list.)

Some of the mosaics in the public areas at Caesarea look like they are being restored, although I did not notice much change since the last time I was there in 2009. (Sorry 2011 people, we skipped this site on that tour!)  There are a pair of mosaics with variations on Romans 13:3 in the 4th century “tax record office” to encourage the new Christian businessmen to pay their taxes accurately.

We lunched on Mount Carmel in the Druze Village on the way to the Carmelite Monastery.  This might have been a bad idea since there were so many Israelis visiting Mount Carmel for Shabbat – the streets around the Druze Market were packed and there was a major traffic jam.  Our bus driver Jimmy made his way through without problems, but it was slow going!

They have recently fenced off the hillside we used to walk down to avoid paying to enter the Monastery, and there was a fair amount of haze in the air by that point.  Mount Carmel is the site of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal, and the monastery has a memorial to Elijah.  What was interesting to me on this trip is that at 4:30PM  the sun was at an angle which illuminated the Mediterranean Sea.  Recall that after the priests of Baal had been executed, Elijah went to the edge of the mountain and looked to the sea to see of the drought would come to an end.  Having visited this site earlier in the day I did not know that you could see the ocean from the general area of the Monastery.

We drove through the valley of Jezreel to Nazareth, although there is not much to see in that city.  It is an incredibly  noisy town, with no easy way to get through quickly.  When we were making our way up the hill toward Nazareth Illit, the sun was setting and the valley was soaked in reds and browns.  Turning toward Galilee we could see the rising near-full moon.

I have had an unusual number of coffees today, so I may just write tomorrow’s blog early.  I think that an extra Turkish coffee has been known to evoke visions….

[Why no pictures? The internet at the Leonardo in Tibereas is expensive and slow, a bad combination. I will come back and add pictures when I get to a faster, cheaper connection.)

Herod, The Builder

Herod the Great is one of the well-known historical figures from the New Testament. Although he dies just after Jesus is born, his influence continues well after his death.  His sons rule the region of Palestine until the Jewish War in A.D. 66.   He was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C., and King in 37 B. C.   Since  Herod was only half-Jewish, and was hated by the Jews because he was an “outsider.”  He was an excellent administrator and politician. Since he ruled with the ruthless efficiency respected by Roman Empire he was left to run his kingdom with no interference from Rome.  He began an aggressive building campaign throughout the region, but especially Jerusalem.


Caesarea, Herod’s tribute to the Roman Empire

Despite marrying an Hasmonean princess, Mariamme, he was never accepted by the Jewish people as a Jewish king.  His family was Idumean, forcible converts to Judaism, and therefore not really Jewish. Perhaps in an attempt to win favor with the Jewish people he expanded the Temple mount and re-built the whole complex, making it one of the most beautiful temples in the ancient world.

Herod was increasingly paranoid with a well-documented history of cruelty toward family and friends. This included the execution of his wife, whom he appears to have truly loved and his brother, whom he suspected of plotting against him.   Because of his cruelty, Augustus is reputed to have said “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”

Herod wrote a will that divided Palestine between three of his sons (he had ten wives, all of whom wanted their child to succeed him.)  The three remaining sons, each took the title “Tetrarch” (ruler of a fourth) or “Ethnarch” (ruler of people).

Herod is usually remembered as the madman who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Messiah. This is true, Herod was a brutal and paranoid man who killed his own wife and children in order to prevent them from rebelling against him.  It is true that Herod was a evil person who ruled with an iron fist.  But early in his reign he was a skillful administrator who was able to control a rebellious province.  What is more, he initiated many building projects which brought Judea respect in the Roman world.

Herod built several fortress-palaces, included Masada and the Herodium.  Masada is a well known desert palace built by Herod, although the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus was the first for fortify the mountain. The Herodium is near Bethlehem and was designed by Herod as a fortress and burial site.

Perhaps Herod’s greatest achievement was this renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem.  When it was finished, it rivaled Solomon’s Temple in glory.   He began in 19 B.C., and finished the temple in 18 months, but took another 8 years to build the courtyards.    Although the complete Temple complex was not finished until A.D.  64,  Herod doubled the size of Zerubbabel’s temple.  Since the design of the Temple is found in scripture, Herod expanded the buildings around the Temple, enclosing the original mountain in a rectangular box and expanded the buildings associated with the Temple area.

The port-city of Caesarea Maritima was marvel of architecture and engineering. Herod built a thoroughly Roman city which was a tribute it his power and wealth.  The artificial port at Caesarea is one of the more amazing structures built by Herod.   Caesarea was built as a Roman city included a theater and hippodrome.

The best text on Herod’s building projects is Ehud Netzer, The Architecture of Herod the Great Builder (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008).  This is an excellent description of Herod’s projects.  It is technical, but still readable.