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. 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.

Caesarea Palace

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).

Megiddo Tunnel

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.

Valley of Jezreel

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.

What is the Point of the Feeding of the 5000?

Although the story of Jesus feeding a large crowd in the wilderness is well-known, what was the point of the miracle? How does Matthew use the story of the feeding of the 5000 in the overall story of his gospel?

Ethiopic Feeding of the 5000

For some scholars, this meal foreshadows the Last Supper. There are several phrases which appear here and in Matthew 26:26 (when it got late, he took bread and broke it, he gave thanks, the disciples reclined at the table). But there are serious differences. As Robert Gundry pointed out, the disciples do not eat with Jesus (Mark, 330) although there is nothing in Matthew which says they did not eat the plentiful food.  Is this a proto-eucharist? Sometimes blessing and breaking bread is just that. There is nothing equivalent to wine distributed, and this is not a ceremonial meal, people are genuinely hungry and need to eat. Nolland summarizes, “the link between the feeding and the Last Supper is at the same time important and obscure” (Matthew, 592).

In the context of Matthew 13, is the feeding of the 5000 a fulfillment of the parables of the kingdom? Something small becomes enough to satisfy a huge crowd (like the mustard seed and hidden leaven?) In the miraculous feeding, Jesus begins to reveal who he really is, answering the question asked in the Nazareth synagogue: “Where did this man get wisdom and miraculous powers?” (13:54).

Many scholars point out the importance of eating together in the ancient world. Eating with others was more than just fellowship at the time of Jesus, it was an indication of where you fit into society, and there were social rules for who ate with who. Pharisees would not eat with many of the common people because they were not ceremonially clean. Even the common people had a sort of “pecking order” that was followed at communal meals.

By inviting all the crowds to sit and eat, Jesus is saying that they are all worth to sit and eat with him. This is a huge thing in that culture, since the average teacher of the law would not eat with the people that followed Jesus. This may be why Matthew leaves out the reference to the smaller groups. If he is writing to a Jew, they might assume that the smaller groups are groups of similar classes, which they were not.

The feeding of the 5000 evokes the Exodus and Wilderness period in Israel’s history. With this miracle, Jesus is gathering a new Israel about himself. In the original Exodus, God provided food for the people of Israel in the wilderness after the first Passover.

If Jesus is intentionally patterning this miracle after the events of the original Passover, then he is a new Moses at the very least (fulfilling the messianic expectation of a prophet coming after Moses), or he is claiming to be God, the one who provided the food in the wilderness and satisfied the people with bread from heaven. The Gospel of John makes the allusion explicit and there is a long dialogue between Jesus and the people about manna as bread from heaven. The people even “murmur” in John 6:41, recalling the frequent murmurings of Israel in the wilderness.

Moses led the people through the waters of the Red Sea. God demonstrated his power and authority over the chaos of the seas (described as walking on the waters in the Psalms). The next story in Mark and Matthew is walking on the water, a miracle revealing Jesus as the Son of God. His disciples worship him as the Son of God (14:33). In Matthew16:16 Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of the living God.” Jesus then predicts his death (16:21), explaining the true mission of the Messiah is to defeat sin and death at the cross. A week later, Jesus is confirmed as the Son of God at the transfiguration (Matt 17:1-13).

Just as God provided food for Israel in the wilderness, now Jesus provides food for his followers in the wilderness. As John Nolland observes, this is the same perspective as Emmanuel in Matthew 1:23, “in the ministry of Jesus God is with us” (Matthew, 587).

The Feeding of the 5000 – Matthew 14:15-21

The feeding of the 5000 appears in all four Gospels (Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13). In Mark, the feeding of the 5000 also follows the death of John the Baptist; Luke does not have the walking on the water immediately after the feeding of the 5000. As usual, Matthew has seriously abbreviated Mark’s narrative, but John’s version is expanded. In John we learn that the miracle happens around the time of Passover

Jesus Feeds the 5000

After an unspecified time of teaching and healing, the disciples want to dismiss the crowd so they can get something to eat (14:15). The crowd is very large and there is no village nearby to get something to eat. It simply makes good sense to send them away to get food. Why does the crowd not have sufficient food for themselves? If they were planning on going to follow Jesus for a long time, they ought to have brought some supplies. Maybe they dropped everything and followed Jesus as the disciples had. They have traveled light as the disciples did on their mission, relying on God to supply their needs.

“You Give Them Something To Eat”

Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat, but they have very little food, five loaves and two fish (14:16-17).  Matthew alone has “they do not need to go away,” followed by Mark’s “you give them something to eat.”

“You give them something to eat” echoes Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In that story a man has twenty barley loaves but must feed one hundred men. After Elisha tells the man to give them something to eat” they will all eat and there is food left over. This is what happened “according to the word of the Lord.” Nolland calls this a “how much more” comparison with Elisha (Matthew, 593). Jesus’s miracle is better than Elisha’s in every way: he makes more bread from less original good for more people who eat and are satisfied, and more is left over.

One possible explanation offered for who Jesus is in Matthew 16:14 is  Jesus is one of the prophets or Elijah. In Mark’s version of the death of John, Herod’s advisors suggest Jesus is one of the prophets (Mark 6:15, omitted in Matthew’s version of the story). The feeding of more than 5000 people from five small loaves and two small, dried fish indicates Jesus is far more than one of the prophets, he is something even greater than the greatest of the prophets.

The disciples have only a little food which is not enough for even a few people, let alone five thousand. In Mark 6 an unknown disciple complains that it would take more than a half year’s wages (200 denarii) to buy enough food, in John 6 Philip is identified as the complainer. John also mentions Andrew brought forward a boy with five loaves and two fish. In Mark and Matthew, the disciples have the food without specifying where they got it.

Is the complaint an allusion to Israel’s murmuring for food in the wilderness (Exod 16:1-3)? They long for the meat-pots of Egypt, so God promises to rain bread from heaven on them (16:4). Here the disciples initially mention the lack of food and then complain that they cannot possibly feed the crowd themselves before Jesus provides bread and fish for everyone (and in John the extended discussion is about the Exodus passage and the meaning of bread from heaven).

The food is insignificant. Five small loaves are not modern loaves of bread. If John is right and this miracle happens at Passover, then it is possible the bread is unleavened (or the child might have been given the last leftover leavened rolls in the house). The fish (ἰχθύς) are likely little dried fish (like dried sardines or a kipper). On the other hand, even of these were five full sized loaves of bread and two of the largest fish freshly caught from the Sea of Galilee, it is still insufficient to feed the large crowd.

Jesus Multiplies the Fish and Bread

Jesus first orders the people to sit in the grass. Although this seems natural enough if he is about to feed them, it is an allusion to the image of God leading his people in the wilderness like sheep. Mark has them seated in hundreds and fifties, which may allude to the way Israel was sorted into hundreds and fifties in the wilderness (Exod 18:21, 25). The verb is ἀνακλίνω, which is used regularly for sitting down at a meal as a guest (BDAG). In Matthew 8:11 Jesus said many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, an allusion to the eschatological banquet.

Jesus then blesses the food and gives it to the disciples to distribute. Although some commentators see an allusion to the Last Supper here, looking to heaven and blessing the food are part of normal Jewish meals.  Baskets? Who brings baskets with them? These baskets are from the fishing boats Jesus and the disciples arrived in (not picnic baskets!). “The word for “basketfuls” (kophinos) describes a distinctively Jewish basket for carrying kosher food” (Blomberg, Matthew, 233).

Everyone is Satisfied

Everyone eats their fill and is satisfied, and there is plenty of food leftover! The verb translated “satisfied” (χορτάζω) is uses in classical Greek for leading an animal to pasturage but when it is used for humans it refers to eating enough food to be satisfied. In Exodus 16:12 God says he will fill the people with bread, and in 16:18 the people took all the manna they need. This verb appears in Psalm 81:16 (LXX 80:17, “And he fed them from the fat of wheat, and from a rock of honey he satisfied them”).

The crowd does not really know where the food came from, they were handed bread and fish and they ate in large groups. The disciples know the food is a miracle revealing who Jesus is, much like the next miracle when Jesus walks on the water.

Why does Jesus Go into the Wilderness? Matthew 14:13-14

After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus goes into the wilderness. Why does Jesus retreat to a “desolate place” (ESV)?

Jesus Praying Alone

The verb in verse 13 (ἀναχωρέω) does in fact have the nuance of a retreat from danger, an army retreating, and sometimes to “withdraw from public affairs” (BrillDAG). Jesus has retreated in response to danger before in Matthew. In Matthew 2:22 Jesus leaves Bethlehem because Herod the Great threatened to kill the infant Jesus. In Matthew 4:12 Jesus withdrew to Galilee because Herod Antipas arrested John. Luke 9:9 indicates Antipas “sought to see Jesus” and in Luke 13:31 the Pharisees warn Jesus to “get away from here because Herod wants to kill you.”

It is not as though Jesus is afraid of Antipas. He does not want to provoke a confrontation with the authorities yet. His intention is to go to the cross, but at the time of the Passover to make the imagery of the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” more clear.

Even though Jesus goes to a desolate place, the crowds follow him (14:13). He went by boat, they followed on shore. Remember the Sea of Galilee is not that large!

The word translate “desolate place” in the ESV (ἔρημος) is traditionally “the wilderness.” John the Baptist was active in the wilderness and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness of Judea. Most Bible readers hear the word wilderness and think of Israel’s forty years of wandering in the deserts of the Negev. But Jesus is in Galilee, so wilderness here does not refer to a desert location, but rather an unpopulated area.  In the context of Galilee, they are in an area where people do not live, between villages and farms.

The traditional location is Tabgha, only about two miles west of Capernaum. The place was known as Heptapegon because it had seven springs, Tabgha is a corruption of this ancient name. According to Todd Bolen, the spring water is warmer than the Sea of Galilee so there are algae in the water, attracting fish. There is a Byzantine church on the site with a traditional rock on which the fish and bread were blessed, along with a famous mosaic which appears in every gift shop in Israel. This location is on most tourist itineraries. The Church of Peter’s Primacy near Tabgha is also worth visiting for its lovely garden on the short of the Sea of Galilee.

The location does evoke scriptural connections. The wilderness is associated with Israel after they were rescued from Egypt. Jesus as a new Moses leading his people into the wilderness where he will care for them like sheep in the wilderness, caring for their sickness and providing them food. One of the reasons Jesus goes into the wilderness is to evoke the images from the Hebrew Bible.

Jesus has compassion on the crowd and healed their sick (14:14). This is the second time Jesus has had compassion on a great crowd (9:36) and in 20:34 he has compassion on a blind man. The verb σπλαγχνίζομαι appears only in the Gospels with Jesus as the subject, With the except of the good Samaritan and father of the prodigal (Luke 10:33; 15:20). In Mark 6:34, Jesus teaches the crowd, here in Matthew he heals.

This also may allude to the wilderness tradition. In Numbers 27:15-23 Moses realizes he is near death He prays for God to appoint a new leader so that the people will not be “like sheep without a shepherd.” The sick (ἄρρωστος) is a rare word in the New Testament that can refer to the sick, weak, or “powerless.” In 1 Cor 11:30, those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper are “sick and weak” and the verb is used sickness associated with sin in Sirach 18:21.

This gathering of a large crowd in the wilderness set up one of the most important miracles in the Gospels the feeding of the 5000.

The Death of John the Baptist and Josephus – Matthew 14:1-12

The death of John the Baptist is mentioned in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews as well as in both Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:17-29, and Luke 9:7-9. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew reported  John was in prison in 11:2 but does not narrate the death of John the Baptist after Jesus has been rejected at Nazareth.

Death of john the baptist

Matthew used Mark 6:1-6a for his rejection story in 13:53-58, now he abbreviates Mark 6:17-29. But Matthew separated the mission of the Twelve (Mark 6:6b-13; 30-31) from Mark 6. Matthew does not narrate the mission; Jesus gives authority to the appointed Twelve and sends them out (Matthew 10:1-4) followed by a long set of instructions (the second discourse, Matthew 10). The death of John the Baptist is now orphaned, so Matthew attaches it more closely to the feeding of the 5000 story. “When Jesus heard this” he withdrew privately to a solitary place (Matt 14:13). In Mark 6:32 Jesus simply withdraws with his disciples without explanation.

Does Luke have another source? Luke reports John’s arrest in 3:29-20 as a response to John “reproving” Herod “concerning his brother’s wife” and “all the evil this Herod had done.” Later in Luke 9:7-9, Herod heard about “all that was happening” and the rumor that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead or that Elijah had appeared, or that one of the “prophets of old had risen.”

The report of the death of John the Baptist in Josephus appears in the context of a border dispute between Herod Antipas and the Nabatean king Aretas. Some Jews consider this defeat to be punishment for executing John.

Antiquities 18.5.2 (116) Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; (117) for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. (118) Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. (119) Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him. William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 484.

Louis Feldman considers this passage authentic, especially since it differs from the canonical gospels on the reason Antipas executed John. In Josephus, Herod Antipas was alarmed at John’s growing reputation among the people and thought he should “strike first and be rid of him” (Feldman’s translation). Josephus mentions several messianic prophets who gathered a following but were eventually dispersed by the Romans. John is not a messianic prophet such as Theudas (Antiq. 20.5.1) or other “imposters” (Antiq. 20.8.6).

Although Josephus confirms Antipas killed John at Macherus, he does not mention John’s condemnation of his marriage to is sister-in-law or the famous dance which resulted in John’s beheading.