Monday, June 29, 2015


When our group left Jerusalem and headed for Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, we took a wide swing away from the West Bank to visit some ruins on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea was built by Herod the Great in about 25-13 BC to serve as the administrative center of the Judaean Province of the Roman Empire. In a very savvy move, Herod dedicated the city to the emperor, Caesar Augustus.                                                                                               Herod is the ruler referenced in Matthew 2 to whom the Magi came to inquire about the location of the King of the Jews, whose star they had seen in the east. Of course, Herod, as the current King of the Jews, was not too keen on having a rival, so he ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed. An angel warned Joseph in a dream of Herod's plot, and he and Mary and the infant Jesus fled to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod's death. When they returned, the family moved to Nazareth so as not to be under Herod's son Archelaus.

Herod the Great was an all-around bad dude. He was ambitious and cruel, a dreadful combination. In three different fits of jealousy, he had his brother-in-law murdered, and then his sons, and then his wife. Augustus noted, "It is better to be Herod's dog than one of his children."  No kidding.

On the other hand, Herod is probably called Herod "the Great" because of his massive building program, which included building Caesarea, building the fortress Masada, and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. He didn't skimp either. 

Clearly, Herod was an important man with a lot of power.
Sand dunes on the way to Caesarea
Caesarea is also a key Christian site. This is the city from which Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus. It was here that Paul converted the centurion Cornelius, the first non-Jew, after Paul had a vision in Joppa of the unclean animals caught in a net (Acts 10). Later, Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years, and during that time he defended himself to Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great. Paul told Agrippa about his sordid past as a Christian persecutor and about the vision that led to his conversion, and then he testified of Christ. Agrippa responded with the famous words: "Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26).

These days Caesarea is a very wealthy area. In fact, it has the only golf course in Israel, and it has a stunning beach:
We were there on a day when the radiant hue of the sky was surpassed by jewel tones of the Mediterranean Sea:
Clouds were moving in, and we needed to see the Mediterranean up close before the threat of rain became a reality:
. . . VERY up close:

Stan gets in on the action:
The clouds were just teasing us. Before long, they were just a wispy memory.

Between the parking lot and the sea is a magnificent section of a Roman aqueduct, used in Herod's day to bring water in its channel on top from the southern side of Mount Carmel, 10 km away. In the 2nd century AD, the aqueduct was remodeled, doubling its width. This structure provided the area with fresh water for 1200 years. (They obviously had better plumbers than we do.)

The remnants of Herod's palace are on the south end of the complex, 

Caesarea presents some interesting juxtapositions. Modern smokestacks are a distant echo of ancient, crumbling pillars:

This looks like a regular well, or maybe a manhole cover, but it's actually a site of "forbidden sorcery":
The most complete and imposing structure at Caesarea is a 4,000 seat amphitheater that has been carefully restored. These days it is frequently used for concerts:
Do you think that's a doorway up there?
Nope. It's a "vomitorium," a great word for "an opening, as in a stadium or theater, permitting large numbers of people to enter or leave." We experimented with several vomitoria and found them to be very efficient:
Archaeologists discovered a "dedication stone" at the amphitheater that reads: "Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judaea, erected a building dedicated to the emperor Tiberius." Pilate was the Roman prefect who presided over the trial of Jesus, and this is the only archaeological evidence of Pilate's existence:
The detritus of the ages abuts and surrounds the walls of the stadium:

Hey! We have fan palms just like this one in our backyard!

One more significant structure at Caesarea is a hippodrome with twelve rows of seating for 10,000 spectators. During Herod's day there were chariot races here. I could picture Charleton Heston as Ben Hur swinging around these corners at breakneck speed in his chariot pulled by four white horses:

No chariot races when we were there, but it worked well as seating for the 90 or so of us while we listened to Michael and Ilon lecture:
I need to put in a plug for Ilon, our local Jewish guide. We learned that his parents came from New York City as part of the Zionist Movement. His grandparents on his mother's side had escaped from Czechoslovakia before the Holocaust; grandparents three generations back on his father's side lived in Russia. 
After his presentation on this particular day, Michael stood next to Ilon in front of the tour group and put his arm around Ilon's shoulders. He thanked him for being a representative of the Jewish faith and expressed his gratitude to the Jews for the sacrifices they had made to bring the word of God to the world. It was heartfelt and genuine and very moving, and attitude worth emulating.

Mountain Goat Bob, easy to spot in his yellow shirt, was doing some of his customary wandering:
I'm not sure what this rock structure in the center of the Hippodrome is. Does anyone know? Maybe an outline of the monuments that may have been in the center at one time?
I can understand why Herod chose this spot for his palace and his recreation. The Mediterranean Sea is beautiful and a the cool breeze that whispers across its surface toward shore keeps the temperature mild. 
It's the perfect spot to film an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.


  1. Ceasarea was one example of where our lectures went way too long and bit into our time to view the site we were visiting. My wandering ways helped me to see much more of the ruins than those who stayed glued to the talks. Love the clip of the chariot races, the whipper got what he deserved - being run over by his horses. Fun to see a portrayal of what it might have looked like. Loved Ceasarea.

  2. I've been trying not to read this post since I'm working on the same area post and don't want to lose my own impressions of the experience. I love reading your take, and love the use of the map to put it all in perspective. I'd forgotten how Michael had expressed his appreciation for our Jewish guide--truly a touching, teaching moment.

  3. We just read that chapter of Acts last night, so it's really interesting to see this site. I should just bring your blog up and show it to our SS class!