Bye bye Jerusalem. Hello Galilee! Today marks the move into the fourth and final phase of our journey. Syria done. Jordan completed. Tantur finished. Galilee, go!
Making the most of our day, we took the scenic route from Jerusalem to Tiberias. First stop: Caesarea Maritima. If you’ve never heard of “Maritima”, it’s because we don’t usually use that word, though it’s a handy one—it distinguishes this Caesarea from the Philippi one (and a few others, I’m sure).
In case his legacy wasn’t already impressive, Caesarea served to further imprint Herod the Great on this land. Dreaming of the impact that a port city would have on the region, but failing to find any natural spots, Herod decided, “Why not just build one?”
And he did.
Using an ancient form of cement that hardens when it becomes wet, Herod basically sunk block after block into the sea, carefully positioning them to create breakwaters. With “lighthouse” and sheltered harbour, Caesarea quickly flourished into a major centre of trade. Herod built a palace there (because he had nowhere else to live ; ) ), along with a 4000-seat theatre and a 15 000-seat hippodrome. He also built a large temple, dedicated to Augustus Caesar. A thumbnail sketch of the city’s history after Herod is found in the fact that this temple site was later filled with a church, then a mosque, then a church again before the city pretty much died in the 1300’s. Conquered and re-developed several times, the city also struggled against earthquakes and the sea’s constant beating on its invaluable harbour. As those stones shifted and crumbled, so did the city’s future.
To start our visit, we viewed a fantastically done short video about Caesarea’s history. That was followed by a quick tour of the highlights (theatre, hippodrome, harbour, and gift shop!) before we bussed a few miles over to the ruins of the Roman aqueduct that runs 17 kilometres (though much is covered by sand today) towards a spring which used to provide water to Caesarea. At this stop, a few of our group waded into the Mediterranean Sea, while others explored the area on foot.
Honestly, the highlight for me was a short “sermon” that Charles shared in the theatre. He read from Acts 10, the story of Cornelius, a citizen of Caesarea. This chapter of Scripture is quite provocative, more than the average reader might realize. Peter’s world gets shaken and God breaks into Cornelius’. The Spirit’s power works to expand Peter’s interpretation of Scripture, and his theology is forced to catch up with his experience. There is tension, and there is growth. And it inspired me to hear it!
A short bus ride led us up the slopes of Mount Carmel, its peak marked by a Carmelite church. A beautiful little garden and a rooftop lookout crown the area, also containing an attention-grabbing statue of Elijah drawing his dagger to strike down one of the 450 prophets of Baal after their fiery showdown. Again, we marked this spot by reading the story together. Very windy weather and hazy skies killed the visibility from the look-out point, but we snapped our photos and headed to a quick lunch break in a sheltered park nearby.
After bag lunches had been consumed, another 15-minute drive took us to Megiddo. Also translated Armageddon, this site of frequent battle could be called a “super tell”, with around twenty distinct layers being piled on top of each other. Details of the first key battle here are written in hieroglyphics on a wall in Luxor, which describes a battle from 1468 BC, which involved Egypt’s Thutmose III. Under Solomon, Megiddo became a “chariot city”, where ruins of his stables can still be seen. A brief tour through Megiddo’s underground water system concluded our tour here.
An hour of driving delivered us to Tiberias and our hotel, on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee.
It must be getting late in this five-week stretch, as my eyelids weighed extra today. I’m sure I didn’t make it five minutes from Tantur before sleeping all the way to Caesarea, and nearly every minute on the bus wound up just the same. As I type this, it’s 8:45 PM here, and I think bed will be calling within the hour.
The next three days will see us trekking out in different directions in Galilee, with this as our base each night. Then Sunday night will see us hardly sleep and depart here at 1:00 AM to drive to Tel Aviv’s international airport. Home is near!
All the best to you wherever you are.