We began today’s tour by driving to Caesarea. Herod the Great built this city as a tribute to Rome, which gave him his kingship over the region of Palestine. (This Caesarea should not be confused with Caesarea Philippi, the place near Christ’s transfiguration in the gospels.) It features prominently in two places in the Book of Acts. First, it is the site of the first Gentile conversion to Christianity (Acts 10), when a Gentile named Cornelius summons Peter to his home in Caesarea. He was lodging with “Simon the tanner, whose house is by the seaside.”
It’s a gorgeous seaside, as I now know from personal experience.
As Peter preached to Cornelius—and his relatives and friends—the Holy Spirit came upon them, thus affirming that the gospel was, indeed, for the entire world.
Later in Acts, Paul is imprisoned by the Romans in Caesarea. It is here that he makes his dramatic defense of his ministry before the Roman governors Felix and Festus (Acts 24) and later before King Agrippa II (Acts 26). During one dramatic exchange, Agrippa asks, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” “Whether quickly or not,” Paul responds, “I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
As you’ll see in the video, we likely know where Paul spoke these words.
By the way, I chose the Beach Boys’ version of “Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)” on the movie soundtrack because Bishop Watson referred to the song on our drive to Caesarea, as we passed some cotton fields. He didn’t imagine that anyone of my generation knew the song. Ha! He doesn’t know me very well, does he? (As always, the video may take several seconds to load before playing.)
From Caesarea, we traveled to Megiddo, where King Solomon built a fortified city (1 Kings 9:15). Megiddo was a geographically strategic trade route, and throughout history many battles were fought in its valley. In fact, it’s a site of a great battle in Revelation—there translated “Armageddon.”
Megiddo is an “artificial hill,” called a tel. It looks like a hill because over centuries many cities built on top of the ruins of previous cities. “Why did they build on top of previous cities?” asked ignorant me. Someone said, “They didn’t have bulldozers back then.” Duh. In fact, archaeological digs in the 20th century determined that close to 30 civilizations have existed in this place over the millennia.
There are many horse stables among the ruins of Megiddo. Solomon stationed an army of charioteers there.
Megiddo also includes an impressive well, dug out of the rock, which went deep underneath city. In fact, the city was abandoned a few centuries before Christ because the water ran out. Today, we made a steep descent into the well, which you can see below.
After lunch in Megiddo, we went to Nazareth, where we saw the Church(es) of Annunciation, built on the alleged places at which Gabriel announced that Mary would give birth to the Messiah. Where exactly that was depends on whether you ask Catholic or Orthodox Christians. They each have a respective church. The Catholic church sits atop a cave where Mary supposedly lived. We could peer down into it, but we couldn’t go in because a Mass was going on.
The Orthodox church sits atop a well, at which Mary was supposedly drawing water when Gabriel appeared. To me, the controversy isn’t important. Nazareth, in the first century, was a very small town of 200 people. This was very likely a well that Mary visited. And if she didn’t live in this cave, she likely lived very near here.
More interesting was the old synagogue in Nazareth. It’s now part of a church, but the floor and steps date to the first century. (See pictures below.) For this reason, it’s likely that Jesus walked on this floor and ascended these steps when this event from Luke 4 took place:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Finally, we went to Cana of Galilee, where Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in John 2. The following is a picture of a stone jar like the ones described in the gospel. It was used to hold water for all household tasks—cooking, cleaning, and drinking. Would you have imagined it would have been that large? That must have been some party!
Before leaving Cana, Jimmy, our tour guide, stopped at a bakery and bought a box of freshly baked apple pastries to celebrate my birthday. They were still warm!
Back at the hotel, we Gentiles learned the meaning of “Sabbath elevators.” In order to prevent an Orthodox Jew from needing to push an elevator button, the elevator automatically stops at every floor in both directions—until Sabbath ends on Saturday evening. Can you imagine? After we made the mistake of boarding the elevator once this evening, we took the stairs.