February 12: Today we woke up refreshed, and left the beach at Netanya to visit the ruins of an older city up the coast. Caesarea on the Sea was our first stop, and it was powerful experience. It was a place that King Herod ruled, and where Paul was held prisoner for a couple years before being taken to Rome. We got to stand right on the spot where Paul made his arguments to Agrippa concerning his faith in Acts 26. There’s something special when you can visualize the space in which the Bible stories unfolded. When you look around and see the contour of Herod’s palace by the ocean, or the breakwaters that were part of the old harbor, or sit in the theatre overlooking the Mediterranean – your imagination runs wild for what this city was like when 1000 ships a day were coming into the harbor.
After Caesarea, we travelled about 40 miles inland and found out where the word Armageddon comes from. In Revelation, it is prophesied that the battle for the end times will occur at Har Meggido. We travelled inland to see the ruins on this small mountain which overlooks the Jezreel Valley. Many rulers built forts here, and the archaeological record is rife with layers of history. King Solomon had 500 horses stationed here with some men always on hand because the vantage point in every direction was so good. We learned a lot about roads, and why civilizations chose certain locations to build strongholds – and why this region of Israel has been fought over for four thousand plus years. It’s basically the connector of four continents, and has access to the ocean. From an economy standpoint, what more could a ruler want?
After Har Meggido, we turned inland towards Galilee, and got to view the world from the top of Mount Carmel. We read scripture about Elijah in 1 Kings 18 and the ‘Superbowl’ of all contests – the God of Abraham vs. Baal. (Baal went down hard…) Again, the view was spectacular and we caught a glimpse of Nazareth in the distance. After a nice lunch at the bottom of Mount Carmel we started to head towards Jesus’ hometown.
On the way, we wanted to swing by the ruins at Sepphoris. It turns out that Jesus may not have been the kind of carpenter that we all think of…most likely he worked with stone and cut stone for growing towns and cities. There just weren’t the trees needed to have a carpenter’s shop the way we envision it today - and the translation of the word carpenter can mean ‘tradesmen’. The rise of these ‘romanesque’ towns across Judea put a huge demand on local tradesmen to supply marble and stone for the building of theatres and pillars etc. In Sepphoris, we got to walk through a town right outside Nazareth, that Jesus may have had a hand in building. Touching the stone there, and imagining that it may have once been in our Lord’s hands was a pretty special feeling.
We finished out day by visiting Nazareth. It’s an interesting blend of Muslim and Christian here, who at least on the day we visited, seemed to work and coincide well together. Churches and Mosques almost compete for real estate. It seemed that at least in the old part of town, the Catholic and Orthodox churches dominated the scenery. We got to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation which claims to have Mary’s house on the lower level. Again, the levels of history under the ground in this country was pretty amazing. There was a service in Italian going on upstairs as we wandered around and the familiar sounds of the sung liturgy was a peaceful thing to many of us. It really is a worldwide church with some much that binds us across denominations.
Once we got through our travels today, we settled in at a cute little resort-like hotel with individual bungalows – that sits right at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Tomorrow, we take to the sea. A little more boat and less bus. Until tomorrow night.