Monday, November 26 2018
This is Caesarea Maritima
Day 5 of our journey will be busy as before, with 4 sites visited (technically 5, including the night’s stay in Tiberias). The first location will be the historically rich city of Caesarea. Our route will be along the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea to arrive at the seaport also known as Caesarea Maritima. Centuries prior, this location had been used by Egypt as their shipping portal to the eastern Mediterranean, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica (also known as “the Levant”). Records of the Sidonian king named “Strabo” retaining settlement in the area extend back to the 4thc BC. It was known as “Strabo’s Tower.” Because of the location of the port to the fertile land of the Plain of Sharon, agricultural transportation was a prime marketing trade.
Having been under Ptolemaic control in the late 2ndc BC, a ruler by the name of Zoilus captured Strabo’s Tower and local lands. He then changed the port to a fully fortified city by constructing an artificially protected anchorage point. To accomplish this, Zoilus literally changed the coastline and flooded the area to create a shipping harbor. During the Hellenistic age, the harbor was closed into the city walls for additional fortification. Zoilus maintained control of the area until being overcome by Alexander Jannaeus in 103 BC. By the time Herod the Great comes into power (40-4 BC), the city will practically be in ruins.
Herod will eventually be placed in the position of Rome’s client king of Judea. Caesar thus granted him additional territory, which included the ruins of Strabo’s Tower. After the acquisition, Herod turned the region into a major international port he named “Sebastos” to bolster his economic position, both locally and with Rome. Eventually, Herod will rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem. As a counterpart to appeal to his Gentile allies, Herod developed the area into a definitive Greco-Roman attraction that included pagan temples, a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and a theater. In an astonishing archaeological feat, the entire complex was completed in just over 10 years (22-10/9 BC). These events have been recorded by Flavius Josephus in historical detail.
Upon Herod’s death, his son Archelaus took over as king of Judea. However, Caesar Augustus deemed him as incompetent and removed him from the seat in 6 AD. The kingdom under him, including Caesarea, was annexed into the immediate Roman Empire. Now being considered a part of Judea, the seaport was appointed as the capital of the region. Thus, a census was called for by Augustus and directed hence from Caesarea to determine the amount to be taxed upon its residents. This is the very census that Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary respond to and subsequently travel to Bethlehem for. (Luke 2:2).
In additional terms of biblical historicity, few cities rival Caesarea for events; Pontius Pilate governed Judea as prefect from this capitol city; Philip (deacon in the Jerusalem church) brings Christianity to Caesarea in Acts 8:4-40; Peter confirms the converting of the first Gentile, Cornelius (and household) in Acts 10:3-48; The apostle Paul had been taken from Caesarea to Tarsus in Acts 9:23-26, but is later imprisoned there for two years before (57-59 AD) being transferred to Rome (Acts 23-26). The interesting aspect of this situation regarding the profound wisdom of God is that even though imprisoned, Paul’s evangelistic outreach extends through the shipping portal of Caesarea.
The beginning of the First Jewish War (66-70 AD – Destruction of the Temple) is largely attributed to circumstances occurring in Caesarea. Through disruptions with the people, some 20,000 Jews were killed there in one hour. Vespasian and his son Titus issued orders to the Roman legions from this location. At one juncture, over 10,000 soldiers resided in the city. However, when the war was over, “social boredom” set in with people. Therefore, Titus hosted “victory games” in the amphitheater for the people’s entertainment. As appointed “gladiators,” 2500 Jewish prisoners were required to fight to their deaths for the amusement of the populace. In honor of their commitment and loyalty to Caesar, Vespasian renamed the city as a Roman colony - Colonia Prima Flavia Augustus Caesarea.
Additional construction, honors, and titles were placed upon the city due to subsequent favors of Caesars to follow. By the end of the 3rdC AD, the Jewish population had largely recovered from the wars. Prominent rabbis began issuing legal decisions from Caesarea and were recorded in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. When Origen arrived in 231 AD, he turned the city into a center of learning for Christianity. He constructed a library there (which housed the Hexapala) that was utilized for decades by scholars of the Scriptures.
The peak of Christian persecution occurred in Caesarea from 303-313 AD. Multiple believers were martyred there for their faith and testimony. Eusebius of Caesarea recorded many of the events in “On The Martyrs of Palestine,” in 311 AD. He is the same Eusebius who wrote the first historical chronicle of the church, “Ecclesiastical History.”
During the Byzantine period and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, a political dispute between bishops emerged over the importance placed on Caesarea as opposed to Jerusalem. Regardless, the library continued to enrich many who came to study there.
Into the 6th and 7thc AD, the city began to decline due to drought and religious conflict with Islam. After the port was rebuilt in the early 6thC, the city surrendered approximately 100 years later (614 AD) to the Persians. Emperor Heraclius overthrew the Persians in 627-28 AD. But only 6 years later, the Muslims invaded and attacked Caesarea. The city withstood the attacks until 640-641 AD. Caesarea could have ultimately survived their onslaught, but a Jew by the name of Joseph betrayed the people and led the invaders into the city through an aqueduct.
By the time of the Crusades, Christians reclaimed the city. In the process of regaining control, a green cut-glass chalice was discovered in the Great Mosque and was determined to be Holy Grail. The Genoese fleet took the chalice back to their home city of Genoa, where it remains in the treasury of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence).
Throughout the centuries, the general ruins of Caesarea have remained intact, despite skirmishes in the territories. It was not until 1952 that a Jewish community established the modern settlement of Caesarea next to the ancient city. Today, the general population is just over 5,000. Caesarea Maritima has been declared a national park and preserved for antiquity.