Saturday began for me with a quiet walk along an abutment running into the Sea of Galilee, with the Nof Ginosar hotel swimming area to the left, and a shallow natural inlet, overgrown with bamboo and other vegetation, to the right. The morning air was filled with song from the waterbirds, along with the loud sloshing of catfish — most 3-4 feet long — cavorting in the shallows. Creation’s beauty spoke loudly.
After a Sabbath breakfast we struck out on a long drive to the coast, where we visited the Roman theater in Caesarea Maritima, where Peter brought the gospel to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Gentiles gathered there. Doris Moore-Russell led our devition, reminding us of the story, which took on added significance, given that our visit took place on the day before Pentecost, and the events of Acts 10 are sometimes called the “Gentile Pentecost.”
Caesarea Maritima, the Roman capital of the territory of Israel, was also the place where Paul was held prisoner for a time after appealing to Caesar. It’s where he made his appeal before governors Felix and Festus along with King Herod Agrippa, “almost persuading” Agrippa to become a Christian. The ruins of Herod’s palace are still visible, along with an amazing hippodrome (where chariot races were held) and impressive mosaic floors.
The city of Megiddo, the most important fortified hilltop in ancient Israel, was next on our list. In a commanding position over the Via Maris (the main highway from Egypt to Mesopotamia), Megiddo was such a desirable spot that it was constantly the target of invading forces, including the Israelites (Josh. 12:21 says that Joshua defeated the city, though Judg. 1:27 says they were unable to conquer it).
Archaeologists have uncovered 21 occupation levels at Megiddo, going back more than 5,000 years. An amazingly intact circular Canaanite altar is there, along with an equally impressive cone shaped storage silo for grain, cut at least 30 feet into the ground. We saw evidence of stables built by Solomon or one of the kings that followed him, as well as a massive excavation project resulting in an underground tunnel leading to a disguised water source outside of the city.
Lunch brought a special treat. As it was the Sabbath and most Jewish-owned restaurants were not open, we ate at a place owned by Arab Christians in Nazarath. There we enjoyed courses of pita bread and arguably the best hummus in the Galilee, a variety of fresh salads, kabobs made of chicken or meatballs containing ground beef and lamb, and baklava for dessert.
Fully fortified, we made our way north a bit to Sepphoris (also known as Zippori), which was a Roman town in Jesus’ day, but so close to the sleepy village of Nazareth that it’s likely that Joseph and Jesus would have found carpentry or stonework there. Sepphoris is a large site containing a theater, several villas owned by wealthier residents, and an impressive city complex featuring a Roman cardo (the main road, running north-south) paved with limestone, crisscrossed by the decumanus, the primary east-west street. The white pavers still bore grooves worn by countless wagon and chariot wheels eating into the relatively soft limestone.
From Sepphoris we returned to Nazareth to visit the Church of the Annunciation, a modern church built over the ruins of an ancient church that was destroyed by an earthquake in the seventh century. The older church was built over a cave-house that, in popular tradition (I emphasize tradition, as there is no real evidence) thought to be the home of Mary and Joseph, and the place where Mary received word from Gabriel that she would bear Christ (an announcement known as “the Annunciation”).
Our last special occasion of the day was a journey to the top of “Mount Precipice,” a tall hill just outside of Nazareth. With some evidence, it is thought to be the place described in Luke 4 when the people of Nazareth, unhappy with Jesus’ unorthodox teaching, tried to throw him off the cliff before he “passed between them” and escaped.
Dr. Cameron Jorgenson read that scripture for us and reminded us to be bold with the gospel, even when though it could be a dangerous message. The wind was blowing so hard that when I asked that we sing a hymn, the first suggestion was “I’ll Fly Away” — and we sang it with gusto before heading back to the bus and the hotel for a late dinner and meeting to prepare for tomorrow, when more inspirational opportunities await.
(You can find other blogs from our group at these links:
David Stratton: davidsdeliberations.blogspot.com
Josh Owens: joshuakowens.blogspot.com
Susan Sevier: sevierlybaptist.com)