The virtual ride for those following the Campbell University Divinity School “Bible Lands Study Tour” continues with a long day that began with a 90-minute drive to the Coast, where we visited the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, a Roman city built by Herod the Great.
Biblically, the city became the gateway to Gentile Christianity, for it was there that God visited Peter with a vision and then Peter visited Cornelius and became convinced that God’s salvation in Christ was intended for all people. Caesarea is also the city to which Paul was taken to stand trial before Felix and Festus, and where he appealed to Caesar.
We then drove inland through the Megiddo Pass to Tel Megiddo, a strategic city that controlled an important section of the Via Maris, the most important highway in ancient Palestine. Archaeologists have uncovered 26 layers of civilization in Megiddo, going back at least 8,000 years. We entered through a gate dating to the Canaanite period, and also examined a later Israelite gate that has been attributed to Solomon, but may have in fact been built by Ahab.
Layers showing Canaanite occupation include a famous round altar that was used for hundreds of years for the offering of sacrifices. In the picture, you can see how the altar stood on an impressive high place overlooking the fertile fields of the Jezreel Valley below. After viewing a huge community granary, we made our way through a deep shaft leading to an underground tunnel connecting the city to a spring outside the city walls. Ancient engineers designed the tunnel to provide access to water when the city was under siege, covering and disguising the spring so the enemy would not know its location.
After lunch, we stopped briefly at Beit Alpha, where the floor of an old synagogue was discovered to have an almost completely preserved mosaic that includes a Roman-inspired zodiac, along with the Ark of the Covenant and a cartoonish depiction of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac. While the workmanship of leveling the floor and placing the tiles was well done, the maker’s artistic talent was lacking, suggesting that the floor was hired out “on the cheap.”
Our third city of the day was Beit Shan/Scythopolis, located not far from the Jordan River about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Beit Shan was a very old city that includes levels of occupation by Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, and Israelites, among others. It is the place to which the victorious Philistines carried the bodies of Saul and his sons after defeating Israel at nearby Mt. Gilboa.
Below the tel of Beit Shan are the stunning remains of Scythopolis, a Roman city that was one of the ten cities of the “Decapolis” that are mentioned in the New Testament. Time was running short, so some folks explored the Roman city while others quickly climbed the tel. It was a sunny, windy day, and Associate Dean Barry Jones sported an appropriate look that started a new fashion trend. You can see the large theater 9seating 7,000) to his left, and a big bath house to his right.
Though tired from trekking through three cities and a synagogue, we had one final stop, at Jardenit, a site just below where the Jordan River emerges from the Sea of Galilee. It is many miles upstream from where Jesus was most likely baptized, but the water is clean there, and it is a beautiful spot. Carl and Lynn Brinkley led us in worship there, and more than a dozen members of our group chose to be baptized in the Jordan to mark a recommitment of their faith. The baptizes included three married couples who gave Dr. Jones and I our first opportunity to practice synchronized baptisms.
It was a long but meaningful Sunday, our last day in Galilee. Tomorrow we cross the border to Jordan for stops at Madeba and Mt. Nebo before a long drive south to Petra. Whether you have been to the Holy Land and like to remember, or if you’ve never been but like to imagine, I hope you’ll continue to follow our adventures on the Baptists Today travelblog.