Our final and 9th day of touring: Caesarea Maritima (the ruins of this ancient Roman port built by Herod the Great), Tel Megiddo (sits on a strategic location at the head of a pass through the Carmel Range, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel), Valley of Elah (the scene of the battle between David and Goliath), and a bittersweet farewell dinner.
Between the years 22 B.C.E. and 9 B.C.E., Herod the Great created a magnificent city along the northwestern Mediterranean seacoast of Palestine and called it “Caesarea Maritima” after Caesar Augustus, his patron. The man-made harbor was a triumph of ancient engineering, the first large-scale harbor ever built in the open sea. It was engineered using the modern day technique of hydraulic concrete.
Next to the harbor, Herod built a huge temple to Augustus, facing out over the aqua blue water, creating a significant landmark for sailors to bring in their ships. His palace was also built along that same coastline jutting out over the water, with a beautiful large decorative pool between the palace and the sea. The city of Caesarea Maritima was constructed after the manner of the Classical Greek and Roman city, which included a hippodrome, amphitheater, theater, temples, Roman-style baths, marble palaces, and villas for the wealthy. During this time, the city held over 50,000 people, most of whom were Gentiles.
During the years just before and after Jesus’ ministry, Caesarea was the military capital of Judaea and also the home of Roman procurators and governors. Pontius Pilate would have lived here and only gone to Jerusalem for the feasts, when large crowds of Jews congregated there and he felt the need to keep order. Around 1960, great excavations were done at Caesarea and a limestone seat from the theater was found with “Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea” on it. This is the only secular record of Pontius Pilate that has ever been found.
In 66 C.E., the Romans killed a great number of Jews and destroyed the local synagogue after a riot there, triggering the First Great Jewish Revolt. After the revolt was put down in 70 C.E., the Roman General Titus celebrated his victory by slaughtering 2,500 Jewish slaves in gladiatorial games in Caesarea’s arena. Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 70 C.E. after the revolt of the Jews, and Caesarea Maritima became the center of Christianity in Palestine.
Events of early Christianity in Caesarea:
• Acts 10, 11: Peter baptizes Cornelius, a Gentile of Caesarea
• Acts 9:30; Acts 18:22; Acts 21:8: Paul stays in Caesarea many times
• Acts 23:23; Acts 25:1-13: Paul is imprisoned for two years and, from the harbor, he is taken to Rome for trial before the Emperor
Tel Megiddo is a hill in modern Israel near the Kibbutz of Megiddo, known for its historical, geographical, and theological importance, especially under its Greek name Armageddon.
In ancient times Megiddo was an important city-state. It is also known alternatively as Tel Megiddo (Hebrew) and Tel al-Mutesellim (Arabic). Megiddo is a tel (hill or mound) made of 26 layers of the ruins of ancient cities in a strategic location at the head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel from the west. The name Armageddon mentioned in the New Testament may derive from Har Megiddo (Hebrew) meaning Mount of Megiddo.
Megiddo was a site of great importance in the ancient world, as it guarded the western branch of a narrow pass and an ancient trade route which connected the lands of Egypt and Assyria. Because of its strategic location at the crossroads of several major routes, Megiddo and its environs have witnessed several major battles throughout history. The site was inhabited from approximately 7,000-586 B.C.E. (the same time as the destruction of the First Israelite Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and subsequent fall of Israelite rule and exile). One of its claims to importance is the fact that since this time it has remained uninhabited, thereby preserving the ruins of its time periods pre-dating 586 B.C.E. without newer settlements disturbing them.
Megiddo is mentioned in Ancient Egyptian writings because one of Egypt’s mighty kings, Thutmose III, waged war upon the city in 1478 B.C.E.. The battle is described in detail in the hieroglyphics found on the walls of his temple in Upper Egypt. Named in the Bible Derekh HaYam , or “Way of the Sea,” it became an important military artery of the Roman Empire and was known as the Via Maris.
Circular altar-like shrine – the modern Kibbutz of Megiddo is nearby, just a little less than 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) to the south.
Today, Megiddo is an important junction on the main road connecting the center of Israel with lower Galilee and the northern region. Therefore, to this day it remains a site of strategic importance as it lies at the northern entrance to Wadi Ara, an important mountain pass connecting the Jezreel Valley with Israel’s coastal plain.
Megiddo has been the site of numerous battles throughout history, with the site changing hands many times. Three of the more famous battles include:
• Battle of Megiddo (15th century B.C.E.): fought between the armies of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III and a large Canaanite coalition led by the rulers of Megiddo and Kadesh.
• Battle of Megiddo (609 B.C.E.): fought between Egypt and the Kingdom of Judah, in which King Josiah fell.
• Battle of Megiddo (1918): fought during World War I between Allied troops, led by General Edmund Allenby, and the defending Ottoman army.
• The Book of Revelation mentions apocalyptic military amassment at Armageddon, a name derived from Megiddo. The word has become a byword for the end of the age.
Valley of Elah
This is a valley in the Shephelah, the scene of the battle between David and Goliath. It lies 20 miles west and a little south of Jerusalem and just south of Azekah. The Valley gets its name from elah trees in the area. The stream bed stretches eastward toward Bethlehem.