Tour Bus Day 3: Biblical Sites in Northwestern Israel

Today we headed to Caesarea Maratima, Mt Carmel overlooking the Jezreel Valley, ate lunch at a Druze restaurant, and then went to the city of Meggido (think Armageddon from Revelation 16).

Caesarea Maratima: We started out by heading West from the Sea of Galilee towards the Coast, about an hour and a half drive, where we visited the coastal city of Caesarea Maratima. The city is located on the “Sharon Plain”. Historically it was a swamp (until 1951 when Israel drained it). That forced the ancient international highway inland through a city called Aphek (one of the Philistine cities). Because it was swampy it was not very inhabited with the exception of the towns near the mountains. Caesarea Maratima did not exist in Old Testament times. Herod the great built this huge Roman city along the coast where there was little history in the old Testament time. He built it to rival the great ports of the day, to capture trade that was bypassing his region, and to link it to the empire. The Israeli coast lacks natural harbors, so Israel has little history with seafaring (except for Solomon’s brief foray into it). This was the largest artificial port in the world when it was built. He built it by using imported ash that solidifies when getting wet (think concrete) inside of large piles that were sunken in some cases over a hundred feet into the ocean to create a barrier from the waves. The city was supplied by an aqueduct and has rich archeology, including one of two extra biblical references to Pontius Pilate.

View of the Harbor Herod built, now silted in.

The area has a rich New Testament biblical history. In Acts 10, Cornelius, a gentile has a vision, sends for Peter from Joppa (near Tel Aviv to the south). Upon believing, they receive the Holy Spirit and the Gentile church is born, right here in Caesarea Maratima. Philip the evangelist moved here to raise his 4 daughters, who became prophetesses, living proof that you can raise a godly family in an ungodly city! Paul was imprisoned here for two years in Acts 23, all the while sharing the gospel. The Bible mentions Herod Agrippa’s death due to blasphemy in Acts 12 (corroborated by Josephus who gives a similar account). The death happened in one of the public venues in the city. Possibly it happened in the theater Herod built, which could hold 4000 people. The first in Israel, it imported Roman entertainment and secular pagan world views to the region. It deliberately faces away from Jerusalem and towards Rome instead of the traditional orientation for theaters of North (which would take advantage of the sun to illuminate the characters). This one is still in use to this day for performances and was undergoing renovations. The exits are called “vomitorium” because they vomit you out… and so we vomited on our way. The city also has a hippodrome (horse racing venue) that we passed through on our way to the harbor where some think it happened. Visible in the distance is the Leviathan natural gas platform that was recently started up, Israel’s first oil and gas development.

Learning about Caesarea Maratima in Herod’s theater

Mt Carmel: Next we headed up to a Carmelite monastery on top of Mt Carmel which offers terrific views. The Carmel ridge runs East to west and bisects Israel. All ancient traffic has to cross this mountain to get from Egypt to empires in the North. To the south of the ridge is the Sharon plain. To the North is the Jezreel valley. There are three passes that allow north south movement across the mountain ridge (they are called Dothan to the East, where Joseph was sold to a caravan, Meggido in the middle, and Jokneam to the West). The ancient international highway crosses the Meggido pass because there is a basalt ridge there that allowed better drainage for travel in all conditions. Many ancient battles occur in the Jezreel valley because it naturally funneled armies. In 1 Kings 17 and 18 Elijah comes up to the top of Mt Carmel. At the time, the king of Israel, Ahab, had married a Phoenician woman named Jezebel who had imported her religion into the region. Elijah challenges their god, calls down fire from heaven, restoring Yahweh worship. He then goes down to the Kishon brook below the mountain and strikes down the prophets of her religion. He then prays for rain which he had prayed to stop 3 years earlier. Elijah then heads to the city of Jezreel which is 16 miles east of here, running on foot, beating Ahab home who was riding on a chariot. On a clearer day all would basically have been visible from the mountain we were standing on. In modern Israel, there is a military airbase with underground hangars.

Nice view of Jokneam Pass cutting through the Carmel ridge

Meggido: our final stop of the day was “Tel Megiddo”. When Thutmose III went through the Megiddo pass around 1500 Bc, finding a split Canaanite army, he conquered it, leaving behind hyroglyphs at the city that said “capturing Megiddo is like capturing a thousand cities.” The city has seen much war, in fact it was destroyed and rebuilt 25 or 26 times! An American excavation team made a pizza slice into the mountain to determine how many layers of civilization existed. The city of course got taller each time it was built and now the remains sit rather high on the hill. This is called a “tel”. The reason it was built so many times is that it is right on the strategic ancient international highway, the artery connecting Egypt to the world. Here is a nice view of that excavation, with a prominent Canaanite altar supposedly dating to 700 years before Abraham.

On the other side of the city is a view looking over the Jezreel valley. The international highway came up to this city from across the valley.

View of Jezreel valley from Megiddo

Upon arrival, we watched a movie and then walked through an old Canaanite era gate before entering another gate built by Solomon similar to the one we saw at Hazor. The one in Gezer has also been found and preserved. In addition, Megiddo also has areas believed to be two stables for 450 horses from Solomon’s time.

And this is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon drafted to build the house of the Lord and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer” -1 Kings‬ ‭9:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Inside Solomon’s stable at Megiddo.

It continued to be used by the Israelites throughout the Old Testament and was the best fortified city of Israel under king Ahab. Ahab dug an impressive tunnel to a nearby spring that can normally be traversed by tourists because the city has no natural water source. This is also the location king Josiah was killed by Pharoah Neco. Many biblical events also took place within a Birdseye view from the city in the valleys below.

The significance continues to the present era. The British General Allenbee defeated the Ottomans here in WW1 securing British claim to the land. The site is significant in the future because it overlooks the valley where armies will gather one day to attack Jerusalem (i.e. Armageddon). Revelation mentions a gathering of armies in the last days at Armegeddon (literally the “mountain of Meggido”). Note that it is technically wrong to call that coming confrontation the “battle of Armeggedon.” The battle does not occur at Meggido. In Joel 3, it says they will be brought to the valley of Jehoshaphat for battle. There is a valley in Jerusalem named after king Jehoshaphat related to a miraculous deliverance of Judah in his day. In Zechariah 14, the nations very clearly attack Jerusalem, where they partially take the city before God comes to their rescue. But the nations will one day stage or gather here at Megiddo in the Jezreel valley before moving on Jerusalem.

And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” – Revelation‬ ‭16:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we arrived back at the place we are staying on the Sea of Galilee, Liz from our group decided to jump into the lake! Brrrr. The water feels frigid to us but she is from Maine so it was comfortable for her.

Hike the Good Hike!

Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)

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