Welcome back to our virtual tour of Israel in the beautiful ancient seaside city of Caesarea. Last week we talked about the historical beginnings of the city. We also learned a bit about Roman persuasion of its citizens to be satisfied with free entertainment instead of dissatisfied with the goings on in government. We left off in the 2,000 year old theatre that Herod the Great built.
As we leave the theatre through the pordodos, the entrance for the actors, orchestra and VIP’s, we will walk through an archaeological graveyard to one of the most picturesque views of ancient Caesarea. You ask what is this graveyard? It is comprised of artifacts found on site that are numbered and categorized and then placed in a different location for later study or use. Sometimes they don’t use them at all, but they are interesting to look at all on their own. Such is the case with several sarcophagi, or burial coffins, that we will pass as we walk by.
Now we will enter into what was once King Herod’s Palace and then used as the Governor’s Palace during the time of Pontius Pilate, mentioned in the New Testament. We pass by the replica of the stone inscription found in the theatre in 1961, proclaiming that Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea.
At the very end of the Palace, we can stand at the edge of the sea and see something amazing. There is a freshwater pool surrounded by a rock wall located in the middle of the ocean! Yes indeed, it was Herod’s elaborate and very beautiful private swimming pool. Some of the original floor mosaics can still be seen. This must have been one beautiful palace.
There is an account by the historian, Josephus, which describes an incident that happened in Caesarea during the time of Pontius Pilate.
“Now Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius, sent by night those images of Caesar that are called ensigns into Jerusalem. This excited a very among great disturbance among the Jews when it was day; for those that were near them were astonished at the sight of them, as indications that their laws were trodden under foot; for those laws do not permit any sort of image to be brought into the city. Nay, besides the indignation which the citizens had themselves at this procedure, a vast number of people came running out of the country. These came zealously to Pilate to Caesarea, and besought him to carry those ensigns out of Jerusalem, and to preserve them their ancient laws inviolable; but upon Pilate’s denial of their request, they fell down prostrate upon the ground, and continued immovable in that posture for five days and as many nights.
On the next day Pilate sat upon his tribunal, in the open market-place, and called to him the multitude, as desirous to give them an answer; and then gave a signal to the soldiers, that they should all by agreement at once encompass the Jews with their weapons; so the band of soldiers stood round about the Jews in three ranks. The Jews were under the utmost consternation at that unexpected sight. Pilate also said to them that they should be cut in pieces, unless they would admit of Caesar’s images, and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their naked swords. Hereupon the Jews, as it were at one signal, fell down in vast numbers together, and exposed their necks bare, and cried out that they were sooner ready to be slain, than that their law should be transgressed. Hereupon Pilate was greatly surprised at their prodigious superstition, and gave order that the ensigns should be presently carried out of Jerusalem.” The Jewish Wars Book 2:9:2-3
And I thought “sit ins” began in the 1960’s! There is definitely nothing new under the sun.
Now to finish the story we started two weeks ago in Jaffa! If you missed it please go back and search for the “Old Jaffa Tour – Part 2” !
Now is the time to finish the story we began in Jaffa at Simon the Tanner’s house. As we look out from the Palace and gaze upon the shoreline, let’s continue reading the story in the New Testament book of Acts:
“The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:24-48
This is the account of the conversion and baptism of the first gentile believer. Before that, all of Jesus’ followers had been Jews. This was a milestone for this young messianic movement and was the beginning of what would become known as Christianity. It was also a milestone for Peter himself. In pondering the dream he had while at Simon the Tanner’s house, he didn’t fully understand it until he got to the house of Cornelius. Then he understood that God was telling him that Jews and Gentiles could be in friendship, even fellowship with one another. The dream had nothing to do with clean and unclean animals. It had to do with people! God was telling Peter that he should never call any man impure or unclean. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if the world embraced that lesson today.
We have much more to see and learn about ancient Caesarea. Next week we will pick up where we have left off today. Until next time ~ Shalom from Israel!