We slept pretty well last evening despite our circadian rhythms being all out of sorts. We had an excellent buffet breakfast at our hotel before climbing onto the bus at 8:10. We then made our way northward through the Mediterranean Coastal Plain to a very important historical city, Caesarea Maritime.
In 21 BC, Herod the Great built a coastal city in honor of the emperor Caesar Augustus (hence the name). Herod designed an impressive harbor which took twelve years to complete using material which allowed the concrete to set underwater. He also constructed an aqueduct to bring fresh water from the base of Mt. Carmel, nearly ten miles away. He also constructed a Hippodrome, a theater, and an amphitheater for the city’s inhabitants. It was in Caesarea that Pontius Pilate ruled during the time of Christ. It was here that Peter visited Cornelius’ home to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul also used Caesarea as the port from which to launch his missionary journeys, and he was imprisoned here for two years before appealing to Rome.
From Caesarea, we continued on to Mt. Carmel, which is the name of a mountain range which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Mt. Carmel, a gorgeous mountain, was often referenced as a symbol of beauty and fertility. Solomon’s Song compares his lover’s head to Mt. Carmel. This mountain is best known for being the location of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal. It was this mountain that hosted the competition to show who is the true God, Baal or Jehovah. I Kings 18 contains the entertaining story in which the God of Elijah responds with fire to consume the offering after the prophets of Baal have valiantly tried, but failed, to get Baal to do the same. The view from Mt. Carmel out over the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a., The Valley of Megiddo) was amazing. This large fertile valley (approximately 15 x 30 miles) sprawled before us, flanked by other mountains referenced in the scriptures, such as Mt. Tabor, Mt. Moreh, and Mt. Gilboa, the mountains of Galilee and the mountains of Samaria.
After spending some time on Mt. Carmel, we had lunch at a Druze village. The Druze are a religious group that are neither Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. They have their own religion, actually an offshoot of Islam and have been often persecuted through the ages. After lunch, in which we enjoyed falafel, we journeyed on to Tel Megiddo. A tel is an ancient site in which layer upon layer of successive towns have been built. Megiddo (from which we get the word Armageddon) was located at the strategic site where the middle of the three passes from the coastal plain to the interior crosses the Carmel range. Megiddo is a very old site where 26 layers of cities lie beneath the tel. We took a very interesting walk down into the shaft into which fresh water was brought into the city from the spring outside by tunneling beneath the city. At Megiddo and the plain on which it lies were fought many battles over the centuries. This expansive valley is a crossroads between the powerful civilizations of Mesopotamia and the powerful Egyptian civilization.
From Megiddo, we journeyed to the Mount of Transfiguration, Mt. Tabor, where we transferred form our large bus to smaller taxies in order to transit the winding, narrow, hairpin curves up the side of the mountain. Once at the top, we visited the Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, a beautiful 20th century church which marks the place where Christ was transfigured with Moses and Elijah before three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1-9). There is also an Orthodox church which sits atop the mountain which we were unable to visit. The mountain was surprisingly high and steep, prompting Father Al to remark that now he knows why only three of the disciples wanted to accompany Jesus up the mountain. The view from atop Mt. Tabor across the Jezreel Valley was once again glorious.
From the Mountain of Transfiguration, we reboarded the bus and headed toward the Sea of Galilee, where we stopped at Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2). How breathtaking it was to descend from the heights into the town of Magdala, situated right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We were able to visit the site where a 1st century synagogue, dating from the time of Christ, has just recently been discovered and excavated. Afterwards, we walked over to the contemporary Catholic Church constructed above the forum of the ancient town of Magdala. Entering the church at Magdala constituted my first teary-eyed moment as I gazed beyond the altar to the boat-shaped podium with a cross for a mast, and beyond that to gaze upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Wow!
What a memorable day! Caesarea! Mt. Carmel! Megiddo! Mt. Tabor! Magdala! Our short trip to our hotel came not a moment too soon. We were basically exhausted from our busy day of touring and welcomed an evening of rest. We met for a buffet dinner at our hotel, the Caesar hotel in Tiberius, which sits directly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sleep should be good tonight! Tomorrow is another day filled with new discoveries and experiences!
I wish I could go into more detail explaining the various sites we visited, but alas, not enough time. 🙂