It is such a delight to write these blog posts, but oh so very hard. How can I possibly convey to you what I am experiencing? I am learning so much about the history of this land, and how the geography has been so key to understanding what happened historically. The valleys and the mountains and the ridges and the swamps all determined where people went, whether armies or traders or missionaries. And water! How crucial is water in this land. We don’t think of water much where we live, but here it was a life or death issue.
And on top of the history and the ruins is just the overwhelming awareness that I have the privilege of standing where the Master stood, where Abraham and Hannah and the prophets and the apostles, stood and taught and fought and prayed, . . . and died . . . and rose again!
Aware that I will never be able to communicate the fullness of this experience, at least let me tell you where I have been and what we have done. I’m sorry that I have not always been regular with this but we often have a 12 hour day of visiting sites and walking and riding on the bus. This is a 4 credit college course crammed into 3 weeks (so thankful that I am only auditing it!).
Yesterday, we began our studies to Caesarea. Herod the Great took a small coastal town called Strato’s Tower, and built it into a fabulous harbor and transformed it into a major center of administration, trade and military significance. He built temples and ampitheaters and palaces and hippodromes and walls. And holding cells for prisoners, which is where the Apostle Paul ended up after being arrested in Jerusalem. We stood on the site where he said “I appeal to Caesar” and we looked west across the Mediterranean towards Rome where he would soon set sail.
In the ampitheater we read the story of Agrippa who died in Caesar after accepting the worship of the people, a story wonderfully corroborated in the writings of Josephus.
Our next stop was Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is the highest point on this ridge which juts out almost to the coast of the Mediterranean, and then far inland. From the top of the mountain one gets a marvelous view of the Jezreel Valley, the major travel route between the east and the west, where traders travelled and armies mustered. Across the valley we say Mount Tabor and Mount Moreh and Mount Gilboa and the Nazareth ridge, all surrounding this valley which now is so lush, but once was so swampy in certain seasons.
Mount Carmel had become a center of syncretistic worship in northern Israel, and it was here that Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. After a spectacular demonstration of God’s power and presence, the false prophets were destroyed and removed. Elijah did many other miracles around this area, and it is fascinating to see the miracles that Jesus did in this area which seemed to be a resonant echo of the kind of things that Elijah did. It became easy to see why, when Jesus asked “who do people say that I am?”, the disciples responded by saying “some say you are Elijah.”
The next stop was Megiddo, a strategically crucial location for control of the routes in the area. There are fabulous ruins at this site, which has been occupied for 7,000 years. Archaeologists have discovered 26 layers of civilization, meaning it has been built and destroyed, built and destroyed, 26 times. Solomon fortified it and may have had his stables there.
The next stop was the biggest thrill of all. We had seen it across the Jezreel Valley, it was a ridge to the north. It was the Nazareth ridge, just outside the town of Nazareth, the hometown of our Savior, Jesus. The place where God chose to come down and give a message to a young betrothed virgin, a message that would rock her world, and rock the entire world. We sat there on the top of the ridge, imagining Jesus as a boy running around the hills, looking out over the plain as traders and soldiers moved back and forth, helping his dad as the construction work took place on Sepphoris just to the north, where Herod Antibus was building a new fortress and palace making the neighboring town “the ornament of all Galilee”. Imagining Jesus coming to read the scrolls in the synagogue from Isaiah 60 and claiming that it was being fulfilled AS HE READ IT! At first the synagogue leaders and people were flabbergasted, and then in a rage they rose up to throw him off the cliff. But he walked through their midst and went on his way.
What a day that was. What a day for me to relive it!
Signing off – Father Wismer