After a final breakfast overlooking the Sea of Galilee (and by the way, if you're in Galilee, stay at the Nof Ginosar Kibbutz because it's literally on the shore of the Sea, and the food is seriously excellent), we left our idyllic kibbutz hotel and aimed for what Dan called the 2nd most important Decapolis excavation: Bet She'an. At one time 30,000 people lived there, but a giant earthquake - indeed, THE quake of the millennium - leveled it and other structures as far as Iraq in 749. It was so destructive, some people started counting time with that year (749) as zero... so if you got married in 1349, they'd say it was year 600 after The Great Quake. Dan told us when they found the site in the 50s, it was covered in about 30 feet of dirt! When you see the pictures, imagine only the very top of the theatre sticking up above the dirt and imagine the ENORMITY of the excavation they had to perform here.
It's a visually incredible site which makes it easy to imagine Roman life in Jesus' time... and Dan helped us understand why Jews would have been warned against going there. Basically when Romans conquered territory, they encouraged the newly conquered site to build a Roman theatre - both for the tax break, and so Rome could begin its brainwashing campaign. Imagine being a poor shepherd who's only ever seen huts and goats, then all of a sudden basically the Cirque de Soleil is in your city. Your Rabbi wouldn't want you getting sucked in by their flashy shows, but it would be like us seeing the Jetsons... we wouldn't be able to resist. And many of them didn't!
It's also where the Philistines brought King Saul's and Jonathan's bodies after defeating them. Dave gave what he prefaced as a "strange eulogy" for King Saul, Israel's first king; "strange" because one usually speaks well of the dead during such a speech, but King Saul's life made such a speech quite difficult. For more... better come to our Blue Gospel Scripts show on Saul. :)
Next we visited Megiddo, which the visitors' center introductory film introduced as being one of the only places people come to visit because of an event which has not yet happened! Armageddon will occur here, and the world's first systematic (orderly, non-looting-focused) archaeology occurred here, but before that, good King Josiah (of the southern kingdom, Judah) received a fatal wound from an Egyptian king's forces and died shortly thereafter. From this story, Dave elaborated out the need for checks and balances in leadership,... King Josiah, the reformer, the one who read the Law out loud to the people after his priest found it in some dusty corner of the Temple... the one who reinstituted Passover... the one who destroyed the "golden calf" temple at Bethel (like the one we visited at Dan)... that King Josiah fell to a king who tried very hard to tell Josiah he was coming to fight someone else, not the Israelites, but Josiah didn't listen. Apparently no one threw a wet blanket (it's a metaphor, maybe you had to be there?) over him to keep him from burning himself to the ground.
While at Meggido, we had a tantalizing glimpse of Nazareth across the Jezreel Valley. Then we moved on to a delicious falafel (or schnitzel) lunch in a restaurant run by members of the Druze community on Mt Carmel. (Yes, that Mt Carmel - where God's fire came down and destroyed Elijah's soaking wet offerings after 450 priests of Baal completely failed to get their god to do anything. See 1 Kings 18 for the riveting story!) It's not what Dan has been calling an "A" site - its exact location has not been confirmed - but it's still powerful to remember the story and picture it taking place somewhere nearby.
Our last site of the day, by contrast, is definitely an "A" site: Herod's Roman city, Caesarea Maritima. Personally, this is my (Kaitlin's) third visit and I learned a whole bunch of new things! Dan spoke to us about what we can't see - the ancient harbor that's now under water, so next time we need to prepare to go scuba diving to see it. Quite a lot of what's recorded in the New Testament - Acts in particular - occurred here, and after having spent the last many months making our Blue Gospel Scripts "Book of Acts" video series, it was very impactful to see anew the locations I'd spent so much time reading about. Paul's trials before Felix and Festus - here. Cornelius and his household and a bunch of other people heard the Gospel from Peter - here. Philip the deacon (who as Dave pointed out, saw then-Saul overseeing the stoning of his fellow deacon Stephen) spent a lot of his life as an itinerant preacher, put down some roots here. And if it hadn't been Passover, and governor Pilate hadn't had to be in Jerusalem to keep order, Jesus' trial would have occurred... here.
Somewhat counterintuitively, Paul's trial didn't occur in the courthouse; it occurred in the theatre, because he was there such a very long time (over the tenure of two governors) and so many people wanted to hear it. Dave read the Acts 26 account of Paul's trial, then demonstrated the marvelous acoustics of the theatre by singing a song he wrote for our Book of Acts video series, "These Chains." (Here's the "official" music video...
I've written all this on the 90-minute ride from Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem... looked up and all of a sudden here we are! I had a sudden moment of awe, and I'm excited remembering my first time here, and excited to hear at an upcoming meal how everyone felt hearing Dan say over the bus mic... "We're here."
Some thoughts from fellow travelers:
- I was very touched by Dave's reading of Acts 26 and his singing in the theatre in Caesarea Maritima. The thought that Paul was tried there and could have walked away but chose to obey God and be tried in Rome which led to his death... it was powerful to be standing in a place that brings the Bible to life."
- (walking up to a marble pillar at the theatre in Caesarea Maritima) "What's amazing is that we get to touch the Bible!"
- (from a couple days ago, but still very relevant today) "It has been a phenomenal trip! Just the deeply moving experience of seeing, hearing about, and walking the land the Savior I have known for over 40 years would have been enough. On top of that though I am experiencing His love through those whose I've join in this life-changing trip. What a double blessing!"
- (also from a few days ago, about Masada): "God gave a crazy ruler (Herod the Great) the resources to build a fortress for a small group of Jewish rebels willing to show Rome they love God more than life on a timeline (70 years) that only He could see."
PS. Bonus site tonight… we walked about a mile each way into the Old City to see the Western Wall lit up at night. Spectacular and quietly powerful!
Featured Signature Tour
Sep 3-14, 2023
Experience Israel for 11 days in the context of biblical history and personal faith.