(photo credit: Wayne Stiles )
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (Caesarea had an immense amphitheater and hippodrome that could accommodate well over 10,000 spectators for sporting events and chariot races (think of the movie Ben Hur). Over the centuries, the Mediterranean has battered the seaside hippodrome so much that the western portion of the complex has completely washed away. Similarly, a storm in December of 2010 did costly damage to Caesarea, a testimony to how the much of the site has crumbled into ruins over the centuries.
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A massive theater for 3500 spectators overlooked the sea. The setting sun over the sea would have provided a marvelous backdrop for theatrical performances. Today’s restored theater still offers a popular venue for concerts in Israel. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this theater gave stage to the death of Herod Agrippa I (see Josephus, Antiquities XIX.8.2; though some scholars contend that Josephus refers to Agrippa’s death in the hippodrome/amphitheater, rather than in the theater). Agrippa stood to address the throng that gathered there and that hailed him as a god, and the Lord struck him down because he did not give glory to God (see Acts 12:20-23).
During the first Jewish Revolt, the Roman General Titus [who leveled
Jerusalem’s temple in AD 70] forced 2500 Jews to combat wild beasts in
Caesarea’s amphitheater. During the second Jewish Revolt, Rabbi Akiva
was executed in Caesarea along with his disciples and other Jewish
captives. The state-of-the-art Visitor’s Center next to the ancient
harbor tells Rabbi Akiva’s story.
Caesarea also played a prominent role in the history of Christianity.
Philip the Evangelist settled in Caesarea, and the Apostle Peter
traveled here to share the message of Jesus’s death and resurrection
with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius (see Acts 8:40; 24:8; Acts 10).
As mentioned in last week’s post,
the Apostle Paul found himself imprisoned here for two years, and from
Caesarea’s port Paul embarked on his death-defying sea voyage to Rome
(see Acts 26-28).
In the third century, Origen of Alexandria moved to Caesarea and
explored biblical sites in order to better understand the Scriptures.
Eusebius of Caesarea, a pupil of Origen, wrote the first historical
geography of Bible lands. Having lived in what was then called
“Palestine” all his life, Eusebius was suited to the task of writing his
Onomasticon (“a collection of names”) around A.D. 325. In fact, without
this volume, we would not know the location of many biblical sites.
Eusebius recognized the value of geography to biblical studies, and he
systematized his book - a venerable index and encyclopedia of sites and
locations - for Bible students who may never see the land itself. In
fact, Eusebius’ Onomasticon did much to set in motion early pilgrimages
to the Holy Land.
Even today, Caesarea remains a great place for entertainment, as well as for education.
To Do There:
A lot! Allow 2-3 hours, easily. A high-tech Visitors Center offers a
historical perspective, complete with hologram tour guides such as King
Herod, Rabbi Akiva, the Apostle Paul, and Saladin, just to name a few.
Watch the video called, “The Caesarea Experience,” a film that traces
Caesarea’s history on all periods of time—a great introduction to the
site. Visitors can walk the seaside sidewalk next to the hippodrome,
meander through Crusader ruins, and even enjoy a pop concert in the
restored theater. Caesarea National Park enjoys about 1 million visitors
How To Get There:
From Tel Aviv, take Route 2 north 39 km (24 miles) to Caesarea National
Park. You’ll know you’re getting close when you see the nearby
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.
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