After flying over the Stelvio region of Italy, known for its famous high mountain pass, and Turkey, we looked down upon the island of Cyprus shortly before touching ground in Tel Aviv. Cyprus, to fans of Greek mythology, is the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis, but to Christians it is the homeplace of Barnabus and a mission field for for Stephen the martyr.
We went through and out of the airport without a hitch thanks to David Arons of EO Travel; had dinner at our Tel Aviv hotel, and after most of a night’s sleep began the meat of the trip in the not-too-warm/not too cool day. I say most of a night because my roommate snored and I had to get up to pee every hour or so. All that worked out well though, as my toilet flushing stirred him enough to stop snoring each time. After we boarded our bus and everyone met David – our guide, our dragoman, our bodhisattva – he explained that Israel is only about 300 miles long and 50 miles wide. Road signs are in Arabic, Hebrew and English. We were in Tel Aviv, as we knew, which is is bustling seaside city (it reminded me of Chicago with less color), but I didn’t know that it was the modern day Joppa of the Bible. While most of Tel Aviv is only about a hundred years old, it was born from the Port of Joppa which is roughly 5,000 years old and happens to be the port from which Jonah began his ill-fated trip to avoid Nineveh and where Solomon imported his cedars from Lebanon to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Caesarea Maritima – This was the Roman capital of Israel during the time of Christ. Herod constructed it as a Roman Port and dedicated it to the Goddess Roma. This is where Paul was imprisoned for preaching about Christ, which many of the people there considered “hate speech,” and this is where Cornelius the Centurion worked and from which he sailed to Joppa. (Acts 10) While this was doubtless a very unpleasant experience for Paul, it was beautiful for us as the bougainvilla was abundant and in full bloom and the waves were gently lapping at the sandy shore at the ruins of the port and the hippodrome and arena. Caesarea hosted chariot races, and the track is still obvious. Gladiator games were conducted in the arena, which is still standing. But this town, built by Romans, has been through Moslem attack and control, a retaking (or taking actually) by Christians during the crusades, and finally earthquakes, floods and then Jewish control. By the time it was under Jewish control it had been largely built and rebuilt, but what is there now goes back primarily to the Romans and the Crusades.
This is part of a fort built by crusaders and funded by the French King Louis IX.
Interestingly, Pontius Pilate was the governor that lived here until he was called to Jerusalem to oversee crowd control there during a certain Passover season. As a matter of fact, a stone in the arena was overturned several years ago and his name was discovered etched into the bottom of it.
About 25 years after Pilate’s regime, Governor Festus presided over Paul’s trial in this very town, before extraditing him to Rome at his request. I’m told that Paul sailed from this port to be shipwrecked at Cyprus. From Caesarea we boarded the bus again to move north.
Megiddo was originally a Canaanite fortress built on a hill overlooking the Valley of Jezreel. This doesn’t mean much until you realize that Megiddo was one of the fortresses conquered by Joshua and the Israelite army. Today the ruins of the fort are present and you can see where the Canaanites had a straight entrance into it, which Joshua successfully used a battering ram on, and then Solomon, years later created an L shaped entrance to avoid that problem when he made it one of his chariot cities. (1 Kings 10-26) Pretty wise. After Solomon was gone and the kingdom split up, Ahab and Jezebel used this for a summer home and built the tunnel pictured below to obtain water from a spring at the bottom of the hill without giving up the security of the fort.
From the top of this ancient fortress, Mount Carmel is visible. On the top of Mount Carmel a small white structure stands out as a monument at the spot where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. 1 Kings 18.
The above picture is hard to really grasp, but here is the point: From this point called the Mount of Precipice (one of the spots that might possibly be maybe the place where people threatened to throw Jesus off a cliff and He walked through them and away like Clint Eastwood) you can see Mount Carmel to the far right, then Megiddo, then the Mount of Moreh on the horizon just to the left of middle (where King Saul met with Samuel through the Witch of Endor). At the bottom of those mountains is Gideon’s spring where he tested his men, and at the top is the edge of Samaria, where Jesus met the woman at Jacob’s well. To the far left is the Jordan River and Mount Tabor (Judges 4:6; 4:12;4:14;8:18; Jer. 46:18 and Hosea 5:1)is the little peak on the left most horizon. As this is a view not too far from Nazareth, it is not only possibly but likely that as Jesus learned his scripture, he would have come up to this hill to look out and see where most of the Old Testament stories played out.
From the Mount we traveled down into Nazareth and visited the Basilica of the Anunciation. This is supposedly the very room where the angel Gabriel visited Mary to advise her of her immaculate conception. I’m quite skeptical on this one, that we can pinpoint the particular cave-like dwelling. On the other hand this spot has been said to be Mary’s house since about 400 A.D., and given the fact that Christ followers accepted who He was when He was alive and well, and after the crucifixion and resurection especially, it does make sense that His disciples would keep track of a few things like this.
The Latin phrase on the altar says “and the Word became Flesh.” A grand basilica is built over Mary’s room, but outside the basilica, at the same level, are ruins of old Nazareth, which adds a little to the idea that this is either IT, or it gives a darn good idea of how the real one looked.
By the way, next time you find yourself on Peter VI street in Nazareth, make sure you stop in at Mahrom for the best baklava you’ve ever had.
I guess it’s just the general holiness floating around that neighborhood, but it is most blessed among desserts. Divine. We ate while listening to the Mosque next to the Annunciation site broadcast their call to prayer.
David the bodhisathva said that in Cana, our next stop, where Jesus accomplished His first miracle, there is also a Church of the Annulment, where the couple that were married with free Jesus wine got their marriage anulled later. That church is dedicated to St. Alimony. That was a joke. Anullment, Alimony… Nevermind.