David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
I am also in Israel as a Tel Akko Excavation team member for a four week study season. Dave and I came together for a couple of weeks, and then my stay has extended for another four weeks, working in the pottery lab.
I am living the dream!
So most of these posts are Dave and me together, exploring the Beautiful Land. But there are a couple of excursions I have made with the Tel Akko team, and this is one of them.
Water for the Coast
A great part of Herod the Great’s fame (aside from his role in Jesus’s nativity narrative) was his ambitious—and lavish—building program. Here’s a short list:
- Jerusalem Palace
- Temple Mount, which included the Temple, the Antonia Fortress and the Royal Stoa (a center of public and commercial activity)
- Public facilities in Jerusalem, which included a theater, and amphitheater, a hippodrome, renovating the Pool of Siloam, creating a water channel, and constructing a pilgrim road.
- A palace complex at Herodium about three miles outside Bethlehem, which included his tomb
- A palace complex at Masada
- The Machaerus Fortress
- The entire city of Antipatris in honor of his father
- The Alexandrium Palace
- The palace complex at Caesarea Maritima
- A palatial enclosure for the Cave of the Patriarchs (where the patriarchs are reportedly buried)
- The expansion and restoration of Sebastia at Nablus
- Three winter palaces in Jericho
- Three temples dedicated to Augustus (at Sebaste, Caesarea, and Panias or Omrit)
And the buildings were only the half of it. A great deal of infrastructure was also necessary—roads, waterworks, food delivery, fortifications. And Herod, the master builder, had all of that well in hand.
Roman architecture and engineering to the rescue!
The Taninim Stream Nature Reserve is the site of ancient Roman waterworks that fed water as far south as Herod’s palace complex at Caesarea Maritima.
At that time, Caesarea was the largest city in the area, and housed many Roman soldiers. The dam was designed to raise the level of the Tanin stream to work with gravity, causing the stream to flow to Caesarea.
Part of the ruins date to Herod the Great, though building continued, and a dam was added maybe a hundred years or so later, and later still a mill. There are actually two aqueducts that stem from the waterworks. One leads to a lake in the Kebara Valley between the dams and Mount Carmel, and the other goes straight to Caesarea. A paddle wheel was added later, during the Crusader period.
Both aqueducts were meant for Caesarea. The “tall” aqueduct was constructed to rise above the marsh and provide good drinking water. The “low” aqueduct provided water for everything else but drinking.
Taninim is Hebrew for crocodiles because crocs lived in the nearby Kebara swamps until the early twentieth century.
Like Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay estuary, the Taninim Stream is unique.
The Taninim Stream is considered the last of Israel’s clean coastal streams. Although the sources of the stream are saline, they still support many species of flora and fauna. The yellow water lily, which floats on the water’s surface, is a prominent and beautiful adornment; fish include gray mullet, tilapia and catfish. The Caspian turtle is at home in the reserve, along with a variety of birds.The Taninim Stream Nature Reserve
While I was there I saw two catfish that seemed as big as me rise up to the surface for a moment. Later, a large swirl of catfish swam near a low waterfall.
Birds are plentiful, including waterfowl, and though I did not see otter or fox, evidently they are there.
A number of important events recorded in the Greek scriptures happened in Caesarea.
Phillip Sent on Missions From God
Phillip, called the Evangelist, seems to have been whisked to Jerusalem to give the Gospel to a high-ranking official from Ethiopia, then as soon as the official was baptized, the Spirit whisked Phillip to a new location. He had proven himself ready to follow wherever the Lord pointed, and being especially attuned to the Lord’s voice, just the right person for God’s special missions. God had a new place to scatter Philip.
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away …
Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.Acts 8:39-40 (NRSV)
It seems at that point Phillip settled down and made his home in Caesarea, raising four daughters who were anointed by the Holy Spirit with prophetic power.
The next day we left and came to Caesarea, and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.Acts 21:8-9 (NRSV)
Perhaps it was through Phillip’s evangelism that Cornelius’s heart began to stir.
Cornelius and His Household Are Baptized
It is here the God-fearing Centurion was met by the Apostle Peter and a number of other Jewish-born Christian evangelists, to receive the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.
It was a seismic sift for the Jesus movement, precipitating the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where Peter, Paul, and Barnabas all testified to the Lord’s astounding inclusion of Gentiles into the family of God.
Major Travel Hub
A brief word search reveals how often the apostles landed at Caesarea on their way to Jerusalem or Antioch, or to launch on a missions trip. Caesarea’s harbor was perhaps the most important in all Judea at this time (certainly at least for Jerusalem), though Akko, Haifa, and Jaffa were all active hubs.
Apostle Paul’s Imprisonment and Trials
Dave and I visited Caesarea Maritima a number of years ago, where Paul had spent a number of years in prison, trying to get a hearing that would exonerate him of wrongdoing. It was an eerie feeling to know we were standing on the very spot where the apostle spent three years waiting for justice. Finally, in a decisive move, Paul demanded that he be sent from Caesarea to Rome.
The account of Paul’s trials in Herod’s palace complex at Caesarea are found in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Acts 23, Paul’s dangerous and secret transport to Caesarea
- Acts 24, Paul before Felix and Drusilla
- Acts 25, Paul before Agrippa and Berenice
- Acts 26, Paul before Festus
To you and me, these scenes are the focus; everything else dims.
But in reality, though Paul was an important and well-known person in his day—with friends and detractors—life bustled on all around him. In Caesarea itself there were already house churches growing. We know of at least two, one in Phillip’s home and one in Cornelius’s home. But ancient accounts suggest the Gospel attracted many Roman soldiers, and perhaps some of these Christians were even among Paul’s guards.
And sites like the Roman waterworks remind us about how many people there were then, carrying on with their lives, perhaps not even knowing about the drama happening there in the palace complex.