Israel Trip Journal- Day 6- pt. 2: Mt. Carmel & Caesarea

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 (cont.)Mt. Carmel 

Next, we drove to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah challenged the priests of Baal and put them to the sword (1 Kings 18:16-40). There are actually two Carmels mentioned in the Bible–Mount Carmel and the village of Carmel, which lies south of Hebron.At the village of Carmel, Saul erected a monument to himself  to commemorate his victory over the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:12). This vain action only underscored the reason for God’s rejection of him as king– for his disobedience regarding the King Agag had been the last straw (1 Samuel 15:23). The other important incident that occurred at this lesser known Carmel was when Abigail kept David from killing her foolish husband Nabal (1Samuel 25:2-42).

As we arrived at Mount Carmel,  we encountered a man selling handmade beads. We bought some bead necklaces from him. Our tour guide told us that he was a Druze. The Druze are an offshoot of the Islamic religion. However, they do not follow the Quran. They are also unique in that they are not allowed to marry anyone that is not a Druze or they can be killed. Druze tend to live on mountaintops, historically as a defense against persecution–there are two Druze communities on Mt. Carmel. They also live in the Golan Heights and the hills of Galilee. Druze do not allow anyone to enter or leave the religion. They have excellent relations with the Israeli government, even serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and the Border Police.

Statue of Elijah putting the prophets
of Baal to the sword

Mt. Carmel is part of a national park where every plant, greenery and rock is protected. As we passed through the courtyard entryway to ascend the mountain, we picked up olives off the ground to plant, hoping that was not a violation of the protection clause.

View of the Valley of Jezreel from Mt. Carmel

Once atop the mountain, it opened up onto a viewing platform with breathtaking views of the Jezreel Valley. The view is incredible and awe-inspring! A little while after we had finished taking pictures, Raouf arrived with the new group he was leading. He had left our group after we came back from Caesarea Phillipi (the day before) but you would think we hadn’t seen him in years as excited as we all were to see him here.

It turned out that some of the people that we met at Mt. Carmel were from a mega-church north of the city our group was from– one lady introduced herself and then another lady as the pastor’s wife from that large church.

Salad bar at Mt. Carmel- typical
spread for Israeli sandwich shops
(courtesy Paul S.)

After touring the moutaintop and the gift store at the entrance, we were off to lunch. We ate at a little ‘sandwich’ shop nearby. Like all the others– it served falafal and schnitzel (sesame coated fried chicken patty) stuffed into a pita with ‘salad.’ Many places also stuff fries into it. This was the first place we visited that did not. Since my sister, daughter and I brought our own lunch, we only had to buy drinks- which cost us $3 per can of soda. Thus, we decided to share two cans among the three of us.


After lunch we drove south along the coast to the city of Caesarea or Caesarea Maritima. Caesarea is a seaport city, built by Herod the Great. We stopped at a beautiful spot on the beach, where we took lots of pics.  One of the traditions our tour leaders had was to take a picture on the beach of us all jumping in the air. So, we did a ‘youth ministry’ jumping in the air pic- consisting of those of us adults who were youth leaders. Although Jim (mentioned in my Caesarea Philippi blog post) has ALS, he actually jumped higher than everyone! This was so impressive to his neurologist on our return to the US,  that she is going to publish it in a medical journal and had faxed it all around the hospital (sadly, Jim had to be hospitalized shortly after our return due to the natural progression of his illness).

Remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct at Caesarea

The Mediterranean Sea was so beautiful it looked like a postcard. As I stood there, I remembered that  the last time I stood on the beach of the Mediterranean, was exactly 28 years before in Spain. I was on spring break on my Senior Trip, this was especially meaningful because now, these 28 years later, we were looking out on the Mediterranean on my daughter’s Spring Break Senior Trip.

Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea

Caesarea Maritima


Harbor at Caesarea Maritima

We drove further down the coast to the Caesarea National Park where we saw the movie “The Caesarea Experience.” It think it was the best of the many film shorts we saw– as many of our stops included a video of some type.

This professional production employed a combination of live action and high quality 3-D animation to portray the history of Caesarea Maritima. The history of this place is fascinating. I actually didn’t realize before this trip that Caesarea and Caesarea Philippi were different places.

When Judaea became a province of the Roman Empire in A.D. 6, Caesarea Maritima became its capital, and the headquarters of the infamous 10th Roman Legion.  Pontius Pilate was prefect (governor) here from 26-36 AD. Earlier in history, Caesarea Maritima had been a Phoenician trading post known as Straton’s Tower. It remained the capital of Judea for 600 years.

Herod the Great developed Caesarea into a great port city, dedicating it to Caesar Augustus. The aqueduct we had seen earlier, brought fresh water from the base of Mt. Carmel 10 miles away. The aqueduct was built on arches on a carefully measured gradiant so that the water would flow by the pull of gravity.

Harbor to left, Hippodrome to right (courtesy Paul S.)

An even greater architectureal feat was the huge man-made breakwater and  lighthouse that Herod built. The breakwater enclosed what was at the time, the largest man-made harbor in the world. It was quite a feat of engineering, as it was constructed by sinking stone blocks that were fifty feet long, eighteen feet wide and ten feet high. Amazingly enough, these blocks were designed of a special Roman hydraulic concrete which hardens underwater (Pozzolana— which reacts with calcium hydroxide in the presence of water).

View of the harbor from the ruins of Herod’s former palace

The forty acre harbor could accomodate 300 ships. At the southern
end of the breakwater
constructed a  lighthouse,
which was purported to rival the Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). This lighthouse was kept fire- lit 24 hours a day. The port was devastated by an earthquake in 130 AD.

Not only was Caesarea an important port city, but it was important to the early church as well. The Roman officer, Cornelius and the first Gentile believers were baptized here (Acts 10). Paul set sail from Caesarea’s  harbor at the end of his second missionary journey  (Acts 18:22), and again at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 21:8). This is also where Paul was taken before Felix, procurator (governor) of Judea (Acts 23:23-35; Acts 24:1-26). After spending 2 years in prison here (Act 24:27), he was tried by Festus, Felix’s successor (Acts 25:1-12). Paul was then shipped off to Rome per his own request to be tried by Caesar himself.

Left background: Remains of the two-level building which was the
Gorvernor’s house (probably Pontius Pilate)

After the movie, we enjoyed touring the Romanesque amphitheatre. As Herod built this city to impress his Roman benefactors, he included many aspects of a flagship Roman city. These included a palace, theatre, amphitheatre, hippodrome, public baths, sewers, and forum. The theatre had a seating capacity of 3500 and a skin covering (vellum). This is also where Herod Agrippa I was struck dead and consumed by worms (Acts 12:20-24 and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.343-350).

Theater at Caesarea

Sussanah led us  from the theatre down to the sea side ruins where Herod’s palace once stood. All that is left of this once splendid palace are several ancient columns, and rubble. According to Josephus this was a ‘most magnificent palace.’ Herod built it on a promontory jutting out into the sea. There is a marker among the ruins commemorating the occurrences of  the events in Acts 25:1-27. For this is where Paul was invited to share the full gospel with Agrippa and Bernice, his sister (Acts 26:1-32).

View from the theater of  the harbor

Agrippa II claimed to be a Jew, though he was an Edomite, as were his father Agrippa I and great-grandfather Herod the Great before him. As ‘King of the Jews,’ it was his job to appoint the high priest; this is why Paul mentions Agrippa’s expertise in the “customs and questions concerning the Jews” (Acts 26:3) and asks if he ‘believes in the Prophets’ (Acts 26:26). Herod goes on to admit that Paul almost persuades him to become a Christian (Acts 26:28). It was well known that Agrippa was given to an extravagant and indulgent lifestyle– an example of such was his incestuous relationship with Bernice. Perhaps he was not ready to give up this lifestyle. Upon Agrippa II’s death in about 100, the Herodian line ended, as he never produced any offspring.

East of  the palace ruins, and north of the theatre is a hippodrome (chariot race track). Possibly one of the largest in the Roman world, it measured 1400 feet long by 290 feet wide and a seating capacity of 38,000. In Ferrell’s Travel Blog entitled “I press on toward the goal,‘  E. M. Blaiklock makes an excellent argument for the fact that in Philippians 3:12-14, Paul is actually referring to a charioteer rather than a runner in a race.

After touring the hippodrome and its composite parts (outdoor toilets and competitor’s building which had niches in the wall for their shrines to their various deities), we walked along the sea wall towards the north.


Hippodrome (chariot race track)
Courtesy Paul S.

The majority of our party continued on to some ruins east of the chariot track with our tour guide Susanna. Meantime, Wanda Jean and Jim wanted to take pictures on the horses and chariot sculpture at the north end of the track. We got some cute pictures of the two of them on the chariot. Jim was feeling good today, so insisted on jumping up onto the chariot by himself, and then jumping off without assistance, much to all of our dismay. My daughter refused to take another ‘touristy’ pick on a horse and chariot sculpture (we forced her to at Megiddo the day before), but my mother-in-law and her best friend posed for some, as did my sister and I.

Remains of the bathhouses looking out towards the Mediterranean
Mosaic floor in bathhouse

We hurried over to check out the bathhouse; it lies east of the hippodrome. There are still beautiful mosaics adoring the floor in places.  Everyone else had already been touring the area, so we caught the tail end of the lecture. Then we moved on to the beautiful Crusader era section of the city, which is further north of the hippodrome.  This section of the city has modern restaurants along the pier, amongst ancient ruins. It is a very popular area with the locals, with swanky high-end eateries. 

Muslim bride in see-through designer
Italian wedding gown

This is a popular spot for Muslim weddings.  We saw two  Muslim brides. Both in western style white gowns, taking their wedding photos. What was surprising to all of us was that one of the brides wore a designer Italian wedding dress which had a see-through busstierre top (my sister recognized the design from a recent fashion show). She was breathtaking, but it was a shocking sight even to our westernized sensibilities. I would have never expected to see a Muslim woman wearing a see-through wedding dress. She and her groom were obviously of means, for all were decked out in designer finery.

My daughter refused to take a picture of her, because she said it would be porn. My sister took the inset pic of her from the back. We could see why this is a popular sight for weddings and wedding pictures, because the backdrop of the Mediterranean is beyond magnificient. I was thinking to myself, ‘what bride wouldn’t want to choose this locale for a dream wedding?’

Ruins of Crusader era fortification

During the Byzantine era, Caesarea became an important center of Christian scholarship. An important philospher and early church father, Origen, founded a Christian academy in Caesarea. This academy included a famous library of some 30,000 manuscripts. Eusebius, who was an ecclisiastical advisor to Emperor Constantine was archbishop of Caesarea Maritima from AD 315-318. Eusebius composed his famous Historica Ecclesiastica, which was a comprehensive geographical-historical study of the beginnings of Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th century.

Dry moat and fortification walls- Crusader era ruins

At the end of the park and our tour of Caesarea, was a Crusader era fortress complete with dry moat.
In 639 Caesara was conquered by Arabs who snuck inside the walled city by way of the aqueduct. By the 10th century it had dwindled in population and importance. It was eventually conquered by the Crusaders in 1101, led by King Baldwin I of France. At some point during this period, Genoese discovered a goblet they declared to be the Holy Grail. However, centuries later, an accident occurred as it was being returned from Paris after Napleon’s fall, which revealed the ’emerald’ to be green glass.

Later in 1187 Saladin recaptured the city. But, in 1191, Richard the Lion Hearted, King of England famously recaptured the city and exiled the Muslims inhabitants.

Vaulted Ceiling of the Crusader era  Eastern Gatehouse
photo courtesy Paul S.

The end of the Crusader Era came to an end in 1265 when the Mamluk Sultan Baybars took the city. The Crusaders evacuated the city after a short siege, however, fearing they would return, the Mamluks razed the city’s fortifications to the ground.

After another long day, we loaded onto the bus and headed to the Baptist Village which is about 20 mins east of Tel Aviv. This is where we would spend tonight and the next two days and nights.

Up Next:Israel Trip Journal- Day 7 & 8 (Baptist Village)