“Your Word Is Truth”
From Joppa to Caesarea
THE Bible’s message is closely linked with the land areas of present-day Israel and Jordan. Not only cities, but also hills, mountains, valleys, springs, rivers, wilderness regions and seas figure in the Scriptural account. For this reason the person who sees the land where the events occurred is in a better position to visualize them.
This aspect was noted by an Awake! correspondent in Israel while traveling from Joppa to Caesarea. As we travel with him, we are impressed with the reality of ancient happenings narrated in the Bible.
Joppa (now known as Yafo) is a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. Standing atop the rocky promontory that overlooks the ancient port area, we can mentally picture the scene in earlier times. Through this port came shipments of Lebanese cedar timbers for Solomon’s temple. Here the prophet Jonah, seeking to flee from his assignment, boarded a ship to go to Tarshish. In this city a Christian congregation was formed in the first century. Dorcas (Tabitha), a woman ‘abounding in good deeds,’ was associated with that congregation. It was here, too, that the apostle Peter raised her from the dead.—Acts 9:36-42.
Regarding the apostle Peter’s stay here in 36 C.E., the Bible states: “For quite a few days [Peter] remained in Joppa with a certain Simon, a tanner,” who had “a house by the sea.” (Acts 9:43; 10:6) One of Christendom’s churches owns a little house that was built in the eighteenth century C.E., on what is claimed to be the very site of Simon’s house. But there is no way of identifying any original sites. However, climbing the outside stairway to its flat roof, we can imagine something of the scene described in Acts, chapter 10, where Peter “went up to the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” It was on the roof of Simon’s house that Peter was granted a revealing vision concerning the propriety of preaching to non-Jews.—Acts 10:9; 15:14.
Subsequent to this vision, Peter was instructed to journey northward to the home of the Roman army officer Cornelius at Caesarea, in company with two of Cornelius’ house servants and a soldier escort. “And some of the brothers that were from Joppa went with him.” (Acts 10:23) There at Caesarea the first uncircumcised Gentiles became Christian believers.
Traveling out of Yafo and Tel Aviv, across the Sharon Plain, on our left sand dunes alternate with glimpses of the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Over to the right lie the hills of Samaria.
Driving northward, we see that citrus groves, vineyards, market gardens, fish-breeding ponds and wheat fields cover the whole area. Less than an hour after leaving Yafo, we arrive at Caesarea.
It was through Caesarea that the apostle Paul passed at least three times in his travels to and from Jerusalem, spending time with the Christian congregation there. (Acts 9:30; 18:22; 21:8-16) In addition, there was his two-year imprisonment there (56 to 58 C.E.), at the end of which he sailed off to Rome aboard a merchant ship.—Acts 23:23–27:1.
We read too in the Bible of the sudden death of Herod Agrippa I, as a judgment of Almighty God; also of the Roman governorships of Felix and Festus—all at Caesarea. Thus Caesarea was a prominent Roman city, an administrative center and military garrison, as well as a busy commercial port.
But what is to be seen at this ancient site today? Extensive remains date from the Crusader period. But archaeologists have dug deeper into the sand and have unearthed many Roman structures too. The very street on which we enter the city is paved with Roman flagstones, striated in order to give horses’ hooves a firm grip. This was the main street down to the harbor in ancient times. The apostles Paul and Peter must have walked back and forth here during their visits.
Closer to the port area we climb over a rise and look down into an excavated area where a Roman temple dedicated to Augustus, and other Roman buildings, came to light. From this mound we can see how extensive the Roman city was; the later Crusader town occupied only about a sixth of the area of the earlier city.
A look at the harbor shows that the enclosing of a sizable artificial harbor on this bare, sandy coastline was no small achievement. Josephus describes how mammoth stone blocks were lowered into place to form a great breakwater and extensive quaysides. Standing here watching fishermen casting their lines and youngsters splashing about on the sandy foreshore, we can let our imagination carry us back some 1,900 years.
Picture a group of Christians from the local congregation gathering here to wave farewell to a departing visitor, or to welcome to their midst traveling ministers such as Paul, Silas and Barnabas. Somewhere here stood Paul and Luke as they awaited the moment to board a ship bound for Rome, where Paul was to bear witness about the resurrected Jesus Christ before the judgment seat of Caesar. It is indeed interesting to stand at the coast of Caesarea and reminisce.
But there is still more to see, so we move on. Circular, tiered theaters were characteristic of Roman cities; Herod equipped this city with one, much of which stands until today. Until 1960 it was buried below the sand dunes; but now it has been unearthed and restoration work effected so that concerts and other productions are presented here on summer evenings. Acoustics in this type of structure is excellent. Anyone climbing right up to the outer rim of the top tier of seats could easily hear every word of our conversation as we stand here on the rebuilt stage.
An item of interest to Bible students was the discovery in 1961 of a stone tablet during the excavating of the theater. It bears a Latin inscription that includes the name of the Roman governor when Jesus Christ was put to death—namely, Pontius Pilate. It is the first such inscription to be found.
Another site of interest lies at the northern edge of the original city area. It is a well-preserved aqueduct, a raised double channel that brought freshwater from distant springs to augment the local cisterns and wells. Its arch-supported gentle gradient is a masterpiece of engineering. Sand dunes blanketed it and preserved it from the ravages of time till recent years.
There is still much that remains untouched by the archaeologist’s spade. But what we have been able to see has been interesting, and it all fits in so well with the Biblical account, furnishing fine testimony regarding its dependability. Truly, then, the message of the Holy Scriptures merits our appreciative and serious attention.