Caesarea and the Early Christians
THE ancient seacoast city of Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great shortly before the birth of Jesus Christ, has been the site of a number of recent archaeological discoveries. “King Herod’s Dream,” an exposition of these finds, is now touring North America.*
Herod curried the favor of Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Thus, he called the city Caesarea (meaning, “Belonging to Caesar”) and its port Sebastos (Greek for “Augustus”). Herod’s workmen built an amazing harbor for perhaps a hundred ships, and they constructed a magnificent temple with a huge statue for the worship of the emperor.
Caesarea became the official residence of the Roman procurators—the men who governed Judea. Caesarea was the center of Rome’s political and military activity. It was there that the military officer Cornelius and “his relatives and intimate friends” became the first uncircumcised non-Jews to accept Christianity. (Acts, chapter 10) The evangelizer Philip went to Caesarea; so did the apostle Peter. Some of the ships the apostle Paul used on his missionary tours put in at Caesarea’s harbor. And about the year 56 C.E., Paul and Luke stayed in the home of Philip, who had apparently settled there and whose four daughters also served God.—Acts 8:40; 12:18, 19; 18:21, 22; 21:8, 9.
It was to Caesarea that Paul was brought to appear before the Roman governor Felix. There too Paul uttered his famous words to Festus: “I appeal to Caesar!”—Acts, chapters 23–26.
On entering this exposition, you face a statue of Tyche, the goddess of Caesarea. Her name means “Luck” or “Good Fortune.” However, Christians there trusted not in a goddess of luck but in the true God, Jehovah. They also had faith in Jesus Christ, the one King Herod had tried to kill.
In the next two rooms, you see how archaeologists uncovered the things found in Caesarea and how the harbor was built. Then, in the fourth room, you see a reproduction of one of the major finds at Caesarea. It is the only known inscription of the Roman governor before whom Jesus Christ was taken. The inscription reads: “Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea.”
Also in this room are two small bronze coins that are extremely interesting. The first (on the right) bears the inscription: “Year two of the freedom of Zion.” On the second are the words: “Year four to the redemption of Zion.” Scholars date these coins 67 C.E. and 69 C.E. The “freedom” referred to was the period during which the Jews held Jerusalem, after Cestius Gallus withdrew his attacking Roman forces in the year 66 C.E.
That withdrawal made flight from Jerusalem possible. People who believed in Jesus fled, for he had specifically said: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.” (Luke 21:20, 21) Apparently, the makers of these “victory” coins had little idea of the destruction that awaited them!
In the year 70 C.E., the Roman army returned, conquered Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple. According to Josephus, they killed more than a million people who had crowded into the city for the Passover. The Roman general Titus celebrated this victory—and his brother Domitian’s birthday—with games in Caesarea’s amphitheater. There 2,500 prisoners were thrown to wild beasts, were burned, or were killed in gladiatorial games.
The next room of the exposition contains a statue of the many-breasted fertility goddess Artemis of Ephesus. This is the same goddess whose worshipers rioted in Ephesus when Paul’s preaching caused many to reject disgusting idol worship and follow Jesus Christ.—Acts 19:23-41.
A display of pieces of broken pottery demonstrates the extent of first-century travel as revealed in the Scriptures. In just one ancient warehouse, pottery fragments were found from such widely separated places as Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, and perhaps North Africa. With such extensive travel, it is easy to understand that visitors from far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire could have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost 33 C.E. There, many heard the good news in their own language, became believers, and were baptized. Likely, some took the good news back to their own lands aboard ships from Caesarea.—Acts, chapter 2.
In the next room, a large white rectangular plaque supports fragments of a third- or fourth-century marble slab. It originally listed the 24 divisions, or courses, of priestly families in the order in which they served at Jerusalem’s temple. That temple had lain in ruins for hundreds of years, but the Jews were confident that it would soon be rebuilt. Centuries later they were still praying that God would restore the priestly courses in their day. But the temple was not rebuilt. Jesus had foretold its destruction. And before it was destroyed, the apostle Paul, a Jew and former Pharisee, pointed out that God had replaced that temple with something better—with a far greater temple, a spiritual one, that the handmade building in Jerusalem had only illustrated, prefigured, or represented.—Matthew 23:37–24:2; Hebrews, chapters 8, 9.
Centuries passed and conquerors came and went. Caesarea’s ruins finally sank beneath sand and sea. There they awaited modern archaeologists, whose discoveries have helped us to understand more about life in ancient times and about some of the things we read in God’s Word, the Bible.
It has already been presented at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the Museum of Natural History in Denver, Colorado. Other scheduled locations include the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul and the Boston Museum of Science, as well as the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.
[Picture on page 24]
Tyche, Caesarea’s goddess of “good luck”
[Picture Credit Lines on page 23]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
[Picture Credit Lines on page 24]
Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums; photographs from Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County