If Khalil, our tour guide here in Israel, said the title phrase once, he said it ten times — and for good reason. On our first day in the country, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.8! Fahrenheit, Khalil sadly informed us). Every time we left our air-conditioned, oh-so-comfy bus, the heat hit like an oven blast — but since we’d been adequately prepared, we managed just fine.
We began the day with a visit to Caesarea Maritima, a Biblical-era port city built by Herod the Great — not only built, but created, since there was no natural harbor. Using the Roman technology of making volcanic ash cement, HUGE breakwaters were formed to protect ships and trade vessels.
Herod desired to ingratiate himself with the Roman political powers, so named the city after Caesar and built a temple to the goddess Roma at the very center. The temple site saw many alterations as over the centuries Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Muslims, then the Crusaders all took their turn running the city and first razing whatever temple stood and building their own.
The theater, with wall sections and foundations dating back to Herod’s time, still stands and is used for contemporary concerts and presentations.
While we were there, a young American man mounted the stage with his guitar and sang Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Since Gerry used that song whenever he taught first-year geology at Calvin, he stood directly in front of the fellow and supported him with energetic applause.
Jeff, our teaching leader, took opportunities throughout the day to emphasize Biblical connections to where we were and what we were seeing. Here, in a shaded area of Caesarea’s Hippodrome, he quoted the many Scriptural references to Caesarea, enlivening our imaginations, empowering us to see Jesus, his disciples and Paul walking the paths we walked.
The remainder of the day was spent in high places, first on Mount Precipice where the Jewish leaders of Nazareth unsuccessfully attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff, then on the Cliffs of Arbel where Jewish rebels hid and were eventually routed by Herod’s soldiers dropping over the cliff in baskets. The landscape was hazy, but we enjoyed the view none-the-less.
Our guide Khalil, being an Israeli Arab Christian, provides a very unique perspective as we visit sites and discuss the current religious and political situation in Israel. He is articulate, speaking with passion and pride as well as humor and humility. We look forward to his continued interesting commentary.