Lessons I Learned While on the Holy Land Tour back in 2018
It is 6 a.m. I am greeted this morning by a a group of quietly smiling elderly tourists in the dining area of the Couvent des Religieuses de Nazareth, a spartan but clean and well-run hospice for travelers in the Holy Land. I am nursing a coffee while trying to suppress a raging headache; the humidity change has wreaked havoc on my sinuses and I am praying this does not turn into a migraine before we step into the bus today; we have a full schedule today, starting with Megiddo.
It’s dry on that mound, brother. Really dry. Perhaps I can get some sinus relief.
But hey, this trip is fantastic.
This is my second visit to Israel and it is no less exciting – well, satisfying might be a better and deeper word. Last year was a combination of delighted surprise and near-reverential awe at each stop; this year’s travels take me past from the first-look stammering. As Dr. Hudson so aptly related last year: “It’ll be like trying to drink out of a full-blasting fire hose.” So true last year. This week, I have a better ”map” idea of the region as well and a leg up on the fundamental historical facts of most of the sites. Things are connecting in their relationships to one another throughout history.
Caesarea was our main stop yesterday, a beautiful settlement along the Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea Maritima – not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi – was the retreat for Herod as well as the timeshare for Pilate. Paul took a ship from this very same bay. The remains of the dock are a testimony to its former magnificence. What a way to start the week’s tour! It’s almost like stepping into Disney World and getting immediate access to the Matterhorn – you’re jumping right into the excitement.
Dr. Don Hudson has the whole expedition down to a science, walking and explaining at every column, statue, archway and stairway. This is the world of Herod the Great and his remarkable building achievements. The glory of the past can be seen even today as you climb into the center of the 3500-seating-capacity Theater and view the remaining walls of the breakwater to the ancient docks. I fully admit that Herod was a despicable character – and history rightfully portrays him as the ruthless killer that he was, even in trying to kill the infant Jesus – but within his scheming for power and glory was an eye for architecture and planning that still amazes today.
We walked along the Hippodrome and tried to imagine the spectator’s views in this stadium (hippo is the Greek word for “horse”.) “I like the architecture,” said Art. “I have a relative who was a stone mason, and the creation of the design of these many buildings intrigues me.” Chariot races were the rage, and sadly so, so were gladiator fighting between enslaved Jews. There may have even been a slaughter of hundreds of Hebrews in this site after the Jewish revolt of 66 A.D. Herod was a monster but he also knew how to please the aesthetic eye. The various designs along the walkways and in the sides of the sarcophagi show an eye for intimate detail. Yes, we actually saw sarcophagi (plural of “sarcophagus” – they are stone coffins) that were unearthed and put on display. Each one bore an inscription of the deceased and a few were adorned with artwork of a deity. One inscription actually finishes with the phrase that translates roughly to ”… he died. Such is life.”
Good way for us to view Caesarea. I am reminded of the genealogy lists in the Scriptures. Each phrase finishes with “…and he died.” With all of the greatness or not-so-greatness of the individuals noted, each ends with the same reality: “…and he died.” We are all mortal.
We look at the impressive built-for-eternity sites of stone and note very clearly that there is a reason why we call them ruins. Live forever? They didn’t even make it past two thousand years. Whether by erosion, earthquake or aggressive conquest, these magnificent structures had a very short shelf-life. We are also reminded that the very powerful potentate Herod died miserably of a bubbling gastro-intestinal disease. He also had gangrene on a part of him I’m not going to discuss.
“…and he died.” Won’t we all? Have we committed to any investment of the eternal future?
In addition to mortality, I am reminded of what a monument really is.
In America we don’t really have it down on monuments. We create memorials that are recent and ready for renovation at any time. If a structure is more than fifty years old, we raze it for a newer and better building. This trip reminds us of the deeper time stamp of mankind. The first day told me that this Israel is a land for the ages but it ultimately reminds me of the King of the Ages, the Ancient of Days. The Herods of history couldn’t stop him and the Neros of history could not halt His followers. Our trek through the past gives me an even deeper appreciation of the future. For me, traveling the Holy Land is viewing the past as history and as the future with hope.
You’ll see what I mean as you view our videos, pictures and blogs during the course of this week.