Sunday, 26 January 2014

Terry Hampton on Caesarea

In 1994, Terry Hampton penned a series of articles for "The Pilot" called "It's in the Bible but." dealing with names that were somewhat obscure mentioned in the Bible, of whom the average reader would know little. Terry, with his interest in archaeology, decided to write an article to tell the readership more about them.

Caesarea by Terry Hampton (1994)

This week I read that Jesus sailed from Caesarea with Paul, Peter plus Luke in AD 60! Bet you didn't know that. Yes, it's all there in Acts 27.

In case you, O gentle reader, have looked up the passage and searched in vain for Jesus' name in it, let me reassure you that it's not there! This nonsense comes in a recent book by an Australian Dead Sea Scrolls academic, who argues that Jesus didn't die on the Cross, that he was rescued by his disciples (He had, by the way, courted and married Mary of Magdalene - who is the same Mary as Mary of Bethany) and then Jesus manages to escape detection and betrayal during the terrible Fire of Rome (AD 64), and eventually died of old age (and inactivity perhaps?) after AD 70. The purveyor of this puerile rubbish is one Dr Barbara Thiering (or something!)

Now back to "Caesares Maritima". Built by Herod the Great (c 20 BC) it became the great and only port of the Roman province of Judea. Prefects or governors landed there and had Caesarea as their Roman capital - with Jerusalem as the spiritual and Jewish capital. Pilate landed there and in 1961 a stone was found in the Roman theatre with Pilate's name on it.

Whether Jesus ever went there we don't know. Herod also built an aqueduct to bring water from the Mount Carmel range, a distance of some twelve miles or so. The aqueduct is still standing - tho' with large gaps as it goes across the seashore.

The theatre has been rebuilt and the Israel Orchestra play concerts there - it holds about 3,000 people. It was here we believe that the great Rossi Ahisa was tortured to death by the Romans in AD 135 for his support of the false Messiah, Bar Kochba,

Caesarea was the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius [Acts 10], a gentile who with his "household" [v.2] received the Holy Spirit whilst listening to Peter preach. It was here that Paul was kept for two years during the rule of the corrupt Prefect Felix [Acts 24-27] and where Paul spoke powerfully before the new Governor's judgement seat - on Porcius Testus. As a Roman citizen Paul had the right to appeal to the Emperor Nero for a fresh trial - which he used "Appelatio ad Caesarem."

Jewish Revolt

Caesarea was one of the places where the first Jewish Revolt was sparked off. Anti-Jewish mobs attacked the synagogues and the local Jews had had more than enough of anti-semitism, so they reacted fiercely. Jerusalem Jews were furious at the conduct of the then Prefect Florus, and his constant monetary exactions led some wags to go round with collecting bags calling out "Alms for poor old Florus!" He was not amused and so the first Jewish Revolt erupted in AD 66, only ending with the destruction of the
Temple in the summer of AD 70.

From Caesarea Paul sailed to Rome to stand trial, tho' with a benign Roman centurion called Julius allowing him some very unusual privileges [see Acts 27:31]. As mentioned before, Rossi Ahisa died here, reciting aloud the Shema, or Jewish creed, "The Lord our God is one Lord." It ended "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength," and then the godly-but mistaken Rossi died.

There is a powerful Jewish legend that Moses had a vision in, which Rossi Ahisa sits teaching the Torah, the Law, to his pupils - with Moses sitting humbly in the eighth row. And when he enquired about the end of this chosen teacher, he saw another image - Ahisa reciting the Shema as the iron combs rent his body."

Caesarea was a magnificently built town. The breakwater was made of the recently developed quick-drying Roman cement. There were great storehouses for grain and oil, a temple to Augustus, a theatre, and (c.3 AD) a small Mithraic Temple. Outside the walls were a hippodrome for chariot racing and an amphitheatre for gladiators and wild beast fights. Today an American expedition is exploring the foreshore and submerged remains and its members have to be qualified scuba divers!

And Caesarea is where we remember Cornelius, the Roman centurion. [Acts 10]. We recall that here was a "devout man who feared God, gave liberally and prayed constantly." A fine man, who was then "set on fire" by receiving the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit". What became of Cornelius and his household? We wish we knew! But I bet anything that he had a house church in his home and that it was a place of refuge and help to all in need, and that Cornelius was an outstanding Christian leader, who witnessed to his men. A challenge there for each of us, surely.  Do I witness for Jesus in my work - is my house available for God's work and for God's people? Spend some time reading, thinking about and praying through Acts 10. There are some powerful and challenging "words of the Lord" for all of us there!

No comments: