We found a place to stay in the wilderness. It’s an old biblical city called Arad and it’s surrounded by mountains and valleys so stark that you would think nothing could grow here, especially people. But people have lived in Arad for thousands of years and actually the modern town is quite pleasant. It’s greatest asset, for us, is that it is only 17 miles from Masada and the Dead Sea. We rented an apartment for two days that has all the amenities of home and even has a washing machine in the bathroom. For weary travelers living out of a suitcase that is a blessing. It is located just west of the bottom of the Dead Sea at 1600 ft. above sea level. By the time we get to Masada we are at 1400 ft. BELOW sea level, so as you can guess the road goes steeply downhill all the way. Eric says he would love to do this on his motorcycle.
We arrived at Masada, one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. The reason for that is as follows: The nation of Israel came to a halt about the year 72 A.D. Two years earlier, as a result of the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was in ruins. The Jewish people who weren’t killed by the Roman army were taken as slaves back to Italy or sold to others along the way….all except a group of about 900 or so Jewish Zealots (whole families) who managed to escape from Jerusalem and flee to the mountain fortress along the Dead Sea called Masada. This was one of Herod the Great’s retreats he had previously built for himself to protect him in case of an insurrection. It was built high up on a giant mesa with the approach so steep it appeared to be impregnable. The Romans understood that as long as these people remained in control of this fortress the nation was still alive and capable of starting another insurrection. So the mountain had to be taken. Their plan was to build a wall completely around the mountain and keep anyone from leaving and anyone else from supplying the Zealots with food or supplies. In other words, starve them out. It took nearly two years to do this while the Roman army built a rampart nearly up to the top where they could take their siege engines and break through the wall that encircled the mountain top. When they finally broke through the walls and invaded the Jewish retreat they found that everyone had committed suicide rather than be killed or taken prisoner by the Romans. That brought the official end to the Jewish nation….until 1948 when the modern nation of Israel came into being. That is why this place is so important to the Jewish people. Their slogan is “Never again!” meaning, “we will not fall again.”
Today, instead of having to climb up the “snake path” to the top they have installed a cable car for the tourists. Our son Eric said he wanted to climb the snake path—so we let him, while the “old folks” took the faster and easier route. The guide book says the climb usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour but Mr. America made it in 30 minutes, in the hot sun. Many of the finds on the top of Masada have been reconstructed somewhat. But what is left is spectacular. Herod’s Western Palace has three wonderful mosaic floors and his Northern Palace built on the very edge of the cliff still has some colored frescoes on its walls. It was a three hour experience for us and left us pretty much drained with all the up and down and the desert heat. So we decided, after we had seen it all, to take a trip down to the public beach and jump into the Dead Sea.
Believe it or not, there are about five or six luxury hotels built in this wilderness right next to the Dead Sea. I wondered how they could fill these expensive hotels with enough guests to make this a profitable enterprise. But I guess the answer is—this is the Dead Sea where you bob like a cork in this super salty body of water, and of course Masada is just down the road. Anyway, the tour buses keep pulling into their parking lots with a lot of people who really want to be here.
Tomorrow, we leave the desert and head for the capitol—Jerusalem, where we will stay for about eight days before returning home. There is so much to see in the “holy city.” And we’ll tell you about it later.
Kathy and I have a mutual friend who was reading our blog and asked if we wanted to visit an archeological excavation in progress. We both jumped at the chance, so he made the arrangements for us to visit the site today (Sunday). The site was right on our way south as we were leaving Tiberias. So we headed out on Route 90 eventually to end up at Masada on the Dead Sea. We found the location of the dig and were greeted by Dr. Jennie Ebeling, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville who is co-director with
Norma Franklin from the University of Haifa. Work had just begun on clearing a new site so we were able to see all the diggers in action. Dr. Ebeling took about two hours to show us around and give us a crash course in how to find a digging site that shows promise of producing something exceptional. What she and her helpers had already found was quite exceptional as this is their third year in this area. They are working in the Valley of Jezreel, an absolutely beautiful valley that is much talked about in the Old Testament. What they are looking for specifically is something that has to do with the kingship of Ahab (and his wicked wife Jezebel), in the ninth century B.C. While we were there I met one of her diggers who is a professor at Kentucky Christian University and who graduated from my alma mater in Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact, he teaches with my former college roommate. I had to come all the way to Israel to find someone who knows many of my own friends.
After our experience at Jezreel we continued down Route 90 until we came to Qumran on the Dead Sea. We visited here two years ago but wanted our son Eric to see where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Qumran community were made up of Essenes, the group who were very active during the ministry of Jesus but who were never mentioned in the Bible. That is because they were a monostic group who kept to themselves and had their own community apart from everyone else. They prayed, observed the law, and copied manuscripts in their Scriptorium. Among those manuscripts were copies of the Old Testament. The community was destroyed when the Romans came to wage war against the Jews in about 66 A.D. Fearing for the safety of their precious manuscripts they hid them in the many caves that surrounded them in the Judean wilderness. There they stayed until about 1952 when a Bedouin boy threw a stone into one of these caves and heard pottery breaking. He looked more closely and found what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include every book of the Old Testament except Esther. These manuscripts were examined and were dated about the 1st or 2nd Century B. C. Up until that time the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament we possessed are dated about a thousand years later than that. So you can understand why this find caused such a stir among theologians and Bible scholars. I had the opportunity, in 1966, to climb through some of these caves on my second visit to this place. But today they won’t let anyone near them—for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.
We completed our journey today be arriving at our rented apartment in Arad, Israel, about 15 miles beyond Masada. Tomorrow we plan to spend a lot of time exploring the top of that mountain before going on to Jerusalem where we will stay until we fly home. We’ll tell you more about Masada tomorrow
We are getting to know this Galilean seaside town fairly well. We have been here only five days but we feel very much at home. Each day we have taken in more and more of the unique sites that are associated with the Bible, most with the ministry of Jesus. This morning we drove to a small kibutz (communal settlement) located just where the Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee and begins its long journey to the Dead Sea. In fact, the Jordan River twists and turns its way south so greatly that the distance it travels, as the crow flies, is only some 65 miles. But the actual distance covered by its meandering course is over 200 miles. Within just a stone’s throw of where it leaves the Sea is the little community called Yardinet. Those who have been to Israel on tours will know this place as the location of the site for those who want to baptized in the Jordan River (as Jesus was baptized). It is not certain that Jesus was baptized here in this area but there are some who try to make a case for it. Either way, this place is in a beautiful location and has been constructed in such a way as to make public baptisms a very easy and sacred event. There are several small and personal meeting places where a group can gather, pray, sing and watch their members be baptized by their leader. Two years ago I was the only pastor on our tour group that came here, so I was appointed as the baptizer. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak to the group of about 35 people about the importance of identifying with Christ through the rite of baptism and assisting about a dozen or more of our group to accomplish their desire to be baptized in the manner and place of our Savior. There are changing rooms, video cameras that automatically record each baptism so that each participant can have a record of the event, a gift shop to browse in and everything to make this a pleasant and memorable occasion.
We then drove to the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee to visit the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. Obviously, with a name this long this was built to commemorate the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle of Jesus (besides the resurrection) that is found in all four of the gospels. The more modern church was built over a 5th Century Byzantine church with some beautiful mosaics that are in an amazing state of preservation. I think the feeding took place on the NE corner of the Sea as opposed to this location, according to the way the gospels describe it. But they try to make a case for that location by saying that there were two such miraculous feedings (that is true) but I think they still got it in the wrong place. Whatever…….!
The other church we visited is called the Church of the Beatitudes which sits high on a hill overlooking the Sea. It is so called because it is thought that in this spot Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount which begins with his blessings or “beatitudes.” Whether they got the right spot for this or not, I must say one thing—this place is one of the most beautiful spots in the world with its manicured gardens of flowers and plants, its walkways, its many types of trees and bushes—they must have a full time gardener taking care of this place. It is a delightful place and if you look around you will see that it is one of the most imposing spots on a high hill overlooking the sea, so it fits the description of the gospel narratives. The church is small but all around are quotes from the beatitudes. So it is a must visit for everyone who believes the Bible and wants a little inspiration to send him on his way.
Tomorrow we leave Tiberias and head south toward Masada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea. But before we get there we will visit an archaeological excavation taking place not far from here that is just on our way. Our visit is made possible by a friend who was reading our blog and offered us the opportunity to meet the director of the dig and get a tour around. I’ll tell you about that later.
One of the benefits of staying in one place and driving to other nearby towns for a day’s visit is that it gives you an understanding of how much traveling Jesus and his disciples had to do to get from town to town during his ministry. We never read about him traveling in a wagon or on a horse so it was constant walking. For instance, from Tiberias to the nearby town of Nazareth is about 21 miles. That’s a long way on foot. But that was just a short distance for them. They often walked three or four times that far to get to their next preaching and teaching location. Today our visit was to Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. Kathy had been reading about the Nazareth Village, where they give you a tour through places that Jesus would have experienced growing up. You might call it the “Nazareth Experience” because it was set up in such a way to make you feel you were walking the little lanes of a dusty old first century village. All the places we visited gave you that feeling you were back in the primitive town of Nazareth.
First, there was a visit to old Simon whose sheep and goats were in the pen, and our guide talked about how Jesus used the everyday experiences of people to communicate eternal truths. Sheep, the guide said, will follow you, but the goats have their own agenda and don’t follow anyone very well, and so Jesus said that in the end God will separate the sheep from the goats and those who followed him will have an eternal reward. The guide then took us to an area where they had discovered an old vineyard and he showed us how the people created level spaces on the many hillsides that cover that land and explained why Jesus told the Parable of the four soils—the hardened path, the stony ground, the weed infested ground, and the good ground that produced a harvest. He then took us into a small synagogue and told us about how and why Jesus selected the passage that he read to his home town folks when he preached his first sermon in Nazareth and why the people were so disturbed at his preaching. The whole tour was geared to Jesus’ teaching and showed us continually why Jesus’ teaching was so geared to the everyday life of the people he was talking to. The place was so authentic you felt like you were actually there in first century Nazareth as you moved through the place. It was a great experience.
After the Nazareth Village tour we found our way over to the Church of the Annunciation, an old Catholic Church built over what they believe is the house of Mary where she received the news from the angel about her becoming the mother of the Son of God. It’s a huge structure and is the fourth church that has been built on that site going all the way back to about the second or third century where Christians were worshiping there in memory of Mary’s experience. In fact, where the altar would be in a normal Catholic Church they have the room of Mary’s house where that angelic visitation took place. Right next to the large church is St. Joseph’s Church, with the ruins of Joseph’s house in the basement of that structure. As I said before, you really don’t know if these are the real places or not but the traditions evidently go back a long way, and that is what they base their beliefs on.
On our way back to Tiberias we passed through Cana, the town where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding feast. There are a couple of churches, we are told, that claim to have some of the original water pots Jesus used. Although we couldn’t find either of these churches I do remember the visit I made here a long time ago and saw one of the water pots they said he actually used in the miracle. At best it looked like it could contain a couple of gallons of liquid. But in the Gospel of John it says in the King James Version that each water pot was big enough to contain two or three firkins apiece. A “firkin” is defined as about nine gallons. So that means each pot was large enough to contain 18 to 27 gallons of water. That’s why I believe very few of the traditions they tell you here.
We completed our day by visiting Capernaum, the “headquarters” of Jesus in Galilee. He often visited here and selected many of his disciples from near here. They have unearthed the ruins of the town of Jesus’ day and even the Apostle Peter’s house, which they believed was converted into a meeting place for the early Christians. They have built a modern church over the ruins. Nearby they also have the reconstructed ruins of a synagogue which was built over the one in which Jesus taught and in which he healed a crippled man. What a wonderful location for a small town—right on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. All the views from the town are just amazing. It is very difficult to get a true idea of the places Jesus preached in and visited because the towns are mostly rubble—you definitely have to use your imagination. And perhaps God wanted it that way because we humans are so prone to worship relics instead of the unseen God who rules us all.
The weather is cooperating with us. The sun is shining brightly again and the cool breezes continue to moderate the heat. So we decided it was warm enough to take a dip in the Sea of Galilee. On our local map of Tiberius it shows “beaches” and gives their names—plenty of them on both sides of the lake. So we went exploring for the best beach to swim. The only problem is that “beaches” doesn’t mean swimming. It just seems to mean access to the water, because almost everywhere we had “access to the water” there were signs saying “swimming is forbidden.” But then we found out that “swimming is forbidden” doesn’t seem to mean that at all. It means “no lifeguard is present.” In other words, swim at your own risk. We finally found a place on the eastern shore at Ein Gev, directly across the lake from Tiberius, where people were actually in the water. By California standards these beaches are sadly lacking. No sand, but plenty of rocks and pebbles that hurt the feet. But this is the SEA OF GALILEE, OK? Christian tourists MUST swim in the Sea of Galilee. That is a no-brainer. Once you are in the water it is a delightful experience—cool but not cold. Fresh water and not salt water. Once we had “done our duty,” and continued on around the lake (it’s about 35 miles by car) we came back to Tiberius for lunch.
Yesterday we had lunch at a small lunch counter near our hotel run by a man named Esa (Arabic name of “Jesus”). We got into a conversation with him about Arabic food and asked him if he could make Shokshuka (see previous post about that dish) and he said if we came back the next day he would ask his wife to make some for us. So when we went there for lunch today he had it waiting for us. It’s difficult to describe it to you but it is accompanied by about eight or more little bowls of Arabic condiments that you can put on or in your pita bread and eat along with your Shokshuka (the main dish that is tomato based and can include meat such as chicken, beef or sausage). We have eaten it several times and really like it.
After lunch we drove up to the Northwest side of the lake to an area that is called in the Bible the Plain of Genessaret. Mountains surround the Sea of Galilee except at this three mile section that is flat and fertile. There is a Kibbutz here called Ginnosar (evidently related to the old name “Genessaret”) that has a museum that is popularly known as the Jesus Boat Museum. It seems that on the shore here they discovered an ancient fishing boat back in the 1980’s when the level of the lake had gone down during a drought. The local archaeological society began digging and they found the remains of an ancient fishing boat in the mud by the sea shore. After a lengthy period of careful digging in which they never let the boat dry out (it would have turned into powder if they had) they unearthed it and coated it and put it into a museum for all to see. It wasn’t a little row boat. It was originally over 30 feet long and big enough to hold 13 men (Jesus and his apostles) thus the name “Jesus boat.” They dated it through careful study and said it was made somewhere in the 1st Century B.C. to the 1st Century A.D. (when Jesus was present in this area). It is built mainly of oak but has 11 types of wood in its construction. They theorize that the man who owned it was poor enough to have to fix it and patch it up many times, thus the presence of so many different patch jobs involving other types of wood.
Tomorrow we will come back into this area to see places associated with the feeding of the 5,000, and the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught while he was here.
We arrived in Tiberius on Tuesday evening and found the hotel Aviv just a block from the Sea of Galilee. We’re on the third floor with a small balcony which presents us with a beautiful view of the lake. We know it as the Sea of Galilee but the locals call it Lake Kinneret. It is difficult for a Christian familiar with the ministry of Jesus to see this as anything but a sacred place because of all the events and miracles on and around it that made this place so famous. This whole region is a favorite place for Israeli vacationers because of the moderate climate and its natural beauty.
It’s also a great place to just stroll and take in the local color. Jews and Palestinians mix together with all their various customs and foods that make this such a delightful place. We always make it a habit to stay away from American hotels and food so that we can truly become part of the culture around us. It’s a good thing that all three of us love Mediterranean food because it is everywhere. We strolled through the market area this morning and purchased what we needed for breakfast, since we booked a hotel without a food plan. Fortunately, our room contains a small kitchenette with a microwave, full refrigerator, a hot plate and the utensils to make and eat our own food. Eric is a great help with that since he has so many great recipes in his head in case we can’t think of any.
The weather turned hot and humid today and it’s only May. It really gets warm in this place during the summer months and this time of year is usually delightful. But we can be thankful for one thing—the wind that comes in off the sea. Without that it would be almost unbearable. We booked a boat ride on the lake in the afternoon and found ourselves in the middle of what was probably a Palestinian middle school outing. Arabic music was playing very loudly and the boat deck rapidly filled up with girls dancing together to the beat of the modern music. Soon the boys joined in, dancing together among themselves. You would probably never see boys and girls dancing together under such circumstances since it is considered religiously forbidden for them to have such intimate contact in public. The boat just circled around for about an hour but it gave you time to think about the many events that happened in this place as recorded in the Bible—the miraculous catch of fish by Jesus disciples, the feeding of the 5,000 (on its shores), the calming of the sea by Jesus command, the walking on the water, etc.
This evening we decided to stroll along the boardwalk on the southwest side of the lake and eat some “St. Peter’s fish.” This is a favorite meal among the locals and because of its name it’s a “must eat” meal among the religious tourists as well.
Whoever suggests that the Mediterranean Sea is just a calm placid inland body of water has never been to the seacoast of Israel. Since we have been here we have nearly been blown away by the offshore wind that constantly blows huge waves onto the beach. Of course, if you are here to surf then this is your paradise.
Our destination for the day is the seacoast town of Caesarea. It was a town with a very interesting history but today is only a museum. In fact, it is an archaeological park. It has a long history but I won’t bore you with the many details except to relate it to biblical events. In the book of Acts it is mentioned frequently. It was a very Roman town built by Herod the Great before the time of Jesus and dedicated to Augustus Caesar. It became the headquarters of the Roman governor (rather than Jerusalem) and had all the characteristics of a typical Roman town. Herod built a Hippodrome (race course for chariots), a theater in the typical Roman configuration, and other amenities that made it basically off limits to Jews who saw its existence as a purely pagan town. But it boasted a harbor that made it very important for commercial purposes and for transportation to other countries.
In spite of the many people and governments that came and went over the centuries it has some pretty remarkable ruins to view. The Hippodrome course is still a huge field of sand with many of the original seats still in place and the theater is in such good shape (after reconstruction) that they hold musical events here for the public every summer. And since the state of Israel turned it into an official park they have all sorts of public facilities for tourists—restaurants, shops, etc.
But the reason we came here, as I said, is because of the biblical events that occurred here. It was here that the Roman Centurion Cornelius first heard about Jesus under the teaching of the Apostle Peter (Acts 10). This was basically the first time a gentile had heard the gospel and was included in the Christian family. Also, when the Apostle Paul got into trouble with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and was arrested by the Romans he was sent here to Caesarea to defend himself against the charges they had made against him. He spent two years here under house arrest before he eventually appealed his case to Caesar and was sent under guard on a Roman ship which sailed out of Caesarea’s harbor on its way to Rome. The old harbor is still here – kind of. What I mean is that the ruins all around the harbor contain Roman columns mixed together with Crusader walls and dwellings and now they are trying to piece together some of the old buildings for the tourists. It is a virtual pot pourri of artifacts from the past but well worth your visit, regardless of which age you may be interested in seeing.
I need to tell you about a discovery they made here in about 1960. For many years skeptics have said the Bible was in error when it talked about the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. No one else seemed to mention him. Then when they were digging up some old artifacts from the harbor they ran across a stone inscribed in Latin that had the name “….ius Pilatus” inscribed on it. That was enough to silence the skeptics on that issue.
One of the things that I was interested in seeing again (I’ve been here before) is the Roman aquaduct just north of the old city. It was built to bring water from Mt. Carmel into the city and there is a long section of it right on the beach that is still standing. It also dates from the time of Herod (just before the birth of Christ). What I have always wanted to do is to climb the remains of this old Roman structure and see how the channel was built that carried the water. You realize those things had to be built at just the right elevation and slope so the water doesn’t move too fast or too slow. And what I discovered was that the Romans used baffles in the watercourse to control the flow. Other than that my engineering knowledge can’t tell you anything more. All three of us were able to find a way up on top of this massive and wonderfully built structure.
After spending most of the day in Caesarea we got in our car and headed for the city of Tiberius, another city named after a Roman emperor. This one, however, is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And that is another story for another day.
On Sunday Kathy and I were picked up by our driver and transferred to the Athens airport for our next adventure—in Israel. Our flight took less than two hours to reach Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. We had arranged to meet our son Eric there and would travel with him for the next 18 days. We got in about 1:30 and his flight arrived about 4:30, though it started a day earlier in Phoenix. It took him about 21 hours to reach Israel, including the layovers he had to endure. Eric is a great traveler and we so wanted to share this special time with him visiting the places associated with our faith, the places Jesus walked, and the travels of his apostles.
We stayed overnight in a small hotel right on the Mediterranean sea in Bat Yam, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The next morning we began our exploration by visiting the site of Old Jaffa, on the southern border of Tel Aviv. Old Jaffa is a delightful place to explore and is also a biblical site. It was here that Jonah caught a ship to Tarshish while running away from the Lord who wanted him to go preach in Nineveh. It was also the place that the Apostle Peter visited, as recorded in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when he raised Dorcas from the dead. He stayed with a man called Simon “whose house is by the sea,” says the Bible. While in Joppa (its biblical name) Peter was resting on the roof of Simon’s house when he received a vision from the Lord showing a sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of “unclean” animals. A voice told him “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” This happened three times and each time Peter replied, “Not so, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.” The voice then said, “What God has cleansed, call not unclean.” Peter wondered what this meant until he was later sent to speak to a Roman Centurion (an “unclean” gentile) who lived up the coast in Caesarea. We finally found the site of the house of Simon the Tanner in our exploration of Old Jaffa. Whether this place was the real one or not at least the Israelis acknowledge the biblical event and have carried on the Christian tradition about this place.
After walking all over the site of Old Jaffa (also called Yafo by the Israelis) in the heat and brilliant sun we sought out a restaurant in the old city. A young Israeli we had met the night before had told Eric about a restaurant in this old city that served Shakshuka, a middle eastern dish that is famous in Israel and the Middle East. We found the place and all three of us ordered a different version of the dish and were not disappointed—it’s delicious regardless of the ingredients (mine was Shawarma, Eric’s was spicy sausage and Kathy’s was chicken).
From Jaffa we were able to see the waves of the Mediterranean Sea rolling onto the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv and Eric just had to fulfill one of his goals—to swim in the Mediterranean at Tel Aviv. So we found our way to the beach so our son could fulfill that goal.
Tomorrow we plan to drive north up the coast to the ancient city of Caesarea, where the Apostle Paul was kept in prison awaiting his voyage to Rome to stand before the emperor. Then we will work our way northeast and arrive at Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. Somewhere in there we plan to visit an archaeological dig in process, since one of our friends who has been following our blog has made arrangements with people he knows who are in charge of the dig we plan to visit.
On Friday, May 20, Kathy and I made ourselves at home in the Hotel Amalia just long enough to be picked up and whisked away to the ancient city of Corinth where the Apostle Paul had an effective ministry. If you read the text in Acts 17 and 18 it relates Paul’s visits to both the cities we will be talking about here. Let’s forget the fact that we saw Corinth before we visited Athens and look at the order presented in Scripture. Paul came to Athens because things were getting too hot for him in Berea (Macedonia). He arrived in Athens ahead of the other members of his party and while he moved about the city one thing stood out loud and clear—these people were all avid idol worshipers. So he began to meet in the market place (the “agora” in Greek). This was the shopping mall of the ancient world. Almost every town or city had an agora where people gathered to shop, chat, talk politics and religion. Today they have the ruins of a large agora just next to the city’s main attraction: the Acropolis and its chief temple, the Parthenon, where the people worshiped the goddess Athena. When Paul was engaging the philosophers about the Christian Faith they were so curious about this “new thing” he was talking about that they wanted to hear it more in depth. So they brought him to a place called the Areopagus, or “Mars Hill” if you translate it from Greek to English. We stood on Mars Hill and had a commanding view of the Agora behind us and the whole Acropolis with its many temples just in front of us. Most interesting to the tourist today is the fact that Paul’s entire speech to the philosophers is inscribed on a bronze placque and fastened to the rocky wall of the Areopagus today. The Parthenon, which was built about the 6th Century B.C., has amazingly survived to the present day, although just now they are doing maintenance on its many columns. It can be seen from almost any place in this city of about 5 million people. In fact, this temple would have been handed down to us almost perfectly intact if it weren’t for the fact that the Turks occupied it in a war about two centuries ago and blew up the central section of it. We were told by our guide that so possessive were the citizens of Athens about their famed temple that when the Turks ran out of ammunition while occupying the Acropolis the Greek army offered to send them more ammunition if they would just leave the Parthenon intact (which they didn’t).
Back to Paul….. Paul and his party seemed to have made only a small dent on the idol worshipers in Athens and, with much regret, they moved on to their next target for the Gospel—Corinth. In order to get to Corinth today you must pass over a bridge which spans the two sections of Greece. In Paul’s day the bridge did not exist because the canal that separates upper Greece from lower Greece wasn’t built until the last century. This canal was actually begun in the first century to lessen the amount of time ships with cargoes had to sail around southern Greece to get to the port of Athens. Even the Roman emperor Nero attempted to do something about the canal but was unsuccessful. It was quite an engineering feat but an important one for the sake of commerce.
At any rate, when Paul and his party arrived at Corinth they entered a city that would severely test the power of the Gospel to change lives. Corinth had a reputation for immorality. The Acrocorinth, which was a high hill behind the city and used as a secure place to be used in defense of an enemy invasion, had a temple which employed “sacred” priestesses. During the day they occupied the temple but at night they came down into the town and walked the streets of Corinth as prostitutes. So Paul and his helpers had their work cut out for them as they sought to make godly disciples out of these people. But the Lord saw something no one else did and the Holy Spirit said to Paul: “Don’t stop talking. I have many people in this city.” That’s all Paul needed to hear as he set about attacking the devil on his own turf. So powerful was his message that the Jews and others dragged him before the authorities at a place called the “Bema,” where the law courts met. Gallio, the chief authority of this town, heard their case against Paul and dismissed it as being out of place in a public court of law, since it was about religious rules and names. The Bema still exists and is a major attraction for tourists today.
On Tuesday we were taken to the beautiful port town of Turkey called Kusadasi, There we boarded our cruise ship "Celestial Olympia" for a three day tour of the Aegean Islands. There are over 900 islands so one certainly has to be selective. Our visits included the islands of Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini.
Patmos is one I have always wanted to see, since it was the place the Apostle John was exiled and where he was confronted with the presence of Jesus who told him to write down what He was about to tell him, He then wrote, by dictation, to the seven churches of Asia Minor the last book of the Bible which we call Revelation. Everyone here knows about those facts and have known it for centuries--Muslims as well as Christians. And it is visited by people of both faiths. Since our large cruise ship was unable to dock in the harbor it cast anchor off shore and we were transferred to the island by ship tenders. It's a beautiful small island that attracts worshipers from all over the world, and movie stars and famous politicians because of the solitude and beauty which it possesses. Our bus drove us high up on the mountain to visit the monastery of St. John the Evangelist where we visited the Grotto of the Revelation.
Our next visit the next day took us the island of Rhodes. Here we found heavy fortified walls built by the Crusaders to protect the island from pirates and other unwelcome guests during those turbulent times. We then went to visit the temple of Athena on the majestic rocky Acropolis of Lindos, with the blue Aegean Sea beneath it and the sophisticated whitewashed artists' colony at its foot. In Acts 21:1 it mentions the Apostle Paul briefly visiting this island on his voyage to Rome. There is something else for which Rhodes is famous. It was here that one of the wonders of the ancient world was achieved--the Colossus of Rhodes. You may have heard from your ancient history class that this bronze statue, enormously big, stood at the entrance of the harbor of Rhodes, one foot on one side of the entrance and the other foot on the other side while the ships sailed into the harbor through his legs. Well, the guide we had said that myth was bogus. It was a gigantic statue all right, but it stood on the land. And when it was knocked over because of a big earthquake it was hacked apart for use in other projects.
Next morning, after our ship sailed while we slept, we were taken to the Island of Crete, to its capitol Heraklion. We visited the Minoan palace of Knossos, legendary home of the myth about the Minotaur (half bull and half man). The Apostle Paul also visited this island on his voyage to Rome (look it up!). After lunch on the ship we set sail for our final island invasion. By the way, the residents of each of these islands rely upon one particular happening for their economy--tourism. So while many of them are not at all thrilled by huge cruise ships invading their streets, if that went away, so would their income. Santorini gets its name from St. Irene. This is the place everyone wants to see because of all the travel brochures showing its towns perched on top of the mountainous islands. Actually, there are no mountains here but only craters. In about 1,400 B.C. a huge volcanic eruption occurred on this island that killed every one and every thing. The flourishing Minoan civilization was destroyed as a result. Years later when everything calmed down people began to build on the craters and thus we have entire towns built along the edges overlooking the caldera in the center. Since the island sunk and what remained were craters many think this was the origin of the tale of the lost town of Atlantis.
Our ship finally reached port on Friday where we disembarked and were picked up and transferred to our hotel, for a half day trip to visit Corinth. I'll tell you about that later.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.