Acts 10:1-48; Acts 23:23-34; Acts 25:5-12
How weak my Bible geography!
Today, I want to share what I’ve learned about Caesarea in the last year. Much of it came from researching sites I was to visit on my Israel pilgrimage, some from the amazing teaching by Dr. Jack Beck on that journey, and others from personally walking Caesarea Maritima.
I’ll start by admitting that I had never heard of Caesarea Maritima prior to starting my pre-trip research. Sure, I’d read the Bible stories which reference Caesarea, but I assumed Caesarea was shorthand for Caesarea Philippi. Wrong!! Caesarea Philippi is in the northern mountains of Israel. Most of the Caesarea references in the Bible relate to Caesarea Maritima which lies on Israel’s northwestern Mediterranean coast. Topographically, Caesarea Maritima and Caesarea Philippi could not be any more different.
So, how did Caesarea Maritima come to be? Well most biblical locations which bear names of Roman emperors are locations which previously existed which someone renamed seeking to curry favor with the reigning emperor. Not so, Caesarea Maritima. Caesarea Maritima is the brainchild of Herod the Great, who might well be the greatest visionary builder of all time. A despicable person – vicious and self-absorbed, but an amazing visionary when it came to construction. Caesarea Maritima is just one jewel in his vast portfolio of amazing construction projects.
As you read the Bible looking for seafaring merchant marine stories you find none in the annals of the Israelites. The Israelites were not skilled at naval activity. Actually they had no interest in learning it. But along comes Herod the Great and he wants a seaport of his own.
Herod selected the site. Then, he settled on the general design – his desire was for a European motif (he has a major case of Roman envy). He designs “Rome away from Rome,” where his friends and guests can experience a sense of Rome without having to travel there.
But a few complications quickly arise. In order for the large sailing vessels of the day to dock, a deep port was required and this site hasn’t one. This doesn’t deter Herod. He commissions his engineers to develop dredging technology which didn’t exist, and they did. He demanded that his palace extend out over the water, way out over the water. He commissions his engineers to develop technology which didn’t exist to fulfill his desire. They did. His list of expectations for his engineers was substantial.
“So, McBurnett!! Why do I care about this manmade Roman seaport in Israel? What relevance does it have for my biblical comprehension?”
I’ll give you two reasons.
Acts reports Peter was praying on the roof of a house in Joppa when he has the vision of the sheet descending from heaven with every manner of creature on it. As Peter has this vision, Cornelius in Caesarea has a vision to send for him. Peter travels from Joppa to Caesarea Maritima to the (Gentile) house of Cornelius where Cornelius and his entire family become Christians.
Dr. Beck invites us to take a closer look. Peter traveled from Joppa (a decidedly Jewish city) to Caesarea Maritima (a very, very Gentile city). Don’t miss the significance of the experience occurring in very Gentile Caesarea Maritima. Acts 10:34, he says, is the turning point for the nascent church – “Peter opened his mouth and said, ‘Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favoritism.’ ” Jack deems this the “Gentile Pentecost.” Acts 2 relates the story of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and others who were there at the time, but that was a Jewish audience. It was not until Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and his family that the Holy Spirit descended on Gentiles. Thus, the Gentile Pentecost.
Fast forward to Paul’s protracted legal affair. In Acts 21, Paul is arrested for stirring up the people in Jerusalem and imprisoned there. In Acts 23, the Roman officials pack him off to Caesarea (Maritima) to appear before Felix the Governor. There he sits imprisoned in Caesarea Maritima being heard by both Felix and Felix’ successor Festus, who ultimately sends him on his way to Rome.
So, I repeat the question, “Why do I care about this manmade Roman seaport built in Israel?” Answer: Two of the most significant events of the early church occur here – Gentile Pentecost and Paul’s last, and extended, stop before departing for Rome.
In God’s employ,