Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
Since we couldn’t tour through Samaria, we continued to head west for a stop at Megiddo National Park, a World Heritage site and the location of Har Megiddo. “Har” means “mount” in Hebrew, and when you put it together with the name of the city you end up with the Greek-ified word “Armageddon.” Yes, this city on a mount stands guard over the western edge of the Plain of Jezreel, the place where Scripture claims “the last battle” of good and evil will be fought.
Since earliest civilization Megiddo was an important city-state because, like Capernaum, it sat atop the Via Maris trade route from Egypt to Syria. (The modern-day highway follows the ancient roadbed.) Though its 26 levels of occupation have been extensively excavated, the most relevant remains for visiting pilgrims are the fortifications and city gate from the time of King Solomon (1 Kings 9:15), or possibly of the Kings of Israel, Ahab or Jeroboam II. (Archeologists are not in agreement on the age.) A later King of Judah, Josiah, was killed in battle on the plains of Megiddo.
One of the most fascinating remains is the water system built by King Ahab in the 9th century BC. Water was a valuable resource and especially vulnerable to enemy attack. By constructing a shaft and covered tunnel to the water supply, the residents of Megiddo could obtain water without going outside the fortifications. The same kind of system was fashioned much later in Jerusalem by King Hezekiah, and a similar tunnel features prominently in one of the chapters of James Michener’s book The Source. Scripture tells us that the Jerusalem diggers started at opposite ends and somehow managed to meet close to the middle. Those in Megiddo were only off by one foot!
Backpacks are relatively easy. Imagine doing this with a water jar atop your head!
After our relaxing lunch (falafel sandwiches again!) and tour we continued west to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the once glorious city of Caesarea Maritima. Compared to Megiddo, Caesarea was a relative newcomer, and mostly insignificant until Herod the Great developed it into one of the wonders of the Greco-Roman world. Our pilgrim group had only a short visit in 2009, and much has changed since then. The welcome area has been improved, including a picture-worthy statue of a Roman sentry and a state-of-the-art movie theater to introduce and explain the archeological remains.
There are a lot of archeological fragments (mostly replicas) displayed in various areas of the park. In 1961 the “Pilate Inscription” was discovered, the ONLY known historical occurrence of the name “Pontius Pilate.” It’s a building dedication from him to the Emperor Tiberius. Up until this time, many liberal scholars doubted that Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified, even existed except as a figment of the gospel writers’ imaginations. This inscription confirms the accuracy and truth of the New Testament, and it was enough to solidify my own shaky faith when I first visited in 1994.
A large amphitheater is located on the south side of the city.
And the ruins of Herod’s Palace are slightly north, jutting out into the sea. St. Paul was probably held prisoner in or near this building before he was sent on to Rome for trial.
Caesarea Maritima and its environs were engineering marvels. The harbor was the largest artificial structure built on the open seas up to that date. (Its concrete was designed so that it “cured” while underwater.) And the city’s sewage system was timed to “flush” with the tides. If Herod the Great was good for nothing else, he certainly knew how to build.
After visiting Caesarea, our bus climbed through the hills to the outskirts of Jerusalem. We stopped along the hillside of Mount Scopus for a lovely first view of the city with its lights twinkling on in the dusk.
After check in at the Grand Court Hotel, we enjoyed another fine buffet meal with an almost unending dessert and chocolate bar. Israeli hospitality at its best!
Click here for more pictures of Megiddo, Caesarea Maritima and our hotel in Jerusalem.