When you’re in Israel, you never forget you’re in a Jewish state. All you have to do is look at the Star of David on the country’s flag. Not the American idea of the separation of church and state, but after all, modern-day Israel was founded in 1948 as the Jewish homeland.
The prevalence of mezuzahs on the doorposts of different Israeli hotels was another sign that I was in a Jewish country. The mezuzah symbolizes the parchment on which the verses of the Torah are inscribed as well as the container which holds the parchment. The mezuzah is a reminder of the believer’s covenant with God and a declaration that the person who dwells in this residence lives a Jewish life.
Imagine a religious symbol like this beside a door in an American hotel.
But on to the second day’s excursions of this trip I took to Israel and Jordan. Other than Italy, Israel has more excavated Roman ruins than anywhere in the world. This fact is not surprising since the Romans ruled the area for 400 years. The ancient city of Caesarea Maritima is one such example of extensive Roman ruins.
Built by Herod the Great two decades before the birth of Christ, Caesarea was in its time a major port city of the ancient world and a luxurious city for the ruling Roman elite. But like many ancient cities, it was eventually invaded. The city was conquered by the Muslims in 640, and then by the Crusaders in 1101.
The ancient city of Caesarea is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. The apostle Paul often traveled through the city. Once when his life was threatened in Jerusalem, he escaped through Caesarea to Tarsus, probably aboard a Caesarean ship. Later, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for years, sharing the gospel while facing several trials.
Also, Cornelius the centurion lived in Caesarea. Peter visited Cornelius, converting him, a significant event at a time when salvation hadn’t been available to Gentiles.
What’s a Roman ruin without a theater? Of course Caesarea has one.
The city of Haifa was the next stop of the day. Here the Baha’i estate was the major attraction. Never heard of the Baha’i religion? Me either. Established in the 19th century in Iran, the Baha’i faith teaches the worth of all religions and calls for the unity of all people. There are anywhere from five to eight million believers worldwide.
The beautiful grounds surrounding the shrine of Bab, founder of the faith, were the drawing card. We weren’t allowed to get close to the shrine itself; a guard said it was closed due to Covid.
Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s a seaport city, built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and stretching to the Mediterranean. Can you find the Bab shrine and the Baha’i grounds in this arial view of the city?
For lunch this day, I ate shawarma. This famous Israeli dish is made of thinly sliced grilled chicken rolled into a pita with chopped vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and garnished with hummus and tahini. Sounds delicious, I know, and it was the first three times I ate it. By the end of my time in Israel, though, I was shawarma’ed out. This entree showed up everywhere! Every menu, every buffet! One day I had no other option but to eat it twice, at lunch and then again at dinner.
What’s ironic is that, despite the frequent appearance of shawarma, I kept forgetting to take a picture of it. Writing this blog, I texted my travel buddies to ask if anyone else had a photo. (They probably all groaned reading the word “shawarma.”) Rick Adams sent me his photo of a half-eaten shawarma. Thanks, Rick…I guess.
The final tour of the day was to visit the underground Crusader City in Acre, built during the 12th century. It’s obviously above ground now, but like so many ancient ruins, was buried for centuries and then excavated.
Lots of halls, passages, tunnels, and chambers within. This room was a latrine.
This second full day of the tour was heavy on Roman ruins. On to more biblical sites on the third day, the subject of my next post.