For most of my early years, knowledge of the history of the land known as Israel as well as the beginnings of Judaism and Christianity was gleaned from the many epic and grandiose theatrical movies of the time: Ben Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, Exodus, Solomon and Sheba, The Bible, The Robe, and more.
Honestly, the characters in these films as well as those I read about them later on in the Bible, Old and New Testaments seemed more mystical than flesh and blood. That is, until my journey to Israel. Let’s start with Herod, the King of Judea from 37 to 4 BCE.
In theatrical portrayals King Herod was the man, who after the Magi told him of the birth of a Messiah who was the true King of the Jews, as opposed to Herod who had been appointed by the Romans, ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem in a fit of paranoia:
Matthew 2:16-18 New King James Version:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men
Truth be told, most scholars believe that this never really happened. However, King Herod did murder innocents in a way. Jealous of his wife’s (Miriamne) family which had a much higher place in society than his own, he murdered her. He also murdered her brother, his own mother and two of his sons by Miriamne. His cruelties ranged afar. I will talk about this further in a later post.
Herod also was a talented master builder, and even today one can marvel at the ingenuity of his many structures found in what is now Israel – cities, palaces, fortresses, hippodromes and theaters. Not only did he use new building methods, he also created spectacular gardens and intricate waterworks. His palaces were elaborately decorated with mosaic floors and multi-colored frescoes.
Our first stop was a visit to one of these marvels – the city of Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea:
Named in honor of Caesar Augustus, Caesarea was built on the Mediterranean coast and eventually became the Roman capital of the Judaea Province. The city includes organized streets, an underground sewage system, an aqueduct, a Roman temple, and an amphitheater, and its harbor is most impressive. Here is a model of its original layout:
The ruins still provide beautiful images: