Category Archives: Places in Israel

Caesarea — No Longer Visible Rooms and Passages

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Part of the Labyrinth under the Peristyle Courtyard. Note the stone arch as well as fresco on the walls. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

In a visit to Caesarea Maritima almost all groups will visit the “Promontory Palace” that was evidently constructed by Herod the Great and used by his successors and Roman governors.  A portion of the Palace was built on a promontory that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea and features a rectangular pool that was surrounded by a portico.

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View looking northwest at the “Peristyle Courtyard. The rectangular courtyard is outlined by the columns. In the center the green shrubs cover the underground labyrinth. The “Promontory Palace” is not visible but is off the left side of the image.

To the east of the Promontory Palace is a connected Peristyle Courtyard (photo above) in which a copy of the famous “Pilate Inscription” is currently displayed.  To the north of the courtyard are administrative offices and an “audience hall.”   The “audience hall” may indeed have been the place where the Apostle Paul appeared before the governors Felix and Festus and King Herod Agrippa II ca. A.D. 58 (Acts 23–26).

What few people realize is that under the “garden” of the Peristyle Courtyard there is a labyrinth of passage ways and arches.  Below are two additional images of this substructure.  One wonders what these substructures were used for.  Storage?  Servants quarters?  Housing of prisoners?

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First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.

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The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!

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The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

Absalom’s Home City—Near the Sea of Galilee

Absalom, David’s son who attempted to kill him (2 Samuel 15–18), was the “son of Maacah daughter of Talmai” who was the king of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3).  It was to Geshur that Absalom fled after killing his half-brother, Amnon, who had raped his sister Tamar. (2 Samuel 13).

The city of Geshur, capital of the kingdom, is well–identified with the site of et–Tell that is located 1 mi. [1.5 km.] north of the Sea of Galilee, slightly to the east of the present course of the Jordan River.  It is a large 22-acre [9 ha.] mound that has been excavated since 1987 by Rami Arav.  Almost all of the structures of et–Tell were constructed of black basalt (volcanic) stone.

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Fallow Deer Extinct, but Reintroduced to Israel

Shmuel Brown has a very interesting/informative post about the intrigues, via Iran, entitled “Introducing Fallow Deer” [to Israel].  This is an amazing story!

Photograph by Shmuel Browns

Photograph by Shmuel Browns

Shmuel Browns is an Israeli Tour Guide/Photographer and also has an online store, “Designed in Israel,” where Calendars, Cards, T-Shirts, and Tote Bags featuring his photography can be purchased.

My Favorite Site in Israel

People often ask me “what is your favorite place to visit [in Israel]?”  This is a tough question to answer, for I am “in love” with many “sites” in Israel.  But when forced to commit myself, my favorite site is a not-too-well-known place called Omrit — a site that is located on the western slopes of the Golan—just east of the Huleh Valley.

Plaza and approach to the Imperial Temple at Omrit (Caesarea Philippi?)

As I began to think about why this was the case, my blog entry became longer and longer.  So I decided to produce several articles on this topic over the next week.

Omrit Excavation Teams

One major reason for my “love” of Omrit is that here you can really clearly see the foundations and significant architectural pieces of  THREE temples that actually look like temples—including the one that Herod the Great built for the worship of the Roman Emperor Augustus and that was actually in existence in Jesus’s day!

Josephus says that Herod the Great built three such temples, one at Caesarea Maritima (but virtually nothing of the Herodian original is visible to today), at Sebastia (where significant remains of a second century AD rebuild are visible), but here at Omrit the foundations and architectural fragments of “Herod’s Imperial Cult Temple” still exist!

Earliest “Shrine” — that was later covered by two later temples!

Since 1999 J. Andrew Overman of Macalester College of St. Paul, Minnesota(USA) has been excavating the site.  He has discovered three successive religious structures—the earliest (a “shrine”) dating to the Early Roman Period.

Southwest corners of the:
First (slightly above and left of center) “Herodian Temple to the Emperor Augustus”
and the Temple from the time of Trajian (lower right)

Huge “composite” capital (combination of Corinthian and Ionic orders) and large base
Note the acanthus leaves

Overman believes that the first Temple was built by Herod the Great to honor his patron—the emperor Caesar Augustus (ruled 28 B.C. to A.D. 14).  Many believe that his temple was constructed in nearby “Panias” but Overman argues (I think correctly) that it was here at Omrit—”in the vicinity of Panias”—that it was constructed.  The second “Temple” was probably constructed during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajian (A.D. 98-117).  The finds here are so significant that the Israel Museum has a prominent display of them.

Upside down corner capital of the “composite” order

To view new images of Omrit Click Here.

Architectural Fragment

More on “why I love Omrit”  in coming days (hint, it has to do with places visited in Turkey!) — and directions on how to get there!

3 Christmases in Bethlehem

On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics will celebrate Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics will be celebrating in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 6 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 19 January
Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  Very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

Underground the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) Very Unique Photos

In his recent blog Leen Ritmeyer, THE expert on the history/archaeology of the Temple Mount, has shared some very very unique photos including an underground tunnel that leads from cistern #10 to a Byzantine building.

Temple Mount Cisterns

Note Cistern #10 in the lower portion of the diagram.

Also included is a rarely seen photo of the “Cradle of Jesus” that is/was located at the southeastern corner of the Temple Mound (evidently in the so-called “Solomon’s Stables”).

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The “Cradle of Jesus” in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount (in the so-called “Solomon’s Stables” — Please see the link to Ritmeyer’s blog for the complete article

For the complete article Click Here (a 5 minute read with 5 wonderful photos and an informative diagram).

PS — The Temple Mount may not have been devoid of structures as previously thought!!  See his article.