This morning we rode a couple of hours to Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. It was the ruin of a City built by Herod the Great as a harbor to complete with Alexandria and as a respectable Roman City in Palestine. It had a classic theater and a large hippodrome for chariot races and gladiator fights. Caesarea was Pilate’s capital from which he ruled most of the time making it down to Jerusalem only for major festivals when there was a risk of disorder. Paul was imprisoned and tried here, before disembarking for Rome. The main thing I left with from Caesarea is what an open-minded guy Herod the Great was –building the Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem and the Temple to Caesar in Caesarea. A consummate politician, that Herod.
From there we went to Mt. Carmel. I remain surprised at the beauty of this green agricultural country. Even seminary had not disabused me of the notion that this country was semi-arid at its wettest. Not remotely true. From the peak of Carmel, the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding country appears verdant and productive. We heard the story of Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal. I would have been interested to hear more about how a band of deserters from the Crusades, disillusioned with European holy militarism, came here to form the Carmelite order.
Then it was on to Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation. Nazareth is now a small city, about half Muslim and half Christian. In Jesus’s day, it was an insignificant village of about 400. The Church of the Annunciation is famous for Madonnas from many different nations. Some are just soul stirring. The American one, however, looks like a refugee from a sci-fi movie. She is metallic, stern, and has no Baby Jesus. A little scary. I think we could do better. The Church of the Annunciation is an elegant Franciscan shrine, but does not have the feel of holiness or antiquity we experienced in the Church of the Nativity. The main value for me was just being in Nazareth.
Our leader gave a reflection on the childhood of Jesus that sounded pretty Beaver Cleaver. From reading Andrew Harvey’ Son of Man and Stephen Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus (largely a book on the Gospel of Thomas), I think Ann Rice had it closer to right in her novel Christ the Lord. His irregular birth would have been a problem. His sympathy for the outcast and his eagerness to forgive and reconcile may have their roots in that experience. GThom Saying 105: “He who knows the Father and Mother will be called the son of a harlot.” It is likely not everyone in Nazareth believed in the Virgin Birth. And of course when Jesus returned as the hometown boy made good, the people of Nazareth didn’t buy it.
From there we went to Cana where, in John’s Gospel, Jesus turned water into wine.
It is enormously helpful to see this country, but I had hoped for an academically richer program. This is more touristy than I had expected. Apparently some St. George’s classes are more substantive. So I’m reading extra hard to make up for what is lacking in the presentations. And I am learning a lot from the reading.