Monday, 12 June 2017

Day 1 - Caesarea, Megiddo, Nazareth

Sleep was a fleeting activity.

Monday dawned with another warm perfect day. Alarm went off at 6.30am, followed 15 sec later by a wake-up call from the automated switchboard.  Rush shower, breakfast, rush, cases on bus, rush and off by 8am.

We first visited Caesarea Maritima – a once great city and port destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again many times. The introductory video is well shot and informative, and probably the best part. Some bits of biblical history happened there and there is a decent enough amphitheatre and a large hippodrome plus a lot of piles of stones, but as an archaeological site for tourists to visit it isn’t spectacular compared to much of the stuff scattered across Greece and Turkey. In the distance can be seen chimneys and towers that are part of Israel's primary industry, petrochemicals, and the juxtaposition between those and the marble columns laying on the ground suggests some kind of relationship, even though that never was.

A little further on we pause to look at the aqueduct that brought fresh water to the old city, though I wonder how much is left of the Roman-era stones and how much has been replaced over the years considering how good condition it seems to be in.

Next stop was Megiddo for lunch and a quick tour of another pile of stones on a hilltop. Highlight this time is a tunnel cut through solid rock to the city water supply that lay outside the city walls. The city also sits above the plain of Jezreel, which just seems a bit nothingy really. A once fertile area now farmed and irrigated intensively that still seemed scrubby and scruffy. Perhaps if we had been on foot and it took a couple of hours to walk across it might have seemed more important, or maybe I’m suffering Naaman syndrome and wondering why this place is special compared with, say, the Cherwell valley?

Then on to Nazareth.

There is an English hospital in the city that owns land under which was found evidence of a roman-era settlement, and over years they have reconstructed a roman era ‘village’ with structures and actors to show what life was like. The guides taking us through were warm and engaging, well practiced and very good, and they were able to illustrate some aspects of how an ordinary person in 1st century Israel may have lived.

One thing kept coming up, that Jesus was a builder’s son – not a carpenter. The Greek word has been mistranslated, and now the idea of carpenter has been ‘set in stone’ in popular culture to the point where bible translations can’t or won’t say different. I think I’d heard this previously, but it was really brought home.

We visited a small crusader church built on the site of a synagogue and had a time of bible readings, prayer and singing. The church was very simple, ‘clean’ and uncluttered, with a good atmosphere.

And then we come to the church of the annunciation, a vast edifice dating from the 1950’s and 60’s, done fairly simply in some ways, but still with substantial elements of religious control. It looked spectacular inside and imposing outside, built over a small cave dwelling that tradition considers to have been the home of Mary where she saw the Angel announcing her pregnancy with Jesus.

And finally, the basilica of the annunciation, the Greek/Eastern Orthodox building constructed over the local spring where Mary was supposed to be when she saw the angel. When we got there they were starting a service, so in we went to look, photograph and get a good dosing with incense. There’s something odd about the EO church that makes me feel it’s more – authentic is the word that comes – than the Roman church, but I can’t say why. It’s not as if they don’t do some bizarre, arguably even heretical stuff.

One observation I made is that Israel has a real traffic problem. At all times of the day there are cars jammed, delays, hold ups and more crawling vehicles. They have a real issue for a ‘modern’ nation, and need to fix it badly.

And finally to our next hotel, at Tiberias on the shores of the sea of Galilee. The hotel is nice, they have a decent pool (that we used as soon as we could) and the rooms were good. Dinner was OK in a Turkish kind of way, and we’re now sat around chatting while I’m typing this up.

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