Truth or Lies: Are We Blinded by What We Think We Already Know? Zippori and Nazareth

First century Zippori

Can you picture it,
Icy fingers leading frigid white winds as they blast down a blinding snowstorm like a locomotive full steam ahead…
In the Holy Lands?
Me either.

In a kooky historical tale, Josephus tells of construction fanatic Herod the Great (73-4 BC), conquering the ancient city of Zippori or Sepphoris, in a snowstorm.
Hmmm, True or False?
Though Flavius Josephus writings have been upheld time and again by archeological findings, a visit to this balmy climate leaves one to wonder about the accuracy of that particular fact…

Acres of ruin stretched before me. Did Jesus calloused feet walk these rutted streets? There is no mention of this city in the bible, but it lay only three and a half miles down the hill from his home of Nazareth, population 150.

Called “the ornament of all Galilee” by Josephus, Zippori, bustled with lavish construction. Some scholars think that Joseph and Jesus in all probability, took the one hour walk and plied their trade in the greatest restoration venture of that time. Probably True?

And tradition says it was the home Jesus grandparents, where his mother Mary was born.
Not so sure about that…

A city of great beauty and importance, it became the administrative capital of first century Galilee and later the Sanhedrin met there. It was here that the first written Mishnah was completed. (The first written codification of Jewish oral law.)

We saw oodles of fabulous mosaics. A feast for my eyes, the thousands of hours someone spent bent on the floor, piecing tiny colored tiles together into indicate works of art had my brain spinning. I decided that had I lived 2000 years ago, I would have been a mosaic designer. (Though I wonder if a woman would have been allowed)?

The most famous one is the Byzantine design depicting the lovely face of a genteel woman dubbed the “Mona Lisa of Galilee” whose eyes follow you as you walk by.

The Cardo which is a very Roman design, designating the main north south road, had been excavated to expose the limestone street. I loved this because I could almost hear the rattle of the traffic as I saw long ruts cut deep from the years of carts and chariots driven through the town.

A bustling city on the hillside, we stopped next in Nazareth for our first of many lunches of falafel and hummus. I was already a fan of hummus, but falafel was a new and delicious discovery. It consisted of homemade pita bread sliced in half and stuffed to the brim with salad, dressing and ground chickpeas resembling hushpuppies inside. Yumminess!

We saw no ruins here, but trekked up the winding street to the Church of the Annunciation which was built over an ancient site. I tried to keep my eyes ahead and ignore the siren’s call of the vendors as we passed tiny shops exploding with trinkets and racks of scarves waving colorful in the breeze.

Tradition places Mary’s house in this spot. Curving down into the bowels of the opulent church, surrounded by staring stained glass eyes, we stood before a cave-home exposed in the wall.

For some reason I had Nazareth pictured in my mind as a flat little dusty town of cramped square houses with families packed tight within.
So False!
The reality?— many of the houses were built in the caves which dotted the rolling hillside. The guide made a valid point. Why labor over a house of mud and stone when you had a naturally formed move-in-ready home, that was cool in the summers and warm in the winters?

But here’s the sad tale of Israel as a whole. Nazareth is the only city that takes off on Sundays. The rest of the land follows the Sabbath with Sunday being just another work day for them. According to our tour guide thirty percent of this city are Christian as compared to only two percent in Jerusalem, “The Holy City”.

The irony of modern Nazareth being the last Christian stronghold in all Israel is irrefutable.

Modern day Nazareth

False beliefs gained ground slowly as Jesus sat in their midst and taught them. They oohed and awed fawning over who they saw as the mere mortal “Joseph’s son,” only to be a breath away from murdering him when they didn’t like what he said.
“…They were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. Isn’t this Joseph’s son?…“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
After declaring he was not sent to them, (he knew they would reject him), they were furious and “drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which to town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” Luke 4:22-30

Sometimes we are so blinded by the familiar, by what we think we know as truth, that we miss the beautiful message from heaven above.,

What Bubbles Beneath Your Surface? A Visit to Caesarea Maritime

Several almost perfect statues were found but all were beheaded by an unknown conqueror

Excitement hung in the air like a birthday balloon at a three-year-old’s party. As I scurried from the packed tour bus, my feet first touched Israel’s soil at the ruins of Caesarea Maritime.

My first lesson of the day: There are two Caesareas. Caesarea Maritime rests on the coast north of our landing site, Tel Aviv. Caesarea Phillipi resides many miles inland. Who knew?? Of course The Preacher smiled and said he did…

Begun in 22 BC, by brilliant architectural visionary Herod the Great, the centerpiece was an immense horseshoe harbor made of cement and rock that took 12 years to construct. Josephus says Herod “grappled with the difficulties so successfully, that the solidity of his masonry defied the sea, while its beauty was such as if no obstacle had existed.” The shipping mecca rivaled Cleopatra’s harbor in Alexandria. How cool is that??

Herod’s harbor remnant

I strolled down to a peninsula covered in sand and rocks and noticed tile remnants scattered among the ruins of his beach palace. Thousands of half-inch hand cut stone tiles were placed in painstaking order to create beautiful “tile rugs” now splayed vulnerable to the elements. Placed strategically on this rocky outcropping jutting into the turquoise sea, his home would have boasted spectacular ocean views.

Herod’s beach palace

Herod’s desire for grand edifices showed itself in the building of “modern” amenities like an amphitheater seating 3500 and a hippodrome that held 20,000 spectators. Used for gladiatorial combat, horse races, games and chariot races—think Ben Hur, some historians say over a hundred years later, Christians were slaughtered in this very hippodrome.

Herod’s amphitheater

The Hippodrome

The roll call of importants in Caesarea reads impressive. I mean really, who doesn’t want ocean front property?

Pointus Pilate resided here.
Peter travelled to Caesarea to meet with Roman centurion Cornelius who became the first Gentile convert.
Paul preached bold to Felix and Druscilla, and stood before Festus, Herod Agrippa and Bernice.

And Paul’s footprint was everywhere.
Crazy to think me, a nobody for Oklahoma just walked where Paul did and stood in awe before the crumbling walls that imprisoned him before he was shipped to Rome for his final stand. Acts 24-25

Paul was imprisoned somewhere along these ancient walls

I stared and contemplated mournful. Did they give him a threadbare blanket as he curled on the unforgiving stone floor of the prison for two years? Did he shiver shaky as his flesh touched the hard coldness underneath his back? Was hunger a constant companion?

Acts 25:13-14 After certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to salute Festus. And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul’s cause to the king saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix. 23-When Agrippa came, and Bernice, with great pomp, and entered into the place of hearing…at Festus’ command Paul was brought forth. 26-Then said Agrippa to Festus, this man might have been released had he not appealed to Caesar.

But in the end, tragedy prevailed among the splendor. The spectacular amphitheater was the scene of Herod Agrippa’s smiting according to Josephus. Herod wore a garment of silver that shone in the sun in such an astonishing and resplendent way that it prompted a response that turned deadly.

Acts 12:21 tells of the horrific event. The people shouted out that he was a god, not a man and he was struck down by an angel of the Lord and eaten with worms because he did to give praise to God.

Josephus says he suffered for five days and died.
What bubbles beneath your surface?
All the wealth and comfort of our world cannot save us from what dwells deep in our soul.
Ask God for a pure heart poured out for him.