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Holman Bible Dictionary


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(cawehss uh ree' uh) Located on the Mediterranean Sea 23 miles south of Mt. Carmel is the city of Caesarea, known also as Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima), Caesarea Sebaste, Caesarea of Palestine, and Caesarea of Judea.

Because of the lack of natural harbor between Sidon and Egypt, a Sidonian king, Abdashtart established an anchorage in the 4th century B.C. It became known as Strato's Tower, using the king's Greek name. A fortified town developed on this site. The first literary record is from the archive of the Egyptian Zenon who put in there for supplies in 259 B.C. The Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus brought it under Jewish control in 96 B.C., but Pompey returned it to Gentile rule in 63 B.C. The Jewish community apparently continued to thrive. Mark Anthony gave it to Cleopatra, but Octavian or Augustus defeated Antony at Actuim and placed Caesarea under Herod in 30 B.C.

Herod determined to build a fine port facility and support it by a new city. The harbor, which he named Sebastos (Latin, Augustus), was a magnificently engineered project. The southern breakwater was built of huge mortared stones placed in a semicircle about 2000 feet long, and the northern one is of similar construction almost 900 feet long. Great statues of Augustus and Roma were erected at the entrance. An inner harbor appears to have been dug into the land where mooring berths and vaulted warehouses were constructed. Josephus described the construction of the harbor and accompanying city in grandiose detail. The city was Hellenistic in design and style and named Caesarea for Caesar. In addition to the many buildings a platform was raised near the harbor upon which a temple was built for Caesar with a Colossus of Caesar.

After Archelaus was removed in 6 A.D., Caesarea became the capital of the province of Judea and served as the official home of the procurators. Hostilities between the Jewish and Gentile population apparently had been a way of life in this city. One of the public outbreaks resulted in the desecration of the synagogue Knestha d'Meredtha in 66 A.D. which precipitated the Jewish-Roman War. Vespasian gave it the status of Colony. The city had a long history of both Jewish and Christian presence and some scholastic conflict between the two. A Rabbinic school was founded by Bar Qappara in the third century, and one student (Yohanvan bar Nappaha) of that school founded the academy of Tiberias. It was already the seat of a bishop when the great Christian scholar Origen established residence there in 231. His successor, Pamphilius, built on that reputation and founded a library that was second only to Alexandria. Eusebius, the first church historian, became bishop in 314. The city slowly decreased in importance and moved from Byzantine to Arab control in 640. The port became unusable, but the city still thrived because of agriculture. The coming of the Crusaders in 1101 began a series of struggles that ended in 1265 when the Mameluke Beibars totally destroyed the city. Muslim refugees from Bosnia settled there from 1878 until 1948.

The city appears in the book of Acts as a place of witness, travel, and the seat of government. Philip, having witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch, is mentioned as arriving at Caesarea after a preaching mission. Peter led a centurion, Cornelius, who was stationed there to become a Christian (Acts 10:1 ). Paul had several reported contacts with the city as a port (Acts 9:30; Acts 18:22; and perhaps Acts 21:8 ) and a place of imprisonment and trial (Acts 23:23 , Acts 25:1-7 ). Herod Agrippa I had a residence there and died there (Acts 12:19-23 ).

The first formal archaeology of the site was a surface survey done by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1873, directed by Conder and Kitchener. Modern farming and highway building produced numerous inscriptions and other artifacts; but, except for Ory's work on the synagogue (1945) and Yeivin's project in the Byzantine area, little archaeology took place until 1959. Since that time, nearly constant work has been carried out in the vicinity both on land and sea. This twelfth and thirteenth century Crusader city is very impressive. The theater excavation, 1959-1964, demonstrated a series of remodelings and constant use until a sixth century Byzantine fort was built over the site. After excavation, the theater was reconstructed and is used regularly by various performance groups. The so-called “Pilate stone” was found in secondary usage as a step in the theater. This very important discovery is the one artifact that places Pontius Pilate in Palestine and confirms the historical reports. The excavated synagogue, near the location of Strato's Tower, may be the “Synagogue of Revolt.” The final installation to be mentioned is the aqueduct system made up of a high level aqueduct, dating from Herodian times, bringing water from springs on Mt. Carmel for human consumption, and a low level aqueduct directing water from a dam on the Zerga River perhaps for irrigation and other lesser purposes. Recent discoveries of note include vaulted warehouses, an underwater shipwreck, and a Mithraeum.

George W. Knight

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Caesarea'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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