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An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land for Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims

An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land for Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims

by Lamontte M. Luker

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The Holy Land has immense significance around the world. As the geographic heart and soul of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, millions visit the region each year. But since the fifth century BC, enthusiastic and curious people have needed a guide as they travel to see the sites for themselves. This book not only gives the historical, archaeological descriptions


The Holy Land has immense significance around the world. As the geographic heart and soul of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, millions visit the region each year. But since the fifth century BC, enthusiastic and curious people have needed a guide as they travel to see the sites for themselves. This book not only gives the historical, archaeological descriptions wedded to the biblical text, but it is an appropriate resource for spiritual formation and cross-cultural dialog.

Packed with the latest information, this book locates and introduces the reader to popular and less-familiar sites such as Bethlehem, Shepherds’ Field, Church of the Nativity, Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, the Herodium, Mount of Olives, Old City of Jerusalem, Wadi Kelt, Mt. Sinai, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Church of St. Mary of the Latins, Temple Mount, El-Aksa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, Hezekiah's Tunnel, the traditional place of the Last Supper, Siloam Pool, the traditional tomb of King David, the house of Caiphas the High Priest, Shrine of the Book, Herod's Antonio Fortress, Golgotha, Bethany, Tomb of Lazarus, Bethphage, Pater Noster Church, Gethsemane, and many others. Each entry explains the history and topography of the site as well as its function and significance as it is linked to the relevant biblical passages.

The book shares Scriptural references, along with anecdotes to better help visitors understand the significance behind the location. Its compact size allows visitors to carry it easily in a backpack or pocket for easier access. This book will not only inform you but help you better understand your faith. Journey to the Holy Land with this indispensable archaeological resource that links visitors and armchair travelers alike to the biblical story.

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An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land For Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims

By Lamontte M. Luker

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-7513-0


Northern Coast, Sharon Plain

* * *

Caesarea (National Park) Also known as: Caesarea Maritime (to distinguish from Caesarea Philippi)

Located on the Mediterranean coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Caesarea (previously Strato's Tower) was a gift to Herod the Great (37–4 BCE) from his patron Augustus Caesar (hence its name) in 30 BCE. The new city was constructed by Herod in only twelve years (22–10 BCE).

Enter at the ticket gate nearest the theater (this southern entrance to the park is the road from the Caesarea Interchange) and ask when the next movie in English is showing. Then proceed straight ahead into the site (restrooms are on the right) to the large white building housing a commendable media presentation on the history of Caesarea. This serves as an excellent introduction to the site. Then backtrack to Herod's theater (directly across from the restrooms).

The theater seated four thousand people, and the Roman rule of thumb was that there should be a theater seat for each ten residents of the city, suggesting that Herod's Caesarea had a population of about forty thousand people. As is obvious, except for the first row, most of the seats have been restored, and the current theater is used for concerts and productions throughout the warmer months. Similarly, only a few of the original marble pavements are extant in the orchestra floor. The stage is wood, as it would have been in Herod's time, with alternating square and circular niches for decorative statuary. Behind the stage was an elaborate backdrop of granite pillars (imported from Egypt or Asia Minor, as granite is not indigenous to Israel) to aid in sound projection, and many of these can be seen in the archaeological park beyond the theater toward the sea. Beneath the stage are the rooms for the performers, which can be visited via the staircases. The acoustics are perfect, and this is a good place to seat your group while someone volunteers to sing from the stage.

There was no Judaism at the time of Jesus. There were various Jewish sects, each claiming to be the true heir to Israel's history and scriptures: Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Hellenists, baptizers; and later the Notsrim (or Nazarenes; Matthew 2:23), Jews who believed that a certain itinerant rabbi from Nazareth was executed by the Romans but raised by God from the dead and is the Messiah who is ushering in the fulfillment of God's kingdom. All these groups were exclusively Jewish.

Enter Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10). Cornelius was a "God-fearer," one of a fairly large number of Gentiles in the first century who had become disenchanted with the Greco-Roman myths. These God-fearers were intrigued by the monotheism of the Jews and attended synagogue, but they did not convert for obvious social, dietary, and physical reasons. This Cornelius wanted to join the Notsrim, which presented the Jesus movement with a dilemma: Cornelius was not Jewish. Had not Jesus himself said, "Don't go among the Gentiles.... Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6)?

So the Notsrim sought the advice of Peter, who was staying farther south on the coast at Jaffa. Curiously, Peter had just received a vision of a tablecloth full of nonkosher food with the instruction to eat, by which Peter began to become aware that God was doing something new with this Jesus movement. So he traveled to Caesarea and became convinced that this "something new" was nothing less than the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah: that God would make of them a nation, give them a land, and that through them the Gentiles would be blessed by coming to know the world's only true God (Genesis 12:1-3). The Jesus movement provided Cornelius and the minions of other God-fearers around the Mediterranean with a way to embrace monotheism without becoming Jewish. And Christianity, as a religion of Jews and Gentiles who know and worship the God of Abraham and Sarah, became a reality starting right there in Caesarea.

Exit the theater behind the stage and follow the path through the archaeological garden and the breach in the wall of an Umayyad fortress, turning left to Herod's palace (praetorium) which became the palace of the Roman procurator (prefect) in 6 CE. You will find yourself in the upper courtyard of the two-tiered palace. In the center is a replica of the limestone slab that is the only object from the first century mentioning Pontius Pilate (26–36 CE). It reads "[building in honor of] Tiberius ... [Pon]tius Pilate ... [Praef]ect of Judea." Archaeologists discovered this dedication in the theater, but it must have adorned a temple in Caesarea that Pilate built to honor Tiberius Caesar.

Walk to the western edge of the courtyard and look down to the sea below to view the remains of the lower tier of the palace: a rectangular swimming pool was surrounded by two-story living quarters. The mosaic floors of the triclinium (dining room) and an adjacent room are visible between the pool and where you are standing.

Continue walking around the courtyard of the upper palace to the northern side and you will come to a clearly marked audience hall, which is likely where Paul argued his defense before Roman procurators Felix and Festus and Jewish king Agrippa II during his imprisonment here at the praetorium for more than two years (59–62 CE; Acts 23:33–25:27). Had Paul not appealed to Caesar, it appears he would have been set free, but instead he sailed for Rome, where he lived under house arrest, preaching the gospel, from 62 to 64 (Acts 28:30–31). According to Christian tradition, he was martyred sometime after the fire of Rome (64 CE) during Nero's persecution of Christians.

Exit the palace courtyard at the eastern end, where you originally entered, and look to the left to see Herod's large oval amphitheater. You will find a path through the excavations to take you down to its floor. Its dimensions are roughly 950 x 165 feet, and there were twelve rows of seats for about ten thousand spectators. It was used for races (see the starting gates at the north end near the reconstructed chariot) and athletic events. Herod held celebratory games here in 11 BCE to inaugurate his new city. This unusually long and narrow structure was usurped by a hippodrome built in the second century CE, and by a smaller amphitheater constructed in the far northeast portion of the city during the third century.

If time is short, proceed directly to the Crusader city. If time allows, wander to the east to view the Byzantine bathhouse constructed after the amphitheater had ceased to function. Then continue north to what was probably the Herodian cardo (the essential north-south road in a Roman town) but now appears in its Byzantine version, boasting of an archive building with quotations from Paul to encourage the payment of taxes (Romans 13:3)! Continue walking toward the entrance of the Crusader city to pass a series of Roman warehouses, one of which was made a Mithraeum—a temple to the god Mithras, who is often identified with the sun—in which sunlight strikes the altar (see the ceiling) at noon on the summer solstice (June 21).

Enter the Crusader city, which had a population of about twelve thousand. That's less than one-third the size of Herod's Caesarea and roughly one-eighth the size of the Byzantine city. The dry moat and originally ten-meter wall you are passing date to King Louis IX of France (1214–70 CE). The grassy lawn before you represents the eastern extent of the inner harbor, and above the reeds are Roman warehouses. You may walk to the water. The western extent of Herod's harbor was approximately the same as the current harbor, which is now adorned by a Crusader citadel, a mosque, and modern restaurants and shops. Aerial photographs, underwater excavation, and a submerged tower reveal the outer harbor to have extended about sixty-five feet from the shore. Herod created this artificial harbor (the natural harbor in biblical times was Jaffa) by filling barges with stones and cement until they sank into place. However, eventually nature took its toll, and this feat of Roman engineering lasted a mere century before sinking into the sea.

Move toward the exit on the northeast corner of the Crusader city, passing the Roman nymphaeum (public fountain), across from which are restrooms (that should be utilized, since there are none at the aqueducts, where you are going next). Just before you get to the northeastern gate, you may turn right if time allows. This will lead you down the Crusader covered street to Herod's temple, dedicated to Augustus. This structure subsequently became an octagonal Byzantine church (sixth century CE), a mosque, and finally the triple-apsed Crusader Cathedral of St. Peter. Retrace your steps back to the magnificent Crusader vaulted ceiling gate, which serves as the park's exit.

The road to Or Akiva will take your vehicle to the aqueducts. The first turn on the right leads to a modern arch, from which Hadrian's hippodrome can be viewed. However, the best way to reach it is by going back toward the Crusader city a hundred yards and taking the dirt road on foot.

As the city of Caesarea grew, it needed more and more water. The aqueduct in front of you as you arrive at the parking lot originally reached five miles northeast to the Shuni springs and was later extended into Nahal Tanninim. There are three water channels on top of it. The one closest to the parking lot was built by a first-century Roman procurator. The one facing the sea was built by Hadrian. The clay pipe is Byzantine. Anyone feeling adventurous can explore another fourth-century aqueduct by way of a narrow path at the northeast corner of the parking lot.

Caesarea was truly one of the Holy Land's most significant cities. Conflict between Gentiles and Jews here erupted into the First Jewish Revolt of 66–70 CE, and Roman general Vespasian was declared Caesar here in 69 CE. Rabbi Akiva and other Jewish leaders of the Second Jewish Revolt (132–135 CE) were tortured and killed by the Romans here; and in 306 CE, Emperor Maximinus executed Christian martyrs in the Roman (second) amphitheater. Nonetheless, Caesarea became a renowned center of Jewish learning in the third and fourth centuries CE and was the home of the great Christian scholar Origen from 231 to 250 CE. By the time church historian and biblical geographer Eusebius became Bishop of Caesarea in 314 CE, only Alexandria could boast a larger library.

Mount Carmel

Crowning Israel's modern Mediterranean harbor (the biblical one was Jaffa; Herod's was Caesarea) is Haifa, a cosmopolitan and multicultural city atop which sits the University of Haifa—the only university in Israel in which the percentage of Arabstudents is equal to the percentage of the Arab population of Israel. Haifa is the center of the Baha'i religion with its impressive shrine and gardens. The mountain is also home to Druze citizens, as well as a messianic Jewish community (see www.carmel-assembly.org.il). Along its highest ridge is Muhraqa (see www.muhraqa.org), the Carmelite monastery that commemorates Elijah's famous contest with the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).

Northernmost Coast

Akko Also known as Acre

Most groups will not have this luxury, but if you can visit north of Haifa, the Crusader city of Akko (visible from the Haifa overlook at Stella Maris) is worth it. However, you'll want to note that it is "way up there" in terms of travel time. Park outside the Old City and begin at the Visitors' Center to get maps and directions (see www.akko.org.il/en/). The restaurants along the shore specialize in alfresco dining, including shellfish, which is not otherwise available in Israel except in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and, of course, Arab restaurants.

Rosh Hanikra

Really off the beaten path is Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border. Board the cable car that descends from the chalk cliffs to the grottoes on the Mediterranean Sea below. The White Cliffs of Dover have nothing on this location!



Megiddo (National Park)

Begin in the small museum at the model of ninth-century BCE Megiddo (from the time of Kings Omri and Ahab). In two portions of the model, earlier Canaanite levels are visible if you press the hydraulic buttons.

Megiddo has a long and varied history indeed, dating from the fourth millennium BCE. Different archaeological excavations since 1903 have revealed at least twenty cities buried here, one on top of the other. It is positioned on a hill overlooking the juncture of the Via Maris and the Jezreel Valley, the major military and mercantile passages of the Holy Land. Thus it is not surprising that Megiddo is the location of the first major battle recorded in history. As immortalized in the Karnak Temple, Pharaoh Thutmose III soundly defeated the city-state and secured Canaan within the realm of the Egyptian Empire (1468 BCE). About a century later, Megiddo's King Biridiya wrote letters to Pharaoh Akhenaten. These written accounts, along with archaeological finds, attest to the city's might and bounty.

Megiddo remained a Canaanite city during the tribal confederacy (Judges 1:27), but was probably taken by David and then fortified by Solomon (1 Kings 9:15) with a casemate wall and gate. However, Pharaoh Shishak (Shoshenq I) destroyed Solomon's city in 925 BCE, as attested by his inscriptions both at the Karnak Temple and on a stele discovered at Megiddo. It was rebuilt on a grander scale by the monarchy of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, as seen in the model before you.

After studying the model and reviewing this history, proceed to the video room for a short video, and then exit the back door to begin walking the tel.

The current path enters the site through the sixteenth-century BCE Canaanite gate, but before entering, look to your left to an earlier path. These steps led to a post-Solomonic water system, but just above them you can see the right half of Solomon's outer gate. After passing through the Canaanite gate, you will arrive at the foundations of the left half of Solomon's inner three-chambered gate, and just a bit farther up the path is a palace built concurrently with the gate.

Continue up all the way to the southeast edge of the tel to the Canaanite sacred precinct used throughout the third millennium BCE. The long, narrow temple immediately in front of you is similar to the one at En Gedi (ca. 3000 BCE). The central round altar (ca. 2500 BCE) reminds us of a stipulation in an early Israelite collection of laws often called the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22–23:33): "Don't climb onto my altar using steps: then your genitals won't be exposed by doing so" (Exodus 20:26). This was evidently a proscription against Canaanite fertility worship and its practices. As you can see, eventually a two-room temple was attached to the round altar, and subsequently two more temples were built just beyond it.

Walk a few steps to the eastern edge of the tel to study the panorama. Before you is the vast Jezreel Valley. Of all the battles that took place in the expanse of this valley, none is more famous than the one between some of the Israelite tribes led by Deborah and Barak and the region's Canaanite city-states led by Sisera. "Deborah's song" (Judges 5), the oldest poem in the Bible, celebrates the improbable victory of the Israelites over the Canaanite forces.

Deborah gathered the tribes willing to participate on Mount Tabor. Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth-ha-goiim (Judges 4:2-8), the plain just east of Megiddo and just below where you are standing, set up his chariot camp there. Flowing in between the two is the Kishon River. What happened next was viewed by the Israelites as little short of a miracle: it rained. The Kishon flooded the plain (as still happens today in a heavy rain), the Canaanite chariots became stuck in the mud, and the Israelites descended upon Sisera's helpless army from Mount Tabor. Sisera sought to save himself by escaping to the east of Mount Tabor, seeking refuge in the tent of Jael the Kenite (Midianite). But Jael displayed an allegiance to Deborah by assassinating Sisera, and an emerging Israel was saved by the heroic actions of two women.

Backtrack a bit, but stay to the left until you come to a grain silo with a pair of stairs. Just a bit farther is a series of rectangular buildings, one of which is restored. The National Park Authority has obviously decided that these are stables due to the occasional trough (most are replicas). They cannot be Solomon's, as they overlay one of his palaces that was destroyed by Shishak in 925 BCE. Rather, these stables date to the time of Omri and Ahab, and a number of archaeologists argue that the buildings were actually food storehouses.

A city in the ancient world needed several essential advantages: geographical height, a wall, stored grain and food, and water. The challenge was that the requirements of height and water supply were often at odds. This was because a spring, if present, would generally be at the base of the hill on which the city was built. Such was the case at Megiddo, which meant that the women had to walk outside the city wall each morning to gather water for the day, and thus the women and the water supply itself were vulnerable to enemy attack.


Excerpted from An Illustrated Guide to the Holy Land For Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims by Lamontte M. Luker. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lamontte M. Luker, Ph.D. is Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Luker also serves as Faculty Associate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina and Adjunct Professor of Old Testament at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies.

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