Wowed by Ancient Technology

Although I carried my iPhone —  a device that is a computer, a camera, a phone, and a fitness tracker all in one — I marveled today at the technological feats of people who lived across the centuries.

We started this morning in Caesarea, a breathtakingly beautiful city on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  Before King Herod, Israel was unapproachable from the sea because the shoreline was inlaid with swamp land.  But starting around 25 BC, King Herod began a project to build a deep harbor that would allow ships from all over the world — Europe, Asia, and Africa — to port in Caesarea.  I know I don’t remember all the details because today was a fire-hydrant flow of information, but just take in the idea that a man, before the birth of Jesus, conceived of a way to sink enormous pylons deep into the sea bottom to fortify a break wall and create a harbor.  Not only that, he built a luxurious castle for himself, right on the shore, complete with a swimming pool!  Now, we won’t get into his labor tactics or his political ideologies, but the technology was phenomenal.  Excavations keep revealing more and  more of Herod’s work including a 4,000-seat auditorium and a hippodrome!

And Herod wasn’t the only technician to impact Israel.  From Caesarea we travelled to Megiddo, an ancient city that was established and destroyed more than a dozen times over the centuries and has become a tell, an archaeological site housing twenty-some layers of ruined civilizations dating back before the time of King Ahab; yes, I’m talking about the King Ahab that lived over 800 years BC. Across the centuries, Megiddo was a contested city because of its location at the crossing point of many key travel routes.  Although it was a walled city, as many cities were, Megiddo was vulnerable because its water source, a fresh water spring, sat outside the city walls.  No problem for King Ahab — again, we won’t discuss his lack of humanitarianism, just his technological ingenuity — he (or perhaps one of his men) designed a way to dig an enormous tunnel to connect the spring to the people inside!  We walked down over 180 steps into this hand-hewn tunnel today. Yes, I said hand-hewn — you can still see the chisel marks on the walls!  I can’t properly describe this feat with words.  Just imagine that all thirty-three of us marched down these steps, walked along an underground boardwalk, and all stood together and looked at the pooling water of the underground spring.  It’s inconceivable. Again, archaeologists continue to unearth the layers of history at Tell Megiddo — our guide remarked that it would take hundreds of years to fully study this one mound. We picked up shards of pottery ourselves and marveled at the knowledge that they were crafted thousands of years ago.

I wasn’t really expecting to see technology in old Nazareth.  I was expecting to see first century homes and stables and hear stories about the kind of town Nazareth was at the time of Jesus; and that did happen.  Our guide, a young Israeli man, told us what people wore, where they lived, and the fact that most inhabitants of Nazareth were farmers.  If you know anyone who farms, or has farmed, you know that farming involves a lot of technology — today and in first century Nazareth.   Although we saw carpentry tools and an ancient wine press created out of rock, most impressive was the lever and mill stone system used to press olives.  Again, I’m sure that my detail-addled brain can’t fully articulate the many step system that used a giant stone turned by donkey-power and a multi-stage lever crafted from a large wooden pole and stone weights, but let me just say that the whole system involved a lot of mathematical calculations that I am sure I wouldn’t understand.  Again– a technological feat!

It’s 2:40 am here, I’m already 600 words in, and I’ve only discussed three ancient technologies that we witnessed today.  I haven’t told you how when one of our students stood in Herod the Great’s auditorium and sang for us her sound was amplified by the design of the structure. I haven’t told you about the six-mile long Roman aqueduct in Caesarea that dates from the time of Herod. I haven’t begun to explain the ongoing elaborate archaeological projects — 30,000 of them —  in Israel. And I certainly haven’t explored at all the religious and spiritual components of our tour…I’ll get to that, but not tonight.

Let me just put a little teaser here — our guide is a Jewish woman, near 70 years old, who grew up in New York City, converted to Christianity on a visit to the Holy Land in the 1970s and has been living in Israel, giving Biblical tours for the last twenty-two years.  Think that has any impact on our tour at all? Yes, yes it does.

I could think and write all night, but tomorrow is another packed day, starting with a sailboat ride from Tiberias onto the Sea of Galilee.  Yes, a sailboat ride from Tiberias onto the Sea of Galilee.

Our guide asked me, “What took you song long to visit Israel, why have you never come before?” You know, I never conceived that a trip like this would be possible for me.  I wasn’t longing to come here, or sad that I had never been.  We have a very good and full life, and while Herod could imagine a deep water harbor and Ahab could envision a tunnel carved by hand, I never imagined that I could ride a bus into Nazareth, get splashed by the waves of the Mediterranean, or ride a boat on the Sea of Galilee. And yet, here I am.

I’m going to get some sleep now so that I can fully take in the experience and see what God has in store for us here in Israel.

Psalm 40:5

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

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