During the majority of Jesus’ human life, the city of Caesarea remained under Roman rule. Like the rest of occupied Israel, Caesarea was made to fit the needs of the Roman Empire. Perhaps more so than any other city save for Jerusalem, Caesarea served the Romans as a major social, political and commercial center—its proximity to Jerusalem and its construction on the Mediterranean shoreline making it desirable not only to the residents of Israel, but also to Judea, Egypt and Samaria.
Caesarea – A City under Roman Rule
Integrated into the program of most Christian tours to Israel, Caesarea brings to life a part of history that spans between the Old Testament and the New. Founded by Herod the Great between 15 and 23 BC, Caesarea ’s very name is in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus—is steeped in New Testament history. Indeed, it was Caesar Augustus who, according to the Gospel of Luke, sent out a census ordering Joseph and the pregnant Mary to leave their hometown of Nazareth and descend to Bethlehem in the Kingdom of Judea. It was in Bethlehem, we know, that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. To that end, it has been noted by theologists that, though not himself a prophetic figure, Caesar Augustus (operating in God’s will) changed the course of Christian history.
Caesarea in Jesus’ Time
Beyond its roundabout relation to the life of Jesus, the city of Caesarea features prominently in the New Testament in the lives of St. Peter and Paul.
St. Peter baptized the Roman Officer Cornelius (the first non-Jew to take Christ as his savior) while lodging in his home in Caesarea. It was also from the Home of Cornelius in Caesarea that St. Peter first brought the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Also in Caesarea, Paul was imprisoned by the Romans for two years and once freed, it was from Caesarea that he set sail to his native country of Tarsus . Paul revisited Caesarea several more times during his missionary journeys. Finally, Philip the Apostle resided in Caesarea, and had followed Jesus on his ministries from this city.
And though modern-day Caesarea lacks any ectual artifacts to illuminate these historic events, for those on a tour to the Holy Land a mere stroll through this beautiful city, with its spectacular views and rich history, is enough to ignite thoughts of centuries past.
Caesarea in Jesus’ Time – The Story of Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius was the Bishop of the Church of Caesarea during the 3 rd century AD, famous for being the forefather of historicized (documented) Christianity. Eusebius’ writings to do with the history of early Christianity in Palestine were the first of their kind.
The church lead by Eusebius was an extension and a continuation of the Church founded by St. Peter in Caesarea following the baptizing of Cornelius. Despite knowledge that Christianity was actively practiced in Caesarea during the reign of Eusebius, archeologists have not been able to find excavations of an actual church dating back to the 3 rd century.
Indeed, the first church found in Caesarea dates back to the 6 th century AD. The church—a martyr’s shrine—was built on an existing pagan structure dating back before Christ. In the vicinity of the old church, archeologists have uncovered remnants of what was most likely a Christian cross.