The remains of a great arena (or hippodrome-meaning “horse track”) are emerging from the sand dunes of the Mediterranean shore. The stone seats show the beginning of the curve of the southern end of the stadium. The Mediterranean Sea has eaten away the other side of the arena. In several places, walls were built by later civilizations who no longer used the arena.Since no results have as yet been published of these excavations, it is not clear who built this arena. Herod built a stadium in Caesarea, but it may not have been this one. The magnitude and style of this arena, however, do reflect those he constructed at places like Jericho and Jerusalem.
Herod brought the “games” into the Jewish culture as part of his attempt to Hellenize his kingdom. The events included Olympic contests of running, wrestling, and throwing the javelin. Chariot races were quite popular, as were gladiatorial contests involving men and animals.
The games were often dedicated to pagan gods. The religious Jewish community found these arenas and their contests at odds with their belief in God, but the arenas were present in most large, Hellenistic cities. They certainly had an influence on the local population, religious or not. Paul’s use of athletic imagery (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 4:7) indicates his ability to communicate in the language and pictures that were familiar to his audience. As in our society, it would have been difficult to participate in activities like the games without accepting the pagan cultural values they encouraged.
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