The Theater at Caesarea
Herods’ love of Hellenistic culture and his desire to introduce it to the Jewish nation is illustrated clearly by the theater at Caesarea. Apparently, this structure was built outside the city because its obscene and bawdy performances may have created an offense among religious Jews.The theater seen here has been reconstructed for use in modern times and shows the splendor and size of the theaters in the Roman world. In Herod’s day, it seated approximately 4,000 spectators on stone benches similar to the reconstructed ones shown here.
The floor of the orchestra (the semicircular space in front of the stage where the important people sat in Roman times) was colorfully painted stone in Herod’s time and later paved with marble.
The front of the stage (orchestra wall) was painted stone imitating marble. There are six wedges of seats. The square place for the governor’s seat can be seen midway in the center wedge.
The Bible records the death of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:19-23), which Josephus recorded taking place in the theater. It is also possible that Paul was interrogated here by Felix (who was married to Drusilla, Herod the Great’s granddaughter) and Festus, as well as Agrippa II and Berenice, his sister.
This theater illustrated the glory of the Hellenistic lifestyle. It was seductive and overwhelming to the Jewish people. It was resisted by the religious community. An ancient rabbi named Yizak is quoted in Megilla, a collection of Jewish sayings, as believing that Caesarea and Jerusalem could not prosper at the same time. Either one or the other would be in ruins. This was his way of teaching that the values represented by Caesarea (and its theater) were antithetical to those of Jerusalem (and the Temple).
Followers of Jesus today would do well to remember the rabbi’s words as they seek to hold the values of Jesus that conflict with the Hellenism of today-secular humanism. How do we compromise our values with the secular values of our culture? How do we affect our culture as we participate in it but resist its effect on us?
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