Caesarea Maritime is an important city to keep in mind as we read these early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. For Christians it’s important first because the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household were baptized here by the Apostle Peter. A “Gentile Pentecost” in this city inaugurated the mission into the gentile world.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke devotes long accounts to Peter’s journey to Caesarea Maritime from Joppa, the port where Jonah began his journey to Nineveh. ( Acts 10:1-48; 11:1-18) Peter recalls his experience in Caesarea Maritime at the crucial meeting in Jerusalem that decides the approach to the gentiles. (Acts 15:7-11)
Luke then follows Paul on his missionary journey into Asia Minor and eventually Rome. Yet, let’s not forget those other places – Damascus, Ethiopia, Samaria– where the gospel also was preached, only mentioned briefly by Luke.
Caesarea Maritime, 33 miles north of Joppa, was built as a seaport by Herod the Great and for many years was the Roman military center of Judea where Roman officials, like Pontius Pilate, resided.
But Philip the Deacon and his four daughters settled there after the persecution of Stephen, Luke reports. They received Paul in their house on his way to Jerusalem. When Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 70 AD, Caesarea Maritime became the main city of Judea and was also an important home of the Christian church. In later centuries, its bishop was the region’s leading bishop, until a bishop was installed in Jerusalem after Constantine rebuilt it in the 4th century.
Caesarea Maritime remained a thriving center of Christian learning where great figures like Origen, Gregory Nazianzen and Jerome studied and taught. Poor infrastructure and Moslem invasions finally brought about its end a few centuries later. Only impressive ruins now tell us of the city’s former glory.
If we follow Luke as our only source, however, we may miss the rich life and spirituality of Eastern Christianity. The gospel has more than one story and it’s not all found in the Acts of the Apostles. Caesarea Maritime reminds us of that.