Thursday, 26 April 2012

Casual classic

Twenty-six years ago I spent three months working for the main nature conservation organisation in Israel, mainly on the local river, a small coastal stream that rose in the Carmel hills and emptied into the Mediterranean just a couple of miles north of the picture below. "Nahal Tanninim" means "Crocodile River", though the last of these was killed off over a hundred years ago. Conservationist though I was I wasn't too disappointed to hear this news given the amount of time I needed to spend in the water. The data I was helping generate contributed to the Israeli government declaring this ecosystem a national park a few years later. It's good to know I achieved something lasting, and more to the point it got me a free pass to visit Israel's national parks when I mentioned this to the warden on duty at the entrance!

Anyhow, one day the manager of the field centre where I was working decided we needed a new bench for the garden outside the office. With no budget to buy one the manager tells me to get in the truck with him. He drove out through the bush for a few minutes and pulled over at a weed grown pile of rubble. Out jumped, poked about with a stick with a bit to scare off the snakes, and shouted for me to grab the winch and tow rope. Soon we were returning to the field centre with a Roman column on the bed of the truck, which we backed up to where it was needed and rolled it off onto its new home. Job done! And before anyone criticises us for cultural vandalism, just take a look at the picture with this blog. It's from Caeserea, just a couple of miles to the south. The site was built by Herod, added to by the Romans, rebuilt by the Byzantines, Marmelukes and others, before finally falling into lasting ruin. Whoever built this new harbour wall was happy to reuse columns from an earlier period, and just chuck the spares aside for later use, maybe, say, as a bench.

Part of this harbour complex contains the ruins of the Roman Governor's palace. It was here that the Apostle Paul was held for over two years, caught between the Jewish leadership's desire to kill him, and the hopes of Governor Felix to extort a bribe from him. Paul was then brought before Festus, the new Governor ( why he replaced Felix we do not know, but maybe the good Felix was dipping his hand in the till a little too often), and, facing another dead end, claimed the right of a Roman citizen to appeal directly to the Emperor ( Acts 24 & 25). This was to initiate Paul's final journey to Rome, where he was eventually to die.

Paul's teachings gave new life to old beliefs. He was gifted with giving fresh understanding, not only to those of his own Jewish faith, but also to peoples of many other faiths. He did this not by trampling underfoot all they had previously believed and held dear, but by building on old foundations with a new vision which placed Jesus of Nazareth at the centre. Just like those who rebuilt Caeserea he incorporated the past into the new. Christianity, the same old thing, with a new twist,.... just like using a Roman column as a park bench,... maybe?

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