How an ancient aqueduct supports the Bible is history — not legend
At my age, climbing to the top of an ancient aqueduct was a bit of a challenge. But once our team reached the top, it seemed we could see 2,000 years back in time. What a view!
Photographer William Haun, drone pilot Chris Dunn and I were in Israel filming new videos for the Christian Television Network and our social media outlets earlier this month.
With only three of us, we were able to explore more of Israel than I ever had before, and the picturesque aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima had long lured me to its narrow walkway. The distinctive arches span nearly a mile along the beach, but until a few days ago, I’d never had the time to make the unusual hike.
As soon as we reached the top, we found ourselves in a deep water channel. A second channel ran parallel to the first, but it was completely filled by sand from the encroaching beach. As we explored the aqueduct, it was obvious that both channels had once been covered by stones to protect the precious fresh water from blowing sand, seawater or animal pollution.
I’d done the homework long ago. Herod the Great – the same Herod of the Christmas story – had built the aqueduct to bring fresh water to his brand-new Caesarea, a man-made seaport that was four times larger than Jerusalem.
Christians know Caesarea from the book of Acts. Peter visited Cornelius there. Paul was imprisoned for two years at Caesarea and left or arrived on some of his “missionary journeys” from that location.
Historians know Caesarea as the most modern city Herod the Great ever built. They’ve written extensively of the Olympic-styled games Herod hosted in the city and ingenious, man-made port he had constructed there.
Volumes have been written about Herod the Great. Museums have featured great displays of what he owned, built and accomplished. In short, there’s no doubt that Herod lived. Even the ruins of Caesarea give testimony to his life.
The aqueduct we were exploring was part of a city water works system built two millennia ago by Herod, King of Judea.
Have you paid close attention to the first sentence of Luke’s record of the life of Jesus?
The Gospel of Luke begins with a short paragraph dedicating the work to a man who’d wanted a reliable history of the life of Jesus.
After the opening paragraph, Luke writes, “In the time of Herod king of Judea …”
Stop right there. Don’t miss the power of such a statement!
Even in his opening remarks, Luke was already tying the Jesus story to history that could be checked.
By connecting the story of Jesus to a specific time in history, Luke gave his readers a verifiable point of information. Luke was determined to write what he called an “orderly account” that required “careful investigation.” With that explanation behind him, Luke starts his version of the Jesus story with a historical connection point already known to be true to his readers.
What follows is a steady flow of other verifiable bits of information. There are names of people, their relatives, cities and towns where events happened and even brief references to historic events outside of the Bible’s story. All of that information could be fact checked. If the facts didn’t add up, readers could throw away Luke’s account of Jesus’ life.
As you know, people didn’t throw away Luke’s record. Instead, they treated it like a reliable history!
In Luke’s second writing, called “Acts,” he mentioned multiple events that happened at Caesarea.
The aqueduct at Caesarea doesn’t “prove” that the events in the Bible happened. But it very certainly supports the story.
And by no means is Luke the only writer who connects his story to information that can be fact-checked. All of the writers of the Bible made this their practice by mentioning places, people and events outside of the Bible that support the story they themselves were recording.
There are so many of these historical and geographical connection points, it sometimes seems the writers of the Bible were begging us to test what they had written for historical accuracy.
And yet many people today are quick to write off the Bible as legend or invented stories without bothering to investigate what they’ve decided to believe. Many who’d like to never worry about the spiritual message of the Bible are quick to categorize the Bible as ancient mythology.
Take it from an old guy who made the climb recently. That aqueduct in Caesarea isn’t mythology. To me, it is indisputable evidence that the place Luke told us existed did, indeed, exist. And it’s just one example from a countless collection of examples we can still touch with our own hands.
If Luke told us the truth about the place where events happened, why would he make up the stories he said happened there? Doesn’t it make much more sense that he and other writers in the Bible were simply writing down factual history?
Climbing down from our lofty perch, it seemed to me that the Bible’s historical reliability is as rock-solid as that ancient aqueduct.
Andy Cook is the founder of Experience Israel Now, a ministry that brings the life-changing lessons of the Bible to audiences everywhere. He lives in Peach County.