The Arabian interpreter thinks the first name of this city was Hazor, Joshua 11:1. The Jews, Ekron, Zephaniah 2:4. "R. Abhu saith," (he was of Caesarea,) "Ekron shall be rooted out"; this is Caesarea, the daughter of Edom, which is situated among things profane. She was a goad, sticking in Israel, in the days of the Grecians. But when the kingdom of the Asmonean family prevailed, it overcame her, &c. R. Josi Bar Chaninah saith, What is that that is written, 'And Ekron shall be as a Jebusite?' (Zech 9:7). These are the theatres and judgment-seats which are in Edom, in which the chief men of Judah hereafter shall publicly teach the law. R. Isaac said, Leshem is Panias, and Ekron is Caesarea, the daughter of Edom."
The Jews are scarce in earnest when they say Caesarea is the same with Ekron: but partly, they play with the sound of the words 'Ekron,' and 'shall be rooted out'; partly, they propound to themselves to reproach her, while they compare that city, for the most part heathen, with Ekron, the city of Beelzebub.
When the Asmoneans had snatched away this city out of the hand of the Grecians, the name of it was changed into "The taking of the tower Shur," as the Gemarists tell us in the place alleged: or as the author of Juchasin, "The taking of the tower Tzur":--or as the Jerusalem Talmudists (unless my conjecture deceives me), "the tower Sid." Whether out of these words you can make out the name of "the tower of Strato," it is your part to study; that certainly was the denomination of this place before it was called Caesarea.
It was distant six hundred furlongs, or thereabout, from Jerusalem (that is, seventy-five miles), as Josephus related in that story of an Essene Jew that prophesied. Who, when he saw Antigonus, the brother of Aristobulus, passing by in the Temple, having been now sent for by his brother (indeed, that he might be slain by treachery), "O strange! (saith he) now it is good for me to die; because that which I foretold proves a lie. For Antigonus lives, who ought this day to die: and Strato's tower is the place appointed for his death: which is distant six hundred furlongs hence: and there remains yet four hours of day. But the very time makes my prediction false." Having said these things, the old man remained perplexed in his thoughts; but by and by news was brought that Antigonus was slain in a certain place underground, "in a certain dark passage," which also was called, "Strato's tower."
Herod built the city to the honour and name of Caesar, and made a very noble haven at vast expenses. "He built all the city with white stone, and adorned it with most splendid houses: in which especially he shewed the natural greatness of his mind. For between Dori and Joppa, in the middle of which this city lay, it happened that all the seacoast was destitute of havens, &c. He made the greater haven of Pireus, &c.: and, at the mouth of it, stood three great statues, &c. There were houses joining to the haven, and they also were of white stone, &c. Over against the haven's mouth was the temple of Caesar, situate upon a rising ground, excellent both for the beauty and greatness of it; and in it a large statue of Caesar, &c. The rest of the works, which he did there, was an amphitheatre, a theatre, and a market, all worthy to be mentioned," &c. See more in Josephus.
Caesarea was inhabited mixedly by Jews, heathens, and Samaritans. Hence some places in it were profane and unclean to the Jews.
"R. Nichomi Bar R. Chaija Bar Abba said, My father passed not under the arch of Caesarea; but R. Immi passed. R. Ezekiah, R. Cohen, and R. Jacob Bar Acha, walked in the palace of Caesarea: when they came to the arch, R. Cohen departed from them; but when they came to a clean place, he again betook himself to them." This story is recited Beracoth, fol. 6. 1; and there it is said that they walked in the palace of Zippor.
"One brought a bill of divorce from the haven of Caesarea. Concerning which when judgment was had before R. Abhu, he said, There is no need to say, It was written, I being present,--and I being present, it was sealed. For the haven of Caesarea is not as Caesarea."
Of the various strifes and uproars between the Caesarean Greeks and Jews, in which the Jews always went by the worst, Josephus hath very much. "Another disturbance (saith he) was raised at Caesarea, of the Jews mingled there, rising up against the Syrians that were in it." The contest was about priority and chiefdom, and it was transacted before Nero, "And the Greeks of Caesarea overcame," &c. Where the reader will observe, that the Syrians and Greeks are convertible terms.
In this city were the first seeds of a direful war, by reason of workshops, built by a certain Greek of Caesarea, near a synagogue of the Jews. Twenty thousand men were slain there afterward on one sabbath-day. You may read of more seditions and bloodshed at that place, before the destruction of the nation, in the author quoted.
Long after the destruction of it, here the schools and doctors of the Jews flourished; so that "the Rabbins of Caesarea" are celebrated every where in the Talmudical books.
I. R. Hoshaia Rubba, or the Great.--"R. Jochanan said, We travelled to R. Hoshaia Rubba to Caesarea, to learn the law."
II. R. Abhu.--"R. Abhu appointed divers sounds of the trumpet at Caesarea."--"R. Abhu sent his son from Caesarea to Tiberias to the university," &c.--"The Cutheans of Caesarea asked R. Abhu, saying, Your fathers were contented with our things, why are not ye also? He answered, Your fathers corrupted not their works, but you have corrupted them."
III. R. Achavah and R. Zeira.--"R. Mena said, I travelled to Caesarea, and I heard R. Achavah and R. Zeira."
IV. R. Zerikan.--"R. Mena said, I heard R. Zerikan at Caesarea."
V. "R. Prigori of Caesarea."
VI. Ulla of Caesarea. And,
VII. R. Ada of Caesarea, and R. Tachalipha, &c.
Mention is made of "the synagogue Mardatha, (or Maradtha,) of Caesarea": we do not inquire of the reason of the name, for it is written elsewhere "The synagogue Madadta";--in both places with this story joined; "R. Abhu sat teaching in the synagogue Maradta of Caesarea. The time came of lifting up hands, and they asked him not of that matter. The time of eating came, and of that they asked him. To whom he replied, Ye ask me concerning the time of eating, but not of the lifting up of hands. Which when they heard, every one withdrew himself, and fled."