Just published in the Deseret News:
Bill Hamblin and I published the article below on 18 April 2015, in the Deseret News:
Weary arrivals at Israel’s David Ben Gurion International Airport are occupied with passport control, luggage retrieval, customs and ground transportation. Departing travelers deal with very effective (but time-consuming and sometimes difficult) Israeli security, often catching midnight connecting flights to Europe for further morning departures to North America.
Virtually nobody is pondering the remarkable history and significance of the airport’s location.
Ben Gurion Airport is named for the founding prime minister of Israel, who died in 1973. Previously, it was called Lod Airport, after the small city where it stands.
Archaeological finds suggest that the area was inhabited by 5600-5250 B.C., and it’s mentioned in a list of Canaanite settlements inscribed on a wall by Pharaoh Thutmose III at the Egyptian temple of Karnak around 1465 B.C. In the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37, 11:35), Lod appears as a town in the tribal area of Benjamin and, specifically, as a place where Jews resettled when they returned from their Babylonian captivity.
In 43 B.C., the Roman governor of Syria sold the inhabitants of Lod into slavery, but the famous Marc Antony (friend of Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra’s lover) freed them two years later.
In the New Testament, the town is called “Lydda.” According to Acts 9:32-43, the apostle Peter passed through Lydda, where he healed a paralyzed man named Aeneas. This so impressed the people of the town and of the adjacent area known as the Sharon Plain that many of them joined the church, and Peter still was in Lydda when word came of the death of the faithful Christian disciple Dorcas, or Tabitha, in nearby Joppa. (Joppa, next to modern Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, is known today as Jaffa, or Yafo). Implored by the local Saints to come, Peter restored Tabitha to life and then stayed in the Joppa home of Simon the Tanner until he received the revelation of the clean and unclean beasts recorded in Acts 10, which transformed Christianity from a Jewish sect into the potential world religion that it would, in fact, become.Afterwards, the Emperor Vespasian occupied the town in A.D. 68, during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Then, during the so-called “Kitos War” of A.D. 115-117, Gamaliel II, the most prominent rabbi of the day, was trapped in Lydda during a Roman siege. He was the grandson of the Gamaliel who’s identified by Acts 22:3 as one of Paul’s teachers and who, at Acts 5:34-40, spoke in favor of Peter and the apostles before the Jewish council.
Like his grandfather, Gamaliel was a humane man, known for, among other things his good relationships with non-Jews. “Whoever has mercy on other people,” he taught, sounding remarkably like Jesus, “Heaven will have mercy upon him; whoever does not have mercy on other people, Heaven will not have mercy upon him.” Perhaps it’s unsurprising, in that light, that, when hunger was ravaging the besieged town, Gamaliel issued a merciful but controversial ruling that permitted Jews to fast, if necessary, even during the festival of Hanukkah. When the city was finally taken, many of its residents were executed; the Jewish Talmud repeatedly praises the faithful devotion of “the slain of Lydda.”
By A.D. 200, although the town was mostly Christian, the Romans had designated it as “Diospolis,” the “City of Zeus.” In December A.D. 415, the Council of Diospolis was convened in order to try the British-born theologian Pelagius, who defended free will and denied the doctrine of original sin, on charges of heresy. He was acquitted but, thanks largely to the efforts of his great opponent St. Augustine, has nonetheless gone down as a heretic in Christian history.
In the 500s, the town was renamed “Georgiopolis,” because St. George, a Roman soldier who would become a Christian martyr (and who would, still later, be associated with a legendary dragon and become the patron saint of England, Russia, Palestine, and Catalonia) had been born there in the late third century.
By 1948, when Israel was founded, Lod was an Arab town, roughly 93.5 percent Muslim and 6.5 percent Christian. That changed abruptly with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, however, when many of its residents were massacred and almost all of the rest were driven out by order of the Israeli high command.
And the drama may not be finished yet. A very old tradition ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad says that in the last days, the antichrist will be slain at Lod.
Posted from Tel Aviv, Israel