A teeth-chattering crossing

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The long road from Olduvai Gorge to the SE gate of the Serengeti is not for the faint-hearted. It is gravel, sand, and dirt with a surface so rough that it will chatter your teeth. Hands and feet are needed to stay in your seat.

It is too hot (even in the winter) to ride with the windows up. It is too dusty to ride with the windows down. And don’t even ask if the rugged vehicles needed for this kind of terrain have air-conditioning!

I shot this image from the top of a lonely acacia-covered rock that marks entrance to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Note the line of safari vehicles bouncing west.


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We are traveling Tanzania in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a most-wonderful guide and naturalist. Mr. Nixon has worked as a wildlife guide for more than 30 years. Vicki and I are delighted to call him friend and teacher.

If experiencing the Biblical world is of interest to you, email me at markziese@gmail.com or check out our list of future trips here.

Twilight on the Serengeti

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The sun sets on the Serengeti. Our canvas camp is backed into the rocks and faces a sea of golden grass. It is stirred by a light wind and ripples. Shadows creep into it, slowly, slowly.

For two nights, Vicki and I are the only guests in camp. As we watch the sunset by the fire, a herd of impalas settle down for the night in the acacias. Impalas favor woodlands; their smaller antelope cousins prefer the vast spaces beyond.

We listen for birds, insects, hyenas, and lions.

Africa is a place of wonder. It must be experienced to be believed.


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Our usual haunts are in Israel-Palestine, but our current experiences in East Africa excite the senses. Might other Bible Land Explorers be interested in a safari-style excursion? If so, let me hear from you. I may try to work this into the schedule on a regular basis. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if you are serious.

For our more standard packages in the Middle East, see a list of future trips here.

Surprising elegance

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The African Bush Elephant is the largest terrestrial animal on the planet. When one leans toward your Land Cruiser, you can certainly believe it!

Yet despite their size (some more than 10,000 pounds), they move with elegance. They are gentle with their young and are very intelligent.

In a three-hour window we encountered more than 50 elephants in Tanzania’s Tarengeri National Park. Big and small males, females, and young ‘uns as old as a month and a half trundled beside our car. Unbelievable.

They are now Vicki’s favorite.


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We are currently camping in the Rongai hills of eastern Tanzania. However, our usual haunt is in Israel-Palestine. If experiencing the world of the Bible is something you would like to do, email me at markziese@gmail.com or check out our list of future trips here. We are currently scheduling groups for 2022, although some seats are open for 2020 and 2021.

Lions seen and heard

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Last night the lions were rambunctious. We were awakened at least three times by their roaring.

The hyenas were a little feisty too.

Our camp manager told us that the lions were between one and two kilometers away; their roar can carry up to six kilometers.

By Vicki’s count we have seen at least 40 lions so far in the Serengeti alone. Heard a few more.

Funny how sleeping in a canvas tent really improves one’s hearing.


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We are currently camping in the Rongai hills of eastern Tanzania. However, our usual haunt is in Israel-Palestine. If experiencing the world of the Bible is something you would like to do, email me at markziese@gmail.com or check out our list of future trips here. We are currently scheduling groups for 2022, although some seats are open for 2020 and 2021.


Spotter

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Vicki is the best spotter in the truck. Her keen eye caught the first animal of the trip, a zebra. She also nailed a cheetah today by seeing not much more than his ears from 100 meters! I’ll let her tell you the full story when she gets home.

Needless to say the Serengeti is an incredible place. We are tent camping on the edge of the Rongai Hills for the next four days. Last night we heard the hyenas howling. This morning a lion was roaring from about a kilometer away.

What, me worry?

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This little fellow was outside our window last night.

He reminded me of Matthew 6:26-34

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one  cubit to his stature?So why do you worry about clothing?”

I’m hoping to encourage Vicki.

Day 4 in Africa with no suitcase.

Whole herd of pumbaas

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Found these guys running around on the grass in front of our cabin. Now we need to find Timon.

We go from a land of no-bacon to baconmania.

All is well so far in Arusha (other than Vicki’s suitcase. It is still sitting somewhere in Chicago).

Will keep you posted as long as wifi allows. I have a feeling this may not last long. Following Ilboru Safari Lodge we go to “tented camp.” Vicki (sans suitcase) is quite excited.

What’s that wall sitting on?

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The Ottoman fortress at the site of Aphek (Tel Afek) is impressive. It was constructed in the 16th century at a choke point between the foothills of the Heartland’s central spine and the swamp of the Yarkon River.* The fortress had a massive enclosure wall and four corner towers, all quite visible today.

The lowest courses of the fortress are seen in this shot. But look closely. The foundation for this portion of the structure is a (Late?) Roman street! The angular pavers and curbing clearly run under the fortress.

Long before the Turks sought to control this space, Herod the Great claimed it and built a city. He named it after his father Antipater. Antipatris, as the Roman city was known, played an important role in the region and is noted in the writing of Josephus and the Bible.

The Apostle Paul traveled through this place after his arrest as recorded in the book of Acts. To prevent Paul’s assassination, the Romans sneaked him by night from Jerusalem to Antipatris. There, the footsoldiers returned to their base while the horsemen carried the Apostle on to Caesarea. See Acts 23:31-32.

Don’t you wonder if Paul himself came into Antipatris on this street?


*The fort is known by the locals as Binar Bashi, a corruption of the Turkish for “fountainhead.”


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers is headed for the Tel Aviv airport this evening. We have had a good time!

If you would like to explore the place where faith begins, you should check out our list of future trips. The remainder of 2020 is sold out, but we have seats available for 2021 and are currently working on group reservations for 2022. Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com.

Every day is Christmas in Bethlehem

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Bethlehem has been so crowded of late that it has been difficult to get groups into the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity. Yesterday we got in without a hitch. Yay!

The grotto has been the focus of Christian worship for almost two thousand years. Here, a humble stable-cave became a birthing place.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no space in the room above for them” (Luke 2:6-7).

The cave pictured above is swathed in tapestries and covers. The focal point at the far end is marked by lights and a star. It represents the place where Jesus was born. To the right is a niche associated with the manger.


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It’s time for you to experience Christmas in a new way. Will you consider joining us on a future trip to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth and other sites connected with the ministry of Jesus? Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.



Shawarma on the spit

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What does one do after visiting Jacob’s well in Nablus? Find shawarma sandwiches and kanafeh of course! It is always a feast (and a cultural experience).


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If you are a foodie and finding genuine local flavor sounds interesting, consider joining us on a future trip to the lands of the Bible. Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

The crypt of John the Baptist

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Mark the Evangelist describes how John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of Herod Antipas. The site where this happened seems to have been a mountain fortress in modern Jordan (μάχαιρα or Mukawir).*

When John’s disciples heard of this execution, they “came for his body and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:29). Several early Christian sources claim that John’s remains were eventually transferred to the site of Sebastiya, some 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus in the heart of Palestine.** John’s crypt is still there (preserved as part of a mosque), not far from the palace of ancient Israelite kings.

We visited Sebastiya and the keeper of the key was kind enough to open the reliquary. Inside was a shrine marking the place where John’s remains were placed.


*See the link to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2 here.

**A helpful article by Carla Benelli may be found here. Benelli describes the sources for this tradition as well as some detail about the structure in Sebastiya.


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This intrepid crew has not only crawled into the crypt of John the Baptist, they have witnessed how history and tradition have played out across the landscape of Israel/Palestine.

If you are interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a different kind of way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Summit view

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Seth stands on the acropolis of the mound of Samaria/Sebastiya. From this point, the central “spine” of the Heartland is appreciated. Elevations rise two to three thousand feet in the area. This ruin-mound is located about 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus, in the heart of Palestine.

King Omri built a palace here in the mi-9th century BC. It became the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Much later, Herod the great erected a temple on the summit and dedicated it to Caesar Augustus.

The view from here is quite fine!


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We are in the last week of our summer blitz of study-tours in the Heartland. It has been a good run.

If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a different kind of way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

It’s snout about the Romans

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The sun sets on the Sea of Galilee.

In the distance, purple hills rise. Stories are found in their folds.

The large canyon in the center is the Wadi Yarmuk, the largest contributor to the Jordan River. Today the Yarmuk marks the political boundary between occupied Syria or the Golan Heights (on the left side of the image) and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (on the right side of the image).

In the time of Christ, these purple hills were both associated with Gentile domains. The remains of the Decapolis city of Gadara rest in the Jordanian city of Umm Qays. Umm Qays is marked on the far left by towers on the hillside.

Gadara figures into the story of the demoniac told in Mark 5. See the story here. Let me warn you ahead of time: it’s snout about the Roman legions.


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Have a look at our future trips by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Learn with all your senses

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So there’s a classroom and then there’s a classroom.

I guarantee that after crawling on hands and knees through the doorway of a rolling-stone tomb that these students have a better idea about primary and secondary burial practices in 1st century Palestine.

File this one under “teaching moments in the land of the Bible.”


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Learning experiences come in many different ways. Our students get dirty. If keeping your elbows clean is a priority, stay home and watch the History Channel.

For more intrepid souls, have a look at our future trips by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

An interesting footprint

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The Centre International Marie de Nazareth offers visitors a snapshot of the archaeological findings beneath the footprint of their building. Iron Age remains are visible as well as a domestic installations from the NT period.

Today we made a new friend in Jean-Pierre. He helped our group understand these ruins as well as the ministry of the Chemin Neuf community.

The Centre International is located just across the street (and uphill slightly) from the main entrance to the Basilica of the Annuncation. The archaeological presentation as well as a splendid rooftop view to the Basilica may be enjoyed for a donation. Learn more from their website here.

I recommend both if you are in town.


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If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a new way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Some Gideon action

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Stopped by the ‘Ein Harod (Ma'ayan Harod) today, the setting of the story described in Judges 7:1-7. The text offers an interesting account of how the army of Gideon was whittled down by means of a water test. Rather than seeking more soldiers for the coming battle, YHWH sought less, so the people would not boast, “my own strength has saved me.”`

Our squad worked at the test a little bit. There were some close calls. However, in the end we decided to keep them all.


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If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a new way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Toilets in flight

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Why does the sight of a crane lifting portable potties high into the sky create such interest? 

Is it the perversity of seeing one of them spin slowly before snagging on the top of a palm tree? Is it the idea of the cable breaking and watching one come crashing down? Is it  . . . now I must be careful here . . . the delicious thought of someone being caught unknowingly inside as the whole thing suddenly goes airborne? Yeee-oooww!

My goodness! 

Whatever the case, they packed up the porta-potties at Caesarea-by-the-Sea and trucked them away. 

Now on to the ruins!


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If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing Caesarea in a new way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Olives’ shoulder

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The summer sun has done its work. Jerusalem’s landscape is now brittle brown.

I left my room early in the morning to walk the hills east of the city. Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives are less like mountains and more like long ridges with a saddle between. Both are home to many olive trees, some at least a thousand years old.

For part of my walk I followed the Jerusalem Trail, a two-day loop that circles the city.


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I am between groups today, but look forward to meeting a new crew tomorrow. If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing Jerusalem personally, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

A slice of Jerusalem history

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The Tower of David Museum is a splendid place to consider the deep history of Jerusalem. Exhibits, both permanent and temporary, help tell the story of this iconic city.

The “tower” from which this picture was taken, however, has nothing to do with David, but everything to do with Herod the Great and the Romans. Herod’s Jerusalem palace once stood on this spot, and, according to Josephus, he built three towers here. They were named after significant people in his life: Mariamne, Hippicus, and Phasael. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, they allowed these towers to remain as testimony to the former grandeur of the city (See Jewish War 7.1.1. at the link here). Many scholars believe the present structure is the remains of the Phasael Tower.

The Byzantines likely gave the site the name the “Tower of David” under the mistaken belief that this was the palace of Israel’s famous OT king.

Other periods of history are represented here. The present shape was basically achieved in AD 1310.


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The flavors of Jerusalem are compelling to the senses. If you are interested in experiencing them personally, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021. These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on customized group reservations for 2022.