An enclosed garden

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A few miles southeast of Bethlehem, Palestine, is the village of Artas (or Urtas). It is famous for its springs and watersystems (the so-called Solomon’s Pools) and has a garden-like appearance (see our post to the Wadi Urtas/Artas here). It is a splendid place to escape the heat of a Jerusalem summer.

Just opposite Artas, on wadi slopes, is a convent known by the name al-Banat (“the maidens”). Inside the complex is the Chapel of Hortus conclusus, Latin for “enclosed garden.” The phrase is drawn from the Latin Vulgate’s expressive presentation of the female lover in the Song of Songs.

“You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4:12, NIV).

Christian allegorical interpretations of the Song have linked Mary, the mother of Jesus, to this female character. By miracle, she conceived without having her virginity disturbed. Hence, this notion of a cloister, or the phrase hortus conclusus, has been applied to Mary.

The Convent of al-Banat was founded in 1894 by the Italian Order of the Sisters of Mary of the Garden. Local tradition links the site with a garden of King Solomon.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Judean terraces

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The possibility of farming in the Judean hills is limited. Despite good terra rosa (“red dirt”) soils, gravity and slope make them tough to cultivate, and once cultivated, tough to keep from sliding downhill. The answer? Terraces. Lots of them.

These stacked-stone walls create steps on the hillsides. The walls arrest erosion and provide narrow platforms for agriculture. Olives are a popular crop choice here. The tactic of growing orchards on terraces goes back to the Iron Age.

This shot was taken in the Wadi Urtas just a few miles south of Bethlehem. The biblical ruins of Etam are in the vicinity. Etam was a site fortified by Rehoboam, son of Solomon (2 Chron 11:6). The story of the name urtas is uncertain; it may come from the Latin hortus, evoking the sense of “garden.” When you see the green you know why!

The scarring of the ground in the distance is the work of an illegal Israeli settlement.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.




Messina memories

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Ah Messina! Awash in the Mediterranean sun. Shaken by volcanic roots.

What stories your waterfront has known!

Greek colonists. Tyrants! Carthaginian galleys. Roman soldiers venture off-peninsula.

Richard the Lionheart passes, grim-faced, on Crusade.

Oh no! Black plague! Jesuits.

Hold your ears! Boom! A German Dunkirk. Patton sneers at Montgomery.

And now? After all this?

Your harbor is cupped against Sicily’s breast.

Boats bob. The current shifts. The moon rises. Quiet.

The seas mix as we wait for swordfish.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Repaired and noted

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These things don’t last forever. The High Aqueduct that supplied Caesarea Maritima with freshwater required repair. See previous posts here, here and here.

In this place the channel facing the sea was repaired by one of the Roman Legions. The Tenth Legion Fretensis added additional supports to the arcade. Note the pilaster in the center of this arch as well as a second reinforcing wall to the left. The circular elegance of the original construction was lost, but at least it won’t fall down (and hasn’t for nearly two thousand years!).

How do we know who did the work? A sticky tab was left behind. Ok, so it’s less like a sticky tab and more like an inscribed stone. You can see it (or a replica, in truth) in the upper right hand corner of the photograph. It rests between arches 37 and 38. The original inscribed stone has been removed.

It reads “IMP(ERATORI) TRIANO / HADRIANO AVG(USTO) / VEXILLATIO / LEG(IONIS) X FRET(ENSIS).

Negev believes the western side of the High Aqueduct was built shortly after the construction of the first (perhaps in the first century AD) and that the work done in the time of Hadrian (as attested in the inscription) was merely a repair job.

For more on this inscription and the repairs see A. Negev, “The High Level Aqueduct at Caesarea” in Israel Exploration Journal 14/4 (1964): 237-249.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

I wish you could hear the eight-tracks

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Recent posts of Caesarea’s High Aqueduct here and here sent me back to the archive. In 1984 I was shooting 35mm slide film with my trusty Canon AE-1. I captured this summer image of the aqueduct in the days when beachgoers congregated beside, on, around, and under the arcade. Music was in the air, supplied by eight-track players in the dash.

It is no less busy today, but at least the cars are kept at a distance and the tourists (hopefully) are prevented from climbing over the top of the Roman-era structure.

Many things in life have improved since the 1980s. But not the music. Don’t you agree?


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Right, here

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Most of the time. Except when I’m wrong.

And there is plenty of room for fussing over who is right and who is wrong. Excavations on and around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have been a lighting rod for controversy and criticism for years. Between Captain Warren’s burrowing in the late 19th century (curious read here) to Elad’s nasty “City of David” land-grab (don’t read this for sure!) there is enough mischief to go around (try not to think about this or this either). Don’t kid yourself; archaeology is a powerful political tool.

It’s almost 20 years old now, but Silberman’s Between Past and Present (1990) is still a valuable read. If you want to learn more about the politicalization of the discipline (find it here).


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Double-barreled

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The “High Aqueduct” that carries freshwater to the site of Caesarea Maritima is not a single system but two. The side that faces the parking lot is the older member of the construction; it corresponds to the birth of the city in the time of Herod the Great (late 1st c BC). A single canal carried water along the top of an elevated arcade. It is visible only in the upper right corner of this photograph.

Abutting the first system is a second. This side faces the Mediterranean Sea and is largely visible here. It has been suggested that this addition was built shortly after the first. Soldiers from the Second, Sixth, and Tenth Legions assisted in repairs carried out in AD 130 according to inscriptional evidence.

For more photographs and explanations of the water system at Caesarea Maritima, see the link here.

For our previous post on the “High Aqueduct”, see here.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

You will never forget it

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How many times have you stood on this scalloped overlook? One? One-hundred? Does it really matter?

The view is pressed into your memory even as the limestone blocks are pressed into the summit of the Mount of Olives. This is special place for the veteran or for the newbie traveler. From here the spectacle of the Old City of Jerusalem unfolds.

You see Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tombs underfoot. Suleiman’s city wall sweeps through the middle of the vista. The platform of Herod’s temple (I call it “Temple 2.5”) rises over previous versions and is, in turn, topped today a golden dome. A new “Mt Zion” looms on the horizon.

Less obvious (for older eyes) is the “Stepped Stone Structure” of the City of David, the Rockefeller Museum, the steeple of the the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and, of course, the steely grey caps marking the place where Jesus died and rose again: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It is a snapshot of no less than three thousand years of history. From this place you can see it. And feel it.

How many times have you stood on this scalloped overlook?

Our thanks to Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee who stood here and took this picture less than two weeks ago.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Water near and far

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The salty Mediterranean stretches as far as the eye can see.

The view is framed by an arch of a Roman-era aqueduct. It too is all about water. This high-level conduit delivered freshwater from the shoulder of Mount Carmel to the city of Caesarea Maritima. It is a distance of ten kilometers. Constructed of kurkar (sandstone) during the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 BC), the aqueduct system stands as a legacy of engineering genius.

Later phases would have to be built to account for Caesarea’s growing population.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

It means “Sent”

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The village of Silwan perches on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley. Below, a water-source known locally as Birket Silwân provides water for the region. The Arab community draws its life—and its name—from this fountain.

The label is an old one. The LXX and Josephus drop several Greek variations including Siloa, Siloas, or Siloam. All of these are rendering of the older Hebrew Shiloah (See, for example, Isaiah 8:6). The root of this verb likely means “to send” or “direct.” Objects of the verb in the Hebrew Bible include arrows, messengers, animals, plagues, light, etc.

Wordplays are a common feature of the biblical text and its exegesis. No doubt the Apostle John was skilled wordsmith. As I look at the scene pictured above, my mind drifts to his account of the healing of a blind man:

“When he (Jesus) had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means ‘Sent’). Then he went and washed and came back able to see” (John 9:6-7, NRSV).

Get past the muddy goo to the meaningful gloss.

By means of the parenthetical comment on the name of the pool, “which means Sent,” John not only suggests the meaning of the old name but larger movements in the narrative. Just as the springwater is “sent” up from the ground, so too, the blind man to the pool and Jesus from the Father. Think about this as you reread the story found here.

Photograph by Bible Lands Explorer Tess Edmonds.


A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.


Steering oar

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I came across this architectural fragment on our recent visit to Corinth, Greece. It depicts an sailor steering a ship using a oar. These oversized oars, steering oars, or quarter rudders were a common apparatus on vessels throughout the Greco-Roman period. On larger ships they were lashed or attached to the ship to ease the labor of the pilot.

The true sternpost rudder seems to have originated in first-century China. Only later did Mediterranean shipwrights adapt the technology.

The stern of the ship depicted here is adorned with a goose-head, a common motif of Roman merchantmen.


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A few seats have become available on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. The roster needs to be finalized mid-December. Sign-ups are closing soon.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee . . .

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. . . the hands can’t hit what the eye can’t see.”

I can’t help but think of these famous lines from Muhammad Ali as I stand in the Archaeological Museum of Delos. Before me is a fresco of boxers. It was painted on a wall of a home from about 100 BC.

Delos is a tiny island in the South Aegean, not far from Mykonos, Greece. Mythologically, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo.

Archaeological excavations were initiated on the island in 1872 and continue to this day.


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A few seats have become available on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. The roster needs to be finalized mid-December. Sign-ups are closing soon.

Join Johnson University in Israel-Palestine?

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There are a few open seats in our March 2019 study-tour to Israel-Palestine. If you are interested in participating in this unique educational experience, contact me immediately at MZiese@JohnsonU.edu. Registration will close at the end of the semester. Academic credit available.

Christmas pizza? Barmy!

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Where do you stop to eat on the way home from Jerusalem? Wetherspoons in London. What do you order there in the holiday season? Christmas pizza, of course. It is a speciality item: thin crust covered with brie cheese, cranberry sauce and . . . get ready for this . . . sliced pigs in a blanket! Sweet and salty. It is not exactly Bible Lands cuisine, but it is yummy comfort food indeed.

Then and now

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Jerusalem’s el-Ghazali Square doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t smell too good either. Today it is used as a car park and as a temporary storage place for local garbage. However, thousands of years ago this area contained a large water reservoir. The reservoir was likely built (or improved) in the second century after the time of Christ. Some would date its original construction still earlier.

The reservoir is often called Birket Israel or “Pool of Israel” although it has been confused with the nearby Pool of Bethesda.

el-Ghazali Square is located immediately to the left as one enter’s the Lion Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Bible Land Explorer Patrick Furgerson took the photo above on our recent visit. Compare it to this one taken in the 19th century before the pool was infilled.


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I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. Today we visited Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, sites associated with the story of the birth of Jesus.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.

Getting ready for Christmas

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Holy space is strictly arranged in Eastern Orthodox churches. The center part of the building, where the faithful sit or stand, is distinct from the sanctuary, the place of the priests and the altar. Between the nave and the sanctuary is a wall-like structure or iconostasis. Lurking in the word iconostasis is the word icon, a term used of images or depictions. These are often attached to the wall and add to its ornate appearance.

Physically the iconostasis stands between these special spaces although theologically, the iconostasis is considered to be a point of connection. Icons depict saints, apostles, and Christ himself, personalities who unite believers to their God. Doors in the iconostasis allow passage for the priests. A gap left between the top of the iconostasis and the ceiling allows for the communication of words and song.

I’m thinking about such things today as I stand in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Palestine). Pictured here is the iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox portion of the building. Just below the sanctuary is a cave. Reliable traditions suggests that Jesus was born in this cave.

It is a good place to be with Christmas around the corner!


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I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. Today we visited Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, sites associated with the story of the birth of Jesus.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.

Dates with a questionable future

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I found this grove of immature date palms on the edge of Jericho, Palestine. This is not surprising. Jericho, after all, has been known as the “City of Palms” for centuries (See Deut 34:3 for example). These plants tolerate high temperatures and salty water/soil. They grow tall and produce a fruit that is plump and tasty.

Pliny the Elder waxes eloquently on the date palm. See his comments here.

Irrigation is still required to get these trees started and that’s where the problem lies. According to one source, a Palestinian has access to one-sixth the water of an Israeli and pays between four and ten times the price for it.* Digging new wells is illegal (because of long-term consequences for the land) but is a common practice (and undoubtedly a form of social pushback).

There is economic potential in mass plantings like this, but it is risky business. How risky has yet to be seen.


*See articles here and here.


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I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. We witnessed a light rain in Jericho. No complaints about that! Temperatures are on the cool side as we circle the region. The winter has started; but so has the season of renewal.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.

Herod the snowbird

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Snowbird is probably not the first word that comes to mind when describing Herod the Great. But it fits. This Christmas king enjoyed his escape from the cold. Pictured here is his winter palace on the banks of the Wadi Qelt in Jericho, Palestine. Only foundations have survived 2,000 years of history. It is enough to give us a sense of a colonnaded portico and a Roman-style bath: the perfect place to warm old bones.

We stopped at this Lower Jordan Valley site earlier today. The sky was spitting rain in Jericho and Jerusalem. Just in case you are wondering, it was fifteen degrees warmer in Jericho.


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I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. So far we have enjoyed a few good rains in Galilee. No complaints here. Temperatures are on the cool side as we circle the region. The winter has started; but so has the season of renewal.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.