Passover Seder, 2019

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The passover seder is one way to rehearse the great story of liberation. It is celebratory and sensory: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste are exercised. Through it all, memories of what God has done in the past are retold. These prompt contemplation about what God is doing now and what God will do in the future.

Thanks to all our friends from the faith community at Crossings Knoxville who participated last night. Thanks especially to Vicki who prepared and served a splendid table. The salad, lamb, veggies, potatoes, and brownies were just perfect.

"You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).

The photos above were taken by Bible Land Explorer Chris Battle.

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s words are widely quoted, “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” 

If you are interested in exploring music, poetry, and pictures in the lands of the Bible email me at markziese@gmail.com or consider joining one of our excursions listed here.

What is big, white, ornate and late?

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The “white synagogue” at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum or “house of Nahum”), Israel, is an oddity.

It is constructed of imported limestone blocks that contrast brightly with the dark basalt stone used everywhere else.

Its scale is monumental. It stands apart in a village dominated by small single-story residential homes. Several rooms in the synagogue are noted: a pillared hall, a patio, a balustrade, a small room, and possibly a balcony (?).

The rooms were graced with ornate decorations on cornices, walls, and columns. These include geometric designs, stars, palm trees, and dedicatory inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek (as seen above).

The synagogue was excavated and reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It was dated by the excavators to the Byzantine period (4th or 5th century). At this time the little fishing village, famous from the Gospels, demonstrates social stratification and visible weath.

This demonstration is a new thing; there is nothing like it from the known village of Jesus’s day. The synagogue of the 1st century remains hidden, perhaps beneath this big, white, late and ornate structure.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Mark Kitts.


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Interested in seeing Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee with your own eyes?

Seats are available on three different study-tours scheduled for Israel/Palestine in the coming summer. Dates of travel are May 25-June 4, June 4-15, and June 26-July 7. The window for sign-ups is closing, so move with speed.

For more information on pricing, itinerary, or other details of these educational tours, drop me a line at markziese@gmail.com. For a full list of future travel opportunities, see here.

Excavations at Dan, 1989

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Thirty years have passed since I took this picture of the excavations at Dan (Tell el-Qadi), Israel. Thirty years.

This is where we spent the bulk of that season. It is adjacent to the “high place” and affectionately remembered as T-1. Running through T-1 (from bottom to top of this scanned slide) was the wall of an enormous building that was dated by Avraham Biran to the Assyrian period. The northern face of the wall was marked by pilasters (the fella with the red shirt is leaning on one). Areas of flooring came to light, complete with smashed ceramic vessels.

One jar, as I recall, was fairly intact. There was still cereal inside and the skeleton of a Iron Age mouse on top of the cereal. I trust his last meal was a good one.


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Oh my. At least the Chuck Taylors are still in style.

Seats are available on three different study-tours scheduled for Israel/Palestine in the coming summer. Dates of travel are May 25-June 4, June 4-15, and June 26-July 7. The window for sign-ups is closing, so move with speed.

For more information on pricing, itinerary, or other details of these educational tours, drop me a line at markziese@gmail.com. For a full list of future travel opportunities, see here.

A spot for kings and judges

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There are gates a’plenty at Dan (Tell el-Qadi), Israel.

This monumental gate complex is located on the southern edge of the ruin-mound. It is an enormous stonework construction integrated into the perimeter wall. It consists of four guardrooms flanking a central passage. Socket stones supporting swinging wooden doors are still visible in the threshold. A processional road climbs up the hill and into the city from the gate. The whole business was dated by the excavator to around the time of wicked King Ahab (9th century BC).

Pictured here is an area just outside of the gateway where a throne-sized platform was positioned. Four stones on each corner of the platform may have supported a shading canopy. It is the perfect place to imagine a judge or king meeting the people, viz

“So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him” (2 Samuel 19:8).

It also is the place to think about a great metaphor:

“Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7, 9)

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Jessica Poettker.


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St Jerome (AD 347-420) once called the Land of the Bible the “fifth gospel. “Read the fifth,” he wrote, “and the world of the four will open to you.”

If you’d like to “read the fifth,” be aware that there are openings for Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

In the mustard

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The mustard is thick these days. I’m not talking about the tasty yellow stuff that goes on your hot dog, but the wild mustard that grows in the Heartland. In the springtime it is everywhere. Here at Tell Dan it is almost as tall as a person.

The wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis)* is prolific this year due to a wet winter in the region. It stands tall now but in short time as the temperatures rise and the rainfall diminishes, it will turn brown and brittle.

Enjoy this day my friends. It is gorgeous.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Jessica Poettker.


*Luke 13:18-19 reports the parable of the mustard seed. It suggests that big things come from small packages. The scientific name for the mustard sinapis is pulled into Latin from the Greek σίναπι. However, it should be noted that the Greek family of words also includes the verb, “to sting” or “hurt” causing some to believe that the sinapis of the New Testament may refer to the nettle. That casts a different angle on the text doesn’t it?


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The residency program of Johnson University leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between Johnson University and local churches. This accredited program equips students for effective, strategic Christian leadership and includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about residencies, see the link here.


Sense of scents

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A visit to Nazareth is incomplete without a stop at the Elbabour Mill. This stop is a delight to the eye, nose, and heart. The eye is excited by the colors. The nose is captured by the aroma of the earth’s natural flavors. The heart is warmed by the hospitality of our dear friends Tony and Jarjura.

The mill is located in the center of Nazareth’s old market, not far from the community well. It has serviced the agricultural needs of the village since the Late Ottoman period. Its name, el babour, is a Arabic corruption of the phrase “the vapor” and refers to the steam engine that originally powered the mill.

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Jessica Poettker.


Tony Kanaza (far right) never fails to delight with stories of the mill, his latest culinary adventure, and his father. Read about this unique place in Nazareth’s history linked here.

Interested in crafting an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible? We work with church pastors, administrators, and college professors to customize trips to meet specific educational/ministerial needs. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com to discuss possibilities or join one of the excursions listed here.

Stronghold on the road to Damascus

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This stronghold, resting on the flanks of Mt Hermon, protected the road to Damascus. It is known popularly as Nimrod’s Fortress or Qal'at al-Subeiba (“Cliff castle”). The site was hastily erected in the 1220s to prevent the European Crusaders from a return to the region.

The fears were unfounded. The Crusaders did not return and despite the adaption of the latest technologies in this medieval slugfest between East and West, the fortress was never used as a point of active defense.

I set our students free to explore the site on their own. Naturally the adventurous ones headed straight for the keep, the inner stronghold on the highest point of the ridge pictured here.

We know that Saul of Tarsus was converted along the famous “road to Damascus,” but it is unknown where the event described in Acts 9 (see here) took place.


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The residency program of Johnson University leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between Johnson University and local churches. This accredited program equips students for effective, strategic Christian leadership and includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about residencies, see the link here.

A heavenly display

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The architecture is lovely along the Camino de Santiago in rural Spain. But every so often even the medieval stonework must take a back seat to the stunning display of the heavens. On this day, we found shelter just in time. Thunder boomed and lighting and hail fell with fury.

Buen caminó!


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The art of pilgrimage is not easily learned. It involves a journey, most certainly, but not the journey of a tourist who seeks to appease the gross senses only. The pilgrim seeks to satisfy a deeper longing, the need to find his/her place in the world. If you are interested in exploring past, present, and future in land of the Bible email me at markziese@gmail.com or consider joining an excursion listed here.

Rain sweeps by Mt Carmel

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Standing on the summit of Mt Carmel I watch the rain sweep through the region. It pushes in from the Mediterranean and moves east, washing the central hills.

I shiver in the wind.

It is the perfect moment to reflect upon the story told in 1 Kings 18. There, we read of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The story has many points of entry but one of significance is the question: who controls the rain? Is is Baʿal, Rider of the Clouds or YHWH Adonai, the Creator of all things?

Find a dry place and consider the story for yourself (find it here).

Don’t miss the big finish. It is initiated by a cloud the size of a man’s hand and spotted from Carmel’s furrowed brow.

“Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of YHWH came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:45-46).

It was the first mud run.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


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St Jerome (AD 347-420) once called the Land of the Bible the “fifth gospel. “Read the fifth,” he wrote, “and the world of the four will open to you.”

If you’d like to “read the fifth,” be aware that there are openings for Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Elisha's Spring (Jericho)

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Rising at the base of Tell es-Sultan (OT Jericho), Palestine, is a spring. It is a source of life in the moon-like landscape of the Lower Jordan Valley. Today, the water is used chiefly for agricultural purposes, but in antiquity it provided drinking water for those living in this parched oasis.

The great prophets Elijah and Elisha passed through here. In the case of the latter, a story is told that involves Jericho’s spring. It is found in 2 Kings 2:19-22 and it goes like this:

“The people of the city (of Jericho) said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” 

“Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.”

It is another head-scratching example of Elisha’s wonder-working power.

The phrase “Elisha’s Spring” or “The Prophet’s Spring” is still used today to describe this copious flow. You can see the spring house if you look east from the top of the mound. It is a elongated building with a red tiled roof just across the road.


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Interested in crafting an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible? We work with church pastors, administrators, and college professors to customize trips to meet specific educational/ministerial needs. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com to discuss possibilities or consider joining one of our planned excursions listed here.

Her name is there

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For Bible readers the site of Magdala is forever linked to its most famous resident: Mary Magdalene.

It is appropriate that the developers of this site on the edge of the Sea of Galilee built a spiritual center that is dedicated to the women who supported Jesus’s ministry. In the center of the building is a dome supported by columns. Inscribed on each column is the name of one of the women mentioned in the NT as a supporter of the ministry, e.g. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, etc.

One column in the array was left uninscribed. It provides our ladies with the opportunity to use their fingers to add their names to the list. They are a beautiful legacy, don’t you agree?

The center at Magdala is named Duc In Altum. It draws its name from Luke 5:4 where Jesus instructs his followers to “launch into the deep.” Read the story here.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


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The residency program of Johnson University leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between Johnson University and local churches. This accredited program equips students for effective, strategic Christian leadership and includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about residencies, see the link here.

Velvet Megiddo

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Tell al-Mutesellim (biblical Megiddo) turns iridescent when struck by the sun. The ruin-mound of approximately 26 cities has experienced many builders, winters, and excavators over the course of thousands of years.

Pictured here is the eastern opening of a deep trench dug by Schumacher and the German Oriental Society at the beginning of the 20th century. Debris piles, also swathed in green, step down to the Jezreel Valley (Merj ibn-Amir) below.

While rain-showers are possible in the Spring, these are lovely days to visit Israel/Palestine.

Image by Bible Land Explorer Jess Poettker.


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Interested in crafting an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible? We work with church pastors, administrators, and college professors to customize trips to meet specific educational/ministerial needs. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com to discuss the possibility or consider joining one of our planned excursions listed here.

The shield of Avraham

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Nate enjoys the view from the bow of the Magen Avraham.

The Magen Avraham is one of several boats that ply the Sea of Galilee.

The phrase “shield of Abraham” is drawn from Genesis 15:1, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield (magen) to you; your reward shall be great.”

In the 17th century an important Polish rabbi was nicknamed “Magen Avraham.” His commentary on the Jewish Law was published posthumously and was given his nickname for a title.

At about the same time Jewish pirates roamed the high seas of the New World in a ship dubbed Magen Avraham.*

I’m not sure if our boat was named after the Genesis text, the rabbi, the book, the pirate ship or something else. It wasn’t flying the skull and crossbones. The next time I talk to Captain Tamer I’ll ask him.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the view.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


*See the article in the Jerusalem Post by Gil Stern Zohar titled “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean,” published 4/9/2016. Accessed here on 3/29/2019.


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Nate is a part of is a collaborative program involving between JU and local churches. He will graduate this May with a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a “deep sea” adventure of your own, know that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Check the list of opportunities here.

Check the mouth for a coin

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Visiting the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) can make a fella hungry. So what do you do for lunch?

St Peter’s fish and chips of course!

People have been sharing meals like this on the seashore for millennia, but at no time as intensively as today. Excessive pressure has forced bans and limits on fishing in the Sea of Galilee. No worries though. Fish farms make up the lack and fill the plates.

Of course, this means that the tilapia on your plate may have never splashed in the Sea of Galilee, ate a coin, or multiplied. See an interesting story here.

Still, it is a pilgrim pleasure to be enjoyed. Have you tried it? Grilled or fried? What did you think?

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Jess Pottker.


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These fish-eaters are part of the residency program of Johnson University. The program is a collaborative arrangement between Johnson University and local churches. The program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a fishy adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, know that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of opportunities here.

Rock concert

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Justin Sutherland strikes a pose in the rain.

The striking architecture of Caesarea-by-the-Sea was erected between 22-10 BC by Herod the Great. At the time, structures such as this theater were foreign in the Heartland. Herod accelerated the import of technology and the culture of the West and put his Eastern domain on the map. This opulence in stonework is nowhere as visible as in the Roman theater pictured here, the first of many built in the region.

The featured stone of the Caesarea is kurkar, a local sandstone.

Photo taken by Bible Land Explorer Jess Poettker.


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Jess (left) and Justin (above) are a part of the residency program of Johnson University. This program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between JU and local churches and is designed to equip students for effective, strategic Christian leadership. It includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about JU’s residencies, see the link here.

Green Jericho

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I can’t remember ever seeing Tell es-Sultan so green. Winter rain has given new life to dry places, even down in the Lower Jordan Valley.

This image by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler shows our group of Johnson University students ascending the trail to the top of the ruin-mound. From that spot, a great views were enjoyed to the Wilderness of Judea, the gnarled basin of the Great Rift, the distant rim of Transjordan, and the modern city of Jericho.

Jericho prides itself in being the the most low-down city on the planet. Ringing in at 850 feet below sea level, they may have a claim.


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An experience of this land is incomplete without a shawarma. The centerpiece of this Middle Eastern “taco” is thinly-cut meat stacked and roasted on a vertical spit.

If you’d like to join us on an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, recognize that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of opportunities here.

Patron saint and paved street

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Why of course he has his own street! He is the patron saint of Bible Land Explorers of the 20th century.

Sample this prose:

“Surely there is no region of earth where Nature and history have more cruelly conspired, where so tragic a drama has obtained so awful a theatre. The effect of some historical catastrophes has been heightened by their occurrence amid scenes of beauty and peace. It is otherwise here. Nature, when she has not herself been, by some convulsion, the executioner of judgement, has added every aggravation of horror to the cruelty of the human avenger or the exhaustion of the doomed. The history of the Dead Sea opens with Sodom and Gomorrah, and may be said to close with the Massacre of Masada.”

G. A. Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land set the standard for biblical geographers. Read the 7th edition (1901) of his book here.


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We are packing our bags to come home, but Jerusalem is always on the horizon.

If you’d like to join us on an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, be aware that there are openings for Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

The Canaanite Tunnel

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Jess, Seth, and Hunter pick their way through subterranean Jerusalem. The path they are following is often called the “dry” tunnel to distinguish it from Hezekiah’s Tunnel or the “wet” tunnel.

It is likely that this underground passage was cut through the limestone beneath Old Jerusalem in the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BC). It was used to transport irrigation water from the Gihon spring to fields in the Kidron Valley.


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The residency program of Johnson University leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between Johnson University and local churches. This accredited program equips students for effective, strategic Christian leadership and includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about residencies, see the link here.