Agriculture

Near "Olive Town"

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One portion of the Jesus Trail loops around the Jewish village of Kfar Zeitim. It is a lovely stretch of rural landscape that is—unsurprisingly—filled with olive trees. Kfar is an old semitic term for “village”; zeitim is the masculine plural for “olive.” One would expect such a scene when passing through the vicinity of “olive town.”

Olive trees are gnarly and stubby. They are heavily pruned over the course of decades (and even centuries!) in order to maintain the canopy, eliminate dead wood, and maximize the production of fruit.

Their grey-green leaves shimmer in the wind and offer contrast to the yellow-green grassy carpet.

The hills of Lower Galilee rise in the distance.


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Our next experience in the land of the Bible is slated for March 12-23, 2019. We’ll be doing a study-tour with Master’s-level students in Johnson University’s residency program. Student trips are always fast-paced, high-energy, and full of great conversation.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.

A river of life

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As a whole, the country of Spain is old, dusty, and crackled. Average rainfall across the peninsula measures about 25 inches annually, comparable to the state of Nebraska. Of course, proximity to the sea, elevation, and other factors fudge the numbers and create local variations of temperature and precipitation.

Water from the sky must be augmented with irrigation efforts in order to meet modern agricultural demands. For this reason, canal systems to transport/distribute this life-giving moisture are common. In the Meseta, Spain’s inner plateau, these systems crisscross the surface of this baked anvil.

While walking alone on the Camino de Santiago the trinkling sound of the water makes for pleasant company. I snapped this image near the village of Villavante. 

Buen caminó!


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Our next adventure in the land of the Bible is slated for March 12-23, 2019. We’ll be doing a study-tour with Master’s-level students in Johnson University’s residency program. I’m already excited. Student trips are always fast-paced, high-energy, and full of great conversation.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.


Through the wood

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Approaching Sepphoris through the wood.

East-West ridges are dominant trends in Lower Galilee. These ridges are formed of soft chalky rocks, that at one point in time, were swathed in trees and topsoil. Today, much of that topsoil has been relocated in valley floors and apart from reforestation efforts (as shown), the trees are gone.

Environmental scientists tell us that the area of central Lower Galilee (as pictured here in the shaded trail between Nazareth and Sepphoris) is home to maquis forest.* Maquis is a technical term used to describe a distinctly Mediterranean biome where summers a long and dry and winters are short and wet. Indigenous trees include the carob, mastic, and a variety of evergreens, with oaks at elevation.

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Susan Ruth.


*See for example, Zvi Gal’s work on Lower Galilee during the Iron Age (ASOR, 1992).


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You are not going to find many bananas between Sepphoris and Nazareth (gotta go down into the Jordan Valley for that kind of heat), but you might find an occasional Jesus Trail hiker.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Uncrossable

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Heavy rains in recent days have made for difficult trekking in Galilee. As I post this note it is coming down in sheets and thunder is rattling the windows (I’ve retired for the night. My wet clothes are hanging from every knob and bracket in the room.).

Streams that cut through the Plain of Gennesaret are swollen. Navigating the area on foot requires care. The shot above is the Tsalmon stream pouring over a low water bridge. The name, Tsalmon, ironically, means something like “calmness.”

Gennesaret is a small fertile plain located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee between Migdal and Capernaum. Josephus calls it the most fertile place in the entire country (War 3:516-521).


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine soon. We plan to investigate the region of Galilee and walk segments of the Jesus Trail. Follow this journey on our website, or better yet, consider joining us on a future trip! A list of planned group excursions may be found here.

Ugly Italian beauties

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Italy’s Amalfi coast is famous for lemons. One cannot walk down the street in Sorrento without catching the whiff. Fragrant fruits—the size of softballs—are grown in citrus orchards and sold for juices, jams, liqueurs, soaps, dressings, garnishes, gelatos, or as treats by themselves. You can eat them right out of the skin!

The history of these ugly Italian beauties goes back at least to the Roman period. Lemons and lemon trees are pictured in paintings preserved on the walls of Pompeii. They were likely brought to the region from the Middle East. Some claim the Jews were responsible, as the citron (etrog, in Hebrew) had ceremonial use.*

Pliny the Elder, a local Roman historian who died in the eruption of Vesuvius, hints at one source, calling the lemon “a Median Apple” (Natural History 12.7, see text here.). Media is an area of modern Iran.

The limone femminello is the oldest variety. It has celebrity status on the Amalfi coast.

And you thought the only lemon to come out of Italy was the Fiat.


*"Four species” of plants are mentioned in Leviticus 23:40 and associated with the Feast of Booths (sukkot). Rabbinic Judaism connected one of these species with the etrog or citron.


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We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

Poppy pods

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Bob and I came across a large poppy field while hiking through the La Rioja region of Spain. We saw no cameras.

The poppy belongs to the Papaveraceae family, a group of plants known for the production of a milky latex.

Poppies are most often found in dryer corners of Europe and Asia. Australia is a notable exception. Many genera are prized for their flowers.

However, one species, Papaver somniferum, has been engineered specifically for its production of latex. I don't know if the plants we found in this field belong to this species, but I do know that alkaloids obtained from its latex are opiate; they have deep physiological effects on humans and other animals. Seed pods are scratched, the latex drips out and dries. Collected and processed, we call this residue by names like morphine or codeine or heroin.

Use of opiates in the Mediterranean basin goes back a long way. It is well-documented in the Hellenistic period, centuries before the time of Christ (see the interesting article here).

Spain is the second largest producer of opiates in the world. The government keeps a close eye on the fields. See the article here for more on this Spanish industry.

Buen caminó!


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Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Join us for a walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Vineyards as far as the eye can see

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The trail into Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain, passes through some of the most stunning country on the Camino Francés. Rolling hills are draped with vineyards and distant mountains are crowned with trees.

The mountains are a part of a range known as the Sierra de los Ancares. The Ancares, while not huge, are formidable enough to have isolated the small Galician villages that dot the region. It was not until the roadbuilding of the mid-20th century that these isolated villages became more widely accessible. To this day the Ancares represent rural Spain at its best.

The Romans came to Villafranca to mine gold from the mountains. They stayed to raise grapes. Much later, in 1070, a monastery was founded to continue the agricultural art. A Frankish community gathered around it, hence the name "Frank-ville."

Buen caminó!


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We are hiking another beautiful area in 2019. Jan 8-16 will be spent walking in Galilee, Israel! You are invited to join us. The Jesus Trail passes from Nazareth to Capernaum and stops at sites like the one pictured here: Magdala. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is a bargain at only $2,588 from New York. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Miles and miles of cereal

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It was a wet start as we hiked out of Grañón, but the day turned lovely by midmorning. We are nearly finished with the rolling hills of the province of La Rioja and should descend to Burgos and Spain's central plateau (and heat!) tomorrow.

This shot was taken near the village of Tosantos.

Buen caminó!


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Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.

Elijah's view before takeoff

The Jordan River snakes along the floor of the valley. It carries moisture to vegetation that can tolerate sweltering heat and salty soil. 

A fellow with exceptional taste

My dear friend Tony Kanaza is quick to share a smile, a laugh, a recipe, or a cup of Turkish coffee. You may find him at the El Babour Mill in Old Nazareth. The antique site still houses a 19th century steam mill once described as "babour" or "vapor" powered. If you sit and chat, Tony will tell you happy stories of growing up in this family business. Today, he and his brother Jarjure continue this agricultural focus, growing their own flowers, fruits, spices, and vegetables. For them, life is best spent close the ground, tending traditional technologies, stories, and hospitality.

The El Babour Mill needs to be on the "must visit" list for foodies everywhere or just regular tourists who need a break from the dreariness of life-as-usual.

Shittim

While it may sound like cuss-word, shittim is merely the plural of shittah, a Hebrew term for a kind of desert tree (Isa 41:19, see here). Many identify this tree with the Acacia family, a genus with more than a thousand species.

In the desert areas of the biblical heartland, one can find the Acacia tortillis or the Umbrella thorn. These trees are short and twisted with a characteristic flat top. Thorns and tiny leaves grace its branches.

According to texts like Exo 25:10-13 (see here) or Deut 10:3 (see here) the furniture produced for Israel's tabernacle (including the Ark of the Covenant) was made from shittim wood. Only a skilled artisan could work in this medium!

 

Particularly lovely

The Atlas Range of North Africa spills across the border of Algeria and into Tunisia. It tumbles downward, angling northeast toward Cap Bon. On the northern side of this range one discovers a beautiful and fertile countryside. The Medjerda Basin (where flows the ancient Bagrada River*) is particularly lovely. Water from this steam made life possible and enabled the flourishing of settlements such as Bulla Regia, Utica, and Carthage.

Such scenes challenge stereotypical views of North Africa as one big sandbox and underline the Roman view that this area was a "breadbasket."**

*See notes 8 and 9 from the text of Pliny the Elder's Natural History here.

**Consider the post by Steve Theodore linked here.

Stuff in the Bible that no one told you about

Colorful fruit dangle from this date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). Dates have been a staple for food and fuel for the imagination in Bible Lands for thousands of years. This tree in this photograph is growing in the Palestinian oasis of Jericho, a place nicknamed "the city of date-palms" (Deut 34:3).

A vocabulary family for this species is found in the Hebrew Bible. It includes tamar, a personal name and the general word for a date-palm tree. 'Eskol or sansinnah suggests fruit or a fruit-cluster. A kippah may refer to a palm frond.

My mind drifts back to a snippet from that romantic poem hidden deep in the Old Testament, The Song of Songs (or as we call it in the classroom, "The Very Best Song"!).

Mah yaphit umah-na'amt 'ahavah bta'anugim; Zot komatek damtah l'tamar, veshadayik l'ashkoloth; 'Amarti e'eleh v'tamar 'ohazah b'sansinnav.

"What beauty and how pleasant, O Love for delights! You tower like a palm tree, your breasts are clusters. I say, 'Let me climb up the palm tree and seize its fruit!'" (Song 7:7-8).

ahem.

To learn more about the archaeobotany of the date palm, see Margareta Tengberg's article on "Fruit Growing" in Vol. 1 of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. D.T. Potts, ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012): 181-200.

 

The "Watermelon Field" dig

Matt Adams offers an orientation to the team at the start of the 2011 "Megiddo East" excavations. I'll forever associate the experience with the smell of rotting watermelons, as these were pitched to the edge of the dig site. They burst, of course, and cooked under the summer sun. Note the deep trench cut into Tell al-Mutesellim (Megiddo) rising on the left.

'Tis the season for Freekeh

Those living close to the ground know that now is the time in the biblical Heartland for the harvesting and grinding of freekeh. Freekeh is the Arabic descriptor for a “hard” wheat (durum wheat or Triticum turgidum) that has been consumed in the Mediterranean basin since ancient times. Timing is everything, as the grains must be collected while still green in order to survive the roasting and rubbing process (note the name is from the Arabic farik, “to rub”) that gives freekeh its unique texture and flavor.

Short tether

I couldn't resist when I passed shepherds selling an Awassi sheep beside a road in North Africa. I pulled over, not for a purchase, but for a chat and a photo. It was as I feared: it was holiday time and this sheep was not long for this world. Image captured in January, 2003 in the region of Cap Bon (or Watan el-kibli), Tunisia.

Winter blossom

An almond tree (Amygdalus communis) blossoms in the cool winter of Palestine. The author of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) knew this cycle and used it as an illustration of old age (the winter season of life).

" . . . when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along" (12:5).