New Testament World

Doused by sun and rain

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The city of Sepphoris was splendidly restored by Herod Antipas. According to Josephus, Herod “built a wall about Sepphoris, (which is the security of all Galilee) and made it the metropolis of the country” (Ant 18.27). Antipas renamed it Autocratoris, a term that may suggest the title of the emperor or the fact that the city was somehow politically autonomous.

As I hiked by the site I was alternatively doused by sun and rain. Galilee in January can be that way.

In this shot, the acropolis of Sepphoris rises on the left. The summit is marked by a Crusader-era stronghold. Buildings of the modern kibbutz spread in the foreground. Upper Galilee looms in the distance, wet and purple.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Sepphoris, we visited Nazareth, Magdala, and Tiberias.

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


Taking a pounding

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There was a break in the heavy weather yesterday. The sun broke through to illuminate waves crashing against the breakwater at Caesarea.

It is hard to imagine that the artificial harbor engineered in the time of King Herod went out another quarter of a mile.

Read about Herod’s magnificent Mediterranean harbor in the Jewish War of Josephus. Find a starting point here.


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Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal to the Lands of the Bible in 2019. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details. We make learning fun, eat good food, sleep in some respectable places, and send you home with memories for a lifetime!

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.

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.

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.

Name-dropping

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Yesterday I posted a view to the Messina Strait from the Roman theater in Taormina (see here). From this vantage point one captures the rugged beauty of Sicily’s northern coast as well as a view to the site of old Naxos (on the distant plain). Today I offer a second view.

The 5th century Athenian historian Thucydides suggests how Sicily got its name and how Naxos became its first Greek settlement.*

As for the island: its original name was Trinakia (Θρινακία) or “three-cornered” (consult a map of the island and you will see why). However, it was subsequently settled and renamed by peoples from Iberia (Spain or southern France). These settlers brought with them the name of their river, Sicanus. Hence, Trinacria became Sicanai or “Sicily.” See all this from Thucydides here.

Note 1: modern scholars are not so sure that Thucydides got it right. Archaeologists suggests that the culture connected with the Sicanai shows strong influence from southern Italy** and Mycenae.***

Note 2: The Apostle Paul sailed by this point on his way to Rome around the year 59. See Acts 28:11-13.

As for Naxos, Thucydides continues: This settlement was made by seafarers from the island of Euboea, just east of the Greek mainland. Their original home was Chalcis or Chalkida. Thucles is named as their founder. See the quote here.


*Thucydides was an historian and military man from Athens, Greece. His History of the Peloponnesian War is considered by many to be the first “modern” or “critical” history to be written. The quotes above are drawn from this famous 5th century BC work.

**The Late Bronze Age Fossa Grave culture. Read about this on pages 646-647 in the Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age (Oxford, 2013).

***See page 72 in John Fine’s The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History (Harvard, 1985).


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We are headed back to Tel Aviv in less than a week. I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia to share with them a tour of Israel-Palestine. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our Bible Lands adventures. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

A seat with a view

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The theater at Taormina, Sicily was first constructed in the centuries before Christ (possibly 3rd c BC). It was reworked in the Roman period (2nd c AD) into the form we see today.

The view to the landscape from the top row is spectacular, although it is unlikely that visitors to the site in its prime had the same view. The scaenae frons (back wall of the stage area) would have been as high as the top row of seats. A “lid” of canvas and ropes would have shaded the spectators. Such additions would have blocked a view to the sea but would have helped with acoustics in this pre-microphone era.

In the distance you can see the Strait of Messina, a narrow band of water that separates the island of Sicily from the Italian mainland. Below, in the area of the small peninsula jutting out into the sea is the site of Naxos, the earliest of the Greek colonies on Sicily.

On a clear day you can also see the volcano, Mt Etna, from here. Unfortunately, this day was not so clear.


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We are headed back to Tel Aviv in less than a week. I’ll be meeting a group from Chantilly, Virginia to share with them a tour of Israel-Palestine. Temperatures should be on the cool side as we circle the country through Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Judean Wilderness, and Jerusalem.

Know that you are always invited to participate in one of our Bible Lands adventures. See the list of trips scheduled for 2019 here.

A communicative moment

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On the day after an election it is good to remember the difference between power that is temporary and power that is eternal!

I stand before Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura) and look up. The façade of any building is one of its most important features. Designers know that every one who enters will raise his/her eyes; it is a prime communicative moment that speaks in the language of architecture and symbol.

19th century artists Filippo Agricola and Nicola Consoni decorated the façade of St Paul’s using mosaic in three registers. Their work was based on the original 10th century mural that was destroyed by a fire in 1823.

On the bottom are four figures. These are evenly spaced between three windows. The figures represent the four Major Prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Each holds a scroll suggesting that the Messiah was anticipated by the Old Testament.

In the center is a key symbol of the Messiah. A lamb reclines on a mound from which four fountains (four gospels?) flow. The flock gathers at the water. The symbol of the lamb is an old one going back to the Gospel of John (1:29).

The central figure at the top, in the pediment, is the enthroned Christ. On his right is the Apostle Peter holding a key. On his left is the Apostle Paul holding a sword.

The original structure here was situated over the tomb of Paul. Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD 67. The 4th century historian Eusebius states that the place of Paul’s burial was known and marked (Eccl Hist. 2.25, see here).


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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.

The river of a galling folk

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The River Adour is born in the snow of the Pyrénées and flows down to the Bay of Biscay. Here in Bayonne, France, it is broad and powerful. It surges under the bridge where I am standing and in just a few miles will mix with the salty Atlantic.

In the Roman period this was the homeland of a salty people-group known as the Tarbelli. They called the river Aturis. Their land was desired for its gold. Strabo tantalizes us with the observation: you can pick up nuggets here "as big as a fist." They are easily found and require very little refining (check out this link to Strabo's Geography 4.2.1).

According to Julius Caesar, the Tarbelli are one of several groups in Gaul that surrendered to Crassus in 56 BC and sent hostages to Rome (De Bello Gallico 3.27.1). All of these Gallic folk appear fussy and hostile, but much more human than the crazy Germans in the north. Eventually the Tarbelli were "Romanized" as a part of the province of Aquitaine.

Buen caminó!


I posted another picture of Bayonne a while back. See here.


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This is your last call to join us for this year's cruise on the Mediterranean. We will be traveling by sea from Rome to Athens and back again. See the link here for details. Ports of call along the way include Sicily, Malta, and Santorini. If you are interested, you'll need to hustle. The Celebrity Reflection is about to sail!

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.

The storm brews

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A thunderstorm brews over the town of Los Arcos in the region of Navarre. We were fortunate to have found cover before it let loose. Hail and rain were dumped from the sky and pounded the streets.

The Church of Santa María has weathered a few storms in its time. The original stone structure was raised in the 12th century. Efforts to expand and maintain it produced the form we see today. It is a hodge-podge of styles.

It is possible that the site of Los Arcos represents the legacy of Roman Curnonium, a city in the region mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography.*

Buen caminó!


*For a discussion of the remains and extent of the ancient town see the article by Javier Armendariz Martija posted here.


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Calling all Bible Land Explorers. Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail between Nazareth and Capernaum 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. Space is limited. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

The bridge of meeting

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Yesterday I posted a photograph down the main street of Puente la Reina, Spain (see here). That path continues to the edge of town where it crosses the Arga River by means of this 11th century Romanesque bridge. The elegant span of stone is more than 100 meters long. It bequeathed a name to the village: Puente la Reina means quite literally "the bridge of the Queen." No one is sure of the identity of this queen, but many guesses have been made.

Puente la Reina is a significant waypoint in the Camino network. It marks the meeting place of two ancient pilgrim routes. The Camino Francés crosses the Pyrénées via St. Jean Pied-du-Port (the path I am on) before dropping into Puente la Reina. The voie d'Arles or "Arles route" drops into Spain from a point further east. Pilgrims from Italy would come this way. It is possible that St Francis of Assisi crossed this bridge when he walked the Camino in the year 1214!

These two roads merge in Puente la Reina, pass over the Arga River, and continue westward.

Buen caminó!


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Calling all Bible Land Explorers. Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail between Nazareth and Capernaum 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. Space is limited. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

About here somewhere

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Bible Land Explorers Joy and Sonia help me fix our location.

The summer haze makes flying by visual flight rules (VFR) difficult. The map helps. We are standing on top of the Masada mesa with the Dead Sea Basin hiding behind us (you'll just have to take my word for it).

The site of Masada plays a rich role in the history of the region. Herod the Great (the "Baby-killer" of the Christmas story) built a wondrous fortress-palace here. 

Joy and Sonia are part of a study-group from the Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia.


Intrepid travelers who desire a more intimate view to the landscape of the gospels should consider walking across Galilee on the Jesus Trail, January 8-16, 2019. Vehicle support is provided and will return the group each night to the hotel. Contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com if interested. The trip is priced from New York at $2,588. See itinerary here.

Toilet humor

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From the looks on these three faces someone is about to get in trouble.

These very public toilets were found in the ruins of Scythopolis (Beth She'an), Israel, just outside the theater area. Beth She'an was a leading city of the Decapolis, a league of Gentile cities mentioned in the New Testament.

I can't remember any details of the conversation captured here but it likely involved flatulence, circumcision, or sponge-sticks. Possibly all three.

Photo by YoungLan Ye.


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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine at a deeply discounted price? Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience for less than $1,500. Join us on January 8-15, 2019 for a rich engagement that introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of group travel in this exciting part of the world. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Jumbo pool noodles?

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The waterpark at the base of the Herodium (Jabal al-Fureidis > "Paradise Mountain") is extravagant.

Begin by acknowledging that the site chosen as a pleasure palace by Herod the Great (the baby-killer of the Christmas story) is located on the edge of the Judean Wilderness. Water is in short supply here.

Add to this context an engineering effort that constructed a reservoir twice that of an Olympic-size swimming pool. It was 10 feet deep! In the center was a circular island, likely presented in a classical tholos design. One could swim or even boat to the island in such a desert "lake."

Finish it by surrounding the installation with courtyards. These culminated in rows of columns with Ionic capitals and stucco painted walls.

I wonder where they kept the jumbo pool noodles?

This is extravagance. First century Herodian extravagance.


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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine yourself?  Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience. Join us Jan 8-15, 2019, for a rich engagement with the Land of the Bible. Priced at a deep-discount level, this trip introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of organized travel.

On Jordan's Stormy Banks

The Wadi Kharrar intersects the Jordan River about five miles north of the Dead Sea. As pictured, tourists, worshippers, and the curious are permitted down to this famous river that serves as an international border. 

Masada survivors

Tristram's starling or grackle (Onychognathus tristramii) are among the last true residents of the Masada mesa. They are named after Henry Baker Tristram, a naturalist, archaeologist, and missionary to Palestine in the 1860s and 1870s.

Journey up the "Jesus Stairs"

Excavations in the archaeological park adjacent to the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem have revealed features from many different periods. Among the most interesting is the monumental stairway pictured here. The use phase of this construction corresponds with the time when the limestone platform above contained the (Second) Temple of YHWH. These stairs were used by worshippers approaching the temple complex from the south.