Palestine

Cookie?

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If you try one, you’ll know why you need to buy the box.

Arab hospitality meets shrewd salesmanship in East Jerusalem. There’s a fine line between the two. Bartering, bantering, coffee, and more bartering can be a part of the shopping experience. Bring cash and know your exchange rate if you are going to play the game. Smile regularly.

Welcome to the Middle East.

Photograph by Bible Lands Explorer Mark Kitts.


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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 little vista, a little vino

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Standing on the hillside village of Mashhad, you feel the sprawl of Kfar Kanna in the distance.

Kfar Cana had less than 1,000 residents at the end of the 19th century. Today that population has swelled to more than 20,000. A Christian core still exists. They are quick to point to a biblical memory.

Kfar Kanna is famously associated with the first of the recorded miracles of Jesus, the Wedding Miracle of Cana, or the exchange of water to wine (John 2:1-12). To this day, many tourists (and some Jesus Trail walkers) visit the Franciscan Wedding Church in the center of the village and purchase a bottle of wedding wine in one of the nearby stores.

Despite this lingering memory, most archaeologists prefer to locate the Cana of Jesus’s day at the more remote site of Khirbet Kanna. It is several miles from here (on the other side of the valley) and difficult to reach.

Bot Kfar Kanna and Khirbet Kanna rest to the north of Nazareth in the hills of Lower Galilee.


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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.

Study-Tour 2000 (Israel, Egypt, Turkey)

I came across this image yesterday afternoon. It brought back some fond memories. It was shot in early March almost twenty years ago. The place was Giza, Egypt.

The faces are those of students and staff from the Cincinnati Christian University. These brave souls signed on for one of our most ambitious study-tours ever. Three countries in 14 days! Wowzer. But we filled every seat on the bus.

See anyone you recognize?

If you were a part of this trip, I’d love to hear from you. Care to share any photographs of your experience for other Bible Land Explorers? I can post them here. What memories does this image bring back for you?

Do tell. And show.


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These two young fellers were among the leaders of the trip pictured above. Funny, they haven’t changed a bit!

A few years have passed since 2000 but we are still up to old tricks. In March of 2019 we’ll be headed back to Israel/Palestine. This time we’ll have a student group from Johnson University in tow.

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.

Tristram's starling

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Henry Baker Tristram was a pastor-ornithologist (interesting combination!) who traveled through the Heartland of the Biblical World in 1858, 1863, and 1872. His interests in the natural world prompted several books on the land including The Great Sahara (1860), The Land of Israel, a Journey of Travels in Palestine, Undertaken with Special Reference to its Physical Character (1865), and The Natural History of the Bible (1867).

Several birds are named after him including the starling (or grackle) pictured above. One variety of the gerbil also carries his name.

He was an early adopter of Darwinian evolution and attempted to reconcile ideas of evolution and creation. Later in life he rejected Darwin’s theories.

This fine image was captured at the site of Masada by Bible Lands Explorer Mark Kitts. For a previous post of a remarkable bird and its discoverer see here.


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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.

Sitting room

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Wouldn’t this be a lovely spot to welcome the New Year?

The sitting room at the Jacir Palace in Bethlehem is located in just off the entry door. Note the painted ceilings described in yesterday’s post (see here).

I trust you will find the perfect place from which to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.

All the best from us at Bible Land Explorer!


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. 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.

Living history

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The painted ceilings in the Jacir Palace, Bethlehem, are splendid. They are relics of a moment in time.

The end of the 19th century was marked by stability in the Levant. The elite of Palestinian society responded in an open-minded way. They continued to build in traditional styles, but incorporated new—and flashy—elements drawn from northern Mediterranean lands. These included ceiling paintings.*

The entry to the palace and its adjoining rooms was adorned with landscapes, abstract designs, and this single portrait. I believe it to be Youssef Jacir, a prominent figure of Bethlehem (died 1888). He was a leader in the local Christian church, the town’s registrar, tax-collector, and historical orator.** He fathered five children; the eldest was responsible for building the Jacir Palace. Not surprisingly, the face of the patriarch was respectfully placed on the ceiling where he remains at watch to this day.

Aren’t the colors magnificent?

A European artist by the name of Marco was commissioned to do the work.


*An excellent source for information about such things is Sharif Sharif-Safadi’s Wall and Ceiling Paintings in Notable Palestinian Mansions in the Late Ottoman Period: 1856-1917. Riwaq, 2008.

**See the history of the Jacir Palace here (accessed 12/20/2018).


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. We plan to investigate the region 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.

Juliet perch

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“What light through yonder window breaks?”

A Juliet perch adorns the face of the Jacir Palace, Bethlehem.


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. We plan to investigate the region 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.

Palatial

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The dream-home of Suleiman Jacir was built at the turn of the 20th century. This Bethlehem family is remembered for their generosity as well as their successful business in mother of pearl ornaments.

While a core of Christian artisans remains in Bethlehem, Palestine, it is difficult to imagine this commercial heyday. The downward spiral of the fortunes of Ottoman-era merchants accelerated in the period of the British Mandate. Less than two decades after this stone palace was built the family went bankrupt and was forced to sell the property.


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. We plan to investigate the region 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.


A place to drink coffee

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The Jacir Palace in Bethlehem is an exquisite example of Late Ottoman architecture. Little work is needed to imagine how this space was used at the beginning of the twentieth century. Local and foreign guests of the Jacir family could rest here from the heat of the middle eastern sun. The courtyard is still used today as a place of meeting, drinking coffee, and telling stories.

The surrounding riwaq, or arcade, crouches behind columns of alternating colored stone. The riwaq provides a transition between surrounding rooms and the open courtyard in the center of the palace. Colored stonework continues around a fountain, a stimulating centerpiece.

Balconies to additional rooms are visible on the second floor.

For more on Bethlehem’s Jacir palace see here.


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine at the start of 2019. We plan to investigate the region 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.

A fine centenarian

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I’m usually not one to recommend hotels, but if you do happen to visit Bethlehem in the Christmas season, this is the place to hang your stocking cap. The stately manor at the core of the Jacir-Intercontinental Palace was built in 1910 by a well-to-do Arab Christian family. It is located near Rachel’s Tomb, although one is hard pressed to reach that place from here; Israel’s Great Barrier Wall often makes travel in and out of Bethlehem difficult.

The architecture of the structure is a blend of western and Oriental styles. A citadel-like entrance gives way to a lovely check-in area with a sitting room, a grand piano, and painted ceilings. Beyond this welcome area is an internal courtyard space of three stories.

Over the course of time the Jacir Palace has been a family home, the headquarters for the British army, a hospital, a school for boys, a school for girls, and now a hotel. For more than century it has been a familiar landmark in the community of Bethlehem.

I’ve stayed here only a few times but have always found the rooms, service, and food to be exquisite. I’m no cigar smoker, but if I was, the courtyard would certainly be the place to do it . . . while chatting about things that we gentlemen often chat about: riding, fencing, shooting, boxing, swimming, rowing and dancing.

Okay. You can laugh now.


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We are gearing up for our next walk across Galilee. In January of 2019 we aim to do portions of the Jesus Trail with a small but intrepid group of travelers. I’ll keep you posted. If you are interested in joining another of our 2019 trips, have a look at what we have planned here. If you see something of interest, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com. We’ll do our best to accommodate you (although it may not be the Jacir Palace!).

The tree is up!

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The tree is up in Manger Square, Bethlehem!

Actually, its been up for a while. I captured this image a few days after Thanksgiving.

In case you think I’m kidding about the“Manger Square” part, know that it really exists. It is a plaza used for parking and for big events (read Christmas Eve!) in Bethlehem, Palestine. The Square is located directly in front of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus and the oldest continuously-used church in the world. Now do you get it? “Manger”-square, the Nativity? Ha!

Midnight mass in this plaza on Christmas Eve continues to be an iconic experience. It attracts thousands of worshippers to celebrate, remember, sing, and pray. The gathering is supervised by the Palestinian Authority although access to Bethlehem itself is controlled by the Israeli military.

Compare the Mosque of Omar (on the far right) to the picture I posted the other day (see 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!

Manger Square mystery?

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I picked up this slide several years ago as part of a anonymous donation to the Cincinnati Christian University. There are no labels so I don’t know the date or place exactly.

I’m guessing this is the plaza known as Manger Square in Bethlehem. The view is toward the west from the area in front of the Church of the Nativity. The minaret is part of the Mosque of Omar and the street running away from the camera is Pope Paul VI.

The mosque confuses me; the lines are different from the mosque seen today. Could this be because the Jordanians renovated the site in the early 1950s? Might that a Jordanian flag on the post?

That’s my best shot. Anyone else have a guess?

If I’ve got it right, the mosque seen here is the one constructed in 1860. It was erected on the footprint of a still earlier structure. According to tradition, the original structure represents the place where Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattib (7th c AD) prayed when he came to town. Omar was persuaded by a local monk to pray here rather than across the plaza in the Church of the Nativity. The move preserved the church; otherwise it would have likely been converted into a mosque.

Check out the donkeys and the vehicles. Hey, maybe someone can date those vehicles? The donkey?


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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.




What's the score?

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The concrete wall surrounding Bethlehem is a bitter testimony to one way in which the powerful control the powerless. A little graffiti painted on that concrete suggests another.


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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.