Travel

The sea is rising

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These Bible Land Explorers enjoy a moment in the sun by the Sea of Galilee. Sunshine has been rare of late. The rain is challenging for us, but good for the land.

The water level of the Sea of Galilee has dropped to dangerous levels in recent years. However, at the moment, it is a meter and a half above “the lower red line.” To discover more about how recent rains have broken a five-year drought, see the links here and here.


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Rafael Rodriguez, Professor of NT at Johnson University, is helping lead our current group of students from the residency program of JU.

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

Resilient

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. . . is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the ministerial students in Johnson University’s residency program. We have had three days of drenching rain in the Heartland (it really poured in Nazareth!), but they have scampered over every rock and puddle and have not flinched.

Other words that describe this group? Excited, compassionate, faithful, dangerous . . .

Tomorrow’s forecast for the Church is bright and sunny.


Rain moves across the Sea of Galilee.

Rain moves across the Sea of Galilee.

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.

Inside joke

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We visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee today. The memory of the story of John 21:1-14 (see here) is embedded in the place. Then we went down to the beach.

Nick found this sign and thought it was hilarious.

One must be cautious with graduate students.


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There’s some fish-eaters in this crowd. Today our crew enjoyed St Peter’s fish and visited the sites of Magdala, Tabgha, and Capernaum.

If you’d like to join us on a study-tour of your own, recognize that there are openings right now for trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.




Facelift

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Spent a few hours in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. The restoration (which is not quite yet complete) is simply stunning. Those who can remember the dark dingy nave of yesteryear will be astounded to see the place today. The new roof is rustic but beautiful. You can see the open rafters of cedar that were hewn and hoisted into positioned in the 14th century. The 44 columns that support that roof were cut from local limestone and polished to a high degree. Now that they’ve been cleaned, you can distinguish them from their white marble crowns decorated in acanthus leaves. Note the scrollwork in the architrave that spans the gaps between the columns.

Keep in mind that this structure has been continually used as a place of Christian worship since the time of Constantine (mid 4th century). That makes it unique in all of Israel-Palestine.

The outline of the present structure was established by Justinian I in the mid-6th century.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was erected over a cave where Jesus was born.

It was the first place in Palestine to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


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The Church of the Nativity is hopping right now as the tourist season is in full bloom.

We have openings right now for a trips scheduled to depart this summer. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

News moves here

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News travels fast in Beit Sahour. I received a message yesterday asking if I had arrived in-country. Within an hour this young man was sitting outside my hotel with a car and an evening invite. I know his extended family well. They have been dear friends of ours for more than a decade.

On the way to his place we stopped at this circle. Michael wanted me to see the statuary in the center honoring the Christmas shepherds. He and his team of Palestinian Boy Scouts collected the funds to make the display possible.

Beit Sahour is a Christian village and home to the memory of the nativity shepherds. It is located just east and downslope from Bethlehem.

Michael told me that God chose the shepherds from Beit Sahour to be the heralds of Christ’s birth because news travels quickly here. He laughed and moved his fingers like a talking mouth: “We know how to gossip!”


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Today I meet a group of resident ministry students in the graduate program of Johnson University at the Tel Aviv airport. I am looking forward to spending the next two weeks with them visiting sites and regions of biblical relevance.

You too are welcome to join us on a future trip. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.


Arsameia on the Nymphaios

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In the windblown highlands of the Taurus Mountains is the summer capital remembered as Arsameia (Eski Kâhta). It is overshadowed—almost literally—by Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı) and is forever tethered to it. Both are associated with the Kingdom of the Commagenê (see previous post here). Both require effort to reach. Both are monumental mausoleum sites.

The difference is that Arsameia on the Nymphaios (its full name identifies with the nearby stream) was a city of the living. Mount Nimrut, while more spectacular, was a necropolis.

Arsameia was a hub of the Commagenê, founded and named after Arsames.* He, and the Commagenê emerged in the first half of the 3rd century BC as Seleucid control of the region flagged during the Syrian Wars.

Pictured here is the Mithras Relief identified by the excavator as Site II. The standing stone has been partially restored. Carved on the side facing the valley (and the camera) is the god Mithras. He wears the floppy Phrygian cap. Inscriptions are carved on the reverse.

Blocks from the site were hauled downslope in the Roman period and used to build the Cendere Bridge (see post here).


*The Greek Arsámēs is likely drawn from the Aramaic ʾršm (“hero”?). It is an old name with a deep history of use by Persian notables.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for a trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Far and away

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The rugged region between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağı conceals the residues of many cultures. One of interest to Bible Land Explorers is Commagenê. In the time of Christ this tiny Hellenized kingdom of the East (Βασίλειον τῆς Kομμαγηνῆς) was positioned between the overlapping orbits of Rome, Parthia, and Armenia. Its strategic value lay in this nexus and in its control of crossing points along the Upper Euphrates.

The geographer Strabo refers to Commagenê as a small but fertile place, naturally fortified, and connected to the great river.* He considers it in the context of greater Syria, and, as some have suggested, its inhabitants may have been as comfortable working in a dialect of Aramaic as they were in Greek.**

At one rest stop, our local guide pointed out the ruins of “Old Kahta” above our heads. I fired my camera. While the Romans and Mamluks built here in later periods, it was originally a fortified site of the Commagenê.

Ancient Commagenê corresponds roughly with the Turkish province of Adıyaman.


*Geography 16.2. See the link here.

**Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1993): 454.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.



A place of birth and death

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Let your eyes rise from the Cendere Valley (with its red-ribbon bridge, see previous posts like this one) to the mountains above. These windswept highlands are part of the eastern extension of the Taurus Range located in southern Turkey. Their secret folds are the birthplace of the Tigris and Euphrates, the rivers that define old Mesopotamia.

The highest point on the distant horizon is a 7,000-footer known as Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı). On its summit is a first-century BC funerary mound. Want to see it? Stay tuned!


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Fratricide and other grimness

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I’ve devoted a couple of POTDs to the Cendere Bridge in SE Turkey (see here and here). It is an amazing piece of Roman engineering that has attracted the attention of academics for more than a century. French epigraphers Louis Jalabert and René Mouterde were the first to study and publish its inscriptions in 1929.*

These tell, in part, how four cities of the region honored Emperor Septimius Severus and his family.

In the photo above Keith points to one of two inscriptions cut into vertical blocks that form a part of the bridge’s railing. The Latin (for the curious) is found here.

Three more inscriptions are located on columns positioned on the bridgehead. These columns were once adorned with statues. Emperor Septimus and his wife Julia Domma stood on one end. Their two sons, Caracalla and Publius Geta stood on the other. While their images are long gone, dedicatory inscriptions are still visible.

Three of the four columns are still standing. The fourth, that of Geta, was removed after Caracalla assassinated him (while clinging to his mother, it is said!) and sought to erase his memory.

It’s that old Cain and Abel stuff.


*See Jalabert, Louis, and René Mouterde, Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (IGLS) I, Commagene and Cyrrhestique (BAH 12), Paris, 1929.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you need to grab your seat quickly. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

On the way to the Euphrates

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Yesterday’s post (see here) offered a brief introduction to the Cendere Bridge (also known as the Septimius Severus Bridge) located in SE Turkey. It measures more than a football field in length (120 meters) and is a marvel of engineering from Roman period.

While a modern bridge has replaced it as a primary route over the Cendere Stream, light wheeled traffic still traverses it daily.

A gorge cut into the foot of the Taurus Mountains is visible behind the bridge. This incision is the work of the Cendere (or Bölam Su) which drains the highlands, flows under the bridge and continues south to the Euphrates River.

A Roman dedicatory inscription on the bridge identifies the stream by its ancient name, the Chabina.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com to request more information or see here for other upcoming travel opportunities.

The red ribbon bridge?

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These intrepid Bible Land Explorers pose on one end of what is possibly the second longest Roman bridge still standing today. The arch in the center spans Chabinas Creek and measures 34.2 meters (112 feet) across. The entire bridge, including build-up, measures 120 meters (390 feet) in length. It is a marvel of Roman engineering.

Nearby signage identifies it as the Cendere Bridge or the Septimius Severus Bridge. It was likely built between AD 198-200 as part of the Roman preparations for another chapter in the Parthian conflict.

The construction was undertaken by Rome’s XVI Legion. Inscriptions dedicate the bridge to Septimius Severus who was emperor at the end of the 2nd century AD. It may have replaced an earlier bridge from the time of Vespasian.

While some may dispute that the Cendere Bridge takes the red ribbon as far as Roman bridges go, there is no dispute about which bridge gets the blue. The Puente Romano on the Guadiana River in Mérida, Spain, is easily the longest with an impressive length of 790 meters (almost 2,600 feet).

The bridge pictured above is located in SE Turkey, not far from the modern town of Adiyaman.


*Note the discussion of construction/reconstruction in the article “Severan (Cendere) Bridge” posted in Turkish Archaeological News (11/18/2017). Here is a link.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

No strings attached

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Wheeling, dealing, and fooling around has been a part of life in Çorum, Turkey, for as long as anyone can remember.

Back in the days of Abraham (yes, that Abraham), the Assyrians established a trading colony here. It was part of a network of trading partners (Akkadian: kāru) centered in what is today the Turkish province of Çorum. The route was an economic lifeline between northern Anatolia and Upper Mesopotamia.

Money was not yet invented in those days; precious metals were the currency of choice. Gold was eight times more valuable than silver. Only one metal was more valuable than gold: amutum. This metal was forty times more valuable than silver! Scholars believe amutum may be iron. Keep in mind that this was, in the parlance of archaeologists, still the age of bronze.

The fun-loving friends pictured above demonstrated to me the value of a good laugh and an old mandolin without strings. I bought it. It proudly sits on a shelf in my dining room today.

Çorum is located in the highlands between Ankara and the Black Sea coast.


*See K. R. Veenhof, Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and Its Terminology (Brill, 1972): 385.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

"If not for this site, you wouldn't be here."

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I utter these words every time we settle into this Roman theater. The phrase is awkward by itself. But if you put in context, it makes perfect sense.

The theater is located at a site known as Caesarea-by-the-Sea. It was a wind-swept rubble pile when archaeologists began restoration efforts in the 1950s. Today the place has been wonderfully restored and is visited by millions every year.

One can sit on the sandstone seats of the theater and gaze toward the Mediterranean. It is the perfect spot to imagine how astounding this city must have been in its prime. According to Josephus, this provincial capital was built by Herod the Great (“the baby-killer” of the Christmas story) in the decade between 22 and 12 BC. It has all the accruements of a first-century Italian transplant.

According to Luke the Evangelist it was here that a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius had a vision (see Acts 10). This revelation prompted “Pentecost II,” the spark that leaped over the fireline and out of the Jewish circle. Christianity moved with speed and force from “Caesar-city” into the non-Jewish world.

That’s why I say it. If not for Caesarea-by-the-sea and the events associated with this place, I doubt that Gentiles like you and me would be sitting here. But because it did, the world as we know it has been profoundly changed.


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Caesarea-by-the-sea is a highlight on nearly all of our study-tours in the Israel-Palestine. We stop at the theater, visit the promontory palace, walk the hippodrome, explore a Crusader fortress, and imagine the harbor at the center of it all.

You really should consider joining us this summer. We have spaces available on three different trips. Find the dates here and email me at markziese@gmail.com for details.

Lecture hall learners

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Sometimes I wonder how effective the big lecture hall lectures are.

I try to channel my inner undergraduate as I wax eloquently on narrative construction techniques, explore the interplay between history and language, and rise to the challenge of hearing God in the text. Sometimes the feedback suggests “I get it.” Those are moments of celebration! At other times I just get stony stares.

Oh well. We keep at it.

The stony stares pictured above are not coming from lecture hall learners but from third-century (AD) funerary busts recovered at the site of Beth Shean (Scythopolis). This Heartland site was the leading city of the Decapolis and a real treasure trove of Late Roman life in the Lower Jordan Valley.

In this case, we are learning from them.

Funerary busts were erected over tombs across the Greco-Roman world, but they are rare in this part of the world. Carved in soft limestone, they display a mix of traditions, east and west, local and imported. Hair styles, jewelry, and clothing suggest a measure of personalization. Names in Semitic and in Greek languages are engraved on some and give flavor to the cultural blend that marked life in ancient Scythopolis.

You can find this display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


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If you are a museum-lover you really can’t miss the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It contains a treasury of cultural artifacts from thousands of years of history.

We’ll visit the IM several times during our 2019 travel season. If you would like to join us, there are seats available. Find the dates here that fit your schedule and shoot me email me at markziese@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to work you in.


Old-school wizardry

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Refreshing in a map and compass navigation class. Yup, it’s old-school wizardry. None of that newfangled GPS stuff for these grey boy scouts.

Three points gained.

  1. A compass does one thing: it points to magnetic north.

  2. If you use a map, remember declination.

  3. West is best; East is least.

By the way, declination is the boogery part.


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Hang with me and you won’t get lost. Okay, maybe we will but at least you’ll be in good company.

Consider joining us in Israel-Palestine this summer. We have spaces available on three different trips. Find the dates here, then email me at markziese@gmail.com for details.


Get out of town

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Getting out of Nazareth is one of the first obstacles for the Jesus Trail walker. Several colluding conditions make this challenging: the urban maze, steep stairs, and, at some times of the year, the heat.

The first time I hoofed it out of Nazareth (2013) was in the depth of the summer. I couldn’t do anything about the stairs, but I beat the heat by starting before sunrise. Somewhere along the way I turned around and clicked this picture.

Modern Nazareth is a community built in a geographical “bowl.” At the center of the bowl (like the omphalos of a ceramic vessel) is the Latin Church of the Annunciation. Here, according to tradition, was the boyhood home of Jesus. The hills of Galilee rise on all sides.


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Seats are available on three different trips 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.

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.

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.

An archaeologist's rig (part 13)

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Of all the rides featured in this stunning series few have reached the pinnacle of the sublime.

That just changed.

Behold.

If this doesn’t sweeten your Valentine’s Day, you are truly a cold being.

I came across this engineering marvel on the island of Mykonos, Greece, many years ago. If the creator is still alive, I’m sure it is still running. At least parts of it are. In something.


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While touring in Israel-Palestine, we use a slightly larger vehicle. Our standard coach seats 50, has lots of glass, air-conditioning, wifi, and often is labeled Mercedes. Wheelmen like “Johnny Magic” pictured here (center) are key to our safety and success. I couldn’t do what I do without these dear friends.

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.