archaeology

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.

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.

Upgrades

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If it has been more than five years since you have visited the Roman Catholic portion of the site of Capernaum, you will be surprised to see it today. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront have all undergone significant renovation. The primary structures on display—the “White” synagogue and the House of Peter—appear as before, but other upgrades are striking. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront provide improved accessibility, seating, garden, and devotional areas.

The site has an occupation history stretching from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD.

The name of the site originates in the Aramaic, Kefar Nahum, or “Village of Nahum” (but not that Nahum!).

It was a significant center in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. As the Gospel of Mark records (2:1), when he “entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.”


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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 Capernaum, we visited Nazareth, Sepphoris, 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.

An omnistic bobcat

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Restoration work at the site of Maritime Caesarea, Israel, is ongoing. Fresh aspects of the site are visible with every visit.

There is a newly opened path along the eastern ramparts inside the Crusader fortress and an extension to the pavilion north of the fortress.

If you haven’t been to Caesarea lately, it is time to come back.

I thought you might enjoy a shot to this omnistic bobcat resting from his labor in the harbor area.

Oh, and don’t miss the rainbow in the winter sky!


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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 Caesarea, we visited Mediggo, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.

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

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.

Water near and far

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The salty Mediterranean stretches as far as the eye can see.

The view is framed by an arch of a Roman-era aqueduct. It too is all about water. This high-level conduit delivered freshwater from the shoulder of Mount Carmel to the city of Caesarea Maritima. It is a distance of ten kilometers. Constructed of kurkar (sandstone) during the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 BC), the aqueduct system stands as a legacy of engineering genius.

Later phases would have to be built to account for Caesarea’s growing population.

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.

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.


Steering oar

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I came across this architectural fragment on our recent visit to Corinth, Greece. It depicts an sailor steering a ship using a oar. These oversized oars, steering oars, or quarter rudders were a common apparatus on vessels throughout the Greco-Roman period. On larger ships they were lashed or attached to the ship to ease the labor of the pilot.

The true sternpost rudder seems to have originated in first-century China. Only later did Mediterranean shipwrights adapt the technology.

The stern of the ship depicted here is adorned with a goose-head, a common motif of Roman merchantmen.


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A few seats have become available 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. The roster needs to be finalized mid-December. Sign-ups are closing soon.

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.

A teen church in an aging community

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The main cobblestone street through Taormina, Sicily, rests upon an ancient counterpart from the Greco-Roman period. Structures beyond its curbs have been razed and rebuilt over the course of two thousand years.

At the center of Taormina is the “Church Courtyard” or Piazza Duomo. It centers on a gushing fountain and is backed by the Duomo di Taormina. This functioning Roman Catholic Church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra (I’ve written a bit on ol’ Saint Nick, see here and here for example).

This cultural focalpoint is a “teen” church; earliest remains go back to the 13th century. It was rebuilt in the 15th, 16th, and 18th century. Sturdy stone walls topped by crenelations (or battlements) lend a vibe of power to the exterior. There are reasons why it has been dubbed a medieval “fortress church.”

Six columns on the inside support the nave. These were taken from the nearby Roman theater, a structure highlighted here.

The Duomo di Taormina was restored following the Second World War.


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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 for 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.

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.

This place has it all

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Between the ancient ruins of sites like Pompeii, the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea, and cliff-hanging towns of the mountains, the Amalfi coast has it all. The blend of natural and cultural charms is deeply satisfying for Bible Land Explorers.

I now know why Caesar Augustus chose this area for his own private summer retreat.

The view offered here was shot from a bluff in Sorrento. The local harbor is just below.

Just around the point to the north is the Gulf of Naples and the legendary Mt Vesuvius.


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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.

Peaceful Bayonet-ville

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This town in southern France may have received its modern name from the Basques. They were the first to use the bayonet, a thrusting blade attached to the end of a firearm. It is possible that this musket modification was sharpened in this peaceful place, hence its name, Bayonne.

Archaeologists have poked the ground here a few times retrieving coins, potsherds, and the remains of what was likely a small Roman fort built along the riverbank (for a POTD on the river and its folk in the time of Julius Caesar see here).

Before it was Bayonne, the place was likely known as Lapurdum. Lapurdum is mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum, a document that describes the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th c AD. At that point in history the region was writhing in the throes of crisis, overrun by Germanic tribes. In case you’re curious, the name of the region at that time was Novempopulania. Take a stab at pronouncing that one.

Buen Camino!


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We have a busy end-of-year scheduled for 2018 and an ambitious travel season planned for 2019. For a sample of what we are cooking, have a look here on our Explorer website. Know that it is often possible to join one of our groups even if your journey originates in a different place. Shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com if you have questions.

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 Roman walls of Astorga

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The town of Astorga, Spain, has quite a history. Early remains go back to the time of Augustus Caesar. The Romans constructed a post here to guard the nearby pass through the mountains of Galicia. The post also protected their interest in the gold mines still found in the region.

I slept last night in the yellow-colored hostel just above the city walls. The walls have been built and rebuilt numerous times. At the lowest levels, thought, it is pure Roman. Coinage, solder armor, baths, etc., goes back to the first century. They have a wonderful museum of Roman remains in the city center.

Locals claim that the Apostle Paul once visited this city. Paul's visit to Spain, however, remains debated.

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.

Deep roots

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Got off the plane in Paris and met up with Bob, my son-in-law. The two of us went for a walk and came across this lovely old stone church in Roissy-en-France. The door was open so we helped ourselves to a self-guided tour. It was a stout and stately old place with the all the smells of grandma's attic.

Literature inside identified the building as a parish catholic church called Saint-Éloi. Much of what we saw today was relatively modern (17th or 18th century). However, this is the region of Roman Gaul (1st c BC - 5 c AD) and so we were not surprised to discover that probes have revealed older stonework beneath the present level. Some remains suggests construction that goes back to the 9th century while others may be as early as the 4th century AD.

Those are deep roots!

Bien camino!


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.